New big-power motorcycles are also smart


Today's sporty bikes are getting smarter. Starting at $14,800, Honda's CBR1000RR for 2012 is a bike that celebrates 20 years of high performance. It gets a new option that would have been unheard of two decades ago: anti-lock braking system.

That might not sound new because cars have had them for a long time. And even some touring-oriented motorcycles have had ABS over the years. But to find them on a super sport bike is new ground indeed. Honda says that unlike earlier systems on some two-wheelers, these won't interfere with at-the-limit riding. In the event of an emergency stop on a wet surface, they could be a life-saver.

One of the Honda's main rivals in the big sport bike category is Kawasaki's ZX-10R, which starts at $14,999. It not only picks up ABS as an option this year, but has other electronic aids, too, like traction control to keep the rear wheel in check during certain riding conditions. That's a system derived from MotoGP race bikes.

It also has a power mode selector for when it's wise to not have full access to its nearly 200 horsepower.

None of these technologies are new in the world of cars, but getting them packaged small enough and light enough to fit into a sport motorcycle is really an accomplishment thanks to modern technology. That's the key, keeping everything light and small.

Kawasaki says the ABS system in the ZX-10 weighs just seven pounds, including the added weight of a bigger battery for the bike. Adding traction control comes down to essentially adding software to the bike's central computer. Formerly dismissed as not belonging on hot sport bikes like the ZX-10, computer controls can make even highly skilled riders better.

On the street, these bikes with anti-lock brakes are that much more ready to deal with an emergency situation. Nobody wants skidding tires on a car, and even though they have half the number of wheels, that goes double for motorcycles.

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