Electronics development engineer Atsuyuki Kobayashi
Hydraulic sensors like this are essential for bike operation. They're also used to acquire a stream of other data such as steering angle that give engineers a detailed insight into any problems that might be troubling the rider.
A tiny hole you wouldn't notice unless it was pointed out specially, the intake duct helps ensure reliability in the extreme heat of the race track by directing cooling air over the electronics. The ideal location was determined through repeated testing.
The cockpit of a racing bike is enough to make anyone's pulse beat faster, but electronics development engineer Atsuyuki Kobayashi is cool and matter of fact as he describes the sensors and other electronics that lie behind its simple, functional beauty.
"The riders asked us to put in the sector indicators, and I'm happy to say that they have definitely helped improve lap times and increase motivation in qualifying. But you know, if you were to ask me what our main focus is, I wouldn't say it's making the bikes go faster. How to deliver vital information speedily to the rider? How to ensure pit staff smoothly acquire data? And most importantly, what can we do to eliminate any possible failure? To sum up, our task is to achieve maximum reliability. Compared to engine and body designers, our challenges are rather low key and out of sight."
You may ask how anything can go wrong with a system that's mainly insulated wires. Kobayashi is quick to respond "Well, they break, you know."
It's the hugely faster speeds that make the difference between the RC212V and street bikes, despite many similarities in design. Race speeds generate entirely different types of vibration. And G forces during cornering, acceleration and deceleration are at a whole other level. Such continuous, powerful stresses can break normal electrical wiring.
"The parts we make don't look all that flashy or interesting, but they are the equivalent of the nervous system in a human body. In modern racing bikes we are trying to optimize the traction control system and to optimize engine performance through real-time monitoring of factors such as gear position, intake/exhaust temperatures and fuel injection levels. In the worst case, a break in the electronics system can put the bike out of the race. To prevent this as much as is humanly possible, we test, test and test again, stressing our parts under every imaginable setting and conditions."
"I reckon everyone has heard it said about Honda that we use the race track as a lab to test and develop our technology. Well, in the case of the electronics, I have to tell you that isn't the case at all."
This was a pretty stunning comment, and I pressed him to explain.
"Just try to imagine for a moment what would happen if we tried out unproven electronics in a race. A single cable breaking could bring the whole bike to a halt, wasting all the efforts of engine and body developers, not to mention riders. This is why we have to do all our electronics experimenting and testing in the lab, before sending parts out on the track. For us, the race is where we verify the results we have already established in the lab. That's not only our approach, it's the philosophy of everyone involved in Honda racing. So "race tested" doesn't always mean what you think."
If some part on the bike is going to break under stress, you've already lost before the race begins. "Reliability" may not sound all that exciting, but in the end speed and skill on the track count for nothing without it.
Put an engine generating over 155kW (210hp) in a bike weighing just 150kg (less than a 400cc street bike) and you've got a real monster machine. Without electronic controls, there's no way any rider could get the most out of an RC-V series bike.
Serious bike fans will already know this stuff, but here's a quick overview of what electronic control involves. The best known example is probably traction control, which allows the rider to manage engine power more easily. It prevents the bike from becoming unmanageable when engine braking causes back torque or due to too much engine power during acceleration.
A MotoGP bike's tank is limited to just 21 liters, and constant control of the level of fuel injection ensures the rider can use that fuel for maximum performance. When power is really needed the system supplies all the fuel required, but the rest of the time it minimizes fuel consumption. This control relies entirely on the data acquired from electronic components developed by Kobayashi and his team.
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