Jump Control

Story by David Booth//
May 30 2023

Honda’s most recent technological announcement no doubt stirred up some serious controversy. Or, if you haven’t yet heard about Honda’s latest electronic safety nanny, it may be about to stir up some controversy. Whichever the case, I suspect there will be more than a little tongue-wagging.

It’s called Jump Control and it is to motocross — or serious adventuring — what traction control is to road racers and ABS is to road riders; an electronic computer aid specifically aimed at performing tasks that humans can’t be asked to perform with nearly the reliability.

As the name implies, this latest “rider-assist system” is meant to make leaping an off-road motorcycle easier — or, as I said, more reliable — by limiting the distance travelled when jumping a dirt bike. Using much of the same computer hardware as previous rider aids, Jump Control accesses the wheel speed sensors of ABS, the inertial measurement units that determine the lean angle required for judicious traction control, and then ups the ante with one more sensor: a camera.

Said camera is located, according to the patent making the rounds on the internet, in the nose near the headlight. Its job is to scope out the terrain ahead or, more specifically, to look for something that, at the speed your bike is travelling, might result in some “air time.” Married to the ABS’s speed sensors and allowing for the distortion that occurs when the jump in question is right after a corner — hence the need for an IMU’s lean angle sensor — the computer can quickly determine if you’re about to soar like Michael Jordan or remain ground-bound a la Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson’s character in White Men Can’t Jump).

This latter pretty much describes Jump Control’s Mode A which, according to the patent, will restrain either the throttle, the brakes or both sufficiently such that neither wheel will leave the ground. It is, therefore, more jump prevention than jump control and pretty much does the same thing every wimpy Walter Mitty type — including Yours Truly— does when heading toward a particularly steep tabletop. Essentially, the camera judges how steep the upcoming whoop is and whether the bike’s likely to leave the ground at your present speed, and then cuts the throttle or hits the brakes in response.

Mode B allows you to catch some serious air, albeit still with the utmost safety in mind. As a first step, B sets a target distance for the jump and, like traction control reducing the amount of rear wheel slip, limits the throttle so as to not jump too far. Once launched — and the bike knows this because the onboard suspension stroke sensors go to full extension — B will also keep the bike flat, either hitting the throttle (to get the front wheel pointed higher) or drag the rear brake (to bring the nose down). In other words, the bike will always land on both wheels.

Mode C, meanwhile, likewise controls attitude and distance but should allow for longer jumps and a more adventurous nose-up attitude. But, like B, it can maintain the exact attitude by blipping the throttle or dabbing the brake. Both Modes B and C will presumably allow owners to set their maximum jump distance and perhaps even, in Mode C, the ultimate amount of front-wheel-up angle allowed.

But that’s the “how” of Jump Control which, frankly, is not all that interesting given the level of computerization already present in motorcycles. No, the real question is why.

You don’t have to have too long a memory to recall the backlash that initially greeted the introduction of anti-lock brakes on motorcycles. Some riders decried the computer’s suggestion of their inability to control their motorcycles. Even more lamented the Big Brotherism of wheel speed sensors. Still others somehow convinced themselves that “laying ’er down” was actually the fastest way to stop a motorcycle.

ABS was first introduced on BMW’s K100 in 1988 — this author wrote his engineering thesis on anti-lock brakes for motorcycles in 1983 — yet the nonsense mentioned above only truly petered out maybe 10 years ago. And though traction control has had an easier ride of it — your average motorcyclist seemingly having more respect for 200 horsepower engines than Brembo four-pot brakes — there are still those that think TC is just a gimmick despite the rampant endorsement of those in the know, i.e. actual racers.

So, the big question is: how will the off-road crowd respond to this computer invasion?

Well, one clue is that the bike pictured in the patent application appears to be a CRF450 Rally, a bike that not only has to go fast — with many of those aforementioned big jumps — but also has to go for a long time. It is this last point that more than a few analysts have struck upon: the idea that, while expert riders may pride themselves on their ability to control their motorcycle, they will recognize that what mistakes they do make often come when they are tired at the end of a hard day of high-speed desert riding.

Whether that is wishful thinking — and, more importantly, whether this new technology would have prevented any of the 13 motorcycle racer fatalities that have occurred in the famed Dakar in the last 20 years — will likely determine how this new technology will be accepted. If Honda is serious about Jump Control, look for a passel of CRF450s to be so equipped when the world’s most difficult rally gets underway next January 5th in Saudi Arabia.


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