Rockets! That's what motorcycles have always needed, and we were all just too stupid to realize it. I was recently attending Bosch's deep preview on future electronic rider aids, and along with the soon-to-be-available stuff—radar and Automated Cruise Control (ACC) and Blind Spot Detection (BSD) and others (see the next print edition of Cycle World—the company rolled out a very rough, proof-of-concept prototype with a "Slip Mitigation System," complete with rockets.

Well, not exactly chemical rockets as normally thought of, but cold gas thrusters. The prototype system uses four cold gas generators (argon/helium gas) normally used in a few cars to inflate airbags, and shoots a singular jet of gas laterally out the side of the motorcycle if its rider is so unfortunate to hit a small patch of something slippery. The effect is twofold; the thrust from the jet literally pushes the motorcycle back on line while also driving the tires harder into the pavement to recover traction.

The lead engineer on the project, Ing. Anja Wahl explained that the system really was just proof-of-concept, and that an eventual production system wouldn’t necessarily use automotive airbag components; that was just for convenience. Bosch had done surveys of motorcyclists indicating hitting a slippery patch was one of their most common fears, and she and her team had been tasked to do something about that. Since Bosch already had wheel speed sensors with its ABS system and inertial sensors in its Motorcycle Stability Control system, it wasn’t hard to detect when a rider hit a slippery patch in a corner and the bike began to yaw and its front wheel tuck. But the question was what to do then?

Since most motorcyclists don't have Marc Márquez's skill with holding the bike up with knees and elbows, some kind of new force would have to be added to the system. So Wahl began exploring what a rocket could do. Using 3-D, full-physics simulation software, her team began modeling how much thrust was needed, and where should the jet be placed. As to the first part, she wouldn't share, declaring it a "key secret." As to the second, the jet needed to be as low as possible, and on the system I saw installed on a KTM 1190, relatively close to the front wheel. And as you can see in the video, the system apparently works, at least on a small slippery patch. With a bike equipped with outriggers and being ridden by a stunt rider, Bosch demonstrated what happens with and without the system if a hard-cornering machine strikes a loose patch of gravel. Oh, earplugs were definitely passed out before the demo. With the earplugs in and the bike 100 feet away when it went off, the thruster was loud, but almost certainly less so than a 12-gauge shotgun discharge.

Motorcycle Stability Control
Bosch’s Slip Mitigation System uses sensors already available in its Motorcycle Stability Control systems to trigger the cold gas thruster to increase front tire traction and allow the rider to regain control.Courtesy of Bosch

Given the speed and the about 2-foot width of the gravel patch, the jet probably acts for something like 20 milliseconds (1/50 of a second), and the thrust it produces has to equal a significant percentage of rider and bike weight. Of course, the system as demonstrated was a single-shot system; heaven help you if you hit two slippery patches, or one long one. The obvious answer to that is to replace the cold gas thruster with a much more efficient chemical rocket with small fuel tanks; I’d suggest using the same hypergolic propellants (they ignite upon contact) used by SpaceX on its Dragon capsule: monomethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. They do happen to be highly controlled substances and toxic as hell, but, hey, we’re saving lives here. And a 5-foot jet of fire coming out of the side of the bike would have to be impressive.

Ing. Anja Wahl
Ing. Anja Wahl describes how a thrust at the right place on the motorcycle can help the rider stay on course when hitting a slippery patch.Steve Anderson

Just think of the possibilities of bringing such a system to MotoGP. Márquez would have something that would allow deep inside passes without using the passed rider as a berm to arrest his slide, though whoever he passes might want to invest in a Nomex riding suit. It would add a new element as everyone would try to save their propellant for the last turn, so as to carry an extra 10 or 20 mph of corner speed to the finish line. It would make great TV!

When should you expect to see a Bosch Slip Mitigation System on a production machine? According to the head of the Bosch Two-Wheeler and Powersports business unit, Geoff Liersch, it will be “five to 10 years—if we find an OEM partner to develop it with.”