Editor’s Note: Emails from Technical Editor Kevin Cameron often become your own private treasure trove of motorcycling knowledge—full of lessons and insights that might never be shared with the world. This one, however, I want to share. July 20, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong stepping off the Apollo 11 Lunar Module onto the moon. Kevin effortlessly tied today’s motorcycle technology and control to a question of analog versus digital during the development of the Apollo program. Enjoy.

Justin Dawes: Hey, Kevin. I was thinking at lunch today about the anniversary of the moon landing. Perhaps you have a perspective on the Apollo program that relates to motorcycling? We previously emailed about the F1A rocket engines. Any thoughts?

Kevin Cameron: You bet. There had been great debate in aerospace circles over whether or not they should abandon the long tradition of fixing flight quirks with quick and easy analog systems. The brave new worlders were calling for digital systems but people born before a certain date were very suspicious of all that modernity—zeroes and ones, and circuits so small no one can see them. Are they even really there?

But as the difficulty of what they were trying to do to get men onto the moon grew and grew, it began to look as though it might be best to take the time to develop a single unified digital flight-control system to handle everything. If changes were needed, they could be implemented in software. Finally, the decision was made to go all digital.

lunar module
The challenges presented by landing on the moon led to a single unified digital flight-control system, using software rather than hardware for changes.NASA

Next, designers of military aircraft wanted it, so the layers of analog patches were replaced by digital flight-control systems. Today, the pilot tells the ECU what he'd like the airplane to do, and the computer does what's possible (let's not talk about Boeing's 737 Max 8 troubles here).

And then civil aviation switched as well.

And Formula 1 wasn't far behind, linking all functions and data gathering to a single ECU plus sensors. Virtual powerband! Anti-spin! Launch control!

And then it began to appear in production cars. One day about 20 years ago when I was visiting Harley-Davidson, Earl Werner, the chief engineer of that time who had been head at Corvette, said, "Cars have yaw control. Why shouldn't a motorcycle have yaw control?"

MotoGP began to adopt what had worked so well in F1, and similar systems soon appeared on production motorcycles.

racing motorcycles
Digital systems allow superior pilots to control the most advanced racing motorcycles to their utmost potential—much like astronauts and spacecraft.Ducati

Then it came to pass that the old gents, born in an earlier age, raised a great hullabaloo, saying, "Rip out all that interfering electronics and return to the True Faith! One man, one cylinder, an Amal carburetor, and a Lucas magneto!"

But the manufacturers paid them no heed and equipped motorcycles with systems that have since come more and more to resemble animal nervous systems. Werner's rhetorical question has been answered: Motorcycles can now have yaw control. And much else.