Harley-Davidson Embraces Vehicle Electronics On New Big Twins

Might electronic rider aids soon be mandatory?

Reflex Defensive Rider Systems
Harley-Davidson has introduced new electronics—called Reflex Defensive Rider Systems and H-D Connect—on a selection of its Big Twin-powered two- and three-wheel lineup, plus the all-electric LiveWire (shown). The Motor Company claims these features will "enhance the riding and ownership experience."Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson has announced a range of electronic systems to be available on select 2020 models. Such systems are already familiar to riders of other makes and include smartphone vehicle information, monitoring connectivity, and a suite of safety-enhancing rider aids.

There may be special significance in this announcement. Harley-Davidson is among the oldest and most conservative of manufacturers, so its embrace of rider-safety electronics may result from its knowledge or belief that such systems—their value already amply proven—could soon become mandatory in many nations.

Now that smartphone ownership has become so widespread. it only makes sense to enable functions such as vehicle-status information, tamper alerts, and, in the case of theft, stolen-vehicle assistance on the H-D phone app. These are collectively known as H-D Connect and are subscription-based cellular connectivity via the cloud.

Harley cockpit
Easier mastery of the road ahead? Drag-Torque Slip Control (DSCS) is said to reduce rear-tire slip during deceleration. It’s standard on all 2020 CVOs and optional on Touring models, save for the sub-$19K Electra Glide Standard. Cornering Enhanced Drag-Torque Slip Control System (C-DSCS) is tailored for turns.Harley-Davidson

Vehicle status includes fuel level or, in the case of LiveWire, battery charge, available riding range, tire pressures, riding stats, odometer reading, and infotainment updates. LiveWire owners can search compatible charge stations, and while charging, receive time-to-charge completion updates. H-D Connect can also show vehicle location on a map in the app. The system sends an alert if the vehicle is bumped or moved, and provides service reminders.

What The Motor Company calls Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) is the usual list of active-system acronyms, four of them “cornering enhanced,” which means that they are informed by an on-board Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) provided to monitor vehicle lean angle and able to compute the effect of that angle on these functions: linked braking, ABS, traction control, and throttle-based engine-braking control, which H-D gives the grand title Drag-Torque Slip Control System (DSCS).

A press release carefully explains that such systems cannot make grip; they seek to make optimum use of the grip actually available. These systems do not influence vehicle direction, an important difference from four-wheel automotive stability-control systems. The rider is always responsible for speed, steering, and path corrections.

Some years ago, a Dunlop team invited visitors to Americade to have their tire pressures measured. Forty percent of bikes measured had underinflated tires.

Vehicle Hold Control (VHC) is also in the package. The rider of a bike so equipped gives an extra squeeze to the brake after coming to a stop, thereby engaging VHC. This reduces the number of controls the rider must manage simultaneously when making an uphill or downhill stop and restart.

There is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), which alerts the operator if low tire pressure is detected. Some years ago, a Dunlop team invited visitors to Americade, a touring rally in Lake George, New York, to have their tire pressures measured. Forty percent of bikes measured had underinflated tires.

Understandably, some older experienced riders question the need for such systems, just as some senior surgeons have resisted the use of operating-room checklists—where could that missing hemostat be? These systems are ultimately a gift to motorists from the US space program. Centralized digital flight control was adopted just in time for the Apollo flights to the moon. The concept was next implemented on military aircraft, then in commercial flying, and further made to ease the special stability and control problems of Formula 1. From there, it has moved to autos, racing motorcycles beginning in 1990, and now, Harley-Davidson.