Data Delirium | Stop Watch

Or what I did last summer

Jodi Christie Honda Canada CBR1000RR
Jodi Christie on his Honda Canada/ Accelerated Technologies CBR1000RR in Mopar Canadian Superbike action, using an AiM Sports EVO4 data acquisition system.

A couple of years ago I started working with AMA Supersport racer Javelin Broderick and his father, Bernie, using data acquisition to help them with setup and coach Javelin with his riding (Stopwatch, Oct. '12). I learned a lot about riding, setup, and data, but unfortunately Javelin had to cut back on his racing program this past year. While I still help him when he does race, I really wanted to continue working (okay…playing) with data, so I got involved with Canadian racer Jodi Christie.

Jodi rides a CBR1000RR with support from Honda Canada, and the bikes were built by my friend (and old 250 Grand Prix sparring partner) John Sharrard through his company, Accelerated Technologies. With some help from AiM Sports in California and Inside Motorcycles (a Canadian magazine I also write for), we were able to outfit one of Jodi’s superbikes with a full AiM EVO4 data acquisition system. The team is serious: Jodi is the Canadian Sport Bike (600) champion, and although it was their first full year in the Superbike class, we were looking for wins and perhaps even a shot at the championship.

When I work with Javelin, it is mostly about his riding; we use a Racepak system with GPS and look at things like throttle position and rpm. I knew right away from looking at Jodi’s data, however, that I would not be able to help much with his riding. Javelin is no slouch, but Jodi is definitely on another level, and I have to dig pretty deeply to find just subtle differences between his data and what I have for top-level AMA riders. That being the case, we concentrated mostly on using the data to help with setup.

We added suspension potentiometers to the system, something I have specifically wanted to study for some time. I had used suspension pots previously on our Suzuki GSX-R600 and Harley-Davidson XR1200 project bikes that we raced in the AMA, but that had mostly been limited to the basics such as checking travel and spring rates. Since then, however, I have learned a lot more about both data and suspension. A lot of that knowledge came from books and information based on race car data acquisition, and I quickly found that much of it didn’t apply when it came to motorcycles. In the car world, suspension action is well defined, and there are specific properties and numbers to aim for in terms of damping and vertical wheel velocities. When we changed settings with those properties and numbers in mind, however, it was clear that motorcycle suspension is not so well defined and definitely more complex than the car-based books led me to believe.

Luckily, John—who built the bikes and is Jodi’s crew chief at the races—is a suspension specialist, and together we were able to make some headway and get some usable information from the suspension data. As we got further into the season, we found that we could combine the suspension data with other data and see some interesting aspects of the overall chassis, something I was not expecting at all. The really ironic part here is that I discovered a lot of the information to accomplish this in video game development material. It turns out that all those car video games that seem so unrealistic actually have some basis in real physics, and a lot of the modeling used in those video games can be applied to a motorcycle’s chassis dynamics.

I have long known—and said before—that a good setup is a moving target, and requirements change with conditions, the track, and the rider. As we got more experience with the data, we were able to see those aspects and take into account things like the changes in grip from day to day, the characteristics of each individual track, and even how the rider goes quicker as the weekend goes on. I learned a lot over the course of the season and by the last round (of course!) I think between the three of us—Jodi, John, and I—we had a good handle on getting the bike set up for a particular track.

If you keep track of the Mopar Canadian Superbike series, you’ll already know how we did. Jodi won one of the races but came up a bit short in the championship with third overall. We are hoping to try again next year, and I am looking forward to learning some more. In the meantime, I will put what I learned last summer to good use when we start testing new models this year.