We’re living in the future, yo.
Honda has applied for patents on automatic suspension adjustment technology for its road/trail motorcycles. The patent, No. US 2019/0283835 A1, shows a CRF450R dirt bike with a suite of sensors and computers that allow it to ‘read’ the road ahead and alter suspension settings accordingly. Finding the right balance in off-road suspension is something of a dark science no matter what style of riding you do, and this approach hopes computers will do the heavy lifting for you.
Active suspension systems for motorcycles aren’t new, and there are many different ways to approach the concept. For example, BMW has electronic suspension available on its adventure bikes as well, with on-the-fly adjustable settings and automatic settings available. It’s system is called Dynamic ESA (electronic suspension adjustment) and uses multiple accelerometers to determine suspension behavior. Mercedes-Benz uses a visual sensor in its cars. Its Road Surface Scan technology uses cameras to scan ahead and prep the suspension to better absorb and mitigate bumps and potholes. I’ve driven on this system and it is effective on roads, but likely not on a trail where the visual surface is less uniform and therefore harder to read.
Honda’s system will be closer to the BMW set up and use an accelerometer to ‘read’ the road. The Acceleration Detection Unit will send signals to the Road Surface Decision Unit, which will direct the Suspension Controlling Unit to activate the Suspension Adjustment Mechanism all within milliseconds. The Acceleration Sensor will measure the extension of the fork leg, and under certain predetermined conditions, the whole system will trigger actuators within the fork. Those will add or remove compression from the spring, as well as change the hydraulic flow rate of the fork oil within the forks. That will alter both preload and compression damping depending on the readings from the sensor, and the calculations of the road decision unit.
The system has been designed with time parameters also, which allow the unit to monitor the surface continuously. Theoretically, this could be used to measure when a bike is airborne, and adjust the settings literally in mid-air to absorb the landing, before returning to a road-holding setting immediately after touchdown.
Suspension technology seems to move forward in generational leaps every few years, and it likely won’t be long before dynamic adjustment is par for the course.