The round rubber roll is a Continental bag, but it’s not the only one – hardly. You undoubtedly know Continental by tires – and you should. Conti has been producing tires for more than 150 years in almost all industries. From solid rubber to pneumatic tires and now, tires of dandelions. Continental occupies the tire market as a major player, but the German company’s emphasis on safety doesn’t stop where the rubber meets the road. Continental is taking more than a few steps forward to communicate how rubber interacts with the road. Nowadays, the effort to ensure the safety of people no longer ends with the mechanical traction of the tire. More than ever, companies like Continental are developing extremely sophisticated driver/driver aids that range from easy safety system intervention to fully autonomous driving.

To demonstrate Continental’s commitment to two wheels, Continental Engineering Services (CES) invited us to the company’s facility in Brimley, Michigan for a hands-on test of some of the technology the company has been perfecting over the past 30 years. simulation of the real world. We also had the opportunity to look into the processes and components that Continental offers to manufacturers and how these systems work together.


Riding a motorcycle with outriggers is a fun experience. Well, that’s pretty normal as long as you don’t turn and immediately lose your lean angle when the plastic outrigger washer hits the tarmac. However, if you dig hard into the ABS on loose surfaces, the outriggers allow you to focus more closely on the intervention of the anti-lock braking system. ABS systems on motorcycles are not new, but these systems are constantly being improved. We had a chance to throw a leg over a KTM 790 Duke with Continental components and software, and we broke down on a few different surface scenarios.

Since the early 1990s, Continental has invested heavily in automotive electronics, and by 2007 Conti was among the top five suppliers to the automotive industry. Through the development of its own companies and the acquisition of other specialized companies, Continental has significantly increased its involvement in developing solutions for complex vehicle functions, such as the many advanced driver assistance systems found in today’s vehicles. These days, Conti’s supercomputer is helping to develop artificial intelligence, which in turn will help the company develop future technologies in assisted, automated and autonomous driving, further expanding its core skills in software, networking and system architecture. Some of these systems will also be used in power sports, but will need to be tested to make sure they work in a two-wheeled application.

The Continental Engineering Services group is heavily involved in research and development and helps to take on projects that may be deemed more risky or simply on a smaller scale than the company as a whole would normally be interested in. This can help a motorcycle start-up develop and implement systems in new ways with existing Conti products or even help develop products for new applications. CES can provide support anywhere from consulting to development and integration to prototype testing.

Photo by Andy Grieser.

Our hard-braking practice at the Conti proving ground didn’t produce anything mind-blowing, as we normally test the ABS systems on every bike we pass through MO stable, but being able to test the ABS systems on sand and gravel was a bit more interesting. Perhaps more than that, testing ABS on the transition between asphalt and gravel or sand really showed the importance of these technologies.

Naturally, a large patch of construction sand increases your braking distance significantly, but with the Conti braking system on the KTM we piloted, its intervention was so precise that it stopped quicker than I thought it would. The test engineers who performed our exercises told us that if the coefficient of friction for asphalt is 1, then for sand it will be 0.4 (thankfully, they did not try to explain the physical formula that makes up these numbers).

The most eye-opening scenario is, say, going around a corner and finding a large patch of dirt and rocks on the other side while Bambi crosses the road. We went over 40 mph, braked hard enough to trigger the ABS before the patch, and then felt the ABS change from clean tarmac to dirt and back to clean tarmac.

The speed at which the ABS pulsation went from fast to slightly slower to fast again made for an impressively quick stop. During our sand testing, I had a little bit of front wheel push, but the outrigger washers never touched any of the exercises while I was being purposefully braked.

It is in these situations that this technology makes riders safer. At the race track, even being a newbie here, I can sometimes find the ABS a little too intrusive, but on a dark mountain road full of gravel and wildlife, or a lane split down the 405, I think I’d be happier more often than not with the system watching behind my back. It wasn’t that long ago that some of these systems could do strange things on rough surfaces and in other situations that would make me wonder, but with companies like Conti constantly striving to improve, it’s very interesting to see how things have changed for a smaller time for more than 10 years.

Note the indicators on the mirrors and the little black radar in the back (with the yellow wire going into it). Our luggage was empty, no data was recorded that day.

We also had a chance to check out Continental’s rear-mounted radar technology installed on the Harley-Davidson Sportster. The radar will turn on the lights on the mirrors to let the rider know someone is in their blind spot. Of course, this is already a standard feature on some motorcycles with radar technology, such as the Ducati Multistrada. Conti noted that this system has extensive capabilities and versatility, including alerts for vehicles approaching at high speeds. This information can be communicated to the rider by light, sound or tactile – these decisions are left to the customer / car manufacturer. I was followed by a Can-Am Spyder on a curve that mimicked an on-ramp, and the light stayed reliably on despite the Sportster pushing it to the limits of lean angle (which we all know isn’t much).

Later that day, we went around the tapered course to try out the Continental 790, which the engineers called a “road” map – something for everyday use. The reps told us they’ve smoothed out the throttle both overall and under harsh pressure. All of this torque control was achieved using the Continental IMU brake controller. Grabbing the throttle on a lean resulted in a progressive gradual build-up of power rather than a high tank (thankfully) and high-rpm throttle jumps were smoothed out considerably. When riding the bike at a hot pace with higher revs, you could feel exactly where the system was working to smooth things out. In some ways it reminded me of smoothness 790 Evans after adding Power Commander V.
Continental can provide its customers with modular systems, leaving the manufacturer to choose how to implement the system and market it. Any company in this field will work with a manufacturer to deliver the technology, but ultimately a lot depends on the manufacturer. So when you and I see the implementation, most of them have been solved by the OEM. Continental can supply three pieces of hardware: a brake system controller, a wheel speed sensor and a sensor cluster (including an IMU) that can run systems via the CANBUS network, including ABS, cornering ABS, traction control, engine resistance control, wheel control, steering launch and rear wheel drift.

Photo by Andy Grieser.

It would have been great to have more time with the people in Brimley to discuss this further, but as planned I spent more time traveling than on the ground at the Canadian border. The bottom line was that everyone we met was genuinely interested and happy to do what they do, and at CES they have the opportunity to pivot and try new things with the support of a leading global company. Everyone we spoke to was passionate about their work and sharing their time with us.

While I’m not sure if I’m ready for assisted braking or autonomous motorcycles (what’s the point?!), as technology improves and the boundaries are pushed, we’re all the better for it. Radar systems and the latest driver aids help make motorcycling safer and in many ways more fun. As long as we continue to have the adjustability of these systems that many modern motorcycles offer, I’m excited to see what the future holds. Companies like Continental no doubt have a lot more to come in the coming years.

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