Thursdays With Vitto: Conversations About Motorcycle Electronics Part One: An Electronics Primer

Vittorio Bolognesi has worked as a data engineer with a who’s-who of riders, including Eric Bostrom, who he worked with twice; first when Bostrom rode a Superbike for Ducati Austin and, later, when Bolognesi and Bostrom were reunited on the Yamaha Factory Racing Superbike team.

Vittorio Bolognesi was born in Reggio Emilia near Bologna, Italy, as his surname suggests. Marconi, the electrical engineer who is credited with inventing radio, is also from the same region. Ironically, as a young boy, Vitto, besides enjoying the freedom of riding motorcycles, became interested in video games, computers, and electronics. A kid playing video games: sounds like a familiar story so far, right?

Well, Vitto turned his passion for video games, and his interest in cars and especially motorcycles, into a lifelong career. He’s worked in Formula One auto racing, endurance car racing, motorcycle Grand Prix and World Superbike racing, AMA road racing, and MotoAmerica, working for such brands as Ferrari, Lotus, Gilera, Aprilia, Ducati, and Yamaha. The drivers and riders he’s worked with are a who’s-who of stars, including Alain Prost, Jean Alesi, Troy Corser, John Kocinski, Mike Hale, Doug Chandler, Scott Russell, Jean-Michel Bayle, Anthony Gobert, Eric and Ben Bostrom, Josh Hayes, and Cameron Beaubier, among many others.

Vitto currently works for Marelli, and he is in charge of the Motorsport division in North America (formerly known as Magneti Marelli) located in the Detroit area of Michigan. He is currently working on various projects with IndyCar, IMSA, and NASCAR. He is also contracted out to Monster Energy/Yamalube/Yamaha Factory Racing where he serves as a data engineer for the team. Prior to working for Marelli, Vitto was a Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. employee, where he also worked as a data engineer for the road racing team.

In Part One of a four-part series, we asked Vitto some questions about motorcycle electronics. Below are his answers: 

Vitto, in a general sense, why are motorcycles equipped with electronics? I know it’s to control the engine, enable it to run efficiently, etc. Obviously, a lot of it is related to performance, and I assume part of the reason for electronics on motorcycles is safety. So, is it all of that? Are the electronics in place to increase performance and safety?

Well, it is the evolution of the “species”, isn’t it? Motorcycle engines are constantly becoming bigger and more powerful, so you need to “harness” all that power in order to be able to ride it and not to go over the limitations imposed by the chassis and tires.

Besides providing precise, targeted combustion efficiency and exhaust emissions, electronics are also vital riders’ aids that help control the torque delivery in a way that is both usable and safe during acceleration and deceleration.

There was a time period in Superbike racing history when the bikes had 750cc engines. Of course, 1000cc motorcycles were much different back then, but today, you can’t even imagine going back to 750cc Superbikes.

Definitely. The first 750cc Superbikes were way different than today’s 1000cc Superbikes. The power and torque delivery in those 750s could be very abrupt.

The riders of today, who are used to the electronic aids on-board their 1000cc Superbikes, would have a lot of trouble riding those 750s, and they would need to learn to be very smooth and cautious with the throttle despite the fact that those 750s had much less power than today’s 1000cc Superbike. Nowadays, you don’t see riders high-side anywhere near as often you used to see it back then. Thank goodness for that.

At one time, there seemed to be a fear that motorcycle racing would evolve to the point where there would be no rider and the bikes would be radio-controlled. Well, that hasn’t happened, and I don’t know if it ever will. Do you think that’s ever going to happen? Do you think a rider is always going to be part of the equation in motorcycle road racing?

Well, if that means anything, self-driving cars are already a reality, and all OEMs are investing heavily in that technology.

Recently, we’ve seen that Yamaha has been pursuing a self-riding motorcycle with their Motobot project. It’s a goal, at least for R&D purposes, to see what can be learned and explore new possibilities and eventually open up new marketing opportunities.

With motorcycles, it’s a more complicated issue, due to the nature of the vehicle, of course. In my opinion, I am not exactly sure what the end-purpose would be for the consumer. Is it that you can sit back and take a nap or read the newspaper, while the bike gets you to your destination?

People ride motorcycles because they enjoy the experience and not just because they want to get from point A to point B. So, to answer your question, I don’t think it is going to happen very soon unless it is strictly for the OEMs to learn something.


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