Thursdays With Vitto: Conversations About Motorcycle Electronics Part Three: Where Electronics Have Been And Where They’re Headed

Vitto downloads critical data directly to his laptop from the ECU on-board one of Josh Hayes’ AMA Pro Racing-era Yamaha Superbikes.

Following as a technological progression from basic electrical systems with magnetos, contact breaker points, and condensers, the first electronics systems in motorcycles consisted of solid-state Capacitor Discharge Ignitions (CDIs) and Transistor-Controlled Ignitions (TCIs) that were the earliest versions of what are now known as Electronic Control Units (ECUs). 

And, as the saying goes, “we’ve come a long way, baby.” Electronics systems have advanced and proliferated in motorcycles, and they now feature all kinds of intervention strategies, from traction control, to wheelie control, to launch control, to engine braking.

Vittorio Bolognesi has been involved with motorcycle electronics throughout virtually all of the above progression of technology… and he’s still a young man. In Part Three of a four-part series, we asked Vitto not only about the evolution of motorcycle electronics, but also what the future might hold.

Vitto, let’s talk about motorcycle electronics have evolved. Do you think the evolution has been steady, or do you think there have been occasional great leaps forward in electronics technology over the years?

Well, thinking about when I started, there has been a lot of change, but my career has been a little bit unusual. I kind of started at the top and moved sideways. I started out in Formula 1 cars, and then I moved to GP bikes and World Superbike, then AMA Superbike and MotoAmerica.

So, I was always going from a lot of technology to a little bit less, and that has given me a lot of perspective. I had experience with more technology, and I was able to bring a little bit of that knowledge to the different racing series that had somewhat less technology.

The evolution has been steady, but the “trickle-down effect” from automobiles to motorcycles, and from large, worldwide racing series to national racing series has resulted in some very big leaps forward.

After years of working with Magneti Marelli on the customer side of the equation (seen here conferring with Magneti Marelli’s Marco Guglielmini), Vitto moved from SoCal to Detroit a few years ago and went to work for Marelli themselves.

Is the internal combustion engine becoming an endangered species? Do you think the future of propelling a motorcycle via an internal combustion engine is in jeopardy, and do you think electric motorcycles will become the rule rather than the exception?

We’re definitely heading in the electrification direction. The automotive sector is clearly headed that way, and even Harley-Davidson is making electric bikes now. The key is the packaging: making the components small enough and light enough to fit on a two-wheeled vehicle. But, I would say there is no stopping this train.

Following the success of Formula E, the electric motorcycle E-prix series is taking off, and I am very curious about how it is going to evolve from there. Being a Gen-Xer myself, I still love the sound of an internal combustion engine screaming at high RPMs, but I will say that it is pretty cool to see the instant acceleration that those e-bikes have at the start!

What is the processing speed and capacity of the ECU in most MotoAmerica Superbikes, whether it’s a stock ECU, race kit ECU, Marelli system, or MoTec? Are they essentially as fast as, say, the average laptop? Can they store as much data as a consumer laptop?

I can speak for the Marelli MLE system, which is currently being used by a large number of Superbike teams in both MotoAmerica and World Superbike.

Our ECU has a dual processor, one “brain” for the actuators (injectors, coils, etc.) and another brain for the strategies (traction control, engine braking, wheelie control, launch control, etc.) so it’s like having two people working at the same time. And, despite having multiple complex simultaneous strategies, we are nowhere close to speed calculation limitations.

Data-logging capacity is not an issue, either. If you wanted to, you could record hundreds of channels of information for over four hours at high frequencies, and the system can handle it, no problem.


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