I hadn't been on my Dyna all that much this year. The purchase of my Svartpilen 701 meant I'd spent the majority of my riding time this year on my little Swedish missile and a handful of other late model bikes that come through the garage  here at J&P Cycles. The point being, all of the bikes I've spent the most time riding the last few months have been equipped with ABS and traction control. I haven't been the biggest fan of ABS and traction control in the cruiser market because quite frankly no one in cruiser land really does it that well. It's usually abrupt and interruptive compared to more refined anti-lock braking and traction control   systems on racier brands, but I leave those systems activated  a fair amount of the time just because I'm too lazy to turn it off. Except for my little Husky where I am pretty diligent about turning off the traction control while on paved roads but leaving it on when I’m on the gravel and dirt roads because it actually works really well (the ABS on the 701 stays on all the time).

I had finished swapping out all the fluids on my Dyna and decided to take it for a rip up the canyon.  I accelerated hard into the first corner at the bottom of Vanocker Canyon knowing exactly what the sequence of corners laid out in front of me was. For a bit of context my Dyna is far from stock. With a stroker motor, Fox suspension and Performance Machine brakes it gets around fairly well for a Harley. I have ridden this road 100's of times, many of those times on my Dyna and most of the time pretty aggressively, so I'm really comfortable in the canyon and have a good feel for the rhythm of the road. So it caught me off guard after a few corners when I slid the rear end of the bike into a corner on the brakes. It wasn't anything wild but I had inadvertently locked up the rear brake coming into a corner where I was completely comfortable and although I was carrying some speed it in no way felt like I had overcooked the corner. As I made my way through the canyon I wasn't as comfortable as usual and seemed to be a bit heavy-handed on the brakes to the point where I started overthinking my braking because my normal muscle memory seemed to be resulting in me mashing the brakes a bit too much. This got me thinking, had ABS made me become a bit lazy as a rider?

The next week I spent time swapping between my Dyna and the Svartpilen and by no means is there an apples to apples comparison here but I was paying attention to my approach riding the bikes on the brakes and I was definitely lazier and more ham-handed with the rear brake on the smaller ABS-equipped bike. Now maybe you can chalk that up to the lighter, better equipped machine being more forgiving in a corner, but it started me wondering if I was relying on the ABS a bit too much to regulate my rear brake. A few days later I decided to take a similar approach with the traction control as I hit some gravel roads on the Svartpilen. Blasting down Black Hills dirt roads is an absolute blast on the 701 and with traction control switched on you can be way more aggressive one the gas exiting corners. It almost seems magical as you give 'er the beans and expect the bike to step out and spin, it actually hooks up and shoots you down the road.

After spending a good portion of the day pretending I was Scottie Parker I started heading home, retracing my steps back down the same dirt roads, this time with the traction control off. Even though I was very aware I needed to be more judicious with my throttle hand I still found myself clunky with throttle input, spinning up the rear tire and then chopping it quickly to recover. I had smoothed things out by the time I hit the last few roads and was grinning ear to ear as I smoothly slid the bike out of the corners. But it had me thinking, as the tech in new bikes improves, is it making us lazy and diminishing our core skill sets?  

I was further intrigued after watching Ari Henning and Zack Courts pit a 2005 GSXR1000 against a Ducati Panigale V4S and have some...let's just say very interesting results. Ari and Zach took a much more scientific approach using actual measurable results as opposed to me just hooning around on back roads. But their result will have you pondering the same things I was marinating on as I was cruising my Dyna through the canyons. Are we becoming too reliant on tech? Don't get me wrong, I love the innovation and tech that is trickling off the racetrack and down to us mere street goons, but at what cost? Are we sacrificing some of our base skills to the tech gods in return for ease of use of our motorcycles? Maybe, as usual the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but my archaic Dyna sure does make me appreciate the bells and whistles on a late model rocket ship. I feel like there is still a place for the raw tactile feel of being responsible for the complete control of your machine with no wires attached to save your bacon. It’s not exactly a John Henry vs the steam shovel argument, the high level racers obviously have huge amounts of sensors and controllers aiding them in going uber fast and if it wasn’t an advantage they wouldn’t waste the money. But as good as wheelie control, launch control, lean angle controlled ABS and “sport” modes work, if I had to choose one or the other I’d probably do without all the electronic do-dads. I think the fun factor lives in your ability to control your own destiny. Having your stomach drop when the front end unexpectedly lofts skyward, or the adrenaline spike a bit when the rear wheel slides. Maybe I’m just an analog dude living in a digital world, but that's the great thing about the moto-age we're living in, you can have your cake and eat it too.