Why is ECU flashing better than using a “piggyback” fuel controller?
This is going to be a long one, but we think that it is absolutely essential that anyone looking to maximize their motorcycle’s performance (and their own personal riding enjoyment) understand how to best tune and dial in their bike.
PLEASE, unless there is no quality ECU flashing available for your bike, don’t waste your money on a Power Commander, Bazzaz or any other piggyback style fuel controller! Quite simply, they’re a waste of money when there’s total control over the mapping in the stock ECU for most modern bikes on the market. Let’s dive into the FACTS!
Until the late 2000’s, there simply wasn’t access to the mapping in stock ECU’s, so a piggyback fuel controller (a device that intercepts and taps into the fuel injectors, throttle position sensor, and sometimes several other fuel injection components) had to be used to tune and dial in a motorcycle. The single most popular piggyback fuel controller on the market is the Power Commander, but many others exist on the market (Bazzaz, RapidBike, EJK, etc). Nels, and our technicians, have installed THOUSANDS of these piggyback fuel controllers on motorcycles over the past decade or so, because they’re a great tool for an experienced and qualified tuner to use when adjusting fuel, and sometimes ignition timing, mapping on a dyno when no other solutions are/were available. They allow for adjustment of the TPS (throttle position) vs RPM fuel mapping with a high level of resolution for most applications. Depending on the bike, they usually cost anywhere between $320 and a whopping $1250, take 1-3 hours to properly install inline with the bike’s fuel injection, and sometimes ignition, system. Before ECU flashing, they were the best solution on the market!
Let’s fast forward to the modern era of motorcycle fuel injection systems and emissions compliance! Even on a relatively simple fuel injection system, like the one used on a Yamaha FZ/MT-07, Power Commanders, and every other piggyback fuel controller, simply doesn’t cut it anymore. They don’t allow for adjustment of the individual IAP vs RPM and TPS v RPM tables, which the ECU references and weights differently depending on the particular load, throttle, and engine speed (RPM) data inputs that are constantly being referenced by the fuel mapping algorithms. Without specific control over both sets of fuel mapping tables, some of the lighter throttle/load points simply can’t be properly tuned. This is part of the reason why most Power Commander users for these bikes still experience significant popping/backfiring on deceleration and light throttle transition with aftermarket intake/exhaust systems!
These bikes (we’re still talking about a simple FZ/MT-07) also suffer from a massive fuel cut on deceleration, which is programmed directly into the stock ECU by Yamaha for emissions compliance. In fact, almost all modern fuel injected motorcycles have deceleration fuel cuts! Instead of gradually increasing/decreasing fuel injector pulse width (or duty cycle depending on the system) with engine RPM, throttle position and/or engine load like a volume knob, this emissions feature simply shuts off the fuel injectors entirely the moment you roll off the throttle like a light switch. This is the primary contributor to most bike’s massively “twitchy” or “jerky” throttle transitions, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to address this with ANY piggyback system. It MUST be disabled through flashing the ECU.
All modern, liquid cooled, fuel injected bikes also suffer from much higher than optimal engine temperatures. Again, this is done for emissions purposes. Higher cylinder temperatures directly increase fuel combustion temperatures, and this produces a more “complete” or “clean” burn of the fuel. This sounds great on paper, but in reality these increased combustion temperatures also increase the risk of pre-detonation (knocking) and shorten the overall life of the internal engine components. Most cooling fans aren’t engaged by the ECU until 215-220 degrees Fahrenheit, and this, once again, CANNOT be adjusted through any piggyback system on the market. They CAN ONLY be adjusted through flashing the ECU. Our cooling fan engagement parameters, along with our custom fuel and ignition mapping that result in an overall cooler combustion, keep the engine operating right around 200 degrees Fahrenheit during almost all riding conditions!
All of those parameters, emissions features, and specific fuel/ignition maps can only be specifically modified via proper ECU flashing, and that’s on a system as simplistic as an FZ/MT-07! On almost all manufacturer’s flagship TBW (Throttle-By-Wire) model bikes, there are MANY more emissions compliance restrictions placed in the stock ECU mapping that MASSIVELY limit engine performance. Manufacturers have gone as far as to create individual gear-based restrictions in both the electronic throttle AND ignition timing mapping on many of these bikes. These restrictions are so intrusive that on a 2016+ Kawasaki ZX10R, the upper gears have a nearly FIFTY HORSEPOWER restriction at the top of the RPM range! When you’re at WOT (Wide Open Throttle) in 5th gear on these bikes, the electronic throttle mapping ignores your wrist’s throttle input and begins to close the throttle plates by over 30%. Not only are all of these electronic throttle mapping systems massively restricted, but they also leave a LOT to be desired in terms of the smoothness of the throttle plate(s) opening and power delivery to the wheels. Once again (you guessed it), there isn’t a piggyback system on the market capable of modifying the electronic throttle mapping built into these modern ECU’s.
Let’s pretend that none of those marks against piggyback controllers existed. Even if you could ignore ALL of those issues, you still have to swallow the fact that you’re going to spend an hour or two installing a system that taps into the stock wiring harness/connectors and is, sadly, prone to eventual failure, AND when these controllers do fail, you’re stuck on the side of the road until you can remove the unit from the bike. Even IF you’re willing to ignore the potential failure risk of an aftermarket fuel controller, you still have to either A) have the mapping dialed in by an experienced tuner on a dyno, OR B) rely on the generic mapping you can find online. Let’s put it this way: if the mapping available online was truly dialed in for a specific motorcycle and intake/exhaust system, it wouldn’t be available for free. At best, the mapping you can find on Power Commander’s website is at least better than stock for your specific bike’s setup. At worst, it’s even further from optimal than the stock mapping, which we sadly see ALL THE TIME on our dyno.
All of our fuel and ignition mapping is built SPECIFICALLY for each motorcycle’s intake/exhaust system combo on the main ONE of our THREE dynos, by Nels, who now has over 105,000 runs logged on our primary dyno AND has been tuning motorcycles for over a decade. Because of all of the data compiled from thousands of motorcycles with different intake/exhaust system combinations, we have mapping as perfectly dialed in as possible for virtually every specific intake/exhaust combination on all of the motorcycles that we support. We add to this mapping database every single day, thanks to our great relationships with our local dealer network, major distributors, exhaust manufacturers, and our fantastic customers! We also routinely test our mapping for accuracy, and, thanks to the increasingly tight manufacturing tolerances from most of the major motorcycle manufacturers, our mapping is almost always 97-98% perfect.
If all of those reasons STILL somehow don’t convince you that a Power Commander is, in almost every scenario for a modern motorcycle, the WRONG method of tuning for your bike…consider this. Almost all of our ECU flashing services are only $250. That’s $70 less than the cheapest Power Commander V. At the end of the day, our ECU flash will provide you with a SMOOTHER throttle response, INCREASED PERFORMANCE and COOLER operating temperatures throughout the entire RPM range than any piggyback controller ever can…for less money.