The Juxtaposition of Flashed ECUs and Fuel Controllers
There’s one question that comes up quite often in my line of work as an R&D Technician for Bazzaz. Many people want to know which is better, getting their ECU flashed or getting a piggyback fuel controller. The simple answer is both. But when is life ever simple? Let’s start by reviewing the capabilities of each option.
Most of us are familiar with the various capabilities of fuel controllers. They plug in line with the fuel injectors on your bike and modify the output signal to either richen or lean out your fuel mixture. The top of the line fuel management systems have digital interfaces that make it very easy to adjust their settings. These systems also have their respective self-mapping modules which give the user the ability to constantly refine their fuel mapping, with data being collected from their bike during operation.
To understand flashing stock ECUs, lets first talk about what race ECUs can do. Kawasaki’s Kit ECUs, Honda’s HRC ECUs, Yamaha’s YEC ECU, Suzuki’s EMPro ECUs, or Ducati’s Performance ECUs all give you the ability to modify the parameters inside your ECU, in much the same manner as adjusting your fuel map in a piggy-back fuel management system. With a race ECU you have the ability to remove the need for various sensors, change your ignition timing, change the reaction of a fly-by-wire throttle system, change the base fueling maps, raise your rev limiter, etc. However tuning with these ECUs is more time consuming, not only because there are so many different channels to tune but because none of these systems have any kind of data acquisition or self-tuning abilities.
A race ECU brings in a whole new depth of tuning capabilities that the average street rider will not be able to capitalize on. I always do my best to discourage street riders from getting sucked into the “must buy race electronics, because then my bike will be faaaaaaassst!” mentality because they’re not aware of the extra amount of investment, both monetary and time. The emergence of the option to have your ECU flashed has brought the race ECU benefits more in range of the average rider. When you send your ECU out to be flashed, your ECU gets its internal parameters rewritten. When being flashed any parameter that can be changed in a race ECU can also be changed in your stock ECU, except there is no option for you to change any of those parameters later, unless you send it off to be flashed again.
Getting your ECU flashed can certainly benefit your bike; increasing rideability and power output. However the changes made to the fuel map during this process are not precise and do not remove the need for a custom tune with a fuel controller. In fact as more often is the case, you will need a custom tune all the more once you’ve flashed your ECU. The companies who have developed the flashing programs may have tuning experience, but I guarantee they have not made an individual fuel map for every variable change for every bike they offer flashing services for. Instead they know approximately how much the fueling will need modified in what areas, according to the different parameters they are changing. It’s not an exact science.
Flashing your ECU can unlock power gains that cannot be realized by a fuel control system alone, but will still have inherent quirks and rough patches just like the base setting of a stock ECU. To get the absolute best tune for your bike, and maintain an element of easy adjustability, I recommend using a fuel management system in combination with either a race ECU or flashed ECU. But more importantly remember to invest in the set-up that you can get the most out of. Do you ride mainly on the street? Stick with a fuel controller. Are you a track day junky or amateur racer with limited resources? Go ahead and get your ECU flashed, but pair it up with a fuel controller and custom tune. Or if you’ve got a bigger budget and find yourself fighting for podiums, perhaps you should go ahead and get that race ECU and find a tuner who knows how to get it dialed in for you. Don’t forget though, that some of the aftermarket engine management systems have capabilities that even the race ECU’s can’t offer, like traction control and self-mapping.
I got to talk to the founder of ECU Unleashed this weekend at the IMS, and really pick his brain about this topic. He agreed with my 100% that the best way to go it to pair a fuel controller with a flashed or race ECU. Especially when it comes to flashing, he said that the maps that are being put in the flashes are just guesses, with the exception of the R1 and R6 maps, because he worked for Graves for a number of years, and knows exactly what those bikes need. But even on the Yamahas that get a very accurate base map in the re-flash, you'll still need to re-tune every once in a while, and it's way easier to just have a fuel controller, and make the adjustments in that.
If you want the breakdown on fuel management systems, take some time to read this thread. For a walk through on pulling FI Codes, check out this thread. Questions about Flashed ECUs vs. Fuel Controllers? Try this one. Got a Z-Fi TC System? Read This to get an idea of how it works. Here's a link to some Kawasaki Service Manuals that I've got hosted for everyone's use. And please check out my blog for more sage advice and technical ramblings. Some basics about braking here.
Last edited by EvilTwin; 12-11-2012 at 07:20 AM.