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The vast majority of personal watercraft reviews in the past two years have mentioned some form of electronic reverse control. Sea-Doo pioneered the concept with its Intelligent Brake & Reverse, introduced late in 2008 for the coming 2009 model year. Last year, Yamaha joined in with its own take, RiDE, or Reverse with Intuitive Driver Electronics. Let’s see how they stack up with a Sea-Doo iBR vs. Yamaha RiDE comparison.
Both systems revolutionized reverse operation by relocating the controls from the console to the handlebars, allowing riders to keep their hands on the bars and their eyes on the water. Both, however, also went far beyond simple reverse control.
By allowing the reverse bucket to partially deploy at startup, they allowed a PWC to mimic a boat’s neutral gear and stay stationary, rather than surge forward with a jolt of thrust. Both systems also provided the ability to rapidly decelerate, or as Sea-Doo calls it, “brake” on the water. In this way both iBR and RiDE proved a true triple threat, and easily the greatest enhancement ever to a personal watercraft’s control and everyday operation.
Yes, the systems are markedly similar. Despite what many may argue, however, they’re not carbon copies. Each has a distinct personality that affects their operation, and reflects each manufacturer’s goals for the systems.
First, the obvious. As mentioned, each system electronically links a control lever on the handlebars (almost identical in style to the traditional throttle) to what is essentially a modified version of the traditional reverse bucket. The throttle remains on the right hand side of the bars, the iBR or RiDE lever the left. Input at that lever causes the reverse bucket to do one thing, interrupt the flow of water exiting the pump. At lower speeds, a full deflection causes the craft to move in reverse; a partial deflection imitates a neutral setting. At high speeds, that full deflection redirects that thrust in an opposing direction, causing the craft to rapidly slow and eventually come to a stop.
Those are the similarities. The differences lie in how each manufacturer interprets this basic premise. Sea-Doo takes the closest approach to a boat’s traditional gearing. The iBR lever effectively switches the motion from forward to neutral to reverse, with a distinct switch and brief accompanying lag between settings. Yamaha, by comparison, opts for a dual throttle concept, with an almost continual flow between operations. The traditional throttle applies power in forward, the RiDE lever overrides the throttle when applied and provides power in reverse, and the craft goes into a neutral mode when both levers are released.
Both craft rapidly decelerate when the iBR/RiDE lever is pulled at speed. Even then, however, differences come to light. iBR initially deflects water flow upward, pulling the craft from the stern and using that diverted water to head skyward as a visual braking signal. Once speed drops to about 10 mph, reverse thrust is applied for further stopping power. Hard stops keep the boat mostly level, but there is a slight drop at the bow. RiDE, in contrast, diverts water out two forward-angled exits off the sides of the reverse bucket and dictates thrust via the amount that lever is pulled. The design keeps the craft almost completely level, with no drop at the bow.
Last year I had the opportunity to test both systems with riders unfamiliar with any type of electronic braking/deceleration or reverse. My intention was to get a true novice rider’s perspective on each, in common scenarios from docking to decelerating at speed.
Both riders initially noted each system had a slight learning curve. You need to get accustomed to how fast they’ll decelerate at speed, how much power they’ll apply in reverse, and how quickly each transitions between actions. As one noted, particularly in relation to docking, trying the systems out while using a floating buoy as a target is relatively easy. Transition to a dock or fixed object you can actually hit and the process gets a little stressful. At least initially. Both riders’ recommendation, and one that I agree with: less is more. The less throttle you apply, the easier it is to get the desired result.
In the docking scenario, both riders initially took to the Sea-Doo’s iBR, as it offers a more precise switch between forward, neutral and reverse, and limits power in reverse to 2500 RPM compared to Yamaha’s more powerful 3500 RPM. With additional time on the water, however, Yamaha’s RiDE began to rapidly catch up, and at times surpass iBR. The reason was simplicity. The throttle provided forward power, and the more you squeezed it the faster the craft would go. The RiDE lever provided reverse power, and the more you squeezed it the faster you would back up. Sea-Doo, by comparison, uses the iBR lever to switch between forward, neutral and reverse, and the traditional throttle to provide power.
When both riders got in over their heads during the learning process, both also learned to appreciate the value of stopping that motion, or going into neutral. With RiDE, that neutral is achieved by letting go of both levers. From forward, iBR requires a quick “click” of the iBR lever to leave forward and put the craft into neutral.
iBR, however, holds the advantage when it comes to rapid deceleration, or as Sea-Doo would call it, braking. On similar entry-level models with similar horsepower, I established these baseline numbers: both craft slowed from 50 mph to 5 mph in about 250’ over the course of roughly 7.5 seconds. Activating iBR dropped that same distance and time to 143’ in 4.8 seconds; activating RiDE dropped that baseline number to 177.6’ over 5.3 seconds. At 30 mph, neither craft held any significant advantage. On average, both craft slowed in less than four seconds over a span of 92’.
Though different, calling one system better than the other is pointless. Each excelled in different areas, but most importantly each worked, and worked well. Sea-Doo may have been the first on the scene, but Yamaha has staked out their own take on the concept with impressive results. Both brands have also made the technology available throughout their lines, from low-cost entry-level models to pricey flagships. Soon, iBR and RiDE won’t be thought of as something new and revolutionary, but rather just another form of control we enjoy over our craft.
That’s a change for the better.
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