ABS Motorcycles vs Non ABS Motorcycles – Do You Need Motorcycle ABS?

The ongoing ABS motorcycle vs non-ABS motorcycle is a strange thing. I would wager that it is impossible today to buy a new car in the western world without ABS. It’s a standard feature on the most high end of sports cars down to family sedans and small hatchbacks. It’s only not used in motor sports like Formula 1 because it took away from the required skills of the driver and made braking too easy. Despite all of this, there is still a large percentage of brand new motorcycles that either don’t have ABS at all or as an option. So if ABS on four wheels is good, why do some consider it on two wheels to be bad?

It’s especially baffling because braking on a motorcycle is much more difficult than for a car. First of all, you have separate controls for both the front and rear brakes on a bike with a requirement to apply differing amounts of force to each – one with the right hand and one with the right foot. On a car, if you lock the front brake it’s easy to release the brake pedal and reapply pressure. On a bike, a front wheel lock like will almost always result in a crash. Ironically, a study by the Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers (2004) showed that many riders, fearing a front brake lock didn’t apply anywhere near maximum braking force which resulted in longer stopping distances and therefore avoidable accidents.

Bosch ABS

So is it necessary to have ABS on a motorcycle? Can a skillful rider brake faster on a bike without ABS then with it? We’ve combed through a variety of published journal articles as well as motorcycle magazine testing to find out just that. And we’re also going to refute some common claims around ABS that Joe Squid likes to trot out as to why he doesn’t have ABS on his bike.

Firstly a quick summary on how ABS works from BMW who were the pioneers of making ABS standard on motorcycles:

Wheel sensors measure the rotational speed of the front and rear wheels and identify when the wheel begins to lock. The sensors pass on a measured impulse to a processor, which activates a pressure modulator in the hydraulic brake circuit of the front or rear wheel. The activated pressure modulator reduces brake pressure in a fraction of a second and then increases it once more. This means that the ABS applies just the right amount of brake pressure within the ABS range to the appropriate wheel as required to keep the wheel just short of locking point.

Want to know how many times those wheel sensors measure for a wheel lock per second? On the latest ABS systems, it numbers in the hundreds of measurements per second.  And when it kicks in, brake pressure can be adjusted up to 10 times per second. A human being cannot replicate such performance.

But I’ve seen tests where a rider is able to brake faster without ABS than with ABS?

Yes, that’s very true but think about why. If a bike engages the ABS system, it’s because a situation is detected where the front wheel could otherwise lock. But ABS on a bike will only engage when needed, it’s not as if ABS engages when you casually slow at a traffic light. Older ABS systems on motorcycles (especially those that were pretty much a copy of car ABS systems) may engage too quickly and unnecessarily, but we’re a long way down the road from those today.

Therefore a bike with ABS will brake just as quickly as the same bike without ABS if the ABS isn’t activated. It is only when ABS is activated that it may result in longer braking distances and that is because the sensors are adjusting brake pressure on and off (or to put it better, more and less pressure is applied) to prevent a lock up.. If you were to lock a wheel when on a bike without ABS (and not crash), your stopping distance will also increase and will itself will be further than that of an ABS assisted stop. What you’ll find in the tests we go through further in is that ABS is intentionally engaged (in other words, a wheel lockup is induced) to measure the stopping distance, whereas for the non-ABS bikes, the rider is instructed to brake as best as possible without a lock up.

Just remember these two things:

An ABS equipped bike will stop just as quickly as a non-ABS bike if ABS isn’t engaged.

A non-ABS equipped bike will take longer to stop if a wheel locks than an ABS equipped bike when ABS is engaged.

Bosch ABS

I’ve locked my front wheel before and not crashed. It just takes good reflexes

Here’s a breakdown of how a human reacts to something:

  1. Mental Processing Time: This is the time it takes for a person to actually realize something. In our case, to realize that the front wheel has locked.
  2. Movement Time: Once the brain has registered a situation, a person must physically react. For us, that means releasing the front brake lever with your right hand.
  3. Device Response Time: The time it takes for the mechanical device to respond to the human input. Here that means the  calipers releasing the disc.

So that’s what is required to unlock a front brake. The average human reaction time to audio stimulus (the sound of a locked front wheel) is 0.17 of a second. The time to then fully release the front brake is around 0.11 seconds. And the time for the bike to respond would be close to 0.02 seconds. That’s a total time of 0.30 seconds to unlock a brake – best case scenario.

But guess what? It only takes between 0.2 and 0.7 seconds to cause a crash from a front brake lock up. Once the gyrostatic forces of the bike reduce and the motorcycle starts to oscillate around its axis (those are fancy sounding words for how a motorcycle stays upright at speed), the bike becomes unstable and falls over.

So, at best you can unlock a front wheel in just under a third of a second. But even that might not be enough to prevent a crash when it only takes as little as a fifth of a second for a crash to occur.

Bosch ABS

Learners shouldn’t have ABS because it means they don’t properly learn how to brake.

This is another classic phrase you often read or hear. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, because if a new rider doesn’t have ABS, they may not build up the desired skill necessary to brake properly when they first need it, resulting in a crash that may put them off bikes prematurely.  Whereas if they had ABS that same situation might be forgotten as just a ‘moment’ and they’ll continue to gradually gain the required skills.

I suppose there’s a touch of logic to the idea it in that a new rider may not bother learning how to brake properly if they have ABS, whereas a non-ABS bike would force them to learn.  Again, this misses the point that ABS is only ever activated if the onboard sensors detect a locking wheel. Practicing to learn on a bike with ABS is the same as one without – it’s just that the ABS is a backup. I would argue that the same people who don’t bother to properly learn or practice braking would do so whether their bike had ABS or not. Here’s a great summary from Bosch, one of the largest suppliers of motorcycle ABS systems on how one should brake on a bike with ABS:

The first rule of braking with ABS: brake as though you did not have ABS.

  • Begin braking using the foot brake as far as possible.
  • Pull the brake lever quickly, but not abruptly. Once the brake pads have fully engaged, increase the braking pressure quickly, and in significant amounts.
  • When performing a full braking maneuver, brake on straight course within the ABS control range. Depending on the model, you can tell that the ABS has kicked in through a gentle pulsing on the hand and foot brake levers, as well as a tacking noise.
  • When performing a full braking maneuver, always disengage the clutch at the same time.
  • When braking in bends, increase the braking pressure gently to prevent the front wheel from slipping to the side.
  • Always pay attention to the rear of the motorcycle when performing a full braking maneuver. If the rear wheel lifts up, you should reduce the braking pressure on the front wheel as quickly as possible.

All those above points are the exact same way you brake, ABS or no ABS. There is not a differing skill set.

Bosch ABS


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  • Michael Frankston

    Great article. Honestly, the next person who tells me they’re better without ABS than with, I’ll punch in the crotch.

    • Hagbard Celine

      I’m better without ABS.

    • rinfrance

      I am better without ABS would you like my address, and then I will take you around some roads in France. I would guess that without or with ABS your skills will not stop you falling off! Ha Ha! Er question how many years HAVE you been ridding, and what was your first bike with girder forks. Idiot!

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  • MotoRain

    This is Part 1. Part 2 should be here in a few days.
    The ABS debate ended a few years ago when adjustable systems were introduced. Being adjustable means that the system can be turned down to work less effectively. On a good system the rear ABS can be switched off and the front set to a low level of intrusion, which means that the whole system isn’t doing much. Manufacturers realised that for highly skilled riders a standard (non-adjustable) ABS is detrimental to both fun and safety. If standard ABS worked as well as some people believe it does, there would have been no reason to develop adjustable systems. So those of us who have always hated standard ABS have been proven to be right.
    You will just have to learn to accept reality. Some people can ride better than you.

    • rinfrance

      Unfortunately you will NOT be able to “fine tune” the system. If you allowed THAT then you are accepting that riders have some sort of intelligence!

  • MotoRain

    Part 2. Part 3 will be here soon.

    Some of the above article is wrong.

    ABS and stability control are a good idea on cars because
    cars have four brakes controlled by only one pedal. It is not possible for a
    car driver to adjust each brake individually for different grip levels. A car
    is a twin track vehicle which can have different grip levels on each side.
    Having a separate control for each brake is a huge benefit for highly skilled
    motorcycle riders, and not a handicap as suggested in the above article.

    Good riders do not wait until they hear a screeching tyre before reacting. They feel every
    little movement of the tyres. For them, brake control is a continuous fluid
    motion and not a series of erratic reactions.

    Humans have a subconscious survival instinct which controls our reactions in emergencies.
    This means that braking tests, as mentioned in this article, are irrelevant
    because good riders will only brake at their maximum ability in a genuine
    emergency. If you draw a line across the road and tell a rider to ride up to
    it, then brake as hard as he can the consequences of over-braking will be a
    crash, but under-braking will just mean rolling on a short distance more. The
    subconscious survival instinct ensures that the rider will err on the side of

    • rinfrance

      And that sunshine is spot on.

    • Jay Smith

      Absolutely agreed…ABS takes control from the rider making bikes dangerously uncontrollable. You don’t need an intermediary system interfering with control, nor a complex system with many fail points. These systems still can make mindless choice of action and shouldn’t interfere with a riders reactions. The rider and ABS system can be in disagreement leading to avoidable crash. If the braking data is similar to cars, I prove it wrong with my 5-speed standard every time ABS will have me slide through an intersection by getting traction on downshifting. Worst thing done to bikes.

  • MotoRain

    Part 3. Part 4 will be here soon.

    Some erroneous comments in this article;-

    “On a bike, a front wheel lock will almost always result in a crash.”
    This does not apply to highly skilled riders.

    “…many riders, fearing a front brake lock didn’t apply anywhere near maximum braking force …”
    Obviously these are riders with very poor braking skills.

    “The time to then fully release the front brake is …”
    If you are braking hard enough to lock a wheel you will be
    doing it for a very good reason (unless you are a very clumsy rider). Typical
    scenarios would be if a car has pulled out in front of you, or you are going
    too fast towards a sharp corner and need to slow rapidly to avoid slamming into
    a rockface. The worst thing to do in these situations is “fully release” the
    brake and head towards the site of impact with no braking. You should reduce
    the brake pressure to the point when you regain control. In many situations it
    would be better to keep the brakes locked and fall over rather than fully
    release them and slam into something while sitting on the bike. Many riders
    have saved themselves from serious injury or death by locking the brakes and
    falling over, regardless of if they did it intentionally or just stuffed up their
    braking. ABS prevents you from doing this. If you are wearing good riding gear
    just falling over and sliding along the road usually results in only minor
    injuries. Slamming into something front-on while sitting on the bike results in
    very very bad injuries.

    The article also says; – “…the time for the bike to respond would be close to 0.02 seconds.”
    ABS also suffers from ‘device response time.’ It pulsates
    off, on, off, on, off, on, over and over again which adds up to a lot of
    response time. The brakes won’t lock and you won’t fall over, but it means
    extra braking distance which may cause you to hit something.

    • Ceci Pipe

      “This does not apply to highly skilled riders.”

      Most riders aren’t highly skilled.

      “If you are wearing good riding gear just falling over and sliding along the road usually results in only minorinjuries.”

      If you have enough room to slide then you have enough room to properly brake. If you don’t have enough room to brake then you don’t have enough room to slide and. You. Are. Screwed. In the first instance ABS helps, in the second your awareness failed or a car came out of a blind corner, oh well. Good luck.

      “ABS also suffers from ‘device response time.’”

      Computers operate faster than you do because that’s what we designed them to do. Their response time is going to be faster than yours in specialised instances like, for instance, braking. Keep in mind too that you can drop the bike deliberately without needing your wheels to lock up.

      “Humans have a subconscious survival instinct which controls our reactions in emergencies. This means that braking tests, as mentioned in this article, are irrelevant because good riders will only brake at their maximum ability in a genuine emergency. If you draw a line across the road and tell a rider to ride up to it, then brake as hard as he can the consequences of over-braking will be a crash, but under-braking will just mean rolling on a short distance more. The subconscious survival instinct ensures that the rider will err on the side of caution.”

      There is so much wrong with that the only answer I can think of is: No.

      “If standard ABS worked as well as some people believe it does, there would have been no reason to develop adjustable systems”

      We have an economic system based on a religion, best summed up as jedem das seine therefore arbeit macht frei. Why do we have a system which is aligned with NAZI ideology? Because that’s what you want. Doesn’t mean it’s a good system, doesn’t mean there’s valid reasons for it to exist, just that you want it.

      If enough bad people demand something then a company will make it. Not because it’s a good product, not because it’s a great idea, but because people dislike change and companies prefer money over innovation and safety. You haven’t been proven right, just loud.

      “It will not help you if there is insufficient room to stop because you braked too late or another vehicle has pulled out in front of you.”

      Unless you’re a highly skilled driver, then you magically have room to stop because you don’t have ABS, right?

      • rinfrance

        Oh wot are you just barmy, most riders soon discover where they stand. Most bikes front brakes will have a hard time locking up from any real speed, they are designed that way, but saying they will crash is bxxxllocks. I have been riding bikes for 55 years and only once touch wood did I slide off due to surface problems, that when a road was dry coming into a roundabout and wet on the other side. Other than that, on an Ariel 500 with a combo tyre o the rear, and when a car pulled out in front of me and I lay the bike down and the bikes footrest went through his drivers door.
        I rode from London to Cornwall in snow with a convoy and none of the several riders fell off in the snow yet we were playing leap frog with the traffic and stopping the traffic to allow the convoy through. I can only asume you have been riding for five minutes on a few types, Me lets go back, Yammy Virago 535,Royal Enfield 500 bullet, Honda CB250N, Honda 750 with 1000 conversion, Honda SL 125, Honda 50 Monkey bike, Yammy 500XT, BSA triple, triumph 500 5TA and then it gets very complicated having riden things that I cannot remember but include Harleys, Kwackers, Vepas, Maicolletta, Lambrettas, BSA B40, M21, M20, Triumph TWN, need I go on.
        Get some riding miles under your belt, I did over 150,000 on a Triumph 5TA upgraded to a cross twixt T100A and a 100SS.

  • MotoRain

    Part 4

    You should ignore demonstrations and information from ABS companies. For them it is only
    about the money. Braking tests can easily be rigged to give biased results. The
    political power of large companies was a significant factor when Europe
    decided to mandate ABS.

    Many riders make no attempt to regain control when a wheel locks. They just panic and hold
    the brakes on hard. Unfortunately, that is the natural reaction for riders who
    have not learnt to brake correctly or control wheel lock-ups. Therefore they
    conclude that it is impossible.

    Everyone who rides a motorcycle likes to think that they are a great rider. So if they need
    ABS they think that everybody else needs it. In reality the majority of riders
    only have basic skills and many have no understanding of advanced skills.
    Average riders are safer with ABS. Highly skilled riders are safer without it,
    unless it is a top quality fully adjustable system, but then only because it
    can be turned down so that it no longer interferes with the rider’s control of
    the bike. Unfortunately, if you always ride with non-adjustable ABS you will
    never learn advanced braking skills and never be as safe as highly skilled

    ABS does not improve the braking capability of a bike. It simply stops you from falling over
    because you locked a wheel. It will not help you if there is insufficient room
    to stop because you braked too late or another vehicle has pulled out in front
    of you.

    Any electronic device can fail without warning from very simple faults. It is better to not be
    dependent on them.

    • Hagbard Celine


    • Brent

      Shut up or put up… End of the day you just made one large comment for what reason? For a system that doesn’t activate unless detected wheel lock? What’s the point?

      There aren’t too many people putting up solid evidence, and to make matters worse whose to say for the people who have aren’t purposely activating the ABS system.

      The fact still remains… ABS bike vs Non ABS bike will brake within the same distance if you do not activate the system. When you lock the brakes the non Abs falls flat on its face.

      This is for street comparisons only.. Now cases you want to have a Non Abs vehicle are in snow/Ice( Bike has no business out here unless it’s straight powered snow) dirt or gravel. Here ABS will increase stopping distance.

      Now For racing I cannot comment on that. There hasn’t been a single comparison with either system at track level speeds. Which Im sure you’ve been to the track and have seen Fast ABS riders and fast Non Abs Riders. We can’t use the excuse well Motogp and F1 riders/drivers don’t use it, because it’s not because they don’t use it. It’s because they are banned from using it as it’s not allowed.

      • Iconyms

        Actually some of the very new ABS systems even work well in the dirt and at least on the bigger heavier dual sport bikes the ABS will outperform a rider.

        If your racing or doing track days then I think it’s best to think of ABS like traction control – it’s something that if you turn it up too much it will be too intrusive and hurt your lap times but if you want to use it and adjust the setting etc. you can turn it down enough that it won’t be intrusive enough to slow you down but will still be there to help (assuming you don’t turn it down too much) This becomes just as much part of bike setup as the suspension, gearing for the track and TC setup.

        If you are not racing or doing track days then you should certainly have ABS, the roads are too variable to try and be finding the traction limit during an emergency braking situation. As someone who as crashed while braking when a car in front of me dumped oil in the middle of the night I really wish I had had ABS. And I am not some no skill rider, I won my local road racing championship a few years ago. But I was commuting home after work, I was perhaps a bit tired, there was oil it was very dark etc. etc. so many factors from potholes to junk in the road there is no reason not to use every tool we have.

      • rinfrance

        Firstly, in snow, Hmph, I pulled a vehicle out many years ago with my Honda SL125 and often rode it in snow and ice. Second, you even conced that there are times when ABS is not good, try a wet french road with white wring on it at or below the new 20MPH limits, ha bloody ha guess what they do not work. Even almost had a gendarme cream my Yammy on a wet road at some red lights, or are you suggesting that BMW brakes are so crap they cannot outbrake a 20 year old Yammy. Oh PS where are the tests on bikes with and without on a stupid 20MPH wet surface. Or are you as the Gendarme suggested speeding!

    • rinfrance

      So glad that I am not the only one, have you seen a test for ABS versus Non ABS at or below 20MPH on a wet and / or greasy surface?

  • Davis

    OMG, I still can’t believe there are some egotistical people (some posters here) who refuse to accept that a computer can react faster than they can. I bet these same people run out to buy the newest iPhones, and latest Intel PC. But they refuse to accept a proven safety feature like ABS.

    Here’s some news for all of you ABS naysayers who claim to be able to brake better in an emergency street riding situation on a non-ABS bike than with an ABS bike: we don’t believe you! You don’t impress us. You’re not badass. You’re not as good as you think you are. Keep trying to convince us all how supremely better of a biker you are than the rest of us mortals, and how you can out react a computer. We are NOT in awe of you. You’re a narcissistic joke lacking common sense. You’re a liar and you are kidding us and yourself.

    I took a motorcycle safety training course over 15 years ago and the instructor gave me – a total newb – top marks in the emergency threshold braking exercise on a loaner bike in pouring rain conditions. But that was in a controlled environment, on a small 250cc bike, and I won’t even pretend that it’s the same in a real conditions on a big bike. BTW I’m no fair weather rider. I ride in the Pacific Northwest where it rains 2/3rds of the year and I have been lucky to survive emergency braking (sometimes barely) on both ABS and non-ABS motorcycles without getting in a wreck. Trained in it, been there, done that, survived it…I will always choose an ABS equipped bike for street use.

    For motorcycle sport – like dirt and track – it’s different where you want to be able to use braking and throttle to do controlled slides and turns. In dirt it’s about having fun. But in street it is about surviving the ride without getting in a life altering or life ending wreck! Even if you’re as good as Nicky Hayden you cannot control the other idiots around you in traffic, nor the weather conditions, potholes on the road, that yellow light turning red that you misjudged while you are going way over the speed limit not to mention the surprise factor, and your sudden adrenaline or even panic. Computer and ABS do not have emotions and don’t panic.

    And, guess what, professional riders make mistakes too and unfortunately crash. You see it every season in motogp.

    It’s just what the article says. If you want to show us how great of a braker you are then get the ABS bike and ride it without ever engaging it and survive the paved jungle while you are at it.

    • Iconyms


      I hear WSBK might start using ABS at least during the wet races where you often see a couple crashes a race that could have been prevented with ABS.

    • rinfrance

      Well personally I do not want it forced on me. Here in Europe it is being forced on us on new bikes. However no where can I see a brake test on wet roads at or below 20MPH, why, ‘cos they dont bloody work. You cannot, on the production bikes, adjust them and therefore on a wet road at slow speed they do not work.

      • Jester1137

        Do you have mandatory safety inspections on you bikes there or something? Why can’t you simply buy after-market kits to get rid of it?

    • rinfrance

      Oh recently then.

  • rinfrance

    Funny show me the tests on a wet road at 30KPH or 20MPH. There are none! Why/ because the test would reveal a thorough flaw on ABS on bikes. The thing is that braking on a bike relies on weight transfer from rear onto the front wheel. This increases the tyre footprint, the reduction of water under the wheel and therefore better coef. Now with the current mad dash for lower speed limits, and quieter exhausts pedestrians seem to think that they can walk into the roads without looking! For example, I was on my Yamaha 535 the other day on a wet and greasy road, I knew that a gendarme on a BMW was following me trying to see if he could have a valid reason to stop me. I came a cross a red traffic light suddenly and braked..hard, I stopped, the gendarme managed to avoid me and stopped in front of me but over the line. We stopped and talked, he realised that I was not only 70 but had ridden bikes and taught them. He stated that his BMW could not stop as well as my Yammy and his comment..he never drove at 30kph but at 45 minimum as the bloody thing did not stop on wet and greasy roads under that!
    So take your choice, show me the tests on greasy roads under 20MPH, Show me where the councils, Maries etc are being prosecuted for applying a slippery white paint.
    We then have a choice, speed, or do not stop. Both are going to be problem areas.
    Again to finish, show me the test for ABS and non ABS on a wet and slippery surface at beor below 20MPH.

  • Zvonimir Gaspar

    I’ve been driving for 25 years and mastered braking with old mechanical drum brakes of my BMW R50/5, but I still like the ABS feature on my new BMW F800. Experimenting on an empty road is one thing, slamming on brakes when you run into an unexpected situation is something completely different. You may be a manual braking master, but with ABS you have one worry less in critical situation so you can concentrate better on finding solutions to avoid disaster.

  • Bret Leversha

    A great article full of helpful informations, thanks. my only problem is that I am unable to see the test results as they don’t open, thanks again.