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

I’ve been riding for 25 years and I’ve never needed ABS on a bike before and I don’t need it now.

Humans are funny creatures. Not only do we often overestimate our own abilities, we also seem to base future decisions and actions on past results. It’s a very base instinct, like how a dog learns that obeying the command sit means a treat might be provided, even if their owner isn’t holding any food in front of them. Past performance does not guarantee future performance.

You may have been fortunate or skillful enough never to lock your wheels on your bike. But maybe that one time in the rain, just as you’re distracted by something in your rear view mirrors, a car runs a red light in front of you – will you remain in complete control enough to miss the car, or will this one slight moment of inattention cause you to lock your front wheel because you squeezed the brakes just a fraction too quickly and slide the bike and yourself in front the car’s rear wheel? Are you honestly that perfect?

Let’s now take a look at scientific studies comparing the braking ability of ABS motorcycles to non-ABS motorcycles.

A Comparison of Stopping Distance Performance for Motorcycles Equipped with ABS, CBS and Conventional Hydraulic Brake Systems. Donovan Green.  United States Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. March 28 – March 30, 2006

  • The objective of this testing program was to assess the effectiveness of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and combined brake systems (CBS) on motorcycles using various braking maneuvers and loading conditions. The results indicate that ABS generally improved stopping distance performance under most test conditions,
  • Motorcycle brake performance tests were conducted on an asphalt road surface having a uniform skid number. The skid number was measured with ASTM procedure ASTM E274 at regular intervals to assure consistency in the results (see Table 1.). For wet surface testing, the test track was wetted with a water truck, and the wetting procedure was repeated every three stops.
  • As with the dry surface tests, practically no learning process was required for the operator to achieve the best performance with the operation of ABS. In the ABS-disabled mode, the stopping distances improved as the rider became more familiar and comfortable with the braking system.

In general, the test results demonstrated an improvement in braking performance with the use of ABS, whether braking on a dry or wet surface even compared with the best stops obtained without ABS. Without ABS, the rider required numerous attempts to approach the maximum deceleration performance of the motorcycle. With the use of ABS, however, the rider was able to quickly obtain consistent maximum deceleration results, whether the vehicle was loaded or lightly loaded.

Effectiveness of Antilock Braking Systems in Reducing Fatal Motorcycle Crashes. Eric R. Teoh. October 2008. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

  • The effect of antilock braking systems (ABS) on motorcyclist fatal crash risk in 2005-06 was studied by comparing fatal crash rates per registrations of motorcycles with and without ABS. Study motorcycles included those for which ABS was optional equipment and could be identified as present by the model name. Fatal motorcycle crashes per 10,000 registered vehicle years were 38 percent lower for ABS models than for their non-ABS versions.
  • A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), conducted in conjunction with the present study, found that motorcycles equipped with optional ABS had 19 percent fewer insurance claims for collision damage per insured vehicle year than the same motorcycle models without ABS (Moore and Yan, in process).
  • Motorcycles manufactured by Honda, particularly the Gold Wing model, dominated the sample, but the pattern for all but two of the motorcycles was a lower fatal crash rate for ABS-equipped motorcycles. Across all ABS-equipped motorcycles, the rate of fatal crash involvements per 10,000 registered vehicle years was 4.1, compared with 6.7 for the same motorcycles not equipped with ABS.
  • The effect of ABS on fatal crash involvement is given by the rate ratio estimate for ABS-equipped motorcycles against non-ABS motorcycles. This estimate and associated 90 and 95 percent confidence intervals are provided in Table 3. The rate ratio estimate corresponds to an approximate 38 percent reduction (computed as (RR-1)×100%) in the rate of fatal crash involvements per 10,000 registered vehicle years for the ABS models over the (weighted) non-ABS models.

Although the estimated effect of 38 percent is large, it is not statistically significant at the customary 0.05 level. If there were no effect of ABS on fatal crash involvement, an estimate as large as the 38 percent reduction in this study would be expected to occur by chance less than 10 percent of the time. Thus, there is considerable confidence that ABS is preventing fatal crashes among motorcyclists. This confidence is bolstered by the fact that a separate analysis of insurance collision coverage losses among crashes of all severities also shows a reduction in crashes of about 19 percent for motorcycles equipped with ABS.

Perspectives For Motorcycle Stability Control Systems. Patrick Seiniger, Kai Schröter, Jost Gail. Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 44, Issue 1, 2012.

  • Motorcycles are statically unstable. During riding, they are stabilized mainly by two mechanisms. Both stabilizing effects require a possible increase in side force (on the front wheel). They do not work with sliding wheels, which happens on slippery surface. In the event of a locking front wheel, the motorcycle becomes kinematically unstable. A coupled yawing and rolling motion is induced that lets the motorcycle tumble in fractions of seconds.
  • This instability can be treated by ABS. Recent studies on the impact of ABS on motorcycle accident numbers in Germany show a possible reduction of motorcycle fatalities by at least 10 %. A benefit-cost-analysis reveals a cost-benefit ratio of about 4 for the case of mandatory ABS.
  • Braking poses stress on motorcyclists and leads to mental strain. In a research project carried out on behalf of BASt, the mental strain was investigated on a closed test track [15]. Test riders had to brake with different brake systems on the same motorcycle (Standard brake system = independently operated front and rear wheel brakes, Standard brake system with ABS functionality, combined brake system, combined brake system with ABS functionality, combined brake system with only the hand lever) in three different situations (going straight ahead, braking from 90 and 60 km/h and cornering, braking from 50 km/h). The strain was measured indirectly using mainly the heart rate of the test persons.
  • Results show that braking distances are shorter with ABS, mostly because the brake force is built up faster (straight ahead) or because the brake deceleration is higher (cornering). The rider’s strain is higher without ABS. These results clearly show the positive effect of ABS, even on a closed test track.

A giant leap towards safer motorcycles is the application of ABS. Even today’s systems that are still improvable would be socio-economically sensible with a benefit-cost-ratio of more than four. The impact on accident figures is estimated to be at least a 10% reduction. Concluding from these results, all motorcycles should be equipped with ABS.

Motorcycle Driving Stability

The equilibrium bank or roll angle depends mainly on the lateral acceleration with the centrifugal force Ff, the weight force G, lateral acceleration y, gravity g, cornering radius R and velocity v.

There are a number of additional studies on the benefits of motorcycle ABS and they all come to the same conclusion. That motorcycle ABS not only reduces stopping distances for the majority of riders, it also reduces accident rates and fatalities. Again, keep in mind also that with all the above studies, ABS was intentionally induced for the ABS equipped bikes, hence why in some situations the ABS bike stopped further than the non-ABS equipped bike. That however never occurred in any of the wet testing.

ABS will become mandatory on all new motorcycles in the European Union by 2016, and there is continuing discussion about the same happening in the United States. Just like helmets for riders and seat belts in cars, it’s a technology that saves lives. If you still don’t want ABS on a motorcycle than more power to you. Just don’t go around saying that ABS is unnecessary or you’re better than it. It’s not and you aren’t.

 

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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
    caution.

    • 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
    riders.

    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

      +1

    • 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

      YEP!

      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.