Comment: ABS

Kevin Ash

Motorcycle riders as a group are much more resistant to anti-lock braking systems than car drivers, which can seem odd when you consider that a locked wheel on a car generally means a bit of tyre screech, where on a bike it usually means you fall off.

The arguments against motorcycle ABS are valid though, not least of which is that it increases the stopping distance of a bike. In track riding this is a real problem, it means you have to bring forward your braking points and lose time, and the pulsing, grabbing action of ABS makes a bike unstable as you`re tipping it into a corner. Indeed, where on a car ABS is designed to allow you to steer around an obstacle, on bikes you are told not to attempt to corner when ABS is operating.

It`s true on the road too, although modern systems such as the latest, ninth generation Bosch ABS I tried at the company`s test centre in Germany, demand real concentration and a skilled rider to beat them. Fine in controlled circumstances when you`re already focussed on the brakes, but what about late at night, in the wet, when you`re tired and thinking about a cool beer and bed, and suddenly a stray dog dashes out across the road in front of you?

This is when ABS really comes into its own: grab the brakes as hard as you like and the bike will simply slow down at close to the maximum braking possible, while all you need to do is squeeze the levers, keep it pointed in the same direction and get on with sweating a lot and feeling your heart try to leap out of your ribcage.

Statistics confirm this: a major German study of motorcycle accidents concluded that of the ones where ABS was not fitted but it was relevant to the kind of accident, 26 per cent could have been avoided altogether if it had been and a further 31 per cent would have occurred at a lower speed.

Certainly as a rider who clocks up at least 20,000 miles a year, I`m much more comfortable on a bike with ABS fitted, and I`m happy to accept any notional performance reduction as I doubt I`d ever beat it when caught by surprise, which surely is the case with every accident or it wouldn`t happen...

Technical: How ABS Works

Testing ABS at the Bosch Proving Ground