Why You Need ABS On Your Next Motorcycle

Motorcycle.com Staff
by Motorcycle.com Staff

This basic safety tech could save your life.

It goes without saying that motorcycles are inherently more dangerous than cars, but that hasn’t stopped motorcycle manufacturers from trying to reduce the safety gap as much as possible. It’s often worth looking at the safety systems in the car world to get a glimpse into what might be coming down the pipeline for motorcycles.

One of those technologies is anti-lock brakes, or ABS. If you’re a new rider reading this and aren’t sure what ABS is, the concept is simple: when you use the brakes, sensors on both the front and rear wheels detect if/when the wheels lock. When this happens, the sensors send a signal to the ECU, telling it to release enough pressure on the brake caliper(s) to allow the wheel to spin again. This cycle is happening several times a second, applying and releasing brake pressure to avoid lockup and bring the motorcycle to a stop.

Modern ABS sensors are very discreet, housed in a tiny bracket, seen here between the caliper and the end of the swingarm. The sensor reads the speed of the slotted ring inside the rotor carrier to detect lockup.

Now, anti-lock brakes on motorcycles aren’t a new phenomenon – the tech has been around since the 1980s – but ABS often gets a bad rap from some corners of motorcycling. The common complaint is the abrupt pulsing at the lever.

Like lots of things that have been around since the ‘80s, ABS has steadily improved in the past 30-odd years. And in recent years, since Inertial Measurement Units (IMU) started to make their way onto motorcycles, ABS has taken a massive leap both in terms of functionality and activation.

It’s with this in mind that we bring you five key reasons why you need ABS on your next motorcycle.

Dramatically reduced stopping distance, especially in the wet

One of the big advantages of ABS is reduced stopping distance you can achieve because you no longer need to modulate brake pressure. However, highly skilled riders will tell you they can stop in a shorter distance without ABS than they can with it. Here’s the thing: they might be right. Maybe they can brake to a stop in a shorter distance without ABS – but can they do it consistently, each and every time they use the brakes? More importantly, can you?

Odds are the answer is no. If you’re in a panic stop situation, having the peace of mind to simply grab a handful of brakes, knowing the ABS will save you from a lockup, is invaluable. Throw in the thought of braking in wet weather or over a dirty road surface, and the odds of braking better and more consistently than your ABS drops dramatically.

Confidence to brake in a corner

Having to brake in a corner – like when there’s debris in the road – is terrifying. You run the risk of overloading the front tire and crashing. With technologies like Cornering-ABS (also known as lean-sensitive ABS), this fear is still there, but it doesn’t have to be. More and more of today’s new motorcycles come equipped with an IMU, which detects the pitch, yaw, and roll of the bike. If it’s also equipped with C-ABS, it’ll use that data to tell the ECU how much brake pressure to apply at all points of lean.

A YouTube search for Cornering-ABS will give you a demonstration of the tech in action. The bigger challenge now is to convince yourself to actually reach for the brakes (if needed, of course) while you’re leaned over.

More control of your motorcycle

No, backing it in does not mean locking the rear tire and sliding.

When your wheels are locked, you no longer have any steering input over them. This is another big advantage of ABS. Not only does ABS give you shorter stopping distances more consistently, but also because the wheels are still rolling, you can still give steering inputs. This is especially important if/when you need to make an emergency or evasive maneuver. Once again, throw rain into the equation, and you can understand ABS’ importance.

A lot of safety for minimal weight and expense

ABS’ downward march to a size that can easily be incorporated into small displacement motorcycles.

There’s no denying the fact that the components needed to run an ABS system add some weight to the motorcycle, but modern ABS only adds a minimal amount of weight – as little as 10 lbs in some cases. Besides, for a street bike, the added weight is basically negligible.

ABS also raises the cost of the motorcycle, compared to non-ABS versions of the same model. However, we’re typically talking about a difference in price of $300 – $1000. In our opinions, the added safety benefit far outweighs the weight or price penalties.

You have a better chance of staying alive

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the rate of fatal crashes is 31 percent lower for motorcycles equipped with optional anti-lock brakes than for the same models without them. If that’s not enough to convince you, here’s another number:

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released another report noting that motorcycles with engines 250cc and higher without ABS are 37% more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.

Armed with this information, ABS should be an option you give some serious thought to with your next motorcycle purchase. Out on the road, any perceived negative is far outweighed by all the benefits it provides.

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Motorcycle.com Staff
Motorcycle.com Staff

Motorcycle.com presents an unrivaled combination of bike reviews and news written by industry experts

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2 of 37 comments
  • Sruon Sruon on Jan 17, 2021

    Worth noting ABS will get you an insurance discount. You may need to mention it explicitly to your agent.

  • Stog Stog on Mar 30, 2021

    this is all bullshit, ABS is a lie. All the ABS system i have ridden do crazy stuff, like go off for no reason. I have had my foot thrown off the rear brake. It takes 3x as much brake fluid which causes brakes to feel mushy and makes it wear you can't feel what is happening at the brakes. When the ABS does go off it over reacts, which causes the bike to jump way to much, I would describe it as almost painful.

    There is 0 information available on how to test or diagnose or even determine if the ABS module is working. Recently i was repacking my head and changing oil in my forks. There is a little bracket thing that holds the sensor in place so it doesn't spin the abs sensor and rip the cable off at the front wheel. I put the bracket thing in then the sensor and the screwed it all in place. This made the ABS sensor about 2 mm to far from the front wheel ladder thing. So when i started the bike the ABS light came on like usual. then i went to the end of drive way and the ABS light turned off like usual. Then about 1 mile latter the ABS light came on, I saw it. I got lucky though. So at the next light i locked up the rear wheel and slid that bitch a good 10-20 ft. WOOHOO!

    Prior to 2015, ABS would prevent a rider from properly cornering. I had to point this out to manufacturers and the ABS dumb fucks.

    NOBODY uses ABS is any kind of racing. They always say that ABS isn't for race situations but they wont explain why. Of course anyone buying a R1, R6 or R3 would NEVER exceed the speed limit. I have no doubt the CBR "crappy bike retards" would never exceed the speed limits either. I'm surprised the gxr and ninja riders don't exceed the speed limits and the busa riders?!?!? really? oh well.

    ABS IS A LIE. It needs to be banned from Motorcycles AND Cars.