2018 KTM 390 Duke

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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