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Should ABS be mandatory on motorcycles?

abs mandatory combined braking assist regulations

Australia is planning to follow Europe in making anti-lock brakes (ABS) mandatory on all new motorcycles over 125cc and either ABS or combined braking system (CBS) for bikes under 125cc.

We would join countries such as India, Brazil, Taiwan and Japan in moving toward compulsory motorcycle ABS.

The Federal Government cites statistical research that claims ABS would reduce injury crashes by up to a third.

Last year, the first real-world analysis of the effectiveness of ABS confirmed that ABS would have an effect, but did not quantify it.

Furthermore, the lead researcher said more research was needed and claimed about half the riders didn’t even apply their bikes before crashing.

Optional ABS

Bosch hill hold and blind spot alert study mandatory
Bosch ABS unit

Now the Motorcycle Council of NSW, in its latest position statement, says it does not believe mandatory ABS would reduce the number of crashes.

And until its effectiveness can be proven, the MCCNSW says the additional cost of fitting ABS should be optional for riders.

As of 2017, about 40% of all motorcycles sold in Australia are already equipped with ABS and manufacturers such as BMW and Harley-Davidson only sell motorcycles equipped with ABS.

2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide ABS failure mandatory
Harley’s optical ABS

The Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) released by the Department for Infrastructure and Regional Development predicts that the introduction of ABS on motorcycles will result in a 33% reduction in injury crashes and 39% in serious and fatal crashes.

MCCNSW treasurer Steve Pearce says this significant reduction in crashes seems “too good to be true” as it suggests that a third of current crashes involved a locked wheel. 

“This is a number the MCCNSW has difficulty comprehending,” he says.

MCCNSW researcher Guy Stanford also warns that compulsory ABS could lead to an influx of cheap, ineffective units.

ABS trainingABS alcohol locks autonomous

If the government goes ahead with mandatory motorcycle ABS, it would need to make provisions to provide riders with education or training on ABS, the MCCNSW says. 

“Riders need to be taught in a controlled environment by trainers who can demonstrate how ABS works on a motorcycle and how to use ABS to its best advantage in an emergency,” Steve says.

“Depending on the road surface, the ABS, suspension setup and weight of the rider interact to stop the motorcycle, so riders need to practise on real road surfaces on the motorcycle that they own.

“We also have the situation where ABS does not perform well on dirt roads, so we also advocate the ability to switch off ABS on bikes that are likely to be used on dirt roads.”

Background: The introduction of vehicle ABS

When ABS was introduced on cars in the 1980s, it was predicted to significantly reduce crashes, but that did not occur, Steve says.

“It has been found that drivers don’t understand how ABS works and tend to over-compensate in an emergency, believing that ABS will reduce stopping distances,” he says.

“Recent advice given to drivers include practising activating the ABS so they are familiar with how the brake pedal feels when the ABS activates, to reduce the likelihood of the driver releasing pressure on the pedal.”

MCCNSW proposes the following if ABS is made mandatory on all motorcycles above 125cc:

  • MCCNSW will form a Working Group of stakeholders to oversee the program and to monitor the reduction in road trauma to ensure that the predicted 33% of all injury crashes and 39% of serious and fatal crashes is achieved; and
  • MCCNSW will continue to lobby government to provide education and training on ABS.
    BMW demonstrates ABS study mandatory
    BMW demonstrates ABS

The education and training requirements to be provided should include: 

  • Information on how ABS works;
  • Information on stopping distance with and without ABS on a range of surfaces commonly encountered on the road network;
  • Demonstrations by expert riders;
  • Video clips on how ABS works and how it should be used to gain the best benefit;
  • Opportunities to practise on motorcycles equipped with outriggers and ABS; and
  • Opportunities for riders to test their motorcycles on yet-to-be-developed simulators.

  1. Combined braking sucks – I had this feature on a K1200LT and found it almost impossible to do feet-up U-turns. Applying the rear brake to tighten the turn and load up the engine to allow higher revs also applied the front brake, which completely mucked up the manoeuvre. I can see that it would be a useful feature on Harley-Davidsons though, as many of the riders of these bikes think the big pedal down by their right foot is the stop pedal, like on a car. I had a riding instructor tell me how when he was running a H-D only advanced course, that some bikes actually had the pistons in the front brakes seized in the calipers from never being used!

  2. ABS may be of more benefit in Northern Hemisphere winters where the more hardy motorcyclists battle ice and snow.
    I can’t remember ever crashing under brakes, generally it was under power when tilted over. Maybe I don’t ride enough any more. Maybe something from the advanced riding courses has sunk in.

    Interesting how ABS in cars didn’t make much difference. The car makers pack more screens and in-car-distractions into the cars, then have to include collision detection and avoidance technology and drifting out of lane warnings to compensate for driver inattention! There must be a moral in there somewhere, perhaps “just drive the damn car”.

  3. Some important points; –

    1) ABS for motorcycles was developed because electronics companies found a way to generate huge profits. These companies have no interest in your safety. They just want your money. Then some motorcycle companies (notably BMW) started using it as a sales gimmick (“Look! Our bike has something that others don’t”).

    2) An ABS equipped motorcycle has an inferior braking system. A bike without ABS can brake in a shorter distance than one that has it. Whether it does or not depends on the skill of the rider. ABS only operates on one setting (on adjustable systems it only operates on the one setting you have selected). It cannot adjust to the infinitely variable conditions encountered in real-world road conditions, which is something that a skilled rider can do.

    3) The only thing ABS does do is stop you from falling over. It does not improve the braking capability of a bike. Falling over is usually only a minor accident and is rarely life threatening, and it some situations it is better to be off the bike at the time of impact, if impact is inevitable.

    “the Department for Infrastructure and Regional Development predicts that the introduction of ABS on motorcycles will result in a 33% reduction in injury crashes and 39% in serious and fatal crashes.”
    These figures sound ridiculously high. Their argument is obviously based on assumptions and not facts. Did they get these figures from (money hungry) ABS companies?

    In a recent test conducted by an Australian magazine Cam Donald achieved the shortest braking distance with the ABS switched off. Cam often complains that an ABS system made him ‘run on’ in corners (in other words, it increased the braking distance considerably). On adjustable systems he then switches it to a lower setting. If ABS is mandatory, will all systems be adjustable?

    Supporters of mandatory ABS seem to be working on the assumption that if it works well on powerful bikes with powerful brakes it must work on all bikes. There is a huge difference between a high performance bike and, for example, a basic 250cc trailbike (like a Suzuki DR250) even when ridden on road. Any ABS of good quality will add considerably to the price of smaller bikes, killing off their sales, and many of these bikes will disappear from the market. Many trailbikes and road legal dirt bikes are never ridden on road and never registered. But the buyers (including farmers) will have to pay more and put up with the extra weight and complexity.

    If ABS is mandatory it will have to be fixed if it fails (and it does). If you were selling a bike you could be up for a hefty repair bill (thousands of dollars on some bikes) to make it road legal. On older, cheaper bikes the repair costs could eat up a considerable amount of the bike’s value.

    All of the ABS tests/demonstrations I have seen have been performed on smooth clean roads and do not test its performance on loose, rough or slippery surfaces. Australian roads are mostly far from ideal so it is not a good idea to have a system that has only been proven to work well in ideal conditions. It is known to work very poorly on badly corrugated roads (such as places where trucks brake hard). There could be loose gravel on the road, or you could be run off the run and have to brake on the gravel or dirt. These tests/demonstrations are irrelevant anyway. Nobody brakes at their maximum ability in an artificial situation. Your subconscious survival instinct won’t let you do it because braking at the maximum involves some risk. However, if you are in an emergency situation your subconscious survival instinct ensures that you do your best, provided that you have learnt correct emergency braking skills.

    It is rather foolish that they are suggesting that ABS should be mandatory and that riders should be given training to learn how to use it when it would be far better for riders to be given training (using high quality simulators) on how to correctly use the brakes so that they have no need for ABS (and again, ABS is an inferior braking system).

    The people pushing for ABS to be mandatory are either simple minded misinformed ‘do-gooders’ who like to think that they are doing something worthwhile, or they are receiving a payout from ABS companies. One law should be introduced. All ABS systems that are fitted to motorcycles should be switchable (able to be turned off) and they should be made so that they stay off instead of having to be turned off every time you start the bike.

  4. I think the benefits are minimal, they would give the greatest help on a wet or oily (perhaps gravel) road if you were upright and needed to come to a halt. I don’t know the crash statistics of that situation but I’m guessing it’s not the major cause of a crashes. On the plus side, if costs come down because of mass production then its not that burdensom.

  5. Yes. It should be mandatory on road registered bikes. ABS is a safety system that only activates when things go pear-shaped and there is an over-whelming abundance of evidence that it works and shortens braking distances on roads (dirt is another issue entirely).

    @Motorain: Your three points are simply wrong. The second one is the only one that makes any claim of fact and it is trivial to find an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that ABS equipped bikes have superior braking systems to non-equipped bikes:

    are just two easily found examples.

    Mcrider is a motorcycle instructor in Texas with a very informative channel. In one video he discusses his own crash and all the factors that lead up to it. He says that not having ABS on his bike was a factor that could have saved him.

    I will not buy another bike without ABS.

  6. Australia is such a tiny market I doubt anyone cares what the likes of Guy Stanford claims. If the rest of the world requires ABS I doubt the manufacturers will make non-ABS models for a few customers on the opposite side of the world.

  7. Whether or not ABS is safer is not the main point of debate to me. My point of concern as a rider is being forced to use a device, in this case ABS or CBS, when I might choose not too. What happened to the riders right to decide? I have an opinion on the affectiveness of ABS and CBS on motorcycles, but it is my opinion. It may differ from other riders, but when it’s forced on everyone then your giving someone else the power to decide for you. I’d encourage those who lobby for the interests of motorcycle riders not to get too wrapped up in whether or not ABS or CBS is a better or safer braking system, but think more of the rights of the individual rider to be the respected. It seems to me that you can do anything in the name of safety these days. ABS should only be made compulsory if it can be disabled (switchable). Let those who ride, decide.

    1. “Let those who ride” decide was the catch-cry of those who didn’t want to wear helmets. Making helmets compulsory made a huge improvement in the survivability of motorcycle accidents and the amount of taxpayers money that didn’t have to support brain damaged ex-riders for the rest of their lives.

      ABS will also save lives

  8. Great idea. In fact, rather than having our own group who sets the standards for Australia why don’t we just automatically link our standards to Europe. In my opinion we then would save on government red tape and money while getting the benefits of a much larger group of safety experts.

    I know people who claim they can outbrake ABS but I guarantee that when in an emergency and about to hit something (like a car that has just rapidly changed lanes in front of you) your reflexes will not be able to modulate the brakes to get the best out of them. I’m certain ABS will save lives.

    A track bike is different and the best riders can do better than ABS at the absolute limit but we are talking about road here.

    I do think it is important to have the ability to turn it off or put it into some form of off-road mode when on loose gravel etc for those bikes intended to do significant off-road work.

  9. I’m a supporter of this technology, but I’m not sure about the merits of training riders to “use” ABS; it is an automatic system after all, which, ideally, shouldn’t be called into use. That is a different thing from training riders in effective braking (including emergency braking), the limits of which can be realised and compensated for by ABS activation. If Steve Pearce means that riders should be trained to get the most out of their brakes, with ABS as a safety net for if and when they exceed the limits, then I would generally agree. That, however, is about AVOIDING the need for ABS activation rather than encouraging it.
    There is little to no doubt that ABS can prevent crashes where a rider’s skills and perception aren’t up to the task at any given moment, but a 33% reduction in injury crashes seems optimistic to say the least. The key words here are in the third sentence of the article: “up to”, which amounts to considerable wriggle room for a seemingly ambitious claim.

  10. I have had three BMW’s that have ABS and it has never triggered on the front wheel. I suspect it won’t unless you ride like an idiot. The back wheel however is another story. The ABS will actuate when you hit the tiniest bump under brakes, increasing the stopping distance and this is something to factor in. I have also had several 4WD cars that would do the same thing if you hit a few bumps before a corner or stop sign and I’ve never really been a fan. The ABS on my K1300S was certainly not a reason for purchasing, just something that was there. I would not have paid more to have it as an option.

    That said, the only time I have crashed in 35 years on two wheels was on a Vespa GTS 250 in a roundabout and ABS would probably have prevented the front wheel locking and my hitting the road. It is possible that it may also have sent me smashing into the car that negligently pulled out into the roundabout with even worse results…

    ABS will stop clueless drivers from locking up in the wet and keeping their foot on the brake until they collide with something. Most motorcyclists aren’t that stupid and I would be extremely surprised if anything close to the reductions claimed ever eventuated.

    With regard to combined braking, the K1300S has this, but it only adds a bit of rear if you apply the front. If you apply only the rear, you only get the rear – allowing those U-turns. I don’t want combined braking either, but this system seems harmless enough. Perhaps teaching riders how to use the brakes properly negates the need for both combined braking and ABS, but bureaucrats want engineering solutions, not education.

    1. Vespa tyres are crap. Good tyres & you would have slowed down more & locked up later, possibly not at all.

  11. My bike has an excellent ABS & I wouldn’t be without it, but I’m bitumen only.
    I wouldn’t touch a bike for dirt roads.
    Motorain is right when he said

    “The people pushing for ABS to be mandatory are either simple minded misinformed ‘do-gooders’ who like to think that they are doing something worthwhile, or they are receiving a payout from ABS companies.”

  12. Since ABS was introduced for cars everyone started sitting far to close to the vehicle in front, making things worse.
    People aren’t machines, a new concept for safety “experts” .

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