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Is ABS as safe as officials believe?

ABS alcohol lock road safety safe

Europe is mandating ABS on motorcycles and it is being considered in Australia but only now is a survey seeking to find out if ABS is safe in the real world.

British road safety researcher Elaine Hardy is seeking riders around the globe who have been involved in a crash on a bike fitted with ABS to fill out her survey.


Elaine has reached out to Motorbike Writer readers to help with the survey which is limited to riders who have been involved in a crash on a PTW (Powered Two Wheeler: Motorcycle or Scooter) with ABS between January 2010 and December 2015.

“I think that it will be very useful to know what actually happens,” Elaine says.

“Part of this project is to conduct a survey of riders who have crashed with ABS fitted whether the ABS ‘engaged’ or not.”

From April 2017, Europe and several other places around the world will mandate ABS on bikes above 125cc.

Is ABS really safe?

There are no calls in Australia yet for ABS to be mandated on bikes.

However, the Federal Chamber of Automated Industries and VicRoads say ABS is safe. They claim it could reduce motorcycle fatalities and severe injury crashes by more than one-third.

The FCAI also supports the “continued development, introduction, and promotion of better technology for safer motorcycles” such as ABS and traction control.

University of NSW Transport and Road Safety Research Centre Professor Raphael Grzebieta told the NSW Parliament’s Motorcycle Safety Inquiry ABS should be mandated “immediately”.

ABS alcohol locks autonomous combined mileageHowever, there seems to be little real-world research into what actually happens in a motorcycle crash with ABS.

Did it actually work? Did it fail? Could the crash have been avoided without it?Did it reduce the severity of the crash? Is it really as safe as officials would have us believe?

Surely if governments are going to mandate any technology it should be backed by proper, real-world research.

  1. It would worthwhile to Survey Riders, where a certain crash has become a near miss due to ABS.

    I have this occur twice, where the ABS has kicked in preventing me from crashing the bike.

    1. same for me – twice in the last 18 months I’d have been a gonner for certain without ABS Should be mandatory on all road bikes.

  2. Except for my current bike all my bikes have been pre abs and I have learnt the hard way how to be a human abs.
    When I first got the bike there was a time where I had to go bush to avoid one of those clowns who don’t look before suddenly changing lanes, I was full speed on a one ten road and found myself on a painted median strip hitting the anchor hard to avoid the on coming wire rope barrier. I can not say if the abs engaged or the pulsating I felt was the painted stripes but that is the only time it might have come on because I have it ingrained in me how to properly apply brakes especially in an emergency. And that is what makes abs dangerous! If riders don’t learn how to emergency stop etc without locking up then what will happen to them if the abs stops working?

    1. Agreed 100%

      Being the Old Grumpy Bastard that I am, I can still however remember the front brakes of many a bike, either totally lethal or barely rated as retarders. One really did learn to ride around the bike, on one such machine the front brakes if you could call them that, needed a gorilla like full hand squeeze, to just achieve a slight slowing, however the rear brake was brilliant, and one very quickly learnt to steer the machine out of trouble by locking up the rear, and taking option 2 escape point in a totally different direction and then get on the gas hard, saved my butt so, many times.

      Although one of my machines has ABS, (only cause I had no choice) for that particular make and model, the other machine, I had a choice, and I took the non ABS model

      My personal thoughts are that manufactures could option ABS for the front brakes only.

      But it will be a very interesting study.

      Grumpy Old Bastard
      Ride free and safe

  3. Didn’t have a crash all these last years (fingers crossing and kept crossed).
    But had at least one situation, with the car in front of me suddenly deciding to go for that left-hand lookout parking on a mountain road, which would have been seriously embarassing without ABS.
    On the other hand I ride a vintage bike and actually had the front wheel locking up on me in a tight situation where I only came out untouched (except morally) by a great load of luck.
    Been riding since 1976 and consider ABS the best invention since sliced bread.

  4. I have a performance bike with ABS and very grippy tyres.
    I have enough grip for riding (even aggressive riding) but the ABS is great when you find out that the top of the bitumen peels off under brakes, or there is oil or gravel on the road.
    I can ride till the ABS kicks in (and I do sometimes) but it is fabulous as a backup for when the unexpected appears.

  5. For me ABS is the option of last resort. Being observant of the road conditions but more importantly other road users is the number one defence. Correct use of the brakes comes second when slowing quickly and if all else fails ABS. I did recently have to invoke option three in the classic situation of a driver pulling out of a side road without looking causing heavy breaking on a poor surface. ABS kicked in, I was still upright and able to utter sufficient expletives along with hand gestures in case Anglo Saxon English was not his first language. Clearly he understood neither since all I got was a smile and wave! So for me I see the worth of ABS on road, off road is another story and that’s where the authorities will have a problem. ABS ‘off’ on dirt trails when it’s a liability and back ‘on’ for the road but how do they regulate that?

  6. I find all this hysteria about ABS being unsafe or not needed to be ridiculous.
    ABS does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL until the rider fails and locks up the brakes in an emergency. At that point, it may help to save your life. If you are so truly gifted that you can brake on the limit and not panic when some clown pulls out right in front of you and your life is in danger, just turn the ABS off.

  7. I have had ABS on my K1300S for the past 5 years and have never activated the front brakes ABS, so don’t know what it feels like! Similarly, I never locked up a front wheel in the 30 years before that, by riding to the conditions… and perhaps being lucky. I have however, had a crash on a Vespa GTS 250 that would probably not have happened if that bike had been equipped with ABS. Like Darren said, ABS doesn’t do anything at all unless you have really stuffed up, so I don’t mind it being there…

    The rear ABS on the other hand, is triggered by hitting any small bump during even moderate braking and this can be annoying, but not generally life threatening. I think it is too sensitive and would happily turn it off as the braking distance is increased. Even better, if there was an adjustment you could dial in yourself, this could be rectified easily.

    The authorities that-know-all are considering mandatory ABS on all new bikes in Australia. Will this make a huge difference to the road toll? I don’t think so – you have to adjust to however your bike performs and ABS isn’t magic. It is not usually about how well your brakes perform, it is about avoiding the situation that causes panic braking to occur and this comes with experience.

    One problem with mandating ABS is that the smaller capacity and less expensive bikes will be fitted with the cheapest ABS system available and these aren’t the best performing units. These are the bikes that learners will be riding.

    At the moment, surveys identify that riders with ABS have less crashes and conclude therefore that ABS must work. What they fail to realise is that the bikes that have ABS are generally larger capacity, more expensive and more likely owned and ridden by experienced, older people who have learned to survive on bikes long before ABS appeared. It is no wonder they crash less. ABS may not be important at all…

  8. ABS or not, proper braking technique will still reduce your stopping distance. Poor technique with ABS will result in a longer stop than good technique with or without ABS.

    And until they get it right for unsealed surfaces, of which we have a lot in Oz, its dangerous, increasing stopping distances. My XT1200Z came with unswitchable ABS. After a few rides on gravel roads, and a few steepish fire trails I searched the net for a an off fix which fortunately wasn’t too hard.

  9. ABS will not make up for poor road craft. All you’ll do is crash with more control. My plan is to ride to the conditions and practice my braking skills on a regular basis.

  10. Rode for 30 years without ABS.
    Fell off many times in my twenties, never because of wheel lockup.

    Current bike (Triumph Sprint with no chicken stripes) has excellent ABS. Servicing mechanic didn’t believe it was working until he disconnected it to testride – & found out.
    Because I’ve adapted to it, I’ll never buy a bike without an excellent ABS again.

    However, before I bought the Sprint I didn’t need ABS
    & any ABS which doesn’t perform as well as the Sprint would be unsafe
    & I’ve been told that many don’t.
    Know a few riders who are much better than me & they refuse to use ABS for good reasons.

    Let market forces prevail. If ABS is needed, people will buy.

    Far as I can see
    those wanting compulsory ABS are bedwetting control freak (those 2 go together) safety nannies who can’t ride
    because they spend all their time sticking their nose into other peoples’ business instead of riding.

  11. There are any number of youtube videos showing with vs without tests to settle the answer to the question: abs results in shorter stopping distances ON THE ROAD and regardless of the rider’s skill levels (i.e. even professional riders stop quicker with abs).

    MCN did this one with Honda Fireblades in 2009:

    This video also answers the question posed:

    …”The main finding is that motorcycles with antilocks versus without are 37 percent less likely to be in fatal crashes per 10,000 registered vehicle years. Bolstering this finding is a separate analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute. HLDI analyzed insurance claims filed for crash damage to motorcycles. Bike models with antilocks have 22 percent fewer claims for crash damage per insured vehicle year (a vehicle year is 1 vehicle insured for 1 year, 2 insured for 6 months, etc.) than the same models without antilocks. “…

  12. “The main finding is that motorcycles with antilocks versus without are 37 percent less likely to be in fatal crashes per 10,000 registered vehicle years”

    Correlation is NOT causation. Other possible issues include:
    riders who can afford bikes with anti-lock brakes are typically older and more experienced, ie have less crashes as a demographic group.
    riders who have spent large sums on their high end bikes simply don’t work their bikes as hard to protect their ‘investment’.
    using registered vehicle years skews the results, why not use kms travelled? (eg, I have 3 bikes but I only ride one at time. therefore my crash stats should be divided by 3.)

    Claims such as ‘I’d have been a gonner for certain without ABS’ are so subjective as to be value reducing in this debate. I can truthfully claim ‘on many, many occasions I have successfully modulated my braking to manage wheel lockup and avoided dropping my bike and/or crashing’. I did it yesterday, many, many times (riding on gravel to be fair, although I have also done it on seal and avoided ‘I didn’t see you’ syndrome. Like all skills, practice makes perfect…).’ Resulting in my belief that ABS is a solution looking for a problem. Added expense for the industry to place a mark-up on and add service cost to.

    Does stating my opinion add value?

    1. All opinions are valuable, but like mine, are just that – opinions.

      You are correct in saying that correlation is not causation (although I was taught that the rule is that “correlation does not IMPLY causation” – a small but important difference). However you are over looking the many instances of controlled experiments where the same riders ride the same models of a bike with and without ABS, on the same piece of road/track and the ABS models ALWAYS have shorter stopping distances.

      When you eliminate all of the variables except one (ABS) then any consistently obtained variation in the results has to be attributable to the single remaining variable: i.e. ABS is the influencing factor that is creating shorter stopping distances.

  13. Last year while riding in France I came as close as I want to a rear end crash. I was watching the truck in front of the small car that I was following when the drive saw some loose gravel and went for the brakes, and hard, I thought I had left enough room to stop. I grabbed the front brake on my fully laden 2012 V-Strom and the ABS kicked in and that was left to show after stopping was a small oval mark on the drivers bumper. I believe without ABS we would have crashed and possibly ruined what turned out to be a great European holiday. I have been riding for over 40 years and at one time I was a motorcycle instructor in Victoria and I regularly practice emergency stopping. I really do not care how good you are, or how experienced you are, when the s……… hits the fan we all grab the front brake, and guess what it locks and down we go, done it twice over the years. I think ABS is just the best and at this time has saved me having at least one crash. When riding my older Suzuki’s I am very aware of the lack of ABS and so I practice as all of them are different but when the panic sets in…………… Yes we can ride defensively and that is the way to stay alive, but it only has to happen once, momentary laps of concentration and bingo. I normal just hate mandating a law, but in this instance it is a life saver.

  14. Even in india they are making ABS mandatory on bikes.
    and looks like New Royal enfield 750cc has dual ABS system

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