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First real-world motorcycle ABS study

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

A real-world study into the effects of ABS in motorcycle crashes has been completed with the help of Australian riders.

There have been plenty of studies in the past about the effectiveness of ABS on motorcycles, but they are all statistical summaries and not real-world surveys.

Last year UK motorcycle road safety researcher Dr Elaine Hardy contacted us to publicise her research and attract Australian riders who had been in an ABS-equipped bike crash to participate in the study.

Now she has released the results of the first real-world study of ABS effectiveness. You can read the full “Effects of ABS in motorcycle crashes” survey here.

It involved surveying 60 male riders and one female with 25 respondents from Australia, 34 from Europe and two in South Africa.

“ABS can and does make a difference,” says Elaine who worked on the study with colleagues from universities in Europe.

“The underlying problem that everybody seems to be oblivious to is the importance of hazard awareness training and simply how to brake in emergencies (with or without ABS).

“There is a lot of misinformation out there.  The purpose of this study is to find facts about what happens when riders crash, not debate about mandating ABS or not.”

BMW demonstrates ABS study
BMW demonstrates ABS

The horse has already bolted on mandatory ABS in several countries, anyway.

India makes it mandatory for all motorcycles with an engine bigger than 125cc from April 2017, More than one in three new motorcycles manufactured in Europe is now fitted with ABS and Japan, Europe, Brazil and Taiwan have mandated anti-lock brakes on designated motorcycles.

There are no calls in Australia yet for ABS to be mandated on bikes, but the Federal Chamber of Automated Industries and VicRoads say ABS is safe and a Monash Uni statistical study says it would save lives.

Even if ABS isn’t mandated, motorcycle companies are rolling out the technology across their range.

Elaine says she has spoken with industry representatives who say that because the cost of the technology has dropped considerably all bikes, except mopeds, will end up with ABS brakes.

“So they are not fussed whether the system becomes mandatory or not – because all bikes 125cc+ will end up having them anyway – and the cost will be absorbed through sales,” she says.Bosch ABS study

Elaine’s study is the first real-world research into ABS motorcycle crashes, but she says more needs to be done.

“Although this pilot survey is a small sample, the wealth and depth of information provided by the motorcyclists who participated allows for a wide range of analysis of the details that resulted from the questionnaire and the responses,” she says.

The study found the typical speed of 32% of the riders was between 41-60km/h, while 13% indicated their speed prior to braking was 61-70km/h. Only four (7%) indicated their speed was more than 100km/h prior to braking.  Eight (14%) were travelling at speeds up to 20km/h prior to braking.  

“In particular, the riders overwhelmingly recognised the risk of injury if they are involved in a crash and thus wore highly protective clothing and helmets,” she says.

In terms of how the speed before braking affected the injury severity, the study suggests that the injury outcome appears to be nearly random, or rather it is dependent on circumstances other than speed.

When asked whether the riders applied their brakes prior to crashing, 52 (85.2%) replied that they did.

“This response is possibly the most important and relevant question and answer in the survey,” Elaine says.

“The reason is that the focus of this survey and its response regards advanced (anti-lock) braking systems and whether the dynamics of the outcome of the crashes matters or whether there is something else that requires attention.”

Elaine says licence training is usually designed for the novice to pass a test, rather than being trained to survive, let alone understand the dynamics of ABS.

She says it is important the rider understands how to use ABS and has sufficient knowledge of emergency braking and hazard awareness to prevent a crash.

  1. It will depend on their driving habits. People that use front brake first will be saved by ABS. Since such dangerous braking method are being forced to many people, ABS will save a lot of lives.

    1. Having learnt most of my initial riding habits on dirt and riding now for thirty years or more I know a bit about how to stop a bike or avoid an accident sometimes these are mutually exclusive as stopping can be the worst thing to do. I can say that front brake first is not the wrong way to brake however it is not the right way to brake and people teaching any braking methods other than the right one for the particular emergency leads to accidents and such stupidity as linked brakes. On one occasion where the accident I had was almost entirely my fault ABS Linked brakes or relying solely on the front brake would have seen me in hospital if not dead. I had over cooked it on a bend with decreasing radius a dip in the apex point an almost overloaded bike with a soggy rear shock.
      I found myself a bit airborne and headed for a very steep drop but somehow I got it upright and scrubbed off a lot of speed before meeting the gravel where my dirt days took over and nearly got me around the bend if not for a large rut in the dirt that dropped the front just as I was about to get off the back brake and on the gas. Had I had linked brakes the front would have locked and I’d be dead had I ABS the rear would not have locked and I’d be dead had I just hammered the front brake and forgot about the rear I’d be dead.
      I like ABS because I have locked up the front on more than one occasion but somehow managed to stay upright but needed a clean pair of undies, the times I’ve locked up have almost never been emergency stops just normal pulling up to the lights to discover that even the dry clean part of the road can be slippery sometimes.

      1. I share the same concerns regarding linked brakes. I sometimes trail the rear brake. Disclaimer I have never ridden a bike equipped with linked brakes so my fears may be unfounded, but it just don’t seem right to me.

        1. I must admit, I share your concerns with linked breaking. I am looking at a bike with linked braking and wondering if I can disable it. I would prefer to be in control of my brakes. I did read up about this model and the back is linked to the front. So when you apply the front brake, you get 30% back brake too. That would be alright approaching a corner but I wonder how smooth the transition would be if I had my foot on the back brake going into the corner and releasing the front?

          1. Scary experience.

            There are dangerous linked brake too. A good example would be Honda scooter, linked brake is activated by the use of rear brake. The proper system have delay valve that prevent the front from activating before the rear brake does. But in a cheap version, there is no delay valve. It become worse because most of the scooter have front disc brake and rear drum brake. Because they also equipped with rear parking brake, the rear will always set a bit later to activate than the front. So, the front brake always activate first when using the rear brake. When people use front brake first, it become more dangerous because using the rear brake will still add the strength of the front brake. So, the front brake strength is often overpowered.

            Fortunately, Honda cheap linked brake system is easy to disable.

  2. This survey seems somewhat flawed as it is asking about crashes and ABS not near misses and ABS. A request for feedback on near misses of both ABS and standard brake equipped motorcycles would have revealed more valuable data as the purpose of ABS is supposedly to prevent accidents, that leads to a question that may not have been on the survey; Was the accident caused or contributed to by ABS?
    Many riders and even car drivers have experienced issues with ABS under certain conditions such as gravel roads and badly corrugated roads where the ABS effectively turns off the brakes by preventing them from locking when locking is required.

    1. I fully agree with your comment about free misses and remember saying so at the time.

      1. Ditto regarding the aim of the study. The point of ABS is to reduce the number of crashes, and these don’t get reported.

  3. ABS is a great thing, however it has flaws. I remember in my brand new taxi, (years ago the first of the AU fords) and having to use the handbrake, to keep control on a very steep, wet deeply corrugated road. The ABS left the car freewheeling. It may well be all good for city folk, but it does have its limitations, for us rural folk, and I’m sure it could cost lives. And let’s all face the facts, the roads ain’t getting any better.
    I know, it’s for the greater good and all, but my choice, is either no ABS or a switchable ABS.

    As always
    Ride free and ride safe

  4. ABS is really about retaining control, not braking distance. That aspect never gets the publicity it should. Of course there are circumstances where it needs to be turned off.

    Instinctively, when faced with an emergency, most ordinary riders will jump on the rear brake. When it locks up, control is lost. ABS prevents that instinctive lockup, allowing the rider to retain some control.

  5. I had a Blackbird and the Honda link brakes suck. Ok in a straight line bit very average around bends…non adjustable front end suspension wasnt great as well.

  6. A reply to my comment from the author of the survey.
    Elaine says
    29th March 2017 at 8:31 am

    Hi Al,

    I did previously do a near miss study a few years back, You might wish to read it here:

    Near Miss Accident Survey of Riders – 2009 pdf – 1.37mb

    Apart from that – the title of the study is clear “Effects of anti-lock braking systems in crashes”. If it were a near miss study – then it would have been “Effects of anti-lock braking systems in near misses”

    I understand that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation USA did a study on near miss recently – here:

    Overview of the MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study pdf – 4.26mb

    If you are willing – why not do your own study on near miss crashes with ABS?


  7. “In terms of how the speed before braking affected the injury severity, the study suggests that the injury outcome appears to be nearly random, or rather it is dependent on circumstances other than speed. ”

    This is a good investigation, & it confirms what we all realise, that the idiotic
    “Every K over Is a Killer” mantra
    chanted mindlessly by the safety parrots
    is total BS.

    1. Hi Ivan,
      It depends on the quality of the ABS.
      Some systems are set up for this type of terrain.
      Some also allow the rear to be switched off.

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