Motorcycle History: 25 Years Ago Today – BMW First to Offer Antilock Brake System

Motorcycle History -



Each week RideApart looks back to highlight key milestones in motorcycling history from innovations to significant model introductions to racing successes and, of course, some of the disastrous things we’d rather forget. This week it’s the 25th anniversary of motorcycle ABS.

It’s hard to believe but 2013 is the 25th year since BMW Motorrad became the first-ever motorcycle manufacturer to offer an Antilock Brake System as an option on its then, highly popular K 100-series.

In the late 1980s, even in the automotive world, ABS was still in its infancy and was fairly rudimentary and nowhere near as sophisticated as it is today.

One of the first problems BMW encountered in developing ABS for bikes was adapting the technology taken from cars. The kick back or pulsating action of the ABS caused noise and a lot of vibration in a bike’s brake lever and pedal that initially made it very difficult to operate.

Motorcycle ABS
The 1988 BMW K 100 LT included huge hydraulic regulators in the ABS system, front and rear.

BMW engineers developed an electronic/hydraulic system that used a plunger to regulate the hydraulic pressure on the brakes and a ball valve to isolate the brake lever from the system. This, in turn, helped to reduce vibration through the brake lever. That first BMW motorcycle ABS was not light and the entire system added close to 30 lbs to the overall weight of the bike.

Five years later, in 1993, came BMW’s second generation ABS, which was even more remarkable. Not only did the engineers cut the overall weight of the system down to around 13 lbs, but also new developments in electronics improved ABS reliability and an upgraded control system better regulated the hydraulic plunger.

BMW’s second generation ABS, in turn, was even faster and smoother.

Motorcycle ABS
Look closely, and you can just see wheel speed sensor rings poking out on the inside of the front, right and rear calipers.Modern systems are lighter, perforated discs incorporated into the disc carriers.

The rest is now history with all motorcycle manufacturers offering ABS on some models. Only BMW fits ABS as standard across its entire motorcycle range and has recently launched its sixth generation of its revolutionary system.

Current ABS systems weigh around 1.5 lbs and work almost imperceptibly to improve braking distances and safety not only when traction is limited, but even on smooth, dry surfaces. Some systems even work well off-road. As of 2016, ABS will be mandatory on all motorcycles over 125cc sold in Europe and will, consequently, be fitted to virtually all bikes sold here in he U.S. too.

Have you ever ridden a motorcycle with early ABS? If so what was it like?

Related Links:
Riding A BMW With Off-Road ABS: 2014 BMW F 800 GS Adventure

Even Fancier Electronics: Aprilia Performance Ride Control Explained

The Fastest Bike In The World Has ABS Too: Ducati 1199 Panigale R

  • Eric R. Shelton

    So… it only took Hardley Ableson 20 years (2008) to offer ABS on one of their bikes? I can’t tell if that’s average, or catching up quicker than usual… ;)

  • Jimii

    Hey that’s the bike I ride! but without Abs and it has clip ons and a chopped tail instead of the fairing and bags.

    • Jai S.


      • Jimii

        It’s my first bike that I’ve had for 3 years, working on it during the winters.

        • Jai S.

          Looks cool.

  • runnermatt

    I had no idea that Motorcycle ABS had been around that long. I can remember cars and trucks that only had abs on the rear axle. My first two cars, an `87 VW Jetta and then a `87 Mazda RX-7 Turbo (that I still have), didn’t have ABS, although I think it was an option on both.

    • Stuki

      The slow cycling of early systems, made them highly undesirable for performance bike use. BMW was, along with a few big sport tourers designed to compete directly with BMWs (ST1100), the only bikes to fit them.

      • runnermatt

        Yeah, a system that is slow to cycle can cause instability when it cycles on and off. That is part of the reason why is wasn’t too difficult to “out brake” a early ABS car with it’s non-ABS equivalent. Now, ABS is extremely difficult to beat. I imagine a early system could cause high-sides as well as other instances where it could cause a crash.

  • tiredofdummies

    Riding this today-abs works about the same as my more modern bikes.

    • Dirtymopwater

      I dunno… can’t work that well if your bike got flipped over… :D

    • w0ng

      Do you live in Australia?

  • Robert Horn

    Always knew the second generation BMW ABS was working from the “Running over a metal trash can lid” sound the system made.

  • UrbanMoto

    “Each week RideApart looks back to highlight key milestones in motorcycling history”

    They do?

    • Adam

      Perhaps it is during an internal staff meeting.

  • Paolo

    Mandatory ABS? Goodbye freedom of choice…

    • owen

      Remove the abs fuse: No abs. Choice restored

  • markbvt

    BMW may have been first on the scene with motorcycle ABS, but its reputation hasn’t fared too well in the ADV segment because it’s notorious for basically giving up when things get loose and releasing the brakes, as in the video below. Fortunately the newest generation seems to be much improved, and the implementations used by Yamaha, Triumph, etc on their ADV bikes work really well even in these conditions.

    • owen

      There is a switch on the dash of all GSs that turn off ABS.

      • markbvt

        Yes, there is, but the guy in the video forgot to turn it off. That doesn’t change the fact that it was a poor implementation of ABS. Again, though, there are much better ones available now. The ABS on my Tiger 800 XC is so good I never bother to turn it off. I’ve heard the same about the Yamaha Super Tenere. And apparently the ABS on the new water-cooled GS is a big improvement too.

  • Kevin

    Then there’s Honda and the F6B, who don’t apparently think that offering ABS on a $20,000 touring motorcycle makes sense for the American market. Bastards.

  • R.Chakravarthy

    sound fine -what happends if there a hydraulic sysem leak? what is the revortionary mode? is pressing the brake enough for slowingg /stopping the machine qwith the force the that can be applied manual. Has the replacemrnt of oil /seals made a pereiodic event/oblig.I am not tying to find a fault but to findout that these safety aspects have been covered-by your reputation,I am sure you would have looked into fail safe aspects and I only wanr to be updarted on itation

  • R.Chakravarthy

    appears to be damn good I will be reaassured if my comments on hyd leakage is answerd onRchakra varthon Fb-My general i mpression is that is a dambed good machine inspite of somebody hittin a ppole with it yesteerday in bangalore

    • nick2ny

      Sombeody hit a pole with it yesterday in Bangalore? Who was it?