How Does Motorcycle ABS Work?

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Category: Technology

On The Road

15 years or so ago, most bikes that had ABS were heavy tourers. Hit a lever hard enough to actuate an older bike’s ABS and you’d be met with a ton of lever pulsing as the system modulated brake pressure a few times a second. You could almost feel the rate at which it could process data. And while that detectable pulsing was able to prevent wheel lock up, it frequently failed to bring the bike to a halt in the same distance a decent rider would have been capable of on his or her own. It could also intervene too soon or in undesirable circumstances.

Jump forward about five years and that pulsing had disappeared, and the stopping distances moved inline with those of a very good rider, but ABS could still trigger where you didn’t want it to, such as while braking over tar snakes. This first modern generation of motorcycle ABS was also confounded by off-road conditions, so most bikes with any sort of dirt pretensions fitted with it came with a big “ABS Off” switch.

Nowadays, the technology has advanced so much that it’s nearly undetectable. You simply come to a controlled, rapid stop in the shortest distance possible. No pulsing, no second-guessing the efficacy, the bike is held at the absolute threshold of grip until you release the lever. Not only is it seamless, but up-to-date ABS delivers all the feel and control you’d get from a non-ABS bike, too. And, it works off-road. Sometimes. On the latest generation of ADV bikes, you can still catch ABS off-guard while attempting to shed speed on a steep descent, where you actually want full front brake lock. But, in general dirt riding, it works pretty well. Learn to ride with it — stop flying down steep descents and leaving braking till the last second — and it will actually add an element of safety. Particularly given the ever-expanding proportions and weights of that class of bikes, it’s a welcome addition.

The level of control and seamless precision of modern ABS even means that on the latest superbikes you can trail brake right up to the limit of a front tire’s grip, relying on the ABS to prevent you from washing the front.

The next generation — represented by Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control now entering production on the KTM 1190 Adventure — sees ABS work to prevent the bike from standing up under braking in turns.

Do You Want It?

Yes. The latest generation of ABS systems removes no control or feel from the rider and even the fastest racers will no longer be able to out-brake the computer, even in perfect conditions. In today’s horrifying traffic conditions, ABS is the last line of defense against careless drivers. On today’s hugely heavy Adventure bikes, it’s tuned to keep you upright even if you take them off-road. With modern ABS, your bike simply stops faster and more safely. That’s an advantage you need, whether you want to admit it or not.

Does your bike have ABS? Why or why not?

Has your experience with ABS been a good one?

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