Motorcycle Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)

anti-lock braking systemABS was first developed in 1929 for aircraft and entered into general use on automobiles in the 70’s. In 1981 BMW introduced ABS on a motorcycle. Here in the 21st century, ABS is now becoming more routinely available on motorcycles, either as standard equipment or as an option.

But what the heck is ABS? To begin with, an Anti-Lock Braking System incorporates computerized sensors to determine when a wheel is on the verge of locking-up. It then gives instant instructions to the brakes to release and re-apply braking pressure (pumping) a whole bunch of times per second, while you are steadily engaging the brakes.

What results is slowing and/or stopping without skidding. (A skidding tire has less traction than one that is not skidding).

And they are very easy to use. In an emergency situation on an ABS bike, just apply the brakes hard! Do not manually pump your brakes. Aggressive braking will initiate the ABS system automatically and the rider can concentrate on the immediate threat — and not the brakes.

That’s the good news.

On the other hand, many experienced riders can bring their non-ABS bike to a stop faster than an ABS equipped bike, by way of well-practiced, efficient, front and rear braking — particularly on clean, dry pavement. The question is can you do that under the stress of a life-threatening, panic-braking scenario? And even more to the point, how refined are your emergency braking skills on wet or dirty roads?

If you have attended a motorcycle event in which BMW was one of the participating vendors, you may have seen their demonstration and/or video where they compare the braking performance of ABS and non-ABS equipped bikes on flooded pavement. The demo-motorcycles are equipped with outriggers, to prevent the bikes from completely going down. The bikes are each ridden into several inches of water whereby they apply emergency braking. The non-ABS motorcycle loses control, falls over onto the outriggers and spins out. However, the bike with ABS makes a controlled, straight-line stop.

Is ABS or non-ABS best for you?

87 thoughts on “Motorcycle Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS)

  • The myth that an experienced rider can stop quicker with non-ABS than a bike with ABS is complete myth. On a dry flat surface, experienced riders 100% of the time stopped more quickly with the ABS. This would definitely apply to slick, non-flat surfaces even more.

    Don’t believe the myth, ABS is much, much safe for riders of all skill levels.

  • I’ve read a few comments regarding ABS, and regardless of the views it all comes down to the awareness of the rider in the end. So if you’re not 100 percent alert it don’t matter what technology you have (ABS, Traction Control, Linked Brakes or whatever) your history and it doesn’t matter what bike you have or how experienced you think you are.

  • i dont believe that an abs will be a solution to the instant event, if u r riding ur bike since long then u get habituated to it and its braking. i ride my bike which is an old 1 ,with all the power she can provide me to be at the edge in regular conditions and the same way in the rainy season, when i am about to brake i jst apply the rear brake, the front disc and simultaneously lower the gear with perfect timing and my bike dosent slip nor does she go’s off track….. i love the thrill to do it all the time and till now i have been good……………. finally no matter if u have an ABS or not what matters is that, a biker should always know and should be able to calculate his braking time,distance and the amount of force to be applied onto the brakes.

  • I find it interesting that those who have actually tried bikes with and without ABS and those who have experienced the benefits are totally in favour of ABS. They have the proof as they have actually tried them. Those that argue against ABS …don’t have it so they really can’t comment effectively. How can you argue against something you have never tried. Makes no sense to me. I have a 2007 Softail Deluxe with over 50,000 miles on it but after renting a bike with ABS I have now ordered a 2011 Softail WITH ABS. To me it is a no-brainer!

  • If you look toward the end of this string you will find posts speaking about the only add on I have found. It is a sysytem by TCB Brake Systems. It is that add on nut you mentioned and the press I have read (and read all I could find) was not overly positive. My take is the results might be better but for the most part no effect. I am looking for a more complex system and it doesn’t appear to be available as an add on so I plan to buy a 2011 soft tail and acquire it that way.

  • I really don’t like ABS on my car, I don’t think it brakes as effectively on snow or ice as me pumping the brake, and I have had trouble stopping using the ABS.

    My bike does not have ABS, but there is a way to convert to an ABS like system using a special nut on the brakes, I’m told.

  • I’ve been riding motorcycles since ’74 , a few accidents , a few close calls , and ride an ABS equipped Honda ST1300 since 2003 , with 140,900 miles . (YES that much to certain persons , and not so to others) . My next Bike will also have ABS . If it save my 50+ butt one time only , it is worth the expense. Today ‘s motorcycles have that option for not so much more money . I do not feel it in action , and believe me , when i jam the brakes in an emergency , i do look in my mirrors , cause i’m not sure the car in my back can brake as fast . You know on a bike you do need eyes all around your head. I ride in Québec , Canada , from april to december , and i’m damn glad i have ABS on my ride. It does make a difference , try or rent one to see for yourself , i’m hooked on ABS , thanks for technology . Ride safe ride long ride for your pleasure .! ! !

  • Any chance of an add on ABS?? Not that TCB, but a proper ABS. I have a sportster that I love and all it needs is ABS. I ride it daily and wet roads are common. Any help would be appreciated. I see that Continental has made the hardware but nothing so far online other than that. Thanks

  • To Tom Felok
    Old dirt bike trick..Using scotch guard spray can waterproof anything For something more durible I use mink oil and work it in with a hair drier

  • re:bmw test: why would you hit the brakes in a big puddle? You’ll spin out in a car if you do that as well. That’s a very SHOWY test but not at all realistic.

    I like abs tho’. I put Mark’s units on my old bikes.

  • “…many experienced riders can bring their non-ABS bike to a stop faster than an ABS equipped bike…”

    Yeah. Do you believe in Santa, also??

    BTW: ABS is not only for stopping faster. It is also for stopping SAFER. Even if ABS makes me stop longer (in SOME cases), I would yet prefer this a thousand times than a locked wheel in a emergency situation.

  • Great thread. So far more information on this subject than other sites.
    Pro ABS folks, I’d like to hear more from you (anti ABS folks, don’t bother)
    To summarize: ABS is for panic situations, and I want something bolt on.
    Yes I know this means I will have to make it myself (since I can’t find anything so far. That is the plan, hopefully it’ll work in some fashion, maybe it can lead to a product.
    Mr TCB (Mark Lipski), good job, that was my first idea (air dampener), [by the way doesn’t anyone remember the same thing added to old plumbing systems in yru house to reduce the pressure shock when valves closed to fast?]
    But Mark, why not at least add a valve stem on the top then you could pressurize (with air) the upper chamber to give yourself a little more tuning? OR to go further, how about including some inertial (rapid decelleration) mechanism, the next step is probably some minimal electronics measring wheel lock up. I’m wrestling with ideas that use some inertia (linear or maybe rotational) to moderate braking to get somewhere inbetween zero ABS and the BMW version.
    If any of you folks can give some serious feedback and technical commment on this issue, please write back as this is a formum converstation and don’t want to go on and on here.

  • I have had a few close calls with cars over the past 40 years. Locking up a rear wheel and slideing upright for a second or so and then releasing the rear wheel has made me miss the scene of the accident. I fear that with ABS you will slow down until you hit the object with a I have no control look on your face, CRASH

    Dont know what I mean. Try jamming the brakes on your car in a empty parking lot, and see how many feet it takes to stop with the ABS.

  • question – Sometimes a straight line stop is not the most beneficial emergency maneuver, e.g. when there is a stalled bus on the blind side of a curve. Your best bet is to lay the bike down. Can you lay down an abs equipped bike?

  • I am completely sold on ABS brakes. Because of all the hype? NO. Because everyone else thinks they’re great? NO. Strictly based on my own experience. Experience has something to offer. Unless you have experience at some high speed stops, whether in a vehicle, or motorcycle equipped with ABS, you are guessing at best. I believe all motorcycles should have ABS as a standard feature.

  • I’ve been researching this quite a bit as I’m a long time motorcycle racer and reluctant to let an abs computer take over for my skill set. There are a couple of counterpoints that have been made to me that I believe are worthy of consideration and will put them out here for your comments.
    1. Just because you can use manual braking to your advantage on a lightweight race bike doesn’t mean you can pull off the same thing on a 900lb Harley with a passenger and loaded with camping gear.
    2. Wet roads, gravel and grass are a different issue than dry pavement. A cycle cop claims he can hammer the brakes on wet grass with his abs BMW and just stop, no issues.

    These points have changed my mind on the subject and I intend to own abs on the new Harley.

  • I have a question. As far as riding in cold weather, I think that heated gloves are the way to go. Gloves should also be waterproof and thirdly – they should offer protection. As far as obtaining all 3 of these features, I don’t see how it can be accomplished, as I haven’t found a glove that offers all 3 features. The best solution I can come up with is to go with the two most important features (warmth and protection) by ordering just the heated glove liners and also gloves with protection to go over them and unfortunately foregoing the waterproof feature. UNLESS, one of you readers has an idea of how I can somehow find a glove or combination that also affords me the waterproofing feature.Thanx for any and all responses. I am Tom from Pennsylvania.

  • I have a BMW K1200LT that came with ABS, but I would have never paid extra for it. The feature just came with the bike. I had no opinion on the matter until a trip this summer around Lake Superior, during which I had a black bear, of all things, run out of the woods in front of me at 11:00 AM. I am used to being on my toes for deer and other critters in low light situations, but was caught completely off guard on that bright sunny day.

    I hastily grabbed a handful of the front brake and brought that fully loaded beast to the quickest stop I have ever experienced in a completely controlled manner, stopping upright about 15 ‘ from the bear. It happened so fast my heart didn’t even have a chance to race. The bear turned and went back into the woods, and I just downshifted and started off again. What could have been a life threatening disaster ended up as just another road story to tell.

    I believe in ABS brakes now, especially in a BMW, which also has anti-dive technology that I can attest works great. In the future, I may buy bikes without ABS, but if that option is available, I will ALWAYS take it.

  • Some here are saying they can stop quicker without ABS than with, and without losing control. Personally I cannot. I have a steel plate in my wrist to prove it. I won’t own another bike without ABS. Ride on!

  • ive been riding for about two years and i think ABS

    is just a bunch of hoo-ha. its extra cost that you could of used on something else for your bike.

    if your bike is really light like smaller than a 600cc then wheels locking up is likely

    however on a bike 1000 its not as easy and just simply squeaze the break partially then ram her full-force.

    like two steps. thats what my old man taught me.

    im driving a no-abs crappy old 1981 kawasaki kz650 CSR

  • I wish that I could afford to get a bike with ABS, but that’s out of the question right now.

    I’ll never forget the 1st time that I engaged ABS on a car that I bought with them. It was in ’93. I had an SHO with them, & one time someone unexpectedly stopped right in front of me. I hed the brakes, engaged ABS, steered around them & kept going. It was awesome, & I’m an ABS advocate ever since.

    So, someday I’ll have a bike with ABS.

  • I reckon it’s a useful thing to have for a roadbike, particularly in wet conditions. I can see that people who race might not want it on their track bikes, and it’s true that racers SHOULD be able to stop shorter without ABS, but those are ideal conditions when they’re concentrating. The reason that the ABS will be useful is if you’ve gotten a fright for some reason and you’ve grabbed a lot more of the brakes than what you should have, it will save your backside in that sort of a situation.
    I’ve got an old cheap bike, and on more than one occasion I’ve wished it’d had ABS. Saving up for a BMW F800GS myself! 🙂

  • I just get so pissed at some people arguing how they do not want abs on their bike and how they hate it for this and that reason. Let it go ! You’re getting old and can’t let go of some stuff OR you’re just being ignorant to the whole matter.

    It’s not even debatable. Truly isn’t debatable IF abs is useful / handy / good overall to have on a bike. There’s no point. WHY ON EARTH would you not practice proper braking if you have an ABS bike and why on earth would you mind having something so vital in bad ass situations ?

  • There may be some truth in saying that you can stop quicker without ABS than with ABS but this would only apply to some of the earlier versions of ABS equiped bikes (and cars). Some of the earlier versions were quiet crude and only of benefit in emergency situations with inexperienced riders.
    It may also be true on bikes with inefficient braking systems where there is plenty of time before the tyres will actually slow enough to brake traction and the brain is able to react in time.
    However on modern bikes with twin front rotors etc. the brakes are so efficient that locking a front wheel at 260+kph is a reality and the brain simply cannot react as fast as electronics so ABS will win out everytime – no question. Why would companys such as BMW devote all the time and effort developing these systems let alone the added weight, complexity and expense in fitting ABS if it didn’t work?

  • Helo awl
    Well like all things ABS has its good points and its bad.In most situations they are wonderful .No matter how experienced we may be road surface is the single biggest issue and abs covers that wonderfully.It instantly adjusts to every variation from fine sand to snow and all things in between.Its single failing is it will not let you lock a wheel and there are times when this is an imperative.Luckily most ABS can be turned off or disabled so it can be dealt with on the rare occasion when you need it .
    The sad part of ABS is its just one more example of de- skilling and when you step of an ABS bike onto a non ABS bike you are well and truly xxxxxx .I am curious to know how many people know when you need a locked wheel

  • For most riders(including me with over 250,000 miles ridden), I believe ABS is the way to go. When one panics, all formal thought goes out the window. The computer doesn’t panic. Also, if you are in a situation where you are sliding (front or rear wheel) I ‘ve read that ABS will be of no help as it does not detect the slide, only rolling motion.

  • i want to buy an abs for my tvs apache rtr-160 but don’t know where to look for,please tell me how to buy it.

  • Darn it
    I just spent ages typing a long comment, but when I tried to submit it my FireFox crashed.
    Did you get it or do I need to retype the whole thing?

  • I have a FLSTFSE 2005 without ABS & a FLXHSE 2010 with ABS and so far I find the braking using the ABS awesome. Very responsive & a delight to use ( that’s in a straight line of course) I updated my FLSTFSE with Brembo and it made a lot of difference but still not as good as the ABS

  • I traded in my perfectly good 2005 Softail Deluxe for a 2008 Road King just so I could get ABS brakes. So far, I haven’t needed them for a dire emergency stop but I can vividly recall a couple of instances on the Softail when my brakes did lock up. As my southern wife always says :”It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”

  • Frank

    I have been riding for over thirty years and have a bmw1200 GS with out ABS and had to go to a lot of trouble to get a 1200GS without ABS and a 1150 RT with ABS. BMW hooks the front and rear brake together on the ABS models fine for the road worst thing for off road. Yes you can turn off the abs on the GS but the brakes are still linked together. Try a slick down hill on a 1200gs and hit the back brake and the front brakes come on too you will see what I mean. ABS great for street, but dirt and gravel, mud and snow they will get you hurt. I would love to have abs option with out the linked together. When I tour its the RT but when I Explore It’s1200GS NONABS.

  • Wow at all the comments! I too did not get any answer back from TCB. I have a chineese 49cc Verucci scooter that came with a little surge/expansion chamber thing installed in the front brake system. If the TCB thing helps then would not conventional brake likes with some expansion under hard braking be better than non-swelling metal braided lines??? I am going to start wearing out pads and rotors practicing — like somebody above just said — controlled hard braking on every ride to improve my braking skill and reaction time and panic management…which is a wild card when it happens for real. Also good cheap and effective is to stay 3 seconds behind the vehicle in front of you and pull over and let tailgaters pass…try to hold the finger wave. Keep imagining that you are invisible and …… GOOD LUCK!

  • What ever happened to paying attention and practicing your braking skills often (if not daily)

    Comments like those below scare me. To their credit both are riding larger bikes. I do not and would not want it on anything other than a heavy Sport Touring bike. All others. NO. Hell NO!! Keep your laws of mandating ABS brakes off my bike. While it should be an option on more models than it is now it should not be mandatory. And yes, I have owned and ridden bikes with ABS. The ONLY time it helps to stop faster is on wet roads.

    Nediesel: “I will not buy another bike with out Abs. They should make this standard on all motorcycles.”

    JVFowler:“I believe in safety gear but instead of legislating for helmets they ought to loby for ABS on everything” (I assume you meant ‘lobby’)

    I ride daily. I have ridden for 40+ years. I do not want ABS on my bikes.

  • I never owned a bike with ABS until my 09 K1200LT came along. I had this bike for 6 months. Here in Pa we have lots of deer,well one decided it did not want to stay with the others. I was going about 60 Mph when i noticed it coming my way. When i hit the deer the bike really just shook a little, it stayed stright and upright. After I came to a stop I noticed both mirrors had popped off, the right side turn signal and high beam headlight assembly were no longer part of the bike. I think with out the ABS The damage to me and the bike would have been extensive. I will not buy another bike with out Abs. They should make this standard on all motorcycles.

  • Two years ago I hit a deer. I admit it was a small deer but I hit hard enough to dent one of my radiators on a K1200lt. If I had been on anything else without ABS there is no way I would have not locked up the brakes. As it turned out my wife was looking the other way and did not even know what happened. I believe in safety gear but instead of legislating for helmets they ought to loby for ABS on everything. That would bring the cost down and reliability up.

  • Mark Lipski says:
    February 22, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Yes you are correct, with any ABS system there are sensors pumps and regulators that pulsate the brake fluid. This creates a lock-unlock situation to crate the Anti-Lock (ABS) function.

    I have been using this on my softail for a few months now and I can tell you they work very well, you can still lock-up your tires buy not as fast..

  • I’ve seen Mark Lipski of TCB Brake Systems leave comments on several sites now, advertising his invention. When I checked his website and read the testimonials some of them were laughable. I wrote to him asking if he had any actual test results to show his idea was effective and never heard back, so I’m assuming he has no real evidence.

  • When I hear riders comment (such as Eric) about the “more gimmicks more problems” I have to laugh. I’ve been riding for some 35 years and now own the ’06 ST1300 with ABS. In the 53,000 miles i’ve put on her, I’ve had to stuff the brakes twice in emerg. situations and now I wouldn’t own a bike without it. I think the ones that don’t believe in the ABS should try it before they knock it!

  • MC-G,

    Yes you are correct, with any ABS system there are sensors pumps and regulators that pulsate the brake fluid. This creates a lock-unlock situation to crate the Anti-Lock (ABS) function.

    The big problem is no matter how well it works you can’t fit it on your bike if it was not a stock purchase. Buying a new bike or trying to outfit a vehicle not stock equipped costs major bucks!

    The TCB creates a similar function with a mere replacement of the banjo-bolt. This is done by adding a CONTROLLED compressibility factor to the brake system without introducing air into the line.

    The better brake systems get on all bikes with stainless lines, Kevlar pads, and dual piston calipers. For that mater any other improvements you could name not limited to floating rotors or calipers or DOT 5 brake fluid. The answer is all the same, better braking that will lock the wheels the best to show off.

    Brake fluid is non-compressible just like hydraulic fluid in a floor jack that lifts tons of weight. The TCB allows a little “give” in the equation. This allows the brake pads to float while dragging instead of lock and sticking.

    The TCB works and it is physically impossible for it not to. The bottom line is control during hard braking can save your life no matter how you do it!

    As always,

    Mark Lipski / Inventor
    TCB Brake Systems LLC
    903 569 2998

  • Have been a rider for 50 years and own 8 cycles. The ABS system on my only new bike, the R1150GSA is the most superior braking system I have ever used on a bike…and I have ridden everything from AJS to Vincents. And, if I am riding on grass fields, gravel or fire roads, I can turn the ABS off…the best of both worlds. I would also recommend ABS on any car you are thinking of getting. The second best safety item…the first being shutting off your gxddxmn cell phone!

  • Don’t kid yourself; your skill cannot modulate brakes better or faster than the computer/abs. You cannot type/spell faster than a computer, nor can you add/subtract/multi/divide faster than a computer.

    There will be people who say it’s not better and that they are more skilled than the average biker. These may very well be the same folks who don’t wear helmets or proper gear…too much stuff and they don’t work.

  • I have ridden both ABS and non for 20 years. ABS is very simply better. Recently experienced front wheel lock on a non-ABS VFR in a straight-line emergency on a new front tire. Crashed bike, broke ribs. My BMW’s have handled many similar situations routinely. NHTSA study proves 5-15% advantages in emergency stopping distance, plus ability to stay upright. There is simply no valid argument against putting it in every street bike. But you can only get it in large Japanese touring bikes, VFR, or BMWs or some scooters in the US. Euros can get ABS a much wider array of Japanese models. So why are Japanese and Harley not making ABS available on all models?

  • Years there was no such thing as abs and now everyone is screaming about how every bike should have em, well i drive an old bike and never used them, not saying they are not better, just dive properly and you will not need them, more gimmicks more problems

  • “…many experienced riders can bring their non-ABS bike to a stop faster than an ABS equipped bike…”
    Not necessarily true. I teach a hundred MSF courses to 1,000 students every year. Many riders use their own motorcycle for the course. I have observed differences in how well the ABS systems work from bike to bike. BMW has the ABS system down to an art. It is not possible to stop faster because of traction limitations. Other ABS-equipped motorcycles, such as the Yamaha FJR1300ABS or Honda VFR, Gold Wing or ST1300 stop well, but in a measureably longer distance than the BMWs. But any kind of ABS is better than none in an emergency, when our brains tell our hands to grab the front brake lever, causing the front tire to lock up and the bike to low-side.

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