Antilock Brakes. Is It The Most Valuable Motorcycle Feature?

It is still one of the most controversial topics regarding motorcycle safety. Are motorcycles factory equipped with antilock brakes less prone to create fatal crashes than without? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety re-affirms that antilock brakes for motorcycles are working as designed to reduce the chances of crashing, removing some of the risk that comes with riding on 2 wheels. In a new study, the Insurance Institute indicates 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 affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) of insurance claims filed for damage to motorcycles. Bike models with antilocks have 22 percent fewer claims for 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.

I must mention the following: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a U.S. non-profit organization funded in 1959 by insurers. It represents the interests of 80 insurance companies from which it receives its funding. Critics such as the American Motorcyclist Association have suggested that the IIHS sometimes seeks to influence legislation aimed at making insurance companies more profitable, rather than benefitting the public interest. The Insurance Institute released this demonstration video to show how effective ABS can be.

Most motorcycles have separate brake controls, one for the front wheel, and one for the rear. So if the brakes are hit too hard or with the wrong front/rear distribution, a wheel can lock and cause the bike to lose control and eventually fall. Alternatively, if the brakes are squeezed too gently, the bike may not stop in time to avoid a crash. ABS can work in two ways–reduce brake pressure if a lockup is impending or increase pressure again when the bike is under control. It allows the rider to intuitively apply the brakes with full force, without holding back due to concerns of locking up a wheel and alleviate a split-second judgment call.

In the US, shoppers of new motorcycles are concerned by the extra cost of buying ABS equipment when it is offered as an option. To which manufacturers reply that ABS brakes cost will go much lower when bikers will support the expansion of this feature. Currently, most major brands include ABS on their largest motorcycles and make it available on mid-level motorcycles. Europe is ahead of the United States, with a pending rule requiring ABS on bikes there by 2016.

13 Responses to “Antilock Brakes. Is It The Most Valuable Motorcycle Feature?”

  1. 1 Rodent Apr 4th, 2012 at 8:51 am

    The European manufacturers are so more advanced than their American counterparts.

  2. 2 Troll Apr 4th, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Consider the source of this study..if it were up to the IIHS, there would be NO MOTORCYCLES at all.

  3. 3 richard Apr 4th, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I had anti-lock ABS on my ’08 Road King and now have them on my ’11. I’ve had front and back wheel activation on one occassion and they worked! I would have likely hit a BIG wild turkey had it not been for the ABS. I believe they provide a margin of stopping safety that otherwise would not be possible.

  4. 4 Trainiac Apr 4th, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Demo rode a few different HD touring bikes with them, they work as advertised. Great feature to have, better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

  5. 5 Jeff Nicklus Apr 4th, 2012 at 11:12 am

    All Desperado Motorcycles and Jeff Nicklus Customs motorcycles will be equipped with ABS brakes as standard equipment starting with the 2014 Model Year.

    Over & Out,


  6. 6 RoadRider Apr 4th, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    No doubt that it is technilogical advancement. With the correct techniques and control can’t anyone panic stop without locking up the brakes, and if they do lock em up can’t you release and reapply presure at the correct amount? AntiLock brakes are not a subsitute for bad ridding and braking skills or the lack thereof. Whats next traction control ,lean sensors, radar so you can’t follow closer than is safe, Adding electronic controls is never going to replace quality training and practice time in the saddle. I am not saying that AntiLock Brakes are bad but reliance on technoligy is no replacement for training and good ridding habits.

  7. 7 J Apr 4th, 2012 at 7:45 pm


    Oh, so you can pulse your braking hand 10 times per second? Impressive! Do we want to know how you learned this skill? Hehehe…..

    Once you’ve tried ABS brakes, you’ll want them. Sure they won’t help if a car turns left 10 feet in front of you at 60 mph, but they’re especially nice to have in the rain.

    “Reliance on technology”- hmm…. You mean like electric starters and pneumatic tires? Ya, we don’t need no stinkin’ technology….(!)

  8. 8 E. Blastowicz Apr 4th, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Hey, J. It’s the ABS pulsing the brake 10 times per second when you use the brake, not the hand braking 10 times per second. How people can be so dumb..

  9. 9 RobSalvv Apr 4th, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    I am sooooo tired of seeing that IIHS study being bandied about without any serious discrimination of the information. It’s a bloody joke. It wouldn’t pass a university 101 statistical survey assessment paper!!

    At least the equivalent version from a couple of years ago had a section explaining the confounded nature of the survey (conservative riders taking up the ABS option should by definition crash less), but the recent one dropped that critical section altogether. This is what you call a cynical piece of work in order to promote something that may or may not have suggested benefits.

    Not only is it a flawed piece of research, it’s conclusions MAY demonstrate some lower crash rate attributable to ABS, but it in NO WAY did it find a causal relationship. If you don’t know what I mean, consider this example: There’s a correlation between yellow teeth and lung cancer… you might argue that yellow teeth causes lung cancer! But this is NOT a causal relationship. It’s smoking that causes both yellow teeth and lung cancer. Find a correlation doesn’t imply cause unless there’s nothing further back up the chain that might induce the observations. See the difference between cause and correlation?

    Without a shadow of a doubt, if every bike got ABS, I can gaurantee you that there will be nothing like a 37% reduction in fatalities. It simply does not pass the common sense test. If the detailed crash reconstruction in depth studies like the HURT report and the more recent MAIDS report cannot be re-interpretted to show how ABS would have had a significant impact in reducing fatalities, how the hell can some cynical and flawed report from an organisation with an agenda make that case??

    Having said that, ABS is a great feature and has a place, but it is NOT a panacea. You still need to know how to brake properly for it give the rider the most benefit, otherwise your braking distances will be longer. And you should weigh up your riding style and type of riding because some ABS configurations will promote issues rather than reduce them. Do NOT bring your carcentric views into ABS application on single track vehicles.

  10. 10 Doc Robinson Apr 5th, 2012 at 7:28 am

    ABS has assisted me several times to avoid a wreck. You’ll find that most bike journos who do serious miles have had similar experiences. ABS does not replace riding skills and braking practice but it is a worthwhile feature on road going motorcycles.

  11. 11 Harold Mutter Apr 5th, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Doc, you are so right. Any biker that tells you he/she has not locked up a rear wheel while rubber necking, only to look around and see a vehicle stopped dead in front of them, has never rode a bike out of their driveway. In panic mode the average rider is so conditioned to hitting the foot brake in their car or truck to stop quickly, they are sideways before they realize their mistake. I have ABS and would never be without it, it has saved my ass more than once.

  12. 12 Boomer Apr 5th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Good technology like ABS and improved tire surfaces are great and do help prevent accidents but the single best accident prevention item on a bike is between the handlebars and the seat.

    Low speed practice riding and higher speed practice stops will do more than any device on the bike can do IMHO. Defensive riding is the key.

    It’s too bad ABS isn’t cost effective for older bikes right now. Maybe someday. They do help in panic stops. I’m personally not fond of the linked rear to front brakes because sometimes you just want the rear brake to activate. Probably doesn’t hurt if they are linked front to back. Again JMHO.

    (Jumping off soapbox now)

  13. 13 HockeyPucker Apr 5th, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    I believe ABS is illegal for use in MotoGP because it is an advantage.

    Enough Said.

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Cyril Huze