ABS: Help or Hindrance?

rc3Head down, bum up, throttle pinned at 150mph. Grab a handful of brake. A momentary period of satisfying stopping power then…nothing. Hurtling towards a tyre wall at that speed without any brakes because a little black box has thrown a wobbler isn’t my idea of fun.

As of 2016, all motorcycles over 125cc will have to be furnished with ABS as standard. Safety first, right? You’d think so, and so do the EU suits. New laws are aimed at stopping road traffic accidents and saving lives and, while I concur that ABS can be a vital safety component on the roads, its purpose on the track is anything but.

Jumping on the ABS love train for a second, there are plenty of lightweights, middleweights and less sporty bikes with functional systems that will/have genuinely save(d) lives. I just think we’ve yet to see a happy median, a perfect blend of performance and safety. It’s all very well having a load of monumental thundercunts (who don’t ride bikes) conjure up these fancy new jurisdictions but there needs to be compromise. Road speeds and needs are very different to circuit-based prerequisites. From memory, only a German superbike rider and the Honda Endurance team have (briefly) utilised ABS in a racing environment.

Honda’s C-ABS system has proven to be a lifesaver for me on countless occasions during previous daily commutes, not to mention provide masses of confidence in the wet. At the UK press launch at Honda HQ, we were given CBR600RRs and told to ride into an array of artificial slippery surfaces (oil, sand, etc) and grab the front brake lever. After ex-superbike rider and guinea pig, Steve Plater demonstrated we weren’t going to die, I did so. It was amazing, like an epiphany or something, but it’s guff under heavy braking on a circuit.

Likewise, take the GSX-R1000 for example: you either choose the ABS-kitted model or the non-ABS version, with no option for switchable modes. It bamboozles me that a top-shelf superbike designed to bust lap times can be so hamstrung in such a crucial dynamic aspect, but there are many ‘race’ ABS systems currently being showcased on superbike exotica that function supremely on track, and ones that show the technology has been greatly advanced in recent years. Triumph’s 675R, the Panigales and the Aprilia RSV4’s spring to mind, where a relatively simple toggling option gives you various ABS alternatives, and a system that doesn’t make riding a £20k sportsbikes bloody dangerous in its natural environment.

Manufacturers of ABS systems such as Bosch (who supply a large majority of the aforementioned) will be rubbing their hands together, celebrating a sudden spike in sales figures. Hopefully they can invest in their washing machines and fridges, curing world peace and banishing Bieber.

WSB Donington P&H 22-05-15 108

  5 comments for “ABS: Help or Hindrance?

  1. Paddy
    August 14, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Could’ve done with ABS on my SV650 when a car pulled out on me 3 weeks ago. Panic braking is not fun.

  2. August 14, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Compulsory ABS isn’t so bad, as long as it is possible to turn it off or have ‘modes’ as mentioned. Just a shame it will boost the price of most bikes.

  3. Paul Coombes
    August 14, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Good narrative here getting to the heart of the issue. There are far too many road riding wannabe heroes that think having ABS makes you a wous. Fact is its a great aid for those learning who don’t have the skills. Why learn the hard way by damaging yourself your bike and your wallet? Of those that think they have that level of skill to not need ABS, only a very small percentage actually do.

    Agreed if your in a fast group then ABS could be a hinderance, but as you say the future is bright. Hopefully in time this argument will fade away into common sense, in the same way people used to think wearing a helmet or seat belt made you a loser.

  4. Foul Phil
    August 24, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    ABS saved me from a big bill for K1600 plastic and bits this weekend when on a roundabout the guy in front decided to stop for some god only known reason.

    I was quick to grab a bit of front brake, but the ABS was quicker, hearing the “oh boll*x!” in my brain before my mouth had time to vocalise. It knew that me steering to the right, at the wrong speed, with that weight, and in that wet was all going to end in tears, and so with a little help from that black box it didn’t. Not so sure how it behaves going quick, but boy am I glad it was there going slow.

  5. Karina
    December 4, 2015 at 1:13 am

    I thought this was going to be a rant about compulsory ABS on the street. While I won’t comment on track days, I’ll say that I’m happy to see ABS becoming standard on road bikes.

    While I personally do have the skills to ride full bored bikes without ABS, it certainly gives me a degree of confidence to know that if my own skills fail me then I have a backup safety net that I can rely on. Also, there are so many examples on Youtube of less experienced or less skilled riders face planting after locking up their front tyres that it’s very clear that ABS is very much necessary for many road users. As a person who’s ridden both ABS and non-ABS bikes I find ABS is not very intrusive anyway.

    Also… If you go down because you locked up your brakes, please don’t blame other people for it, it just makes you look like an idiot.

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