What is ABS on motorcycles?

Adventure 3 min read

An ABS motorcycle is equipped with an automated braking system (ABS). It’s not standard in the U.S., but it’s become a vital safety feature for motorcycles. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, motorcycles with ABS were involved in 22 percent fewer fatal crashes. ABS is intended for on-road use and not usually recommended for off-road motorcycle riding conditions.

“ABS on motorcycles is much less common than on other vehicles,” says Lisa Whalley, general manager of HK Powersports in Laconia, New Hampshire, “but it’s starting to come standard on more and more performance models of motorcycles.”

How does ABS work on a motorcycle?

ABS helps prevent skids, which can cause a loss of control and lead to crashes. That’s good on dry roads, of course, but it’s beneficial for riding in wet or icy weather. Most riders won’t notice the difference between a motorcycle with ABS and one without it while riding and stopping normally.

“ABS on a motorcycle uses sensors on the front and rear wheel to adjust the braking pressure and prevent wheel lock when braking,” Whalley says. The sensor works with a ring gear (sometimes called a tone ring) attached to the wheel. These components send a signal to the ABS unit on the motorcycle.

If the sensor detects a situation where a wheel may lock when you’re braking, the ABS unit essentially “pumps the brakes” for you. You may be holding the brake lever, but the ABS will increase and decrease the braking pressure applied in rapid succession to prevent the brake and wheel from locking. As Whalley notes, ABS is not as common on motorcycles as it is on cars, but you’ll likely see it more often on newer models if you’re in the market to buy a motorcycle. Learn more about buying a new vs. used motorcycle and how to buy a motorcycle for the first time.

Is ABS worth it on a motorcycle?

Historically, riders’ concerns about ABS on motorcycles fall into a few categories.

Weight

Motorcycles are considerably lighter than cars, so one argument against ABS on motorcycles has been whether the additional weight causes performance issues. But ABS typically adds less than five pounds to the motorcycle’s total weight — not very much at all.

Aesthetics

Some riders prefer a stripped-down look to their motorcycles. To achieve this, they remove the engine coverings (called “fairings” or “cowlings,” depending on the maker) to expose the motorcycle’s inner workings. Having ABS means there’s one more component that clutters up the presentation.

Cost

ABS is optional on some motorcycles and usually costs a bit more. How much more depends on the manufacturer and the motorcycle. Know Motorcycles estimates that the cost to install an ABS system for a motorcycle can be up to $350. The cost of the ABS system will vary based on the style of the equipment and the location of the manufacturer.

Do you need ABS on a motorcycle?

As ABS has become more common on motorcycles, more attention has been given to this question. According to Whalley, ABS “can be important on a motorcycle because they have powerful brakes that could lock if someone applies full brake pressure in certain situations, and the motorcycle could skid.”

Skidding also happens when one of the wheels locks, which ABS can prevent. Additionally, if the front wheel locks, the motorcycle and rider can flip over. ABS allows the rider to have greater control of the motorcycle while braking, even when cornering. Another essential benefit is stopping distance. According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, the stopping distance for motorcycles with ABS is significantly shorter than for motorcycles without ABS in both wet and dry conditions.

Safety is the primary argument for having a motorcycle with ABS. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth exchanging performance, looks, or cost for the added peace of mind you’d get from having ABS on your motorcycle.

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