Motorcycle ABS: Why you should have it, and how it works

Motorcycles are, by their nature, less stable than four wheeled vehicles. Braking too hard can destabilise a motorcycle. This can lead to either the front or rear wheel locking, which can cause the bike to overturn or slide.

Alternatively failure to brake hard enough can result in a rider failing to avoid a crash.

Anti-lock braking (ABS) systems on motorcycles have a number of benefits that address these common safety issues. 

Benefits of Motorcycle ABS 

We recently conducted a report – commissioned by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments -  into the benefits of anti-lock braking systems (ABS) on on-road motorcycles. Released in September 2015, our report found that:
  • ABS could reduce the rate of death and severe injury from motorcycle crashes by 31%
  • whilst ABS technology is common in passenger cars sold in Australia, only around 20% of new motorcycles come with ABS as standard 
  • at the current rate of ABS motorcycle sales, this technology has the potential to save 22 lives between now and 2025 
  • this figure could rise to 35 saved lives if ABS is made standard on all new motorcycles from 2018
  • Europe is currently in the process of mandating ABS on new motorcycles from 1 January 2016 and in Sweden ABS motorcycles were nearly 50% less likely to be involved in severe crashes. 
We strongly recommend that motorcyclists should not buy a new motorcycle without ABS.

You can download a copy of this report from the Monash University Accident Research Centre.

How does an Anti-lock Braking System work on motorcycles?

An Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) works to prevent a motorcycle's wheel, or wheels, from locking during braking. ABS uses speed sensors on both wheels to accurately determine wheel speed, as well as sensors to determine when a wheel is about to lock.

ABS adjusts the braking pressure accordingly to prevent the wheel from locking, and assists with maintaining the stability of the motorcycle. In many circumstances ABS has been shown to reduce braking distance. Motorcycles with ABS technology have been shown to be involved in fewer crashes on the road.

Typical braking distance of a motorcycle
Most major motorcycle manufacturers now offer motorcycles with ABS as either standard or optional equipment. If you are planning to buy a motorcycle to ride on-road, it is recommended that you buy one with ABS. However, ABS may not be appropriate for off-road riding conditions. If you are planning to use an ABS equipped motorcycle off-road, you can switch ABS on and off as required.

We’ve created our Search Safe Bikes comparison tool to help you make an informed decision when purchasing a motorcycle. 

ABS in motorcycles can help a rider to reduce speed or to stop his or her motorcycle in an emergency situation. Speed sensors on the motorcycle's wheels monitor the speed of rotation, so the wheels do not lock during braking.

If the wheels are about to lock due to hard braking or slippery road conditions, the ABS hydraulic unit momentarily reduces the brake pressure applied by the rider, so that the wheels continue to rotate. This helps the rider to control the motorcycle and slow down safely.

Motorcycle ABS works by constantly measuring wheel speed, however it only intervenes to adjust brake pressure if it detects that a wheel is about to stop rotating. A rider shouldn’t notice this at all during normal, non-emergency braking but can be confident that in an emergency they can apply full brake force without the wheels locking up.

Please refer to the image below for (1) Hydraulic unit with attached control unit and (2) Wheel-speed sensor.

Components of the Bosch motorcycle ABS

While the basic principles of ABS, i.e. preventing wheel lock up and skidding, is essentially the same for all vehicle types, braking is much more complex for riders than drivers.

Most motorcycles have separate front and rear brake controls. The brake controls help to balance the braking force applied to the front and rear wheels to ensure optimum braking.

If a wheel locks up on a car, this may result in the vehicle skidding. If a wheel locks up on a motorcycle, this can often result in a loss of balance, causing the motorcycle to fall.

Motorcycle ABS helps to prevent wheel lock up and therefore can keep the rider upright.

The technology can help to reduce braking distance and in the event of a crash, can reduce the impact of speed.

No, VicRoads has no plan to mandate ABS on motorcycles. However, VicRoads wants to increase riders’ awareness of the benefits of motorcycle ABS. Understanding the benefits of this safety technology can be particularly helpful when choosing your next motorcycle.

Riders have the option of switching off, or reducing the level of intervention of motorcycle ABS, if they feel the situation requires this. An example of this is off road riding.

Under controlled conditions, a professional rider may be able to ‘out brake’ a motorcycle with ABS. The reality on roads is very different. The road environment can be unpredictable, due to the interaction with other road users, changing road surfaces and weather. All of these factors can add to the complexity of an emergency braking situation.

No, the ABS system will only operate if it detects a wheel is about to lock. Under normal riding conditions you will not notice any difference.

Yes, however VicRoads recommends purchasing a motorcycle with ABS fitted at the point of manufacture. VicRoads is aware of aftermarket ABS systems for motorcycles, however the research showing the benefits of ABS is based on motorcycles fitted with ABS from the original manufacturer. This original equipment is fully developed and rigorously tested by the motorcycle manufacturer as an integrated part of the motorcycle.

No, ABS is still only available in Australia as standard or optional equipment on approximately 20% of new road based motorcycle models.

No. A motorcycle with ABS will operate the same as motorcycle without ABS under normal conditions. Therefore, VicRoads does not require that riders have any specific training.

However, some motorcycling experts believe it is an advantage if riders understand how their motorcycle with ABS will operate during an emergency stop and therefore do recommend training. The choice is up to you.

Eric R. Teoh (2011): Effectiveness of Antilock Braking Systems in Reducing Motorcycle Fatal Crash Rates (External link), Traffic Injury Prevention,12:2, 169-173.

Matteo Rizzi, Johan Strandroth & Claes Tingvall (2009): The Effectiveness of Antilock Brake Systems on Motorcycles in Reducing Real-Life Crashes and Injuries (External link), Traffic Injury Prevention,10:5, 479-487.

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