Motorcycle ABS and how it works

At VicRoads we believe bikes with ABS are safer and encourage those looking to purchase a bike to buy one with an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). 

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ABS - what is it?

Simply put, ABS on motorcycles prevents wheel locking and increases stability. Motorcycles are, by nature, less stable than four-wheeled vehicles. Braking too hard can destabilise a motorcycle and lead to either the front or rear wheel locking, causing the bike to overturn or slide.

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

How ABS works on motorcycles

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.

See ABS in action giving better control on the road


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.

Benefits of Motorcycle ABS

A report into the benefits of Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) on on-road motorcycles was commissioned by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments and released in 2015. The report found that:

  • ABS could reduce the rate of death and severe injury from motorcycle crashes by 31%
  • 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.

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

Australian Design Ruling Update

On 1 December 2017, the Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure approved the Australian Design Rule that will require any new motorcycle and/or scooter that's registered to be fitted with an advanced braking system, such as an Anti-lock Braking System or Combined Braking System.

This means that from November 2019 motorcycles sold in Australia are required to feature the same life-saving braking technologies currently required in Europe, Japan and a number of other major markets around the world. 

Motorcycle ABS - Improving rider safety

Watch this video to see how ABS on motorcycles can make a difference.

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.

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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