Anti-Lock Brakes

The Jury is Split on Anti-Lock Brakes

There's been a lot of talk lately in motorcycle safety circles about the benefits of anti-lock brakes (ABS). On the consumer or rider's side, they are perhaps of most value for beginning or infrequent riders. Experienced riders may view anti-lock brakes as unnecessary and not as reliable as the personal knowledge of how a bike handles. As a lawyer who works with people involved in motorcycle crashes, I recommend that anyone thinking of buying a new bike read up on the value of anti-lock brakes (for the kind of use you anticipate), talk with your dealer and talk to others who have a bike with ABS.

In the world of insurance and risk, data is key. According to the Highway Loss Data Institute, licensed motorcycle riders who have purchased bikes with anti-lock brakes are 30% less likely to file accident insurance claims in their first 90 days of ownership than those who buy bikes with standard brakes. In those first 90 days, the learning curve for handling is high as is your adrenaline to get out and ride.

Anti-lock brakes are still considered an option when buying a new bike and serve the purpose on a motorcycle the way they do in a car: no more brake pumping when you're seeing skidworthy conditions, just brake consistently and the computerized sensors manage the rest. Yet there are more limitations with ABS on motorcycles than there are with cars.

More than 30 years ago, BMW was one of the first manufacturers to offer ABS on motorcycles. There's no question that adding the option to any bike hikes your price and bike's weight. Just as they have with a host of other safety measures, the insurance industry has tried over the years to spur legislation mandating ABS on new bikes. They just don't get it that in the 2-wheeled world, one size does not fit all!

While the choice remains with the buyer and biker, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as manufacturers continue to educate all parties about the value of ABS. Data is updated, trends identified and distinctions are drawn between panic-braking and regular braking. Harley Davidson has a great YouTube video on ABS too.

Just because technology exists doesn't mean it should be mandated. We should never assume that technology can or should take the place of knowing how your bike handles and how to operate it in traffic or various weather conditions. Common sense says to ride within your abilities ? and your bike's ability.

Rick's bottom line: I've owned motorcycles consistently for nearly 35 years and to date do not yet have one with ABS. However, I've represented accident victims in my law practice for over 20 years and never had ABS be a distinctive factor either. Buy and customize the bike that best fits your skills and needs. And just as important, consider taking a rider safety course every few years.

More good reading on this topic: