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Basem Wasef

NHTSA Considers Making ABS Mandatory for Motorcycles

By July 2, 2009

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ABS might become mandatory for motorcycles The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will decide by next year whether or not anti-lock brakes should be mandatory on motorcycles, according to a Detroit News story cited on The Kneeslider. The report also mentions that fatal accident rates are 28 percent lower for bikes equipped with anti-lock systems, and that motorcycle fatalities per million miles traveled have nearly doubled between 1997 and 2007. Though NHTSA frequently enforces the implementation of safety technology into automobiles, their involvement in motorcycling tends to focus more on helmet usage and the prevention of drunk riding.

Personally, despite one disconcerting experience with ABS nearly a decade ago, I've since toured on ABS-equipped Harleys in the rain, ridden trails on anti-lock brake-equipped BMWs, and even tracked Honda sportbikes with linked stoppers designed to prevent lock-up. Every one of those experiences have been positive, and ABS has even saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Anti-lock systems are now standard on some Harleys and optional across a variety of manufacturers on everything from dual purpose bikes to scooters-- and in many cases, they can be disabled if the rider chooses.

That said, do NHTSA's attempts to help us keep the shiny side up annoy or encourage you?


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July 2, 2009 at 5:35 pm
(1) Ken K says:

Everyone has fun riding, it is in the stopping (pun intended) “where the rubber meets the road”. Helmets help, why not take advantage of all the traction available. My next bike will have ABS.

July 2, 2009 at 6:07 pm
(2) Steve says:

If you like ABS fine if you don’t, fine, but I don’t like goverment agencies mandating things like this. It will also increase the price of a bike by several hundred dollars.

July 2, 2009 at 8:03 pm
(3) Pete says:

This could end up being a hotly debated issue. I’m not surprised it’s being considered…look at all the safety items mandatory on cars now…the list is endless.
Let’s count the mandatory safety items on bikes…
1 – Oh, wait…sorry – there aren’t any.
That said – I can think of worse places to start than ABS.
The one thing that should be top of the pile that isn’t – at least in this country – is good, mandatory rider training.

Keep watching folks…between pollution control and safety, we may be riding very different (boring) bikes in 10 years.
Think back to the glacial like performance of cars for the years following the pollution laws going crazy. It’s only in the last few years that ‘green’, safety and HP have been able to coexist in VERY EXPENSIVE cars.

July 2, 2009 at 8:46 pm
(4) Steve in GA says:

The concept of someone trying to take danger out of motorcycle riding will appeal to many. No one likes to think about how bad a motorcycle crash can hurt you. And, ABS will seem like a fairly low-cost, proven way to rescue you from you from your own mistakes, such as following too closely, or the mistakes of others, such as the dreaded classic of Granny turning left in her Grand Marquis directly into your path.

The problem with government safety mandates however, is that the bureaucracy never seems to reach a point where it finally says, “Enough of this safety s__t. Let’s ride.” NHTSA will always have another safety add-on that it thinks will save us from killing our fool selves.

But unfortunately, every one of these safety “enhancements” will add weight, complexity and cost to your motorcycle. And frankly, it’s the “mandate” part of this process that I object to. I think that ABS and other safety features should be offered, but they should be at the option of the motorcycle buyer. Maybe an el cheapo bike is all that I can afford, and I’ll buy it knowing that it isn’t as safe as my neighbor’s loaded Gold Wing.

Once the NHTSA gets on a roll making bikes idiot-proof, these safety-nazi’s will eventually price us all out of the motorcycle market. I don’t think any of us want that.

July 6, 2009 at 3:04 pm
(5) Scottie says:

My last two passenger vehicles have had ABS and I have yet to engage the system. In my opinion good brakes (three discs please), good technique and attentive riding are better than mandated ABS.

July 7, 2009 at 5:55 am
(6) Kenneth Lane says:

ABS is great with no down side.

Government mandates are fine too—-if we leave innovation and safety to the manufacturers we’d still be wishing for hydraulic brakes! Those who falsely fear mandates need to wake up to the fact that without them we’d be riding insanely dangerous and poorly preforming machines.

July 7, 2009 at 1:04 pm
(7) TEvo says:

Until you have to fix an ABS system…


The crucible of competition improves the breed far better and faster than any government mandate.

All the performance increases are borne from that. Government mandates tend to screw up more things than they address.

July 7, 2009 at 1:41 pm
(8) Scottie says:

Free market competition, racing and technology trickle down have made our machines better than government mandates ever could.

July 8, 2009 at 11:15 am
(9) Les says:

My Honda ST1300 has ABS and integrated brakes. My Suzuki V-Strom has neither. The Honda has much a shorter stopping distance than the Suzuki. I’ve heard of ABS being a problem for dirt riding. Since I don’t ride the Honda offroad I have to rely on the word of other dual sport riders. I would want to be able to disable the ABS for offroad use. For pavement it works great.

July 8, 2009 at 11:27 am
(10) marshall says:

I have ridden bikes with and without ABS. I would not have a bike without ABS for road use, there is simply too much advantage gained to not have them. That said, they do present a danger on gravel and other slippery surfaces. It becomes very difficult to get enough braking force with the ABS sensing a slide. Linked or integrated brakes that are computer controlled are another thing,,,,passionately dislike them.

BUT, government mandated? Haven’t we got enough big brother involvement? Most of it is poorly conceived and costly…Take a long look at Detroit. Nuff said.

July 8, 2009 at 11:42 am
(11) Jim says:

I have a 2003 BMW with ABS ($900 option). The only time it has engaged is when the MSF instructer had me demo it for the class. I suprised everyone (mostly myself) with a nice straight stoppie. It is one of those things that you hope gives you a margin of safety, but I’m not sure I’d insist on it for the next bike. I’d like to see a study of accidents and near-misses where ABS played a positive or negative part before a government mandate. If proven and cost-effective, the market will drive ABS.

July 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm
(12) Peter says:

I want to ask two questions, as I’m not experienced with ABS on bikes. What are the downsides of them for road riding and how reliable are in they in regards to failure and repair?

July 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm
(13) TEvo says:

Downsides for road riding.
Haven’t experience nor can I think of any.

Failure modes and repair.
All the current systems that I am familiar with have a failsafe whereby brake operation reverts to normal, i.e. non ABS operation if a component fails. The only incident I have seen first hand where a failure directly contributed to a crash was during a closed course ABS demonstration. The K1200 reverted to non-anti-lock operation and the test rider low-sided while performing a 40mph braking demo on sand/gravel.

July 8, 2009 at 2:35 pm
(14) TEvo says:

Forgot about cost.

In this case, the repair was in > $500 range and BMW Motorrad North America only very reluctantly agreed to cover it as a warranty repair item and initially attempted to cite it as a failure to maintain the ABS system on the part of the operator.

I believe the owner/operator was unable to find any documentation in the owner’s manual citing any need for special “maintenance” of the ABS system or its components.

July 8, 2009 at 2:51 pm
(15) Ralph B says:

A properly trained and a properly skilled rider will not notice the stopping distance comaprison between ABS and conventional brakes. Chances are very good that if you think that ABS saved your hide, uh more than likely you still would have stopped in enough time.

Learn to ride! Learn to pay attention! Practice you stopping skills!

If you NEED ABS to help you stop then you shouldn’t be riding.

July 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm
(16) DaShui says:

I’m looking to buy a new bike and will only consider ABS equipped. That leaves BMW and Suzuki. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. MCycle companies are missing a big demographic. Most riders will do an emergency stop one day, and discover that now possessing adrenaline super strength how hard is is to keep from locking the wheels.

July 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm
(17) Joe says:

Harley also as ABS on some of it’s models DaShui.

July 8, 2009 at 3:32 pm
(18) Scottie says:

As does the new Kawi Voyager.

July 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm
(19) Tom Marsh says:

I have been riding GoldWings since 1990. Have never locked up the brakes due to the integrated braking system. But, on the bikes without this system, I would think that ABS would be a great idea…don’t need to think about it…its just there in a panic situation. I would MUCH rather see helmets mandated….just like seat belts in cars.

July 8, 2009 at 3:58 pm
(20) Peter says:

BTW, the new Triumph Thunderbird also has an ABS option. I think what Tom said makes sense, that the ABS is there for a panic situation which no one could forsee. Otherwise use your brakes in a skilled way as you have learned.

July 8, 2009 at 9:57 pm
(21) Clyde says:

I had a ‘Wing with the front and back brakes linked and I hated it. Regardless of what people say or think about ABS I prefewr to not have it, thank you, especially coming from the GUV’MT.

In all my years of riding I’ve never had a problem stopping. Same with my bicycles! I’ve seen the4 cycle where certain tyupes of brakes were “dangerous” and the manufactureres quit offeriing them, then yeaers later the SAME “dangerous brakes with all kinds of great comments about them.

July 9, 2009 at 11:57 pm
(22) TEvo says:

Almost all the major manufacturers have at least one ABS equipped or optioned model in their lineups.

Aprilia, BMW, H-D, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Triumph, Yamaha…

And the numbers will only increase in the coming model years as ABS and other electronic rider aids become more sophisticated, more marketable and more desirable.

July 17, 2009 at 6:56 pm
(23) Bill LV says:

• I have owned my 09 Ultra since Oct. of 08.
Today I had my second accident and I’m not sure what happened.
The first incident involves me running up under the bumper of a car making a sudden stop. I believed it was my fault for not paying attention and not being use to my ABS braking system.
The second one I’m not so sure of. I was coming home on the freeway, obeying all the speed limits. As I entered the on ramp from one freeway to another my bike began sliding rear to front and I was on the ground. The weather is about 101 degrees and dry. No oil or water on the ground. I was not applying any brakes, throttle or shifting. I have no Idea what happened. It was like I locked up my front wheel and accelerated on a curve.
Now I wonder if anyone else has had anything like that happen to them.
I have been riding Harleys since the early 70’s and yes I have dumped my bikes before. I cannot explain what’s happening. The ABS is the only new thing I can think of that may have something to do with my two incidents.

September 2, 2009 at 6:59 pm
(24) talvod says:
September 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm
(25) talvod says:
March 29, 2010 at 8:24 pm
(26) Mike The Moose says:

Have I owned a bike without ABS? Yes
Have I owned bikes with ABS? Yes
Has the ABS saved me from a crash? Yes.
Do I want it as an option on a motorcycle I own? After having my bacon saved by it, I won’t own a bike without it again.
Would I like to see more manufacturers offer it on more models. Hell yes! The selection is kind of thin.

Do I want to see more government regulation to make it happen. No no no. Too much nanny already. We need to realize the benefit pocket up the grand to have it put on our bikes, and use market economics to force the change.

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