Road Safety News

IAM backs motorcycle ABS proposals

Wednesday 21st September 2011

The IAM is supporting calls to make anti-lock braking systems (ABS) compulsory on all new motorcycles more than 125cc by 2015.

MEPs will soon debate the proposals which have a deadline set of 2017, but the IAM is calling for the deadline to be brought forward by two years.

Despite motorcyclists making up just 4% of road users, in 2010 the number of motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents in the UK came to 403 – 21% of all road deaths, according to DfT figures.

Based on recent research by the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), and from experience in Italy – where nearly a quarter of all new large bikes already have ABS – the IAM estimates that compulsory introduction would save 1,500 lives a year across Europe.

Neil Greig, IAM director of policy and research, said: “ABS is available now on many new bikes and the evidence is clear from across Europe that it is delivering fewer deaths.

“Carefully crafted legislation making ABS mandatory for all large road motorcycles would make motorcyclists safer, although we do still have concerns about the long term reliability of some ABS systems.

“On motorcycles ABS is still prone to faults because it is more open to the elements and repairs can be very expensive. Compulsory fitment will bring down unit costs and allow all riders to enjoy the safety benefits.”

For more information contact the IAM press office on 020 8996 9777.


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I have a Husqvarna sms 125 and today I fell of because I didn't have ABS, if I did I wouldn't have come off. Every motorcycle in the world should include ABS!
Nathan page soahm

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Roy, I think you have identified the problem - which is: "This should not occur with a well trained rider". Indeed David has been a firm advocate of rider training. I have been in contact with other trainers, and the general consensus is the same. Ultimately, ABS is a tool, but like all tools, people need to know how to use them. With regards to your question about rotation and traction, the answer - I am told - is that it is both. It - ABS - relies on rotation but it's when traction is lost, it senses that something is wrong with the rotation. BTW - I am semi-retired, but I have enjoyed this discussion. All the best - Elaine
Elaine - Northern Ireland

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Elaine; thank you for this very interesting response from your colleague in the USA. Although I am now retired, I hold an FIDiagE post-nominal and enthuse over this type of discussion. I found myself agreeing with almost everything your colleague has written although there is scope for debate regarding ABS vis-a-vis traction. My understanding is that deployment is governed by rotation not traction; is that incorrect or am I being too simple here? I think a very valid point is made about a sliding wheel can still be rotating therefore ABS would not be deployed. It is self-evident that ABS is not a cure-all in relation to motorcycle incidents as some believe but, on balance, there appears to be an opportunity for more gains than losses. Again, would you not agree? I accept this is supposition on my part based very much on an a-priori approach so I am happy to be corrected by those still currently researching in this field.

May I pick up on the comment, "when braking in a curve". This should not occur with a well trained rider. The instruction given in "Motorcycle Roadcraft" when I undertook the Standard Course in 1967 and the Advanced Course in 1970 was "brake only when travelling straight and the machine is upright." In the latest edition of "Motorcycle Roadcraft" (2006) this now reads, "brake firmly only when travelling in a straight line" and is supplemented later with the instruction to "avoid using the front brake when the machine is banked or when turning." Not all riders are well trained therefore this advice is lost and if those riders choose to brake in ignorance then, as your colleague points out, ABS will be of little use.

I most certainly appreciate the time and effort you are putting into these replies Elaine and as you are, unlike me, not retired I thank for taking the trouble.
Roy Buchanan, Epsom

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Roy Buchanan, Epsom.

Roy, perhaps we are at cross purposes here. I am in the middle of a study of motorcycle fatalities in Northern Ireland and I have found - amongst other issues - that braking is a cause of loss of control. I have been trying to understand whether ABS would make a difference. I have a friend and colleague in the US who has written quite a lot on motorcycle training and issues such as braking, his name is David Hough. I asked for his opinion and he wrote the following (I asked his permission to publish his comments):

"Antilock Brake Systems are not a bad idea, but they are far from the panacea that bureaucrats and motorcycle manufacturers would wish them to be.

"ABS works best in a straight line situation, say when riding straight toward a car turning across the path of the bike, on level pavement. "Works best" means the rider applies the brakes, and the ABS system prevents wheel lockup. When the brakes are applied in a curve, ABS has trouble, because the typical ABS computer doesn't know whether the bike is leaned, or how far, and therefore can't modulate the brakes based on how much traction is being consumed for side loads. IOW, the wheels can be turning even while sliding sideways, and the ABS might not activate. BMW is now including a gyro to control headlight tilt in corners, and it might be possible to incorporate the gyro angles into the ABS system, but that gets complicated really fast.

"There are a couple of other issues with ABS. If the rider snaps the throttle closed, engine compression brakes the rear wheel (unless the machine has a back-torque-limiting clutch) The result can be the rear end sliding out, not from the rider overbraking, but from engine compression braking--of which the rider may be unaware. And ABS can't control that--at least not yet. If the rider panics in a curve and slams the throttle closed--or rolls on too much throttle, ABS can't do anything to prevent a slide-out.

"Todays "race replica" sport bikes are typically very light in the rear, and have very powerful front brakes. That means that in an aggressive stop it's very easy to do a "stoppie"--lifting the rear wheel off the pavement. ABS won't work to prevent a stoppie, because the front tire isn't slipping, it's grabbing the pavement, and the brakes are rotating the machine forward around the front wheel. IOW, ABS isn't equipped to prevent a forward flip caused by applying too much front brake. (as happened to me last year) Let's also note that ABS on the rear wheel is useless when there is little or no traction on the rear. So, ABS is better for autos and trucks with more weight on the rear axle, and for heavy motorcycles with long wheelbase and shaft drive (to place more weight on the rear wheel) ABS is probably not very useful for sport bikes or other lightweight PTWs.

"We should also note that there are low traction situations where a rider might not want to apply any front brake at all--say when riding off a paved road onto a gravel shoulder, or when negotiating a frosty surface in the shade. So I suggest that motorcycle brakes should not be linked rear-front, even if equipped with ABS, and that the rider always have the option of switching off the ABS while in motion.

"I don't mind ABS, and in some situations ABS might prevent a slideout. But ABS does not stand for "automatic brake system." Rather than attempt to make up for rider lack of braking skill by incorporating "safety" devices into the machine, I suggest training riders to manage the situation, including skilled throttle-to-brake transitions, and independent front-rear braking".

I hope this helps stimulate the debate!
Elaine - Northern Ireland

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Elaine in Northern Ireland.

Thank you for the explanation of your views. An interesting read that does not progress the debate although many valid comments were made.

On a lighter note, I am - unfortunately - old enough to remember much of the technology introduced since the Second World War to improve road safety hence the objective versus strategy versus policy versus economics debate is not, in my view, as potent as some would prefer but interesting nevertheless.
Roy Buchanan, Epsom

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@Roy Buchanan, Epsom.

Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that ABS or CBS may or may not be a better option. That is not my point.

The economic argument was first put forward by the industry itself specifically on ABS and was also considered in a report that the EU Commission published - The LAT report (which can be found through Google) included “Effect of Legislation” specifically with regards to mandatory On Board Diagnostics, although the same considerations can be made for ABS brakes (I'll come back to that). The authors comment that “Each policy option that will be adopted by the Commission to formulate a new legislation, contributes uniquely to a "common purpose", which can be described by the following "chain reaction":

Any regulation/implementation of a policy option most probably leads to an upward pressure on the PTWs’ direct costs (i.e. purchase price) or associated costs (i.e. maintenance, periodically scheduled checks, etc.). This cost increase may cause a decline in new PTW sales and especially in these categories that are popular to youngsters or low income consumers in general. The LAT report stated that the increased cost of motorcycles will drive those the Commission appears to be targeting, towards buying second hand motorcycles and keeping them for a longer period of time, thus defeating the purpose of the legislation they want to introduce.

The industry has indicated that the increase in cost to motorcycles for the fitment of ABS would be 10% for larger models and 30% for the smaller bikes. Furthermore, ACEM has also stated, that, “A legislative approach would be detrimental to the variety of systems currently being developed by industry, potentially freezing innovation in the area of “advanced braking systems” and “Mandatory antilock braking systems, applied on new vehicle architectures, would unnecessarily raise the vehicle market price to levels unaffordable for the potential market.”

However, what has not been made clear is that ACEM states that they were already aiming for a large-scale deployment of all advanced systems (75% objective by 2015) on all PTWs (motorcycles). That is 75% fitment of ABS two years before the proposal's 2017 deadline giving a further two years to achieve the deployment of all advanced systems. This of course is offering the option of ABS (Advanced Braking Systems) fitted on the motorcycle that the consumer wishes to purchase.

There is another important issue which many seem not to have picked up on and that is the issue of the switch. FEMA unwittingly bamboozled everybody by insisting that if ABS is made mandatory, then a switch should be applied. As ACEM pointed out “Today the on/off button for ABS is permitted by the EU legislation. In the present text of the new proposal there is no mention of prohibiting it. The Commission has no intention to prohibit it, on the contrary. FEMA is drawing attention on a feature that nobody had the intention to prohibit.”

Even if ABS (Advanced Braking Systems) are made mandatory, manufacturers could continue to offer “on road” motorcycles e.g. the BMW S1000RR which are already fitted with a mechanism to allow certain aspects of the fitted ABS (Antilock Braking System) to be switched off, depending on the settings selected by the rider or manually switched off e.g. the KTM 990SMT ABS or the BMW GS Enduro range. In any case, the proposal also include amendments to exempt Trail and Enduro bikes from the fitment of ABS.

With regards to freedom of choice - I believe that the underlying message I was aiming for was that market forces should prevail, which is possibly another way of infering "freedom of choice" - No?

Hope that clarifies my perspective.
Elaine - Northern Ireland

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If we have to have yet more legislation - why not start with banning think car roof pillars - which block view and lead to a lot of accidents. Sorry I don't have stats - but then where are the stats showing how many accidents would be avoided by the introduction of compulsory ABS? And ABS cant compensate for complete loss of traction on wet greasy manhole covers. Try having a look at MAG's 'Get a Grip' campaign.
Mark Denton, Cornwall UK

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I am puzzled by the comments that seem to indicate that ABS is an issue on motorcycles and suggestions that it has limited capabilities. There has yet to be a mention of linked front and rear brakes that are standard across many model ranges that work effectively in partnership with ABS.

As a Police Motorcycle Instructor for 15 years, a patrol rider for 22 of my 32yrs service and a current DSA Instrucor CBT, DAS and RPMT (15yrs) Instructor I feel the need to add to my earlier comment.

In more than 100,000 miles of motorcycling I never had any 'tumbles' due to front wheel lock up, even as a surveillance motorcyclist on the slippery streets of our capital cities. Put it down to my training?

Please give credit to the high proportion of motorcyclists who are intelligent and well trained responsible people. The suggestion that they do not understand how to operate effective modern braking systems coupled with ABS is outrageous. Unless of course they are trained by Instructors who advocate their own well meaning ideas that lead to riders who are not taught to brake correctly on the highway.

I have used a range of machines over the last twenty+ years fitted with early variants of ABS from BMW, Honda, Yamaha etc and still ride daily a machine that has the latest generation ABS. It is a system that lends itself well to motorcycles and allows, if needed under some circumstances, steering while braking.

ABS is well documented as being a contributory factor to the machine remaining upright and in control faced with the need for emergency brake application or even 'panic' braking.

Not wishing to give a free coaching session on the system, I have to point out that the application of the system of motorcycle control depends on the rider and his/her observations and planning as they make decisions as to methods of speed reduction. Acceleration sense is a positive, greener method of speed loss that relies on the drag effect to the rear wheel and rolling drag to the front to slow down.

Braking using both brakes has more drag application and is therefore more effective with more of a footprint in contact with the 'road' surface when the need arises to slow effectively.

Support for ABS on motorcycles is a positive action. Making machines safer modes of transport will lead to making our roads and users safer. Surely that's what we are all about......
Brian Westlake-Toms, South Wales

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Like Mr. Buchanan, I too have been riding for 48yrs, over twenty in a professional capacity as a despatch rider. The few tumbles I have had through front wheel lock-up have all been on wet roads, and of little damage to person or machine, ego being the greatest injury. In comparison, my one and only serious accident was with a car pulling across my path whilst travelling at 30mph and a bare fourteen feet to impact. No ABS would have saved that one.

Ironically, I was witness to another whose brand new ABS equipped BMW K1 complete with expensive paint job went crashing to the ground from less than five miles per hour on a wet road in Knightsbridge, London. It appears the ABS only became effective from 5mph upwards.

The lady driver who failed to observe another who crossed her path (at a modest speed) at a junction in St John’s Wood would not have benefited from ABS. She not only hit the other vehicle, but continued on, hit a third, and eventually was stopped by a brick wall. Braking was not on her mind it seemed.

My late Citroen BX turbo had ABS, yet was never activated in anger. It worked well enough as tested on a clear and icy road, though it still veered toward the verge. For those who consider ABS an essential component to safe driving and who have come to rely on it as necessary, I would suggest more training in roadcraft. Only in ‘panic’ situations might it be of value. On two wheels with immature riders it would seem to be a benefit. The drawbacks are in reliance upon an expensive, and heavy system fitted to a comparatively lightweight vehicle. The danger then is a reduced lack of ‘awareness’ of the consequences of ones actions, and a greater desire to ‘speed’, as the ‘safety’ features are more and more relied upon to compensate for the operators failings.
Derek Reynolds, St Albans.

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I see the problem from a different perspective... perhaps.

I am not arguing for or against ABS, yes they work on cars but the dynamics are far from similar for a motorcycle, after all one cant be knocked off a car can one.

About 75% of motorcycle accidents involve collision with another vehicle so should we therefore be looking at better swerve manoeuvres or ABS to assist braking before the impact. Or better understanding of how modern brakes work.

In reality a lot of KSI are on higher speed roads in the countryside [cornering or overtaking, very few by contact] and mainly on a Sunday when the motorcycling population get out of their cars and have a blast on a hot and sunny day. So they can amount to something like 20 or 25% of vehiclular traffic on certain well known motorcycling roads.

That seems to even out and give a balance to the KSI accident statistics rather than those we are perpetually told about ie. 1% of vehiclular traffic but 21% of all Kills.

Its not that we need ABS.....that's not the answer... if they get into the wrong hands then motorcycle accidents may increase.... we need to teach riders how to brake properly.

Talking to an instructor the other day he advocated not using the back brake at all and about 20% of riders don't use this brake except in a holding situation at lights etc. Many more riders use engine braking and therefore rarely use the front brake at all.

Most motorcycle mags regularly advise on how to loosen stuck calipers on the brakes and that is because they are not used and become salted up/corroded and therefore worse than useless.

So before we enter into the debate of ABS [which I understand is questionable in certain inclement weather conditions] lets look at proper training and an appreciation of the different style of bikes and there different braking qualities and requirements.

Just as an example a sports bike rider is told on a track day never use the back brake. But that's on a 40ft wide track with superelivationson bends and good tarmac and no street furnishings and a racing line. On a road because the weight distribution is 55% front end and 45% rear whilst braking under pressure the bikes relevant braking ratio is considered to be 70% front and only 30% rear. So if using front only all that forward and downward energy is being stopped by only 70% of braking efficiency whilst if the rear was also brought into effect then a full 100% of braking efficiency is obtained.

Just my view on things.
Bob Craven, Lancs

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ABS is probably one of the best safety features to happen to motorcycling after the introduction of the pneumatic tyre to the wheel. It works and is no doubt a lifesaver. If more bikers had the knowledge and understanding of how it worked and were trained to use it, the roads would be a safer place. Bring it on...
Brian Westlake-Toms, South Wales

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Elaine in Northern Ireland; this is an interesting but, at times, unsound debate. Economies of scale have to be appraised separately from monopolistic policies although their influence can be mutual. I am also unsure that the claim regarding the stifling of innovation is supportable but, as I may have missed the point, I am open to persuasion. There also appears to be a hint of contradiction in the final paragraph.

However, there is historical evidence that is in step with the comments regarding technology and legislation but this creeps back to the opening gambit regarding freedom of choice that is derided as "tiresome". Needless to say, the last sentence returns to pragmatism and common sense which makes the forgoing debate academic.
Roy Buchanan, Epsom

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When I considered buying a new motorcycle, I was disappointed to find no ABS option (and no mpg figures). I didn't buy the bike and, if enough people like me do the same, an ABS option will appear.

I am very impressed with ABS on my car but does it work on a bike?

In a car you can hit the brakes hard anywhere, and ABS can assist, but on a bike?

It's dangerous enough to brake whilst cornering, even a very slight corner, on a bike so if a rider gently brakes over a slight bump, will the ABS activate and possibly cause a crash?

ABS on bikes would have to be of a very high technical standard so if the law results in any old ABS system, or even a good one, that may cause more problems than it solves.

I would have more confidence if the authorities could evaluate statistics competently, but they clearly don't have a clue. If compulsory ABS results in more deaths, they will either fail to spot this, or deliberately fail to spot it - and that's the real concern.
Dave Finney - Slough

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In an intelligent debate "freedom of choice" is the lowest common denominator and frankly - tiresome. The issue relating to compulsion of technology is a completely different can of worms. Why? Because from an economic perspective compulsion does not, as some people seem to think, create economies of scale, it actually does the opposite by creating a monopolistic or in the case of the motorcycle manufacturers, an oligopolistic situation because it means that there is no other option - you have to buy it. That said, there is possibly a more important factor which is that by legislating anti-lock braking systems and/or combined braking systems, there is a risk that this effectively will stifle innovation.

The industry (ACEM) had already stated that their intention was that ADVANCED braking systems would cover 75% of their motorcycles by (I'm pretty sure this right) 2015, so they were going to do it anyway.

A third factor is that brakes are used to slow down and/or stop a vehicle. In a panic situation the reaction time is typically 0.75 to 1.5 seconds, then there is the distance to stop depending on the speed and so forth. In this respect, I must agree with Dave from Leeds, technology has a place and in my view, should be left to the manufacturers to develop without hindrance from legislators. Reducing casualties by teaching responsibility and good manners amongst ALL road users would do far more than the expectation that technology will save us from ourselves.
Elaine, Northern Ireland

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There will no doubt be the usual outcry of 'outrage' from motorcycle interest groups but the fact is ABS makes a huge difference in those panic moments that inexperienced PTW users are prone to. Having ridden bikes for over 40 years and for the last 20 plus years riding bikes with ABS I can say from experience it is a life saver feature. Manufacturers will find economies of scale to introduce to smaller bikes, often ridden by the most inexperienced, making a significant impact on road safety. There are so many race orientated electickery on bikes now, sports/touring ignition modes, traction control etc that it won't be too onerous for manufacturers to build in ABS as a matter of course. Standing by for the 'hands off our freedom to kill ourselves' comments!
David Short, Calderdale

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The issue behind this is that the majority of motorcycle riders don't use anywhere near the maximum amount of breaking force available to them in an emergency for fear of locking the front wheel. This has obvious safety implications. However it's important that riders are trained to understand and use ABS correctly - on a bike it will not allow you to steer and brake hard at the same time as it can in cars. Additionally ABS cannot be relied upon to halve your stopping distance as some car drivers seem to think.

As with any technological advancement on vehicles the technology is secondary to the education and training of the road user.
Dave, Leeds

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Confession time. In over 48 years of motorcycling I have fallen off twice. On both occasions it was due to braking hard and locking the front wheel. A locked front wheel travels faster than one that is still rolling under heavy retardation. In an emergency, it takes considerable experience and presence of mind to brake hard whilst applying just the correct amount of pressure. Logically, if engineers can design out the likelihood of locking the front wheel, it should eliminate the problem and provide safer riding with less collisions.

However, we must be mindful of the faults that ABS on motorcycles seem to be prone to, so this must be cured prior to legislation making ABS compulsory. Also, we must not forget that the best safety device is not to need the benefit of ABS in the first place. I would be cautious that ABS could encourage riders to deploy the risk-compensation theory resulting in no improvement in PTW collisions at all.

My Honda Deauville has ABS that, to date, has not been put to the test but, there again, I tend to ride it like a retired RSO anyway.
Roy Buchanan, Epsom

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