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-   -   Does ABS matter? (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/which-bike/does-abs-matter-35049)

nasi 6 May 2008 11:49

Does ABS matter?
How important is it to have ABS on a bike? How much difference would it actually make?

The reason this question is in my head is because I am considering the current crop of VStrom 650s, in particular the 650X vs. the 650A or T. I know that the X is essentially a marketing gimmick, but at the same time it is cheaper than the A & T and gives a headstart with a couple of bolt-ons. But it doesn't have ABS (hence the cheaper price).

Since the X is pitched as more of an 'adventure' bike one might conclude that there is a reason for leaving off the ABS, but I really don't know and that could be more marketing spin!

In terms of my use of the bike it will most likely be constrained to Europe for the time being with the intention of going further afield in the future. It will be mostly for solo riding but with a fair amount of 2-up as well. I've not done much riding off tarmac (apart from a few back roads in Thailand on an inappropriate 400!) so don't know how much of that I may end up doing. This will be the first 'big' bike I will own after my trusty 125 that has kept me going for the last few years.

I tried searching for posts on 'ABS' but the search engine doesn't seem to like three letter search terms and I haven't found anything that covers this topic by browsing, so I'd appreciate any insights or links anyone can provide.

pecha72 6 May 2008 12:32

Depends on who you are!
If it says "Rossi" or "Carmichael" on the back of your jacket then no, you dont need ABS, as you can brake better without it.

But for the rest of mankind, and when we are speaking of road riding, mostly on asphalt, I think its a plus in every way. You will only really NEED it, when/if you have a real bad situation, and that is rare, but after that situation, you will be so thankful that you had it.

In a situation like that, you wont have any time to think, be thankful if you even have time to react (no technical system will save you, if you dont!) so its simply better that you will not have to worry about keeping your wheels unlocked, while doing some evasive maneuver, for example.

And conditions on the road change constantly, there may be something on the road that reduces traction, your visibility may be blocked just at the wrong moment. Or you may just simply be tired after a long days riding, and just did not concentrate hard enough, and all of the sudden you got into trouble.

Most of us, even those who say they can brake better without ABS, usually panic in such situation, so not being able to lock your wheels is a big help.

They are totally two different things, to be able to brake properly, when you practice it, and doing it on the street, in an actual situation. The latter is much, much harder, because you are not likely to get a warning.

ABS alone will not save you, though. But if you can brake properly enough, and keep alert while riding, it can give you a little bit more safety-margin, something thats very valuable at that moment.

Do note that there are different ABS´s, some work better than others. The Suzuki DL´s system is ok, never had any problems with it, and now ridden 50 thousand kms with it. Even tried it while riding on an icy road once, and it worked remarkably well (wouldnt dream of stopping it that soon just by myself).

Margus 6 May 2008 12:54

Completely agree with Pecha. If you aren't Valentino Rossi it can make a WORLD of difference in the panic situations - just grab your brakes to max and try to avoid the collision by maneuvering your bike (that is still maneuverable thanks to ABS).

Human nature will act on reflex, and in the panic situations, maybe only 0.01% of uber-experienced riders can focus on the precision controlled power of braking while maneuvering the bike with precision control. All this happends in a fraction of a second. You made a mistake = you're down.

But as said, ABS isn't your mighty-saviour force too, there are endless scenareos how to crash your bike, ABS just gives some additional safety portion for some of the scenarios for us "regular riders-travelers" (read: non-racing experienced riders and probably only few of the racers who can use their braking-controlling experience in real-life traffic that makes unexpected turns and creating other panic-braking situations), so it doesn't automatically make your bike 100% safe either.

Having ridden over 50Kkm with ABS bike myself I'd never buy a street-going bike w/o ABS again. Only specialized offroad bike or tar racing-only purpose bike I'd buy w/o ABS if I ride it outside traffic where only I can make mistakes. ABS has saved my skin and bike dozens of times in the traffic, especially handy in rainy days ;)

You don't notice ABS system on your bike until you need it.

pecha72 6 May 2008 17:30

One thing that does worry me a bit is, how much I have already gotten used to the fact my own bike has ABS.

Right now, its on its way back home from Australia by boat, and Im riding a friends spare-bike, which has normal brakes. If something happens, will I just slam on both brakes and go down, hopefully Im not that stupid, but I really dont know, and thats a bit of a chilly feeling. Hope I dont have to find out, either!

This will be less of a problem in a few years as more and more bikes will have it in the future. And the pros of ABS still far outweigh the cons for me.

MotoEdde 6 May 2008 18:20

ABS's raison d'etre is to compensate for bad habits...braking and otherwise.
Fom a certain perspective, it can foster those bad habits.
Nevertheless, its nice assurance for most folk when on tarmac.

From a RTW point of view, its not a good idea off-tarmac and adds additional weight/complexity to your bike choice.

AliBaba 6 May 2008 18:22


Originally Posted by MotoEdde (Post 188300)
From a RTW point of view, its not a good idea off-tarmac and adds additional weight/complexity to your bike choice.

Naah, I don't know. All airheads have ABS and it's a pretty lightweight and simple system :-)

MarkLG 6 May 2008 18:38


Originally Posted by MotoEdde (Post 188300)
From a RTW point of view, its not a good idea off-tarmac and adds additional weight/complexity to your bike choice.

ABS adds only 2 or 3 kg to the weight of a bike. You're not going to notice the weight, but you will be thankful for the ABS when you have to stop quickly on a wet, slippery, downhill mountain road.
You can always switch it off or pull the fuse for offroad riding.

mollydog 6 May 2008 18:54

Rain, practice, off road
Rain is a great reason for ABS. Especially in fast city traffic. To me, this is where ABS makes sense.

pecha72 6 May 2008 19:06

" From a RTW point of view, its not a good idea off-tarmac and adds additional weight/complexity to your bike choice"

Gotta disagree there (but I only rode my DL from Europe to Australia, thats about half way round, so maybe my opinion is not valid at all)...

ABS has been around for quite a while, and in fact Suzuki, for example, uses exactly the same hydraulic unit that they use in some of their cars, cars just have two units for two circuits, whereas bikes have one. It is tested technology thats been used for ages. And it worked without any problems on our trip.

For light offroading I think Suzuki´s system is ok.. and keep in mind, "ABS" is not one specific thing, there are numerous differences between systems and they have evolved, too. Can´t compare the first generation ABS-systems with modern ones, most of them were quite terrible by todays standards. Maybe thats where some people actually have picked their hate towards ABS?

So if one bike´s ABS is not good offroading, that does not necessarily mean they all are. I agree, though, that for serious offroad its better to go without it.

I still think ABS was a plus 99% of the time during our trip, and the few kilos extra it brought, did not matter when you travel 2-up and with one hell of a load on the bike anyway.

nasi 6 May 2008 19:25

Thanks for all your comments, which have certainly shed some light on the matter.

To my mind it seems that ABS is going to be of most use when the road surface has less traction than it should, (oil, ice, etc.). The way I have been taught to ride I don't use the back brake when riding at speed, just the front. In the case of emergency breaking this means that the back wheel never locks up and the more you break, the more force on the front wheel, the more grip - assuming a good road surface of course.

It's interesting that opinion seems to be split when it comes to off-road riding as to whether ABS is an advantage or a hindrance.

In the case of the Wee, my local dealer is actually selling both the X and A versions for the same price and given that choice I'd choose ABS over hand guards, engine guards and a bash plate! Although they also have a nice second hand '05 'strom, which would make the whole ABS issue a moot point...

Do bikes with ABS tend to have the ability to switch it off? Or does that require modifying the wiring, cutting wires, etc.?

MotoEdde 6 May 2008 19:38

You all make good points that don't stray from mine...when on tarmac, great stuff.


Whether its 2-3 kgs or more/less...it adds weight.

No matter how simple Sukuki's is to BMW's or whomever else; it does add more complexity to the motorcycle.

And when you're on the road to Timbuktu and wondering WTF the bike won't start due to some electrical check linked to you ABS system, etc....you'll want simplicity. Note this didn't happen to me, but something similar from the POV of a fuel pump did...

Would you dare take a brand new f800 out to Mike's Sky ranch or your DR/XR? The point is simplicity, durability, mechanical familiarity and reliability are what I value in a bike choice for a trip...but everybody's trip is their own adventure;)

AliBaba 6 May 2008 19:58

I think we will see ABS on more and more bikes the following years.
The system has, like FI, been used on bikes for 25 years already and together with other systems like traction control it will be on most bikes in a few years.
ABS works, and it sure makes riding on slippery roads easier.

But in deep gravel it’s bad, really bad… When you brake hard with a non-abs bike a pile of gravel builds up in front of the tires and this pile increases the effect on braking a lot. With ABS this effect is minimized.

But I guess on most systems you can turn ABS off.

The system brakes, sensor fails and the ABS-ring gets dented (and maybe more). It will not end your trip (at least not on a BMW) and you can continue driving without the ABS-function.
But this is mostly subject on harder trips and most people that go RTW hardly leave the tarmac (I’m not talking about you MotoEdde)

So in the end it’s maybe a question about how you intend to use the bike and preferences. Personally I will continue to improve my brakes so I can lock the wheels at reasonable speed.

Dented ABS-ring in the middle of nowhere:

pecha72 6 May 2008 20:00

Yeah, it adds complexity somewhat, but nowhere near as much as modern fuel injection systems do. The probability of having problems with FI on 3rd world conditions (with bad gasoline, etc) is much, much higher.

And FI is something thats already here to stay, because of emissions, so much of the simplicity with bikes is gone anyway.

Besides, I´ve yet to hear about even one Suzuki, that has had any problems with its ABS. (OK, sure there could be some individual cases somewhere, because they must now have thousands and thousands of bikes out there with ABS).

But generally, they do work, period. It really seems their ABS is just as bulletproof as their bikes are. I wouldnt worry about taking such a bike to almost any trip. An on/off switch would be nice, though, thats something Suzuki havent considered necessary, but you can take off the fuse if you want, then it´ll resume into normal brakes.

Flyingdoctor 6 May 2008 20:54

I've only had one bike with ABS (TDM 900) and I didn't get on with it at all. It didn't like the way I used the brake sometimes and would come on once or twice on a spirited ride. Without ABS I was never getting the front locking up so I sumised it was a bit sensitive. If I pulled the lever gradually I could brake very hard without it activating it was just when I grabbed a handful the initial pressure set it off. I never had any trouble with it on gravel I even provoked it once or twice to see where the point was (rear only!) and was amazed at how much you could brake before it activated. If you have to brake that hard on gravel you need to look further ahead and anticipate more. Of course if you're on mud well all bets are off. An ideal situation for me would be to have ABS only on the front. That way I could brake off road without it being a problem. Needless to say my new Tiger does not have ABS and I've only locked the front up once in a whole year!

AliBaba 6 May 2008 21:06


Originally Posted by Flyingdoctor (Post 188326)
If you have to brake that hard on gravel you need to look further ahead and anticipate more.

Where is the fun in that?

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