Dear RideApart,

I’m currently trying to decide between two models of the same bike (Honda Rebel 500, if you’re curious), one with ABS and one without. Is the ABS worth it? Should I get the ABS version or should I skip it and spend that extra money on some accessories?



Short answer: Yes, it’s worth it.

Thanks for writing in, Ler! This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, since my bacon has definitely been saved by ABS. Now, a quick note to the rest of you. Before you stampede immediately to the comments to tell me all about how good you are at braking and how studies show that on dry pavement, a skilled rider can actually stop faster on a bike without ABS than one with the system, let me say: I know. You’re right!

What? It’s true. Under perfect conditions, with properly inflated tires, on a nice sunny day, and on clean, dry, warm pavement, yes, the most skilled of us can in fact out-brake most ABS systems. But these perfect conditions are not where ABS shines. You and I are probably not expert riders. We may practice our figure-eights and u-turns in empty parking lots and we may also regularly practice our braking techniques. Despite our hard work and practice, though, we can all be caught off-guard by surrounding idiots in cars. It is in these imperfect, unexpected situations where ABS shines.

ABS, or Anti-lock Braking Systems, monitor wheel speed with sensors and release braking pressure if the wheel seems to be in a skid, or “locked up.” Early systems did this slowly, and felt like the whole bike was doing a bit of a dance (ka-chunka-chunka-chunka). As years passed and technology got better, they went from that scary dance to a buzzier reaction. Modern systems are barely perceptible as the brakes clamp down and let go faster than we can even observe. On my 2017 Suzuki, if the <<ABS!>> light was not flashing on my instrument panel I’d barely know it was helping me out.

A European study in Italy, Spain, and Sweden, has shown that ABS effectively reduces motorcycle crashes by nearly a third. I bet you’ve had an experience that ABS covered for your lack of skill. Or perhaps you “had to lay it down” because you ran out of skill and space to stop all at once. Either way, ABS is a great addition to all of our tool kits to keep us safe on the road.

I have ridden bikes with and without ABS, bikes with clunky old systems and buzzy systems and new systems that I can barely feel. I currently own bikes both with and without ABS. I will tell you that ABS has helped me out countless times, and once even when I was riding a bike without it. It was a rainy night, I was rolling through an unfamiliar but bustling town center in western Massachusetts. Suddenly, an old Chrysler pulled out from its parking spot along the street directly in front of me; I assume that driver never saw my single headlight in the confusion of lights on that dark, rainy night. I braked hard, and in that moment, rolled over a metal manhole cover smooth from decades of use. Without ABS I would have lost traction and crashed immediately. Instances like this on sand, rippled pavement, oil, and rain have proven that ABS is better than I am.

On a bright, sunny day, I was riding my 1991 Honda VFR750; that bike did not have ABS. I crested a hill on a busy divided road to find traffic completely stopped in front of me. Practicing braking on an ABS-equipped bike had trained me to threshold brake  I got on those binders, made the tires howl like crazy, and stopped in time without locking anything up.

So, yeah. Get the bike with ABS and thank us later.

Source: IIHS Twitter, IIHS, PubMed



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