Irresponsible advice on motorcycle ABS

Bosch hill hold and blind spot alert

A VicRoads brochure has given the wrong impression of ABS (anti-lock brake systems) and even offered advice that riders fit an aftermarket system.

The comments have been considered irresponsible and dangerous by university safety researcher Ross Blackman.

UPDATE: VicRoads has now replied to all the concerns mentioned in this article. Scan down to ‘VICROADS REPLIES’ for their comments.

The VicRoads brochure delivered with a licence renewal notice states: “A motorcycle with ABS enhances your riding skills and techniques by preventing the wheels from locking, skidding and sliding under”.

The concerning segment of the VicRoads brochure abs advice
The concerning segment of the VicRoads brochure

Ross says most experienced riders know that ABS does not enhance skills and technique.

“It can only compensate for a lack thereof,” says the research associate at the Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q) at the Queensland University of Technology.

“While I support the efforts of VicRoads in encouraging riders to choose ABS-equipped bikes (because, yes, they will prevent unwanted lock-ups), ABS should never be seen as a substitute for good braking skills and a clear understanding of how your bike performs under brakes.

“If you can use your brakes effectively and to anywhere near their potential, your ABS will rarely if ever have to do any work. That should be the aim.”

The other concern about the VicRoads advice that ABS makes a rider more skilled is that it may prevent riders from seeking more skills through an approved rider course.

The VicRoads brochure also encourages “(purchasing or) installing a motorcycle with” ABS.

ABS brakes advice
ABS brakes disc

However, aftermarket ABS does not exist. It needs to be developed and tuned specifically for each motorcycle and fitted at the factory as the bike is being manufactured.

Ross says that even if there were such a thing as aftermarket ABS, fitting it should never be undertaken by anyone other than an expert in that field.

“I dare say that it would almost always be more cost effective to replace your bike with one that already has ABS fitted, rather than take on the many technical challenges involved in fitting ABS to your current bike,” Ross says.

Advice that riders add ABS might also encourage “backyard mechanics” to doctor their own, with dangerous and illegal repercussions.

VICROADS REPLIES

From Robyn Seymour – VicRoads Director Vehicle and Road Use Policy:

In a recent registration renewal notice VicRoads sought to inform motorcycle riders about the safety benefits of Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS).

Unfortunately, some of the information contained in this notice did not accurately reflect the benefits that ABS can deliver for riders and why VicRoads encourages riders to purchase bikes with ABS fitted.

Motorcycle ABS is an exciting technology that has the potential to provide significant benefits to riders in a variety of ways and could reduce the number of lives lost and severe injuries from motorcycle crashes by 31 per cent.

VicRoads wishes to make it very clear that ABS does not enhance your riding skills and techniques. It is not a substitute for proper skill development and riding within your abilities – which is essential for the safety of any motorcycle rider.

A motorcyclist can improve their skills in a variety of ways but the most effective is by spending time riding a motorcycle and gaining that experience in a safe environment.

Motorcycle ABS is a rider assistance technology that provides riders with a greater confidence in using the full braking potential of their motorcycle.  Given the reduced risk of crashes and road trauma for bikes with ABS, this provides a safer vehicle for all riders, but particularly novice riders as they develop their road craft skills.

The research in to the benefits of ABS has been undertaken on motorbikes that have been fitted with ABS at the point of manufacture.  

There is no current research as to the benefit of ABS that has been fitted aftermarket. It is far more effective to buy a motorcycle with ABS fitted by a manufacturer than to attempt to fit it as an aftermarket device. To help motorcyclists identify motorcycles fitted with anti-lock brakes on new motorcycles, VicRoads has developed an online resource: www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/saferbikes.

We also note that aftermarket fitting of ABS for motorcycles is a complex process that requires third party engineering certification, so ABS fitment is very difficult for anyone other than the vehicle manufacturer and is best left to them.

VicRoads acknowledges that some of the information contained in the recent renewal notice was poorly worded. However it stands by its position that ABS is an important technology for motorcycles that could significantly reduce the number of lives lost and serious injuries on our roads.  

ABS OVER THE YEARS

BMW HP4 ABS advice
BMW HP4 ABS

ABS or anti-lock braking systems have been around since 1929 when it was used in aircraft.

The first application on a motorcycle was in 1958 when a Royal Enfield was used in lab tests.

A mechanical ABS was first used in the Ferguson P99 race car, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Chrysler introduced it to a production car.

In 1988 the BMW K 100 became the world’s first series-produced motorcycle available with anti-lock brakes as an option.

In Australia, more than 200 bike models have ABS as standard or an option. BMW elected to make ABS standard across its full range of 29 models from 2013, including their two scooters.

26 Comments

  1. The reply claims the most effective ways to develop as a safer rider is riding experience. This may be true if the novice rider has good basic skills and knowledge. Riding time is then good experience. Many new riders have little understanding of the riding task and the physics of motorcycle riding. If they have bad habits or technique, riding experience will only embed these short comings. Ongoing training, with qualified trainers or experienced riders groups, will identify and help the new rider to improve their rider development. VicRoads makes no mention of the availability or benefits of professional training or mentoring.

  2. You guys are kidding yourselves, if you dont know the benefits of modern ABS on road bikes then you either have your head in the ground or up your “Somewhere else”.
    Just becuase Vic Roads stuffed it up doesnt take away from the facts, let alone the common sense. Its clear that you are hero’s, in your own minds at least. No need to make it a full conspirisy theory or political rant. I would pay to see a learner with ABS make you look silly! I dont really want to see these technologies forced into the market with laws, but you are definately the vocal minority. Many riders now wont want to consider a bike without ABS becuase they can see the benefits.

    1. Old Mate – It’s not about everyone with an opinion being a hero and knowing everything. ABS is a great thing, but it has to be seen as an assistive safety measure rather than a replacement for skills. Riders should be able to control and stop their bikes effectively on their own without relying on an aid. ABS is there to help if you cock it up.
      The danger with the push push push for ABS is that it(in some peoples minds at least) reduces the need for skills and training.
      Another danger in Victoria is that the safety aspect of motorcycles is a bit of an issue with riders claiming on “no fault insurance” and being challenged because they didn’t follow all of the advice in the shiny brochures handed out by TAC.
      Laws mandating ABS will probably come, but likely long after manufacturers are already only offering ABS-fitted bikes in Australia anyway.
      I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy – but the effort/money pushing this stuff that could be spent better elsewhere(accessable training springs to mind).

    2. The benefit is that it will stop the wheels from locking. That is it.

      It’s not a panacea for poor braking skills.

      It won’t change any decisions that got you into trouble and needing an emergency brake in the first place.

      I’ve no doubt Old Mate that you have a bike with ABS and you’ve ridden it for X years and never had a problem and that it even saved your bacon once… and that has made you implicitly accept motorcycle ABS and judge anyone who questions it as a crazy technophobic heretic. Can I hazard a guess that you have a touring style or cruising style motorcycle?? Just like the old slogan oils aint oils, ABS aint ABS. There are many systems and implementations.

      Let me ask you… are you an expert on the physics of counter steering? After all you’ve been using it and benefitting from it every single time you ride. So if your only exposure to ABS is having ridden a bike using it, how are you expert enough to judge it’s benefits applied unilaterally to all bikes? All styles? All riding conditions?

      Motorcycle ABS is incredibly complex. The impact on a motorcycle’s dynamics at the non intuitive outer edge of the performance envelope has seen sports bike riders resist its implementation for years. But now it has become so good and technologically advanced it is gaining acceptance – and that is because it stays out of the rider’s way in extreme bike attitudes until it is needed. That’s the good stuff. That is what every ABS system should look like.

      The simpler stuff can and will get in your way, exacerbate a problem in certain circumstance and extend your braking distance in others. It absolutely needs riders to brake well and to a high level. This is no panacea and no get out of jail free card. A bike still needs to be properly braked. Set up and squeeze. If you don’t brake like this, the older and/or simpler ABS systems will almost certainly keep you upright but the braking distance will be longer than a properly executed emergency brake (in the dry). But I guess if you don’t know how to brake, if you panic grab, then ABS is better than not having ABS – it just means you may collide with said object upright rather than sliding, any may be that is worth the price of admission right there.

      Bike ABS will help maintain traction by avoiding a wheel skid. It can’t enhance your skill and the evidence that it will save lives is sketchy and confounded. Surprisingly, that evidence still flourishes.

      Anyway, when was the last time you practiced your emergency braking?

  3. “VicRoads acknowledges that some of the information contained in the recent renewal notice was poorly worded. However it stands by its position that ABS is an important technology for motorcycles that could significantly reduce the number of lives lost and serious injuries on our roads.”

    Poorly worded, my butt. This stinks of typical corporate cover up.
    No, it is totally false, it is in fact, unequivocal dribble. Facts and the use thereof, zero, zip, nada, nil. Poorly researched, no, not even. Clearly no, that is zero research has been undertaken, on the availability of aftermarket ABS systems for motorcycles, which then brings into question, if such systems were available, how many lives would be lost, and injuries would be sustained? All upon the advice of VicRoads.

    Advice. Hmmmm.
    If this is in fact the quality of advice, I am, in hind sight of resent law changes in laws regarding motorcycle safety by the Victorian government, based solely on the advice of so called, VicRoads expertise, I am starting to question again, the already questionable validity of the advice on which the Victorian government based and passed these laws. When it was clearly against the findings of the Victorian governments own, parliamentary enquiry into motorcycle safety. The Victorian motorcyclist, in fact the Victorian public, whom you serve, deserve far greater than this gratuitous dribble from within the ranks of VicRoads.

    I draw your attention to two groups, of vastly different road users, the two extremes of Victorian road users, the long and short of it, (pun intended) the Victorian Motorcyclists and Victorian and interstate truck drivers, whom both claim the exact same thing. The greatest danger to themselves and other road users are in fact, the average, uneducated, foolish, it’s all about me, selfish, moronic car driver. What if anything is VicRoads doing or advising on this matter?
    Or does not VicRoads advice on such matters that the populous would deem unpopular. Who is the gutless ones? The Victorian government, it’s ministry or it’s VicRoads, and it’s entitled, elite, welfare recipient, expert advisers?

    Once again the question of how this load of codswallop and the publication was funded. Was it funded, from the discriminative “motorcycle safety levy”? Was it passed by or through the “motorcycle advisory group”?
    Will the perpetrator of this dribble an misinformation be held to account?

    1. Yes they got a promotion and a pay rise.
      Safety initiatives are like justice better to be seen to do something than actually do something correctly.
      Any knee jerk ill advised load of codswallop is better than admitting their policies don’t work and speed is not the killer it’s made out to be it’s just a good source of revenue.

  4. I actually saw one of these “ABS upgrade” modules in a store the other day. It effectively puts a cushion of air/nitrogen in the brake line so the brakes cannot be applied as sharply. On the box it said the nitrogen bubble simulates normal ABS by pulsating and modulating so you don’t lock up.
    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I would never put this on my bike, let alone blindly recommend all bikers seek to install something like this.

  5. Some road bikes these days are manufactured with combined braking and ABS together. This means it is actually impossible to apply brakes without it effecting both front and rear wheels under normal conditions. Most manufacturers seem to believe this combined braking system is the safest on the road given all circumstances! One assumes the manufacturers know what they are doing? Naturally this doesn’t work with dirt bikes and muddy conditions, so most off road bikes either do not have ABS and combined brake systems or if they do have those features, allow it to be switched off! Having said this nothing is perfect! There are rare circumstances where ABS and combined braking systems will fail to help the rider avoid a fall or collision on the road, so it still up to the rider to ride within their abilities for any road conditions. Sometimes that isn’t easy!

    1. Combined braking came about due to morons only applying the rear brake and killing them selves . It happens a lot with first time riders who have been driving for a while and HD riders who for some reason fear the front brakes.
      I don’t know of any bikes where the brakes are unified unless you count a canam Spyder as a bike ,so it’s only the rear that applies the front not the other way round which may actually be a benefit. The combined braking may actually cause more accidents than it saves as there are plenty of situations where you may need to trail the rear brake but applying any front brake could cause an off.

      1. Al – I suspect that was mainly untrained road riders who were not practiced enough to brake hard with the front brakes in emergency situations and were unaware of the truths about two wheel braking on the road. I learned most of my riding skills on a dirt bike and often in conditions that using the front break heavily was a disaster! I admit it took me some time and practice to break the bad road riding habits I had learned from dirt riding! My current road bike has the combined brakes with the ABS. After four years of riding my bike only for fun, I have only triggered the ABS deliberately in my heavy braking practice. My personal belief is that if the ABS only saves me once from treacherous road conditions or from an error by me or another road user, it will be well worthwhile having on my bike!

  6. Dr Douglas was on the previous Victorian government’s staff. The lights on law (2014 IIRC) applies only to learner riders. It was a well meant, purely Libs policy based decision driven by a mistaken view that being conspicuous was critical to helping make learner motorcyclists safer.

    As to what is behind the recent Vicroads ABS statements… they actually do know better so there’s been some kind of Charlie Fox at play here…

  7. FFS, almost speechless. If we didn’t already think that the gratuitously overpaid retards at VicRoads could not organised a chook raffle, then they go right ahead and prove it. FFS, get out the big broom, start from the top and work down. My three rego’s at work, employing whom, to do what. James B, wouldn’t it be great if they could just do those things correctly?

    1. Yep. All they are paid to do, is issue plates, renew licenses, issue/receive numberplates and keep a record of a vehicles registered status. Vehicle design is way above their station.

  8. You’re being too harsh. I just had a look on ebay and there are no aftermarket mototrcycle ABS units – obviously Victoria is getting into the “innovation” thing and creating a need and new industry to meet the demand. Please smile and support this important safety initiative.

    While I think about it – a friend has a two stroke motorcycle and heard that four stroke engines are better for day to day on-road use. Can anyone help him to add the other two strokes? Is there a local supplier?

  9. At the risk of sounding picky, there are also situations where ABS will increase your stopping distance significantly, and reduce control dramatically – ask anyone who has ridden muddy roads on a bike with ABS (‘really good mud’ and ABS . While my experience is outback Australia, rumour has it that Victoria also has dirt/muddy roads and occasional rain …

    “In 2015 VicRoads passed a lights-on law for motorcycles” – I don’t think VicRoads passes laws 🙂

    … and what qualifications does “Dr Alexandra Douglas” have? She appears to be an executive officer with the Parliamentary Road Safety Committee, so I’m guessing a PhD in Bureaucracy (based on a number of Google searches …) 🙂

    1. draughtrider – It’s not picky. People forget that ABS works by *releasing* the brakes.

      (my gumby explanation follows) To stop effectively on a good surface your tyres need to maintain a good grip on the road – ABS kicks in when you start to skid, releases the brake so the wheel rolls again and then reapplies the brake in the hope of getting a good grip again. If you apply your brakes to the point of maintaining a good grip on the road ABS will not kick in and you will stop in much less distance.

      ABS works best in dealing with those “oh @%#^#” moments when the brakes are just grabbed in a panic – if you’ve practiced emergency stop drills and hooked the process into your skull you may still wet your pants, but you will probably brake better and without ABS kicking in.

      ABS is a good thing – if brakes aren’t used properly ABS will hopefully minimise the impact, but will not impart skill and will not replace training and practice. Every time ABS kicks in it means you have lost control.

      As you’ve pointed out – dirt is a whole different cauldron…..

      1. ABS on cars can achieve better than human action in breaking under ideal circumstances because the point at which the tire starts to skid is where it achieves the most grip and stopping power Modern ABS can hold the brakes at this point. A human can rapidly stomp the brakes to get a similar effect but not as good as ABS.
        A corrugated road surface can trick ABS into not applying the brakes , some car ABS can cope with icy and slushy roads and possibly dirt and mud. The only benefit to bike ABS is not locking up if you grab a handful in a panic or if the road is slippery it can be a 50 – 50 situation weather it helps or hinders. Not being able to lock a rear wheel when you need to can kill you.

        1. There is no point in comparing ABS on cars to bikes. A car has four brakes controlled by only one pedal. It is not possible for a car driver to control the brakes individually because the driver hasn’t been given the controls to do it, so having electronics do it is the only option. A motorcycle has a separate control for each brake. A skilled rider can apply the correct amount of braking to each wheel individually for maximum braking, and can also deliberately skid the rear wheel to drag it sideways for improved emergency braking or to assist with cornering, or to lay the bike down instead of slamming into something front on while sitting on the bike. As you correctly stated, Al, not being able to lock the rear wheel when you need to can kill you.

          1. Actually there is a point to comparing car and bike ABS,
            The point is most car drivers think they are the same and make stupid assumptions that it will benefit all in the same way under all circumstances. Another assumption the geniuses make is automatic braking like they are fitting to high end cars now.
            Just what you want when filtering or trying to escape being a sandwich, your brakes slamming on all by themselves!

          2. “… or to lay the bike down…”. I thought this expression had gone with the dinosaurs. Anybody who claims he “laid his bike down” actually misused the brakes and fell off. A rider has much more control of where a bike ends up when the rubber is in contact with the ground and absolutely none when the shiny bits are sliding along the road.

  10. Wow, wouldn’t adding ABS to a NON-ABS bike be an illegal modification? like, i dunno…. those scary, pedestrian-assaulting fender eliminators? Those slightly louder heart-attack inducing exhausts? (great for getting pod-estrians to actually look before stepping out infront of the bike) Those dolphin killing mirrors that don’t have enough surface area? Those reckless and dangerous go-pro helmet mounts that surely will come off in a crash, and fly through the air and impale a precious native specie, thus wiping out the last of it’s kind?

    Retarded. These are the b-crats that have no idea on agreeing on australian standard for helmets, they should not be able to question any thing related to engineering of a vehicle, especially against anything a company with an R&D team of qualified engineers has bolted together.

    Go back to re-newing licenses and handing over custom numberplates (oh, and try to fix the potholes and shonky roadworks all over the state, ta). Leave the complex task of vehicle design to the professionals.

    This people, is why australia doesn’t have a space program.

    1. For any job in any state beurocracy being competent and knowing anything about your job is something you need to keep secret if you want that job. And the path to promotion is to be as incompetent as possible and make huge costly errors , if you show any kind of skill or aptitude for a position you’ll be stuck with it until some lazy back stabler accuses you of sexual harassment in order to get the job for a freind or relative.
      Thus our country is run.

    2. Yep, these are the same Einsteins who keep lowering speed limits to ridiculously low levels and rely on “SAFETY CAMERAS” to reduce our ever increasing road toll ……. “How is that working out for you Vic Roads?”

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