Antilock brakes are a lot like an airbag or a seatbelt – they are quiet until the moment you need them. We'll explore the history of antilock braking system for motorcycles specifically, and look at the early history of the safety device as well as how they work today.
When and where were the first antilock brake systems installed on motorcycles?
ABC was first introduced to motorcycles in the 1920s, though its use was not common. Engineers who made the first ABS systems for planes and cars designed them more to prevent locking under hard acceleration or when trying to travel on fairly common at the time dirt and gravel surfaces.
BMW led the way with ABS installations with their K 100 series in 1988. The original ABS for a motorcycle was actually an added option and not a required hardware component yet. Early models used a system to traditional 4 wheeled cars at the time and had a hydraulics and piston setup that pumped the brakes repeatedly rather than holding them.
One issue with early ABS systems was their size and weight. Motorcycles need balanced weight to keep them stable, and a 22 pound hardware unit would only have specific purposes – and might be annoying. The hardware pieces themselves have now changed being about the size of a coffee cup
ABS changed quickly. More reliable electronic and hydraulic options were available from Honda within a few years. The idea of ABS also evolved into a more complete traction control system that included being able to stabilize a motorcycle while it is turning.
ABS and turns
In the automotive world, people are more familiar with the use of antilock brakes while stopping in unfavorable conditions. With motorcycles, studies have shown that taking a turn is far more dangerous and could result in instability – throwing the rider off the bike at high speeds. The statistics are rather sobering – half of the deadly motorcycle accidents occur around a bend.
The biggest problem is that a rider will brake too hard going around a corner – and while slightly diagonal, the force of the brakes can eject the rider. ABS combined with stability control enables the bike to detect the maximum brake force needed and limit the amount of braking to a more acceptable amount. The system from Bosch also claims to use an electronic system that quickly decides the proper amount of braking force for the front and rear wheels individually to avoid a spin.
This is also to say that motorcycle ABS was designed more for drivers who might be inexperienced and otherwise at higher risk of causing a problem while trying to transition from 4 wheels to 2. The issue was pretty simple: drivers would over-apply brakes and cause potentially dangerous situations by accident.
Electronic Antilock Brakes
With sensors that are able to detect speed, angle, and power more prevalent, antilock brakes have gone electronic. The primary purpose of electronic ABS is both in the space saving component and the ability to react quickly. Motorcycles today offer more power and have the ability to go faster. This means that the ABS has to respond in a split second – something that physical hardware might not be able to do.
The component difference is huge. While ABS used to be literally a box that weighed up to 22 pounds, it is now controlled by a combination of a sensor box and electronic control units that decide very quickly what to do.
Keep in mind that ABS revelations are fairly recent. Bosch first introduced their ABS systems in 2009, then added a smarter unit in 2013 – so good ABS has only been available for a few years.
What ABS can't do
With all the safety features offered on modern cars, from forward collision alert to automatic braking – we have to realize that ABS is helpful in many situations, but in the context of a motorcycle, it can only do much. ABS can prevent you from flipping over the front of the handlebars while braking too hard, but giving a safe following distance can too. ABS can also help you ride in the snow if you elect to, but it won't keep other people from swerving on light snow in front of you.
With that said, ABS has had some outstanding innovations, especially for motorcycles – since 4 wheel cars don't have the same risks associated with just trying to slow down.