The most-valuable motorcycle feature: antilock brakes

Consumer Reports News: April 02, 2012 01:38 PM

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Sure, most motorcycle shoppers probably focus on style and price, but there is compelling research that points to antilock brakes as being a crucial, potentially life-saving feature. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) revealed that motorcycles equipped with antilock brakes are 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than models without ABS. That is a tremendous risk reduction, with no compromise to the rider, beyond purchase price.

Europe is ahead of the United States, with a pending rule requiring ABS on bikes there by 2016. As a result, we're seeing an increase in ABS availability here. In fact, at a recent motorcycle show, we were taken back at how common ABS was on the show floor. Manufacturers we spoke with cited reduced cost potential if volume of ABS brakes increased and signaled their support for expansion in our market.

Currently, most major brands include ABS on their largest motorcycles and make it available on mid-level motorcycles. Where we'd like to see ABS rapidly expand is on the more entry-level bikes, whose riders would most benefit from this proven technology. Honda has led the charge with ABS availability on the CBR250R as a $500 option. Kawasaki followed suit with their Ninja 300 ABS.

Most motorcycles have separate brake controls, one for the front wheel, and one for the rear. So if the brakes are hit too hard or with the wrong front/rear distribution, a wheel can lock and cause the bike to lose control and eventually fall. Alternatively, if the brakes are squeezed too gently, the bike may not stop in time to avoid a crash. ABS can work in two ways--reduce brake pressure if a lockup is impending or increase pressure again when the bike is under control. It allows the rider to intuitively apply the brakes with full force, without holding back due to concerns of locking up a wheel and alleviate a split-second judgment call.

See the demonstration video below to see how effective ABS can be. It truly sells itself.

Learn more about ABS by downloading a brochure (pdf) from the IIHS.

See our motorcycle and scooter buying advice, and special section for motorcycle buying advice and reliability insights.

Jeff Bartlett

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