Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) in Motorcycles – Explained

Benefits of ABS far outweigh the additional price we pay for this life saving tech. In India ABS became mandatory very recently…

With ABS becoming mandatory on all 150cc and above motorcycles, it becomes imperative for us to understand how does it work and more importantly, how does it save us as has been portrayed.

Brief History

In 1988, BMW introduced the first motorcycle with an electronic-hydraulic ABS: the BMW K100. Honda followed suit in 1992 with the launch of its first ABS motorcycle – the ST1100 Pan European. In 2007, Suzuki launched its GSF1200SA (Bandit) with a ABS.

In 2005, Harley-Davidson began offering ABS as an option for police bikes. In 2008, ABS became a factory-installed option on all Harley-Davidson Touring motorcycles and standard equipment on select models.

How ABS Works

Now let us talk how ABS works on bikes.

Skidding Mechanism

Skidding of a vehicle leads to disastrous accidents. Skidding starts when force applied by the rider on the brake lever is more than required. Skidding results when friction in brakes become more than the friction between the tyre and the road surface. That means that the wheel gets locked and starts skidding on the road surface. Less force leads to poor braking and more force leads to skidding. So to avoid the skidding of vehicle, the braking force should remain in limit.

In conventional bikes, the brake lever is directly connected with the caliper. The force applied by the rider on the lever is directly exerted on the caliper & disc without any interrupt. In the case of ABS, this braking force is exerted through ECU and Hydraulic valve.

The ABS prevents the wheels from locking during braking. It does this by constantly measuring the individual wheel speeds and comparing them with the wheel speeds predicted by the system. This speed measurement is done by individual speed sensors.

If, during braking, the measured wheel speed deviates from the system‘s predicted wheel speed, the ABS controller takes over, correcting the brake force to keep the wheel at the optimum slip level and so achieving the highest possible deceleration rate.

This is carried out separately for each wheel. Controller is nothing but an ECU with appropriate programming. This program avoids the rotational speed of wheel to become zero (locking). This is done by temporary releasing the brake force by shutting off the valve in the oil reservoir.

The ECU constantly monitors the rotational speed of each wheel. When it detects that any wheel is rotating slower than the other (this condition will bring the tyre to lock), it moves the valves to decrease the pressure on the braking circuit, effectively reducing the braking force on that wheel.

The wheels turn faster and when they turn too fast, the force is reapplied. This process is repeated continuously, and this causes characteristic pulsating feel through the brake pedal.

Parts of ABS System

The following figure shows the major parts of an Antilock Braking System.

  1. Electronic Speed Sensor: This sensor will measure the wheel velocity and vehicle acceleration. LOCATION: On wheel Hub
  2. Toothed Disc: It helps the speed sensor to read the speed of wheel. LOCATION: With Brake Disc
  3. Electronic Control Unit (ECU): ECU is a microprocessor based system which contains programs. LOCATION: Under the rider’s Seat
  4. Electrically Controller Valve: This controller valve will control the pressure in a brake cylinder. LOCATION: With ECU

Benefits of ABS

The following are the 3 major benefits of ABS

1. Stopping Distance

As the braking force is controlled and applied electronically, the stopping distance reduces considerably as compared to non-ABS bikes.

2. Sudden Braking

In the case of ABS, braking is intermittent in nature. So vehicle remains easily steerable during braking also. Following figure shows the comparison of normal bike and ABS-laden bike upon sudden braking.

3. Braking on Slippery surface

Most of the riders must have experienced this condition with their bikes and also know the results. ABS provides equal distribution of braking force on each wheel and provides straight line stopping of vehicle.

ABS – Some Interesting Facts

Donovan Green, United States, Department of Transportation had performed some experiments on bikes with and without ABS in 2006. Following bike were selected by him for his test.

  • 2002 Honda VFR 800 with ABS
  • 2002 BMW F650 with ABS
  • 2002 BMW R 1150R with ABS
  • 2002 BMW R 1150R without ABS
  • 2004 Yamaha FJR1300 with ABS
  • 2004 Yamaha FJR1300 without ABS

He had performed two types of tests: 1. Dry Surface Tests 2. Wet Surface Tests. Following are the results of his experiments.

Dry Surface Tests

On the ABS-equipped motorcycles, the operator was tasked with braking sufficiently to assure the operation of the ABS. The measured stopping distance values were corrected to compare data from the speeds of 48 km/h and 128 km/h, except for the BMW F650 data, which was corrected to 48 km/h and 117 km/h, the latter figure limited by that model’s top speed of 157 km/h (i.e. 75% of 157 km/h).

In the ABS-enabled mode, for each load/speed/brake combination, the stopping distances were very consistent from one run to another. In this mode, the braking force was applied in a controlled and consistent manner by the ABS mechanism. With the exception of having to react to the possibility of the rear wheel becoming airborne under high deceleration, the rider did not require significant experience or special skill in order to achieve a high level of performance.

In the ABS-disabled mode, the stopping distances were less consistent because the rider while modulating the brake force, had to deal with many additional variables at the same time. Up to six runs were allowed for the rider to become familiar with the motorcycle’s behaviour and to obtain the best stopping distance.

Test results from non-ABS motorcycles were noticeably more sensitive to rider performance variability. Despite being compared to the best stopping distances without ABS, the average results with ABS provided an overall reduction in stopping distance of 5%.

The stopping distance reduction was more significant when the motorcycle was loaded (averaging 7%). The greatest stopping distance reduction (averaging 17%) was observed when only the rear foot pedal was applied to stop the motorcycle from 128 km/h.

Wet Surface Tests

The original test procedure called for wet surface braking tests to be conducted at 48 and 128 km/h. However, for safety and stability reasons, all low-friction surface tests were performed in a straight-line maneuver, from an initial speed of 48 km/h. The tests were repeated with and without ABS. The test track was spilled with water and this process was repeated every three stops.

With ABS-equipped motorcycles, the rider was instructed to brake sufficiently to assure that the ABS was fully cycling by applying as much force as necessary to the brake control device (no restrictions on force application).

The front and rear wheel brakes were operated simultaneously when the initial test speed was reached and then were operated individually when the front wheel and rear wheel were tested separately. During braking, the engine remained disconnected from the drive train.

A steering operation was allowed to keep or correct the running direction of the motorcycle during the test. Below vehicle speeds of 10 km/h, wheel locking was permitted.

For motorcycles not equipped with ABS, the test procedure was the same except that the rider was instructed to apply as much force as required on the brake control device in order to get the shortest stopping distance without losing vehicle control or having any wheel lockup above a speed of 10 km/h.

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As with the dry surface tests, practically no learning process was required for the operator to achieve the best performance with the operation of ABS. In the ABS-disabled mode, the stopping distances improved as the rider became more familiar and comfortable with the braking system.

On the wet surface, the overall average stopping performance with ABS improved on the best non-ABS stopping distance by 5.0%. The stopping distance reduction with ABS was more significant when both brakes were applied, with an overall improvement averaging 10.8% over the best stops without ABS.

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The greatest stopping distance reduction with the use of ABS was observed when the motorcycle was loaded and both brakes were applied, averaging a 15.5% improvement over the best stops without ABS.

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In general, the test results demonstrated an improvement in braking performance with the use of ABS, whether braking on a dry or wet surface even compared with the best stops obtained without ABS.

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