The number is far higher than I’d like it to be, but ABS has extracted me from many sticky situations over the years. And given just how normal it’s become to suddenly find yourself in a nasty set of circumstances on our roads, I’ve spent the last few years telling anyone who will listen to spend the extra money on the feature, because it will eventually save your bacon. Thankfully, I don’t have to bother with that anymore, because this month we finally crossed the April 1, 2019, deadline that mandates ABS for every two-wheeler above 125cc.
ABS is awesome, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t give you better braking performance. In a skilled set of hands, a non-ABS-equipped motorcycle will almost always stop shorter than a bike with the system. For example, this month, I tested the Aprilia SR150 ABS, with the system on and off, and I managed to stop a whole metre short with the system deactivated. To understand why this is so, you need to understand how ABS works.
Simply put, ABS relies on wheel speed sensors that collect data, which is processed by an ECU. When the ECU determines that a tyre is about to lock up, it sends instructions to the ABS pump (which resides along the hydraulic fluid line that connects the brake master cylinder to the brake caliper) to release pressure, and prevent the wheel from locking. This happens repeatedly, many times a second, until the system believes things are back under control. As that happens, you’ll feel that typical juddering feeling at the lever.
ABS systems, like the ones we have on most affordable two-wheelers aren’t as sensitive or finely controllable as the advanced, IMU-aided ones on expensive big bikes. In my experience, once the system is activated, it does extend your braking distances by a bit. But there’s a huge difference between a planned slamming of the brakes in controlled conditions and getting into a panic braking situation on less than perfect roads surrounded by fast moving traffic. It’s in these real-world instances where ABS comes in to prevent your front wheel from locking, thus giving you the ability to steer out of danger.
Come to think of it, in almost all the panic braking situations I’ve been in, the desperate need of the hour was to dramatically shed speed and quickly change direction, rather than having to come to a complete halt. So even though ABS can be a little intrusive for an advanced rider at places like the racetrack, it’s an absolute must-have for the Indian streets, no matter how skilled the rider may be. In fact, this side of a good quality helmet, I’d wager that ABS will end up being one of the biggest life savers on two wheels.