Anti-lock brakes were designed to save lives and improve operator control in certain roadway conditions. Therefore, a common question arises from several motorcycle enthusiasts: does every motorcycle have ABS? No. All motorcycles do not have these braking systems installed, which is surprising for many because of the life-saving reputation of ABS systems and the well-known safety risks of being a motorcyclist. However, there are many reasons that inhibit the current universality of ABS systems.

  • Costs
  • Weight
  • Aesthetics
  • Rider need

While the idea of anti-lock braking systems for every bike seems like a necessary step in the evolutionary engineering process, the simple fact is that these systems, while typically useful, can hinder the rider experience in specific situations and sports. Therefore, to understand the lack of ABS systems on many motorcycles, it is necessary first to understand the system and then the consequences of installing such equipment on all bikes.

Understanding ABS

Motorcycle anti lock brakes, like cars, are designed to prevent lockup during situations that require hard braking. For instance, when doing your weekend warrior thing, enjoying the picturesque landscape, an unaware motorist launches out of a side street directly into your lane without warning. You slam on the breaks to avoid a collision, at which point the ABS unit instantly reads your wheel data to adjust the brake fluid pressure and maintain traction. All of this adds up to you avoiding an accident and staying upright on your bike. While this offers the best possible scenario, it also begs the question: why not use ABS universally? The answer is that not every bike is suited for anti-lock systems, especially smaller motorcycles.

Weighing Size and Benefits

Motorcycle ABS units add weight and expense to bikes, which means that some motorcycles are better suited to installation than others. For example, heavy, roadway use bikes are prime candidates for anti-lock equipment. In fact, the European Commission requires all machines above 125ccs be equipped with such devices to improve safety. However, lighter machines, less than 125ccs, are not required, and that likely has to do with the lack of any additional benefit from such braking systems. While the EU took drastic measures to improve highway safety, many other countries are still on the fence about enforcing or enacting similar laws, leaving the decision to the motorcycle owner or manufacturer.

Rider Need

You may have a moment where you agree with the argument that all motorcycles need ABS, but let’s think about that for a moment. Anti-lock brakes are intended for hard pavement, where the job is to reduce skid to increase control. While this is nice for the city rider, what about the off-roader? People who enjoy motocross and off-road racing sports do not want a reduction in skid. Skidding is what gives an off-road bike the friction needed to stop the bike. Therefore, ABS reduces control in these situations, becoming more of a hindrance. For that reason, other regions have allowed the intended purpose of the bike to dictate legal requirements. Also, many countries even allow consideration for the target market and price point of a bike to play a role in ABS necessity. 

Impact on Costs and Aesthetics

The installation of ABS on a motorcycle increases costs, weight and inevitably aesthetics. While newer systems are not as expensive as older braking setups, there is still an increased price tag to deal with, and for those interested in dirt bikes, scooters or other smaller bikes the increase can restrict accessibility. Also, as every motorcycle owner knows, weight is a necessary consideration, especially when considering performance. ABS adds weight that is likely unnecessary for all bikes. Beyond the costs and weight, there is an aesthetics issue to consider. While anti-lock units are useful in specific situations, some people do not like the look of them. Granted, the units can save lives, but if people are refusing to buy certain motorcycles because they don’t appreciate the aesthetic of the device, then how many people are being helped.  

ABS for All Motorcycles

Now we get to the nitty-gritty of the conversation; should ABS be mandatory for all motorcycles? No. While there is no denying the performance of these systems in specific situations, there is also no denying how they hinder other riders’ ability to control their bikes. Therefore, anti-lock brakes should be installed on the machines where it is most useful and left off of machines where it becomes a hindrance, which essentially breaks down into three categories.

  • Road machines

    Tourings and other roadway bikes should have ABS. The design of the technology is best suited for roadways and tourings, city bikes or other sporty bikes designed for pavement.

  • Off-road

    As mentioned earlier, off-road bikes require skid, which creates the necessary friction to stop. ABS units inhibit this action, which in turn creates potentially dangerous situations for off-roaders. Therefore, the installation of an anti-lock system is counter-intuitive and should not be done.

  • Combination bikes

    While many bikes are designed with a specific riding style in mind, there are combination bikes, which are made for city riding and off-roading. Because of the duality of these bikes, the desire might be to install an ABS unit. However, that is the precise reason not to. The same rule applies for combination bikes as it does for off-roading. You need skid to stop, which means ABS is incompatible with your motorcycle.

Universal Use with Disabling Capabilities

Do motorcycles have anti lock brakes? Yes. However, as we have discussed, all do not, nor should they. Although, there is a possibility for universal ABS integration if the rider is given more control. For instance, if an operator is given control over when the ABS is active or disengaged, then the universal application could work because off-roaders could simply flick a switch to disable the ABS while on a trail and re-engage it when they are on pavement, making the riding experience safe and customizable. 

Motorcycle ABS is a step toward improved safety. However, it is not yet ready for universal installation or requirement. Instead, the safest option is to choose the best motorcycle brakes that work for your riding style and to get out there, have some fun and be safe.