Does ABS on a Motorcycle really help?

We’ve had this discussion many times, and the answer as always seems to be ‘it depends’.

This blog was in response to Bruce Wilson (Ex-National Superstocks) from Motorcycle Sport and Leisure stating he couldn’t stop the ABS interfering last week on our track training day.


It was coming on just as he was about to turn and we wondered why, but with a bit of thought decided it must be a ’tilt’ parameter on the latest Suzuki GSXR1000. We know KTM have a tilt, pitch and lean sensor on their ‘cornering ABS’, which has had rave reviews.


For what is involved have a look at the Bosch website.

Normal ABS may well not work in a corner as the predominate force is radial, and a bit of braking can just exceed the available grip (Mohr’s Circle discussed before) and the tyre could slide sideways whilst still rotating and down you go.

Up to this point we had always said if the ABS comes on you’re not doing it right.

It is proven to work in a straight line to prevent wheels locking, but do you stop quicker? The answer is probably no looking at the bumf from Honda and Suzuki, who both state it does not mean you stop in a shorter distance. The question is why?

We think that simply grabbing the front brake brings the ABS on immediately and probably delays the weight transfer to the front wheel, which lengthens the stopping distance. And we now also appear to have the situation where rear wheel lift will set it off, when you can without it still be braking hard (for a bit longer).

So is it a good idea on a motorcycle? The answer is overall yes, particularly for less experienced riders, but it may lengthen you stopping distances for the skilled – and cornering ABS looks from the reviews simply amazing where a huge amount of skill and experience is needed braking whilst banked.

British Superbike School

Braking a Motorcycle from Low Speed – another Cautionary Tale

British Superbike School

Many Thanks to Mick Thacker for this short video.

I have made the same mistake on the roundabout over the M1 at Junction 29, just coming to a halt on a wet oily roundabout  traffic lights, touching the front brake, doing the splits and rolling off much to the amusement of the HGV driver behind – me with ‘Instructor’ on my back. Luckily my ‘student’ Rich was there to help me pick the bike up on a road where you could barely stand up due to the oil slick. Had I used my rear brake to bring me to a halt it would probably have meant a short rear wheel skid.

This is ‘Mick’s Stoppie’:-

Mick’s Stoppie – The Video

This usually happens on roundabouts when the vehicle in front starts to move, you look to see what’s coming, and proceed to find the other vehicle still there.

Riders almost always snatch…

View original post 147 more words

Braking a Motorcycle from Low Speed – another Cautionary Tale

Many Thanks to Mick Thacker for this short video.

I have made the same mistake on the roundabout over the M1 at Junction 29, just coming to a halt on a wet oily roundabout  traffic lights, touching the front brake, doing the splits and rolling off much to the amusement of the HGV driver behind – me with ‘Instructor’ on my back. Luckily my ‘student’ Rich was there to help me pick the bike up on a road where you could barely stand up due to the oil slick. Had I used my rear brake to bring me to a halt it would probably have meant a short rear wheel skid.

This is ‘Mick’s Stoppie’:-

Mick’s Stoppie – The Video

This usually happens on roundabouts when the vehicle in front starts to move, you look to see what’s coming, and proceed to find the other vehicle still there.

Riders almost always snatch the front brake in an emergency, and down they go irrespective of speed, even a few miles/hour. It’s easy to break a collarbone, arm or leg doing this. Thankfully Mick was OK and the bike likely saved by crash bungs.

Lessons to be learnt?

  • Consider using your rear brake when coming to a halt
  • Practise braking so you don’t snatch it, make it a two stage process, initial gentle squeeze to transfer the weight forward, then when the weight transfers to the front tyre you can usually pull on the lever all you want.
  • Be aware of setting off then stopping at junctions as you may be hit from behind.
  • Crash bungs are probably a good idea. The risk is a damaged frame or engine casing if for example the bike hits a kerb and the crash bung catches, but in this case the bike would probably be scrap anyway.



Motorcycle Throttle Control – a Cautionary Tale

Firstly many thanks for Alan Bussell for allowing us to share this with you.

Allan is a very experienced biker and has done as much advanced training as he could pack in from the usual suspects on the roads and track, and was booked to come on one of our track training days for road riders on 30th June, after winning a competition in Motorcycle Monthly.

Sadly he’s just had an off and very luckily escaped with just a few bruises, but the bike is probably a write off. Could have been far worse – note a lack of trees and lamp posts. We’ve known that ‘loss of control’ is a major factor for some time in big bike injuries (>500cc) from the accident statistics.


‘This shows how easy it is to come off.  Gentle acceleration as I was moving out to overtake an elderly couple.  They’d seen me and had kindly pulled over for me to go (no need to because the road was empty). When overtaking I try to show the same respect (if not more) than what was shown to me so I go past without having the engine screaming.
The conditions were obviously damp so gently does it but when you hit the slippery tar then any power going to the back wheel just spins up the back wheel and before you know it I’m sideways on motocross style then it bites when it hits the grippy stuff.  This is the result’. 


Side View

The problem with modern bikes is even tourers have very powerful engines and very light flywheels, so when the rear wheel loses traction, if the throttle has been opened wider than it needs to be, then the revs rise almost instantly. If the tyre does then find a grippy piece of tarmac it’s a complete lottery what happens next, depends on how far sideways you have got and in which direction, before some grip is found.

This is the classic ‘high-side’ if you are banked, but even a seemingly flat straight road can have enough camber to force the bike sideways. White lines are better than they were but can still be treacherous, and a badly maintained road where all the aggregate has worn off just leaving the tar can be like ice, particularly when wet.

It is worse in a higher gear as you get so little response from opening the throttle wider, so may not realise how far it is open, which is why you should always consider which gear to be in (and change down before taking).

Traction control should have kept Alan upright, but the advice is not only to open the throttle slowly and smoothly, but also never get it further open than you need, rolling it open steadily as the revs increase, ‘dragging’ if you like, the tacho needle around the dial.

Modern injection systems are ‘ride by wire’ with no direct connection between the twist grip and the throttle butterflies (which restrict the flow of incoming air and fuel – or a second set of butterflies controlled by the computer on older bikes). No matter how far you twist the throttle, at lower revs the butterflies won’t open much as the engine can’t digest any more fuel efficiently – until the revs rise and the engine management system then opens them more and more as the revs build until it reaches a point set by the twist grip, when the butterflies stay partially open dependent on how far you’ve turned the throttle.

So if the throttle is fully open at lower revs, if the rear wheel loses grip the engine will instantly hit the rev limiter – peak revs and peak power produced as the tyre tries to grip again. When the rider instinctively reacts and shuts the throttle the bike will likely be sideways when the tyre grips again, which often then throws the rider off.

So the advice is to use your gearbox and consider changing down before overtaking which means the bike is more responsive, twist the throttle gradually as the revs increase, so if you do lose traction then the engine revs will only rise so far, giving you a good chance of saving it.

Motorcycle Track Clothing

One piece leathers probably give riders the best protection, although good quality textile clothing should be good enough. Two piece suits, whether textile or leather, are better if either the top and bottom can be zipped together, or if the jacket has a robust crotch strap.

We don’t accept kevlar jeans, as we don’t know how good they will be.

Both textile and leather suits should have CE armour in elbows and knees as a minimum. Shoulders, back and hip protection should also be better. There are also chest protectors available. Check your jacket has a CE marked back protector and not a piece of thin foam. Consider fitting a CE protector in the pocket, or using a separate back protector.

The European standard is EN1621-2 (Level 1 for regular use and Level 2 for sport/track).

Some leather suits are made from very thin leather, could be sheepskin. The quality of the stitching is also vital. Leather is not automatically better.

Here is some interesting general information and advice from Byson Leathers



Braking from High Speed – Components

We’ve had some response regarding brake pads and discs, and whether these effect braking distances in any way, so here is a quick review of braking components.

Brake Pads

‘Softer’ pads with higher coefficients of friction require less lever effort for the same braking effect, but wear out quicker and can fade. Different construction of and materials used in pads can also effect the ‘feel’ during braking which is vital particularly on a track, and being able to sit the bike in it’s nose with one finger is great.

Make sure you buy a well known brand from a reputable source. I bought some ‘Armstrong Racing’ pads from Newark Auto Jumble some years ago, then went straight at the Esses at Donnington on a trackday. Very lucky to find the problem there, as I was off to the IOM on bike the following week. They were probably OK for normal road use, and of course may be OK now, but had I found the problem going down to the Creg on Mad Sunday…….

Brake Lines

Braided hoses, if not already fitted, can make a big difference as they don’t expand as much when pressurised, which makes the brakes feel sharper and uses marginally less lever movement. These do need to be properly made as they operate under high pressure. Most modern hoses are made to measure and swaged rather than you having to assemble your own fittings. Buying a bike fitted already with after market bolted hoses is always a risk that they have been assembled and torqued up properly. If in doubt change them. Again buy a major brand from a recognised supplier, and make sure they are certified correctly. See for example:-

Master cylinders and calipers

The first bike we had which could stop with one finger, was an Aprilia Mille ‘Sound of Thunder’ bike, with the early Brembo racing radial calipers and master cylinder, which are now commonplace on top spec OE bikes. Absolutely amazing at the time. You can retrofit better master cylinders relatively easy (changing calipers usually mean changing forks, or some complicated bracketry for older bikes), but you need to be very careful to use the correct bore and displacement master cylinder, and adjust it correctly.

From experience, everything seems great tested statically, but if the master cylinder piston is not returning far enough, then the fluid cannot return to the reservoir , heats up and locks the front brake. Had this happen to a rider on a race bike with us a couple of years ago , as well as personally on an old TZ350 trying out a smaller bore master cylinder.

Brake discs

Also be very careful where you buy these safety critical parts. Here is a CB500 disc off a race bike where it has cracked and failed at Mallory – the rider was badly hurt.


The same problem was found on a second bike the same day. These are non-floating cast iron, not the modern steel discs. However, steel discs can warp pushing the pads back, which you suddenly  discover when it takes two pumps to get the brake to work. The old thin fixed steel disc are very prone to this, so you need to make sure that pads are equally spaced and that the disc is not being bent when the brake is applied (another old TZ problem), which is why ‘floating discs’ were invented.

Some floating discs seem to wear the ‘spools’ very quickly, one side went recently on my GXR1000K7. You can here them ‘tinkling’  when you wheel the bike (some Italian bikes used to do this from new), but we cannot find what the service limits should be. You also sometimes get a ‘clonk’ initially when braking. If in doubt change them.

Modern sintered pads can wear out the discs quite quickly, so always check for bad scoring and minimum thickness (usually stamped on the disc).

Again buy OE or recognised brands from a reputable source.

Brake Fluid

Needs to be changed every two years on road bikes, more often for race bikes. Dot 4 is usually recommended, and there is a Dot 4 Racing with a higher boiling point for track bikes. The problem is you don’t know you have a problem until the fluid overheats and boils, as it absorbs water over time, and the brakes simply fail. There is also a new DOT 5.1 which has a longer life, not to be confused with DOT 5 which is silicone based and must not be mixed with any other brake fluid. DOT 5 doesn’t absorb water so has a long life, has a high boiling point, doesn’t act as a paint stripper, is better at very low temperatures, but is supposed to be more compressible making brakes spongy, and is not suitable for anti-lock systems.

Apparently some Harleys have DOT 5 fluid.

Always refer to your bikes handbook, only buy small bottles of fluid to top up and keep the caps on. For racing brake fluid, refer to the manufacturers advice for usage and frequency of changes.


What finally limits braking distances on a bike, is that braking forces much over 1 g have the back wheel in air, as the centre of gravity is so high, so braking harder flips the bike. This usually happens quite slowly, so riders have time to simply ease off the brakes.



Braking from High Speed – Reaction times

We came across this piece of research from the Transport Research Laboratory which appears to have gone under the radar, which we present on our road training courses. Our previous paper on braking a motorcycle (or car) from high speed used the TRL 0.7 second standard reaction time to hazards, but this research shows how much this can vary on circumstance.

There are two factors as to whether you can avoid a collision or minimise the impact speed:-

a. How quickly you can react

b. How quickly you can stop (which we covered in the earlier post) or swerve.

These figures (see below) were reaction times using a simulator in different scenarios.

1. Cars and pedestrians emerging.

Average reaction time at 0.85 is actually a bit greater than that currently used in Highway Code stopping distances.

2. A vehicle braking ahead.

This at an average 1.3 seconds is nearly twice the figure used in Highway Code stopping distances, and the ‘two second rule’ leaves you with a 0.7 second gap in which to brake (or 70 feet at 70 mph). It is also clear that most driver and riders amazingly don’t expect the vehicle ahead to brake suddenly, as from observation they ride/drive far too close and would often simply hit the vehicle in front without even beginning to brake.

3. A vehicle ahead veering off the road and knocking down an overhead motorway gantry.

This I think we can all agree is ‘unexpected’, but reaction time is surprisingly only slightly longer than a vehicle braking in front.

4. A stationary vehicle in front the centre of the lane

This is the real concern as clearly riders/drivers see a vehicle ahead and don’t realise for some while that it is stationary, taking on average nearly 4 seconds to brake or 5 seconds to swerve. A massive 400-500 feet to react at 70 mph. This can also apply in any situation where you do not immediately recognise a hazardous situation, which is why ‘hazard perception’ is such an issue and part of any licencing test, as is planning ahead.

This is known by the emergency services which is why you will see emergency vehicles now always parked across the road or diagonally, to indicate they are stationary.

Also included is the effects of fatigue on reaction times, which is very noticeable, adding more than a second in all circumstances. So if you’re tired a 2 seconds separation distance from a vehicle ahead is nowhere near enough.

So what are the conclusions?

1. Always leave a good gap ahead – 2 seconds is clearly not enough – particularly at high speed.

2. Pay attention!

3. Don’t drive when tired. Stop and get a coffee – a large cup from Costa (other providers are available) not only kept me wide awake riding home the other day, but for half the night.

Again most braking actually occurs in the last few feet, so the earlier you react has a disproportionate effect on  the lowering the speed of any impact or avoiding one (which is better).

Mike Abbott, British Superbike School 25.11.15