ABS: Help or Hindrance?

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rc3Head down, bum up, throttle pinned at 150mph. Grab a handful of brake. A momentary period of satisfying stopping power then…nothing. Hurtling towards a tyre wall at that speed without any brakes because a little black box has thrown a wobbler isn’t my idea of fun.

As of 2016, all motorcycles over 125cc will have to be furnished with ABS as standard. Safety first, right? You’d think so, and so do the EU suits. New laws are aimed at stopping road traffic accidents and saving lives and, while I concur that ABS can be a vital safety component on the roads, its purpose on the track is anything but.

Jumping on the ABS love train for a second, there are plenty of lightweights, middleweights and less sporty bikes with functional systems that will/have genuinely save(d) lives. I just think we’ve yet to see a happy median, a perfect blend of performance and safety. It’s all very well having a load of monumental thundercunts (who don’t ride bikes) conjure up these fancy new jurisdictions but there needs to be compromise. Road speeds and needs are very different to circuit-based prerequisites. From memory, only a German superbike rider and the Honda Endurance team have (briefly) utilised ABS in a racing environment.

Honda’s C-ABS system has proven to be a lifesaver for me on countless occasions during previous daily commutes, not to mention provide masses of confidence in the wet. At the UK press launch at Honda HQ, we were given CBR600RRs and told to ride into an array of artificial slippery surfaces (oil, sand, etc) and grab the front brake lever. After ex-superbike rider and guinea pig, Steve Plater demonstrated we weren’t going to die, I did so. It was amazing, like an epiphany or something, but it’s guff under heavy braking on a circuit.

Likewise, take the GSX-R1000 for example: you either choose the ABS-kitted model or the non-ABS version, with no option for switchable modes. It bamboozles me that a top-shelf superbike designed to bust lap times can be so hamstrung in such a crucial dynamic aspect, but there are many ‘race’ ABS systems currently being showcased on superbike exotica that function supremely on track, and ones that show the technology has been greatly advanced in recent years. Triumph’s 675R, the Panigales and the Aprilia RSV4’s spring to mind, where a relatively simple toggling option gives you various ABS alternatives, and a system that doesn’t make riding a £20k sportsbikes bloody dangerous in its natural environment.

Manufacturers of ABS systems such as Bosch (who supply a large majority of the aforementioned) will be rubbing their hands together, celebrating a sudden spike in sales figures. Hopefully they can invest in their washing machines and fridges, curing world peace and banishing Bieber.

WSB Donington P&H 22-05-15 108

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