General

I've tested ABS to the max...

...and I like it

Say what you like about ABS - and plenty of you did following our news that it look set to become compulsory - but to have a truly objective opinion you need to try it. 

As an old opinionated bigot (Ba Hons), just six months ago I did my best (somewhat stupidly) to obtain a non ABS Fireblade as my 2011 long-term test bike. Honda were pretty insistent that I needed an ABS version. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth for too long or too obviously, I relented.

And several thousand miles later I have to admit I was wrong and Honda were right. And you know why? It's totally unobtrusive - only the stickers and wheel speed sensors give the game away. So what isn't there to like? It's there if I ever need it and when I don't, I don't even notice it.

Before you ask, no, the ABS hasn't kicked in once. Even riding on roads so wet and slippery that I've been getting vicious sixth gear wheelspin, it appears that my in-built and well practiced synaptic ABS system is still in good fettle.

So why am I warming to the technology? Have I also started to take a keen interest in decorative needlework and fancy cake baking? Is my manhood at risk of being questioned? 

No. I've just spent a full day at Bosch's test facility near Frankfurt and it's pretty much taught me to shut the feck up. 

Y' see, one day I'll be half asleep on a motorway somewhere. It'll be raining. I'll be day dreaming about building a new garage and will be planning the power-floated, heated concrete floor when, suddenly, a lorry bursts a tyre on the inside lane and forces the car in the middle lane to swerve violently into the side of the car in front of me. My route ahead will suddenly be blocked by spinning cars and broken glass. I can't take avoidance, I have to stop. This is where ABS can save my skin.

I just stamp on the back brake pedal and focus on my route ahead. The ABS does the rest, ensuring that neither wheel locks - which is so, so easy to do when you panic.

I panicked once before. I was doing 173mph on a disused airfield and thought I didn't have room to stop at the end of a runway. I locked my front wheel the moment my four fingers grabbed the front brake lever. I crashed but thankfully limped away from the wreckage. That is my qualification for an opinion on the subject. It hurt. At that speed, friction ensures that you get very, very hot.

Enough of that.

Bosch - the makers of some of the smallest, lightest and fastest processing ABS hardware - invited thirty European hacks (and me) to their test facility near Frankfurt. Their Gen9 ABS system uses a microscopically small pump unit and sensors so sensitive and so fast that to measure their sensitivity there are over twenty zeros after the decimal point. Speed may be hard to visualise - particularly to a mathematical dyslexic like myself - but the physical size of this stuff compared to kit from ten or twenty years ago is incredible. It's tiny and weighs bugger all. That's the first tangible reason not to hate it.

There were a number of tests set up using bikes that use Bosch as OE systems. First up was a ZX-10. We were told to accelerate up to 70 or 80kmh and then lamp on the brakes as hard as we could when we reached two cones. This was a braking area of dry tarmac followed by a meter or two of loose sand then dry tarmac. Visually it looked like your worst nightmare.

It took me one pass just to get my head round it.

On the second pass I did as we were told to do. With maximum pressure applied to front and rear brake pedals the ZX-10 lofted its rear wheel, lowered it as we went over the sand and then hoisted it again - coming to a very fast stop just a few metres after the sand area. No wheel lock - no pulsing sensations. Incredible.

But the next test, on Ducati's Diavel (as seen on this short video) convinced me that ABS rocks. From 40kmh we panic braked from dry tarmac straight onto wet, Belgian pavers that were being constantly soaked by water jets. It looked like a recipe for folding the front and braking a collarbone, after all, we all know how powerful twin radially mounted Brembos are...

The fact that none of us crashed doing this and both my collarbones are still intact says it all. Accelerating away from the sopping wet braking area with full throttle was also a good demonstration of how effective the big Ducati's traction control system is. But that's another issue. If we'd done this braking test without ABS I reckon three quarters of us would have crashed the moment we locked the front wheel.

Braking from dry tarmac onto wet polished concrete on a  twist and go scooter with outriggers (to save us when we tried the test with the ABS switched off) was equally impressive and a lot of fun but it was the Diavel with its already immense stopping power that slapped me about the face. Incidentally, the Diavel has recorded the highest braking G-force of any bike that Bosch have ever measured at well over 1G, to the point where Ducati actually asked Bosch to de-tune the system to provide less braking force.

And another thing I learnt? With an ABS equipped bike, the fastest way to come to a halt is to stamp both levers as hard as you can - with the clutch lever pulled in. This way the system isn't confused by drive line shunt and inertia.

In over twenty years of riding bikes professionally, racing at International level on some pretty diverse circuits (including the roads) I arrogantly thought that I didn't need ABS.  Maybe pogoing into Mallory's hairpin in 1989 on a horrible old K100 BMW fitted with rudimentary ABS put me off. 

I do need it, even if it's for that one moment where events are totally out of my control. I've read the comments on these forums, I've weighed up the cost versus choice versus infringement of civil liberties and you know what? If ABS can be this good, this unobtrusive, I think it should be on every new bike now, never mind in 2017. Feel free to hurl as many sticks and stones at me as you wish. 

I've tried it. I'm convinced.

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