Deciding the value of staying upright: ABS
A common frustration among rider course instructors and coaches is that while rid ers will spend upwards of $25,0 00 on their Wing, they balk at $50 or $100 or more to hone their safety skills. As I write this, I am in that “dollars for safety” conundrum while considering the purchase of a 2017 GL1800. All of us have a favorite color and I like white. Of my six Wings, four have been white only because white was not available in the other two model years.
So, after five years and over 10 0,000 miles on my White 2012, Honda is of fer ing white in two of the three 2017 models, one of which is eq uipped with an anti-lock braking sy stem. I have never had ABS, being of the mind that a skilled rider could stop as quickly without.
On dry pave ment under perfect conditions, that might be true. And with Honda’s various combined braking systems, Wings can produce very quick stops, with reduced chance of skidding on a very good roadway sur face. ABS shines when the roadway surface is les s than s tellar, especially when the defect is unseen.
But, a hot topic at last fall’s State Motorcycle Safety Administrators (SMSA ) meeting was how to get experienced riders proficient in threshold br aking, i.e., using the maximum amount of traction available before initiating a skid. A nd part of the answer was ABS. So, armed with much newly found knowledge, I decided to explore the issue further. After all, if I am going to spend several thousand extra dollars to get the ABS equipped model, I want to understand if the value is there. Lee Parks, Chief Instructor of Total Control Advance Riding Clinics put it pretty simply – “One saved crash pays for itself,” he said.
But I wanted more detail so I reached out to Mark Weiss, MSF Rider Coach Trainer, who knows more about motorcycling and motorcycles than most in the business. He gave me the detail I sought. “Bob, you are correct in the assumption that a highly skilled rider should be able to outperform ABS braking when making a stop on smooth, clean pavement. I’ve found this to be sort of true. While I have come across a few riders who are able to demonstrate (not just claim) shorter stopping distances, they all seem to need two or three practice stops to build up to their best performance. One advantage to ABS is that it will perform with no warmup. I’ve bet a few riders that they cannot outperform ABS on a no-warmup run test. So far, I’ve never had to buy anyone lunch.”
But wait, there’s more. The message was clear from all the parties I interviewed that ABS is not there just to produce shorter stopping distances but to ensure enough steering control to maintain stability under unexpected or unpredictable conditions. Some at the SMSA meeting countered that in some cases ABS can result in marginally longer stopping distances.
“That is true,” Weiss continues, “some riders complain that when ABS takes over, they can feel braking force reduce and they are certain that this results in longer braking distance. But considering that ABS would not have become active if the rider was not in imminent danger of crossing the traction threshold (then skidding, losing steering, and likely crashing), ABS reduced braking force to a manageable level and prevented a loss-of-control crash. You could still crash into whatever you are trying to avoid, but at least you will be going a lot slower than you were traveling when ABS intervened so that you could maintain steering control.”
Armed with all of this professional advice I ordered the ABS equipped Gold Wing. And now I can’t wait for the fun part – using ABS to learn to recognize threshold braking. In our Rider Courses and Shiny Side Up exercises, we strive to stop in less than 20 feet at 20 mph. A Gold Wing without ABS can do that and better. The trick is to reach threshold braking, but not exceed it. Many riders don’t reach the full potential of their non-ABS braking capabilities because they fear loss of traction and therefore control. With some practice, ABS eliminates that fear. It’s a great training tool. It allows the rider to come right to the Wing’s traction limit without unnecessary danger. Learning to gradually brake harder and harder until ABS kicks in takes some practice. Just short of ABS engagement is where maximum braking, without danger of loss of steering, lives. Now you know exactly what to strive for. All without having to skid, and hopefully not crash. All the braking techniques we learn in a Rider Course still apply, but ABS allows us to get much closer to threshold braking without negative consequences.
You will make your own decisions about the value of the motorcycling technology that is here and that which is coming in the near future. I am not here to sell you anything; just to share a few thoughts.
The expected delivery of my new Wing is sometime in late December or early January. As I write this, it is October and December seems very far away. I am now reduced to the mentality of a 5-year-old waiting for something really special. But, having “I can hardly waits” in our lives, brings out the child within and that’s a good thing (except sometimes it drives Althea nuts).
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