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All About ABS

  • All About ABS

    What is ABS? How does it matter to me? Should my bike have ABS?

    Daily, we hear reports of crashes and fatalities of motorcyclists, caused due to negligence, not necessarily the riders, accidents caused due to animals crossing the road and other such unexpected circumstances too. We also hear comments such as “Oh, I wouldn’t have had this fall if my brakes hadn’t got locked!” and “ ….and the bike skid so badly, only if my bike had an ABS would I be saved of these bruises!” and another one, “Dude, I want a fully-loaded bike, preinstalled ABS and all the works.”

    So what is this ‘thing’ that everybody wants and has been talking about? Let’s have a look at the basics first and try to understand what ABS is all about. ABS means Antilock Braking System, if simply put, it is a safety system assembled in automobiles, which offers an improved vehicle control for both two and four wheelers, while braking.

    The ABS allows a rider to brake urgently, if required, maintaining traction between the wheels and the road surface without letting the vehicle skid. As per the rider’s inputs, the ABS automatically controls the brakes by using the principles of ‘Threshold braking’- involves optimum braking force being applied to stop vehicle and ‘Cadence braking’- involves manual pumping of brakes to lock and unlock.  ABS thus prevents the wheels from locking reducing accidental falls and unwanted skids while decreasing the vehicle’s speed and allowing the rider to steer around obstacles. This kind of braking and manoeuvring is not permitted without the ABS in place, unless of course, the rider is skilled and experienced.

    Now, let’s get our hands a little dirty trying to understand the working of the ABS.

    The anti-lock system is based on continuous feedback from the tyres. A small grooved ring called thetone-wheel, which is located near the brake disc, constantly measures the wheel speed. These readings are then sent by the wheel-speed sensor to the ECU Electronic Control unit which in turn determines if the wheel rotations are decreasing to an unstable zone. If that is the case, this wheel-speed information is channelled to hold or release the hydraulic pressure multiple times per second. Antilock thus automatically reduce brake pressure when a lock-up is about to occur and also increase it when traction is restored.

    Drum brakes are not as effective as disc brakes and the time consumed in stopping the wheels is more compared to that of disc brakes. In most cases, the front wheel has disc brakes and the rear has drum. The very reason for this is, when brakes are applied, the front wheel stops much before the rear wheel, which still being in traction, might slip. Yet the front wheel being steady avoids the bike from skidding.

    Considering the front wheel to have a disc brake and the rear has a drum, when pressure is applied to both, the front stops while the rear is still rotating, the chance of the bike getting overturned front-ways is high as the centre of gravity shifts to the front along with the rider’s weight resulting in the rear end being picked up since it is comparatively much lighter.

    Now, if you consider vice versa, and have the rear wheel fixed with a disc brake, it will stop immediately, while the front wheel having a drum brake will lose all control and take the bike skidding along with its rider. 

    If further enhanced with an ABS, the disc brake system simply avoids wheel locking while reducing the braking distance thus providing efficient braking. Sports bikes and Touring bikes highly benefit from ABS as it is very effective at high speeds and while cruising. Commuters who travel short distances or have to negotiate through city traffic are less likely to notice the ABS function. Also, the working of the ABS needs to be understood by the rider, failing which, does result in unnecessary falls.

    Things we need to know are:

    Only during emergency you would notice ABS in action. It does not affect normal braking.


    No matter how skilled the rider is, he cannot predict the actions of his fellow commuters and might be forced to brake hard. Road surfaces matter a lot and can affect any kind of braking systems. ABS decreases stopping distances on sand and slippery surfaces.

    Antilock Braking Systems have been evolving since their first appearance in 1929, when they were devised for aircrafts. The ABS that we find today are much advanced than their ancestors and also are much lighter. Weighing up to a pound and a half, the latest systems do not hinder the performance as they hardly add any weight. 

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