ABS Brakes: The Future?

by bj max

I sold my motorcycle. Yep, sold a perfectly good ’96 Honda Gold Wing with a preventative maintenance record that would have impressed an FAA inspector. I bought it new nine years ago next month and, other than a tire change every 18,000 miles or so, it’s never seen the inside of a service department. So why would someone sell a perfectly good motorcycle that’s paid for, I might add, and sign a long term contract on something that may or may not be as dependable? Am I just another spoiled American with too much money and too many toys and bored to death with my own existence? Hardly. First of all, I don’t have too much money and my banker will back me up on that and you can ask my wife if I’m bored. Boring maybe, but never bored. Too many roads to ride, too many stories to tell, too many airplanes to fly, too many cats to kick and too much living to do to be bored. Then why sell a perfectly good motorcycle and go into debt? Two words. ABS brakes.

At some point in my life I developed the habit of using the front and rear brakes simultaneously, something I had not done in my early years of motorcycling mainly because we never ran a front brake. Wasn’t cool you see, and a popular misconception at the time was that the front brake would throw you over the handlebars or cause you to loose control and kill yourself….How stupid we were. Well, my effort to develop this habit of stomping and squeezing at the same time took and now I do it automatically, every time I apply the brakes. Now I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject, but so far as I can tell, it’s not a bad thing.

But the habit of squeezing the front brake has a serious drawback that’s landed me in trouble so many times my friends were beginning to think I was a Hollywood stunt man or something. The problem that has evolved from this “good” habit is my inability to keep my fingers off the front brake while stopping in gravel or when I’m on slick and gritty pavement. I don’t know how many times I’ve grabbed that lever and went down in a heap. Dropping my bike all the time was beginning to wear on my nerves not to mention jeopardizing my 42 year marriage. My wife was getting pretty tired of being dumped unceremoniously into parking lots from California to Florida and her patience was wearing thin. Something had to be done and it was obvious from my point of view what that something was. In order to save my marriage, I needed a new motorcycle. One with ABS brakes. Yeah, that should work. I congratulated myself for coming up with the best excuse ever for buying a new bike.

I’ve never ridden a motorcycle with ABS, but I do have experience with cars, pickup trucks and eighteen wheelers so equipped and I have been impressed by all. For example, in December of ’96 we bought a new Mercury Sable with anti lock brakes and as luck would have it, we had a rare snowstorm two weeks later that dumped a whopping four inches of snow on our fair city. The first thing I did was take the Merc’ out on the street, got her up to thirty miles an hour and stomped the brakes. What happened next was nothing short of amazing. The wheels never locked up and the car stopped straight and true leaving me in complete control. I was so impressed I did it again. You have to understand, we’re not used to snow covered streets down here in redneck land and most of us are terrified of icy roads. So. to be able to negotiate icy pavement with abandon was a life changing experience and my wife I became big fans of anti-lock brake technology.

Another good example of the control one has with ABS brakes is an incident I experienced one night in a brand new Volvo eighteen wheeler near the sleepy little town of Sanatobia, Mississippi. While rolling through the night at a steady 65 mph, I was awakened by the distinct pop of a tire letting go. But the Volvo’s cab is so well insulated, I couldn’t be sure. I immediately backed out of the throttle and cocked my ear, listening for the familiar slap of rubber against asphalt. But everything seemed fine. As I coasted along I gently touched the brake, just enough to gradually slow me down. Everything still seemed normal and I began to think that maybe it had been a tire on another rig across the median going the opposite direction. As I coasted through forty mph the handling was still normal but finally, at around thirty, I started to feel a slight tug on the steering wheel. I pulled over on the shoulder and braked to a complete stop, still in full control of the rig. I set the brakes and stepped down from the cab and was surprised that my left front steering tire was flat and half the tread missing. I wasn’t surprised that I had a flat, but I couldn’t believe it was a steering tire. Needless to say, I was impressed, and took note that the Volvo and the Great Dane trailer I was pulling were both ABS equipped. A blown front tire on a non ABS eighteen wheeler tried to killed me one night coming out of Nashville but this, well this was just amazing. The control I had during the whole episode was nothing short of magic. My affection for ABS was fast becoming a full blown love affair.

There are several brands out there offering ABS bikes…Honda, Ducati, Yamaha and the most prominent is probably BMW. But the Honda GL1800A Gold Wing is the one I chose. I’ve owned two Gold Wings and both were virtually trouble free. Yeah, I know. I’ve heard all the jokes. Like ’em or not though, they’re virtually bulletproof. However, deciding on a certain motorcycle and finding one are two different things. It took me ten days but I finally located an ABS version in Corinth, Mississippi, a hundred miles to the east, and I made the deal over the phone. I put up two hundred bucks to get the dealer to hold it for me and went down yesterday to pick it up.

While standing in the parking lot waiting patiently for the owner to walk me through all the features of the new bike, (it’s required by law) he told me that a Honda marketing expert gave a speech at the dealer’s convention back in February on ABS brakes and declared that within ten years you wouldn’t be able to buy a new motorcycle in the United States without ABS. He went on to say that the California Highway Patrol was gradually replacing its fleet of motorcycles with ABS versions and even Harley Davidson was now offering ABS to law enforcement agency’s on its Road King and Electra Glide police bikes.

In the fifties and sixties I rode motorcycles with mechanical brakes and if you had told me then that some day all motorcycles would have hydraulic brakes I would have laughed at you. Where would you put the master cylinder and the proportioning valve? And the wheel cylinders alone are too big and cumbersome for a motorcycle. Why the chances of hydraulic brakes being adapted to motorcycles is about as likely as a man walking on the moon. That’s what I would have argued then and I’m sure there are those who would make the same argument today concerning ABS brakes. But, ABS technology is the future good people and sooner or later, if you continue to ride and buy new bikes, you will own a motorcycle with ABS. Wait and see.

Y’all think about it.



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