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Harley-Davidson ABS Model List

Harley-Davidson 2014 ABS List

The European Parliament mandated that all new motorcycles and trikes sold in Europe with engines larger than 125cc are required to have ABS by 2016, and because of “global harmonization” – a term to describe manufacturing vehicles to uniform standards – suggests that the requirement will make ABS much more common in the U.S.

I would have anticipated a bigger push for ABS because the rate of fatal crashes is 31 percent lower on a motorcycle with antilock brakes than in the same models without ABS, according to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Thirty-one percent is a big number.  Or about one in three motorcycle crashes that could possibly be avoided.

With ABS, riders stop more quickly and stopping distances improve on wet and dry surfaces. ABS reduces concern that the wheels will lock up, which might result in a skid. Locking up the brakes in a panic stop robs the rider of any steering control which can easily lead to a skid and crash.  In the often wet northwest riding environment, maintaining control of steering during an emergency stop is most valuable.

ABS is becoming increasingly common on larger motorcycles.  In fact, BMW Motorrad USA started making ABS standard equipment on all its motorcycles beginning with the 2012 model year.  In the above photo is a list of 2014 Harley-Davidson models that include ABS.  One concern is that it’s been difficult to find ABS on smaller motorcycles.  Those smaller motorcycles are often purchased by less experienced riders, who are likely to benefit most from ABS.

From my vantage, if you don’t have ABS brakes it’s one of the best incentives to consider trading/buying a new motorcycle that does.

Chart photo courtesy of Consumer Reports.

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We all did it as young tikes on a bicycle…zoom down a hill and lock the rear tire brake putting the bicycle into a “lazy-S” skid.  Locking the rear wheel required little skill and resulted in a small range of possible after effects.  It was fun, cool and the likely outcome was bragging rights for the largest skid mark and/or wearing out the tire/tube (which your mom reminded you that money didn’t grow on a tree in the back yard) or being ejected off and acquiring a “road rash”….thus embellishing your bragging rights!

On a motorcycle, however it’s a much different story.  The deceleration of motorcycles is a topic of great debate among accident reconstructionists. There’s been very little research about motorcycle braking, despite improvements in tire manufacture grip and the increase of Anti-Lock Braking (ABS) systems installed on motorcycles.

But, the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety released a new report (.pdf) this week which states fatal crash rates involving motorcycles equipped with optional antilock brakes was 38 percent lower than the rate involving similar motorcycles without those systems.  Antilock brakes, similar to the devices found on automobiles, help riders stop their motorcycles abruptly without locking up the wheels or fishtailing. The system monitors the brake pressure multiple times per second, allowing motorcycle riders to fully brake both wheels in an emergency situation and avoid losing control and hitting the blacktop.  Taking a “skid for life” is not something anyone looks forward to and this is especially pronounced when braking under a panic emergency situation.

Speaking of emergencies.  On a trip to Hells Canyon a couple years ago we were riding on two-lane roads in unfamiliar territory.  As we came around a corner out jumps a 1000 pound Heifer from the side of the road.  The motorcycle in front of me did an emergency brake…most of which was rear brake which then created a dirt-track type slid maneuver on the asphalt.  Big difference between a 300 pound 2-stroke and a 900+ pound Harley.  He managed to pull it out of the “lazy-S” without going down, but it serves as a reminder to all about minimizing that rear brake effect.

It’s well know that Harley-Davidson was slow to adopt this technology across the product line.  In 2004 they announced ABS for certain Police models, but only recently introduced ABS broadly in the product line-up.  Previously ABS was typically found only on touring bikes from Japan manufactures and was available on motorcycles from BMW since the K100 introduction in 1988.

The report also found there were 6.6 fatal crashes per 10,000 registered motorcycles without ABS in 2005-2006. The rate for the same bikes equipped with ABS was 4.1, or 38 percent lower, during the same period.  In a second study, they found that antilock brakes appeared to reduce collision claims – insurance losses were 21 percent lower for motorcycles with antilock brakes compared with similar motorcycles without ABS. The findings were based on a data set of 72,000 insured years of 2003-2007 model year Honda, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha bikes.

Clearly the ability of maneuver under hard braking scenario’s or during a crash avoidance predicament is very important. In a DOT/NHTSA report (.ppt) it was reported that 22% of motorcycle fatalities were related to braking or steering maneuvers.  In doing research for this post I came across this report from a Mechanical Forensics group which details a single long straight skidmark vs. a “lazy-S” shape and the meanings of each.  The good news is that ABS is now standard or optional on about 40 motorcycles in the 2008 model year including BMW, Harley-Davidson, and Honda.

In the Northwest sunny and dry payment is uncommon 9 months of the year and unfortunately we don’t get to pick the time and place for a panic stop.  It’s during those unplanned panic stops that having ABS will pay for itself.  Think about it, read up on the systems and if you’re like me you’ll want it!

Photo courtesy Flickr and IIHS report.

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