Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Ahhh ABS on motorcycles. One of my favorite topics of discussion. I have thought long and hard about this question ...
My Tbird does not have ABS.
It wasn't an easy decision. There is always a trade-off with technology: It works great and its also proven to make people just a little bit stupider.
There have been countless studies done on this phenomenon, popularized in the Freakonomics books and others. The bottom line is that safety technology subconsciously often leads human beings to take more risks.
All the studies show: Throw a helmet on an average person, and they will much more readily undertake a risk they normally wouldn't take. When the NFL brought in mandatory helmets, neck injuries increased because players started leading tackles with their heads.
And its not just about helmets: Safer ski boots have led to more knee injuries as novices tackle slopes with overconfidence. People go into unsafe areas of town more readily if they have a phone or are armed, because they think technology is protecting them, when if they didn't have those devices they probably would have made a wide detour around a bad spot and avoided trouble completely.
There are countless examples of this - rubberized children's playgrounds lead to more sprains and broken bones than the old fashioned steel and wood ones we grew up on because kids subconsciously think they can jump off from higher up.
When I started reading about and studying this phenomena, I was forced to admit that sometimes I too see this effect at play in my life.
I don't know about anyone else. I only know about myself.
I am SUPER, RIDICULOUSLY careful when riding on rainy roads. I cut the speed waaay down, I practice maximum power emergency stops EVERY SINGLE ride in the rain. I concentrate on being smooth and intentional in every aspect with the bike. I leave extra large gaps for myself on the roads. All this to say ... in the wet, I am a completely different rider. I'm freakin' paranoid, bordering on fanaticism, and so far it has paid off. I often watch other riders in the rain and think to myself 'that guy is nuts' when he's probably riding perfectly normally.
ABS is logically safer: There is no doubt that it stops a bike much faster in the rain. On dry pavement its debatable, but probably also better for the average rider.
But on close, HONEST self-reflection here's what I know: I'm a human being. That means that I'm probably going to act like one from time to time.
I have been riding for just under 25 years on dozens of different bikes. Its one of the great passions of my life - for me, nothing compares to motorcycling.
Back when bikes had horrible drum brakes we were taught 'avoidance braking'; to pick either the shoulder or the lane split every time you stopped ... because you knew the bike probably wouldn't. That's what I learned at age 16. And that's still my mentality.
My greatest fear on the road is not other drivers, or rain, or a flat tire. My greatest fear is that I'll slip mentally.
Without even consciously thinking about it, I might just be a *little* tempted to ease off on the positive (and yes, even fun) paranoia that has kept me riding all these years. I might just ride a wee tiny bit faster at night; after all - says the little voice in my head when I'm running late - I can stop faster, right? I might just narrow the gap by 1/3 of a second between me and the car in front.
I know the little voice in my head that shows up at the worst of times would tell me I might not feel the need to practice emergency braking EVERY time I ride ... I mean, isn't that a little paranoid anyway??!?!
Deep down, I know that THAT is the most dangerous thing that can happen to me as a rider - that I subconsciously start to believe that I'm "a little safer". I've lived long enough to know that mentally, I'm my own worst enemy.
I can already hear some people who are reading this saying "But that's stupid. I'm different. I don't take risks I normally wouldn't take because I put on a helmet. I would ride just as safe with ABS. I'd never be lulled into a false sense of security by technology - even temporarily."
If that's really true, well ... good for you. I mean that sincerely. You are an extraordinary person. I truly wish I enjoyed your level of mental and emotional acuity, awareness and self-control.
For now I've decided to stick with a non-ABS bike. The Thunderbird has the most effective, smooth and powerful brakes of any cruiser I've ever ridden. I'll not suffer because of a lack of braking power.
Might I get ABS some day? Sure! Nothing wrong with them! Like all technology, they offer some great advantages.
But for me, "know thyself" is the name of the game. I don't feel short-changed at all because I don't have ABS.
What if there were no hypothetical questions?