Honda’s Amazing New ABS

June 1 2009

Honda has released a new generation of ABS on their CBR1000 and CBR600, and let me tell you from experience, it is an amazing system unlike any other ABS on the market.

I know what you’re thinking, ‘But Mojo doesn’t cover any sportbike stuff’. Well you’re right, but in a special case, some might filter through. And besides, this isn’t sportbike stuff, it’s an advanced ABS that just happens to come in a sportbike package. And if this technology filters into the cruiser and the touring range of Honda motorcycles, it cannot help but make riding safer for all styles of motorcycles.

ABS is nothing new. Over the past few years most major motorcycle manufacturers have adopted ABS on at least some of their bikes, usually the higher-end touring and sport-touring models. But never has it been available on the style of bike that can use an Anti-Lock Braking System to its maximum potential.

Lets face it, a rider of a Supersport bike on the track heading into a corner waits until the last split second to apply the brakes, and they are applied hard–always. Far more demanding in that situation than your cruiser or touring bike will ever be subjected to.

There is also a size factor that comes into play here, a sportbike has no room to hide many of the systems now on the market, and the weight of such systems is counteractive to the idea of shedding as much weight as possible on a sportbike. The new system by Honda weighs in at 10 kg. Now 10 kg is nothing to sneeze at in a lithe sportbike, but the benefits for the average user will outweigh the extra weight.

The nuts and bolts of ABS

I know there are riders out there who are opposed to ABS and prefer to be in control of the motorcycle at all times, instead of a computer being in control. That is true on some types of bikes, like Dual-sport for instance, where you may want to lock the rear brake up in some conditions. But lets look at a few facts.

According to Warren Milner, Senior Marketing Manager at Honda Canada, the main goal of ABS in a car is to allow the driver to be able to continue to steer the car. On a motorcycle, ABS will offer a much higher degree of control to riders of various levels of experience and stopping ability and undoubtedly allow the bike to stop quicker in a shorter distance.

Milner quoted various studies of the human brain’s ability to decipher and process information, as well as studies done on how experienced motorcyclists react in panic situations.

“The human brain can only process one piece of information at a time, it cannot simultaneously process information.” If a rider is in a panic situation, the brain cannot tell the right hand to squeeze the front brake slowly until the front-end is loaded up, then squeeze harder to maximum braking power while telling the right foot to press hard on the brake pedal. All of these signals are independent of each other, some people just process the information faster than others, but each command is done individually.

Milner continued with a study done on experienced motorcyclists braking ability. “On average, only 56% of available braking power is used in a panic situation. Let’s assume that a rider is travelling at 100 km/h. By the time the rider realizes something is wrong in front of him and begins to act on it, 17 metres (55 ft) have passed. Now take into account that the rider is only going to use a maximum of 56% of the available braking power.” The reason for that is the human condition that says, ‘If I squeeze harder the front brake will lock and I will go down.’ Add in the equation of the brain’s ability to process and transmit one piece of information at a time. All this means that valuable time and distance is lost, creating a huge potential for a collision.

This is where ABS comes into play. Sure, the distance of 17 metres hasn’t changed, nor has the fact that your brain can only accept and send so much information at a time, but with ABS you can now apply 100% of the braking power without fear of locking the front wheel up. The simple fact that you can apply maximum braking is going to shorten your stopping distance, and possibly let you stop short of colliding with an object or afford you the time to steer around it.

Honda’s new ABS is different than the others.

In layman’s terms, every other ABS system on the market uses wheel sensors to tell the ECU that the wheel is going to lock up, thereby releasing pressure at the brake caliper allowing the brake to slightly let go. The sensor then tells the ECU that the wheel is not going to lock up and the pressure you are applying is now restored to the caliper. This cycle repeats many times per second. The on-off-on pressure causes the brake lever or pedal to pulsate, something I’m sure many of you have experienced in your cars, or possibly on your ABS-equipped motorcycles.

These pulsations are a distraction, and in some cases, people who are not used to feeling this will completely let off the brake because they think something is wrong with the brake system.

Now imagine a racer going into a corner at a very high rate of speed and waiting until the last possible second to brake hard and then banking into the corner. Those pulsations could be enough to break the riders concentration, or worse, upset the bike.

Brake-by-wire, sort of.

Honda’s system still uses some of the same components, but adds a few new ones to the mix. On the Honda system, when you pull the hand lever, fluid is pushed as normal from the master cylinder, but instead of that fluid pressure acting directly on the brake caliper, it acts on a sensor. That sensor determines the amount of pressure and electrically feeds the information to an ECU. The ECU in-turn activates a hydraulic pump and it is this pump that delivers constant pressure to the brake caliper. More pressure at the lever or foot pedal equals more pressure at the caliper, but it’s important to note that it is consistent pressure. When the wheel sensors determine that the wheel is going to lock, instead of the on-off effect and the resulting pulsations, the ECU tells the pump to let some of the pressure off, but it is still a smooth constant pressure.

The result is steady braking at maximum pressure, and that equals minimum stopping distance. In a panic situation, the rider doesn’t have to think about how hard to squeeze the lever in relation to the front wheel locking up. Squeezing as hard as possible resulted in the shortest stopping distance possible, without feeling any pulsations.

We tested this in a controlled environment. We were told to accelerate to a minimum of 100 km/h and grab as much front brake as we could. While your brain tells you not to do this, we were assured it would be OK.

The result is a smooth, but very fast stop. Upon returning to the other journalists, I was asked if I felt it. My answer was no, but I was thinking I would feel the traditional pulsations. Of course there weren’t any and therefore I felt nothing to indicate ABS as I knew it. All I knew is that at that speed and the amount of pressure I had on the front lever, I should have been over the handlebars with the bike on top of me.

Subsequent tests used only the rear brake, and then the front and rear brake in order to feel the differences and how the front and back brakes are linked.

The front and rear brake system is linked depending on the pressure applied at either end. When the front is applied hard, about 30% of the rear brake comes into play without touching the rear brake lever. The opposite is true when the rear brake is used hard, about 78% of front brake pressure comes into play on the centre piston of the three piston calipers. When using medium pressure on the front or back, the opposite end is not activated.

When everyone was satisfied that the system worked, a few buckets of water were dumped on the track. With our confidence levels high, we ran through the process again. Both the CBR1000 and the CBR600 kept their composure on the wet pavement and stopped amazingly fast and efficiently, with no drama whatsoever.

One of the Honda technicians told me he had CBR1000 in the sand on Daytona Beach and performed the same stunt, and the bike stayed perfectly composed.

Milner added that if there is a malfunction in the system, it would go into failsafe mode and work as a normal brake system without ABS.

ABS in all Hondas by 2010

Honda stated a couple of years ago that all of their bikes would have ABS by the year 2010. While ABS would make the bikes safer in panic situations, this new ABS would be an improvement over the traditional type and the rider would no longer be distracted by the pulsating lever or pedal. Less distraction would mean more concentration on the emergency at hand.

It is unknown at this time if this second generation system will make its way into the cruiser and touring models in the near future, but for those who think that ABS shouldn’t find its way on motorcycles, think again.

In a panic situation it could very well keep you with the rubber side down, proving ABS, if it’s an option, is cheap insurance in comparison to a number of other end results.

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