How to Tell if your motorcycle has ABS (Anti Lock Brakes)

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ABS is being added to more modern motorcycles for obvious safety reasons.  Anti-lock brake technology was first applied to airplanes in 1929. It wasn’t used in cars until 1978 when Mercedes-Benz introduced it.  The 1988 BMW K100 was the first motorcycle to utilize the technology.

There are 5 ways you can tell if your motorcycle has ABS.

  • Wire Running Down to Front Brake Caliper
  • Slotted Disc in Line with Front Brake Rotor
  • All Brake Lines Tied Together by a Proportioning Valve
  • ABS Light on the Instrument Cluster
  • Specifications for the Owners Manual

Below are 5 ways to visually inspect a motorcycle for ABS. However, each motorcycle is unique.  These methods may not work for every ABS equipped motorcycle. Always look for the visual signs as well as searching online for your specific make and model on forums or manufacturer’s websites to verify if it has ABS or not.

Below I’ll describe each of the 5 ways in more depth to help you find out if a specific motorcycle has ABS.

Wire Running Down to Front Brake Caliper

If you’re looking at buying a used motorcycle from a private seller or a dealer and they have ABS advertised I would follow one of my workplace slogans that says, “Trust But Verify”. As many of these signs as possible should you be looking for on your motorcycle. If you’re buying a brand new motorcycle from a dealer and it has ABS advertised then I would take their word for it since it’s illegal for them to advertise false information about vehicle specs.  However, always confirm!

One of the best visual ways to check if your motorcycle has front wheel ABS is to check if the wire runs to the brake caliper. Each ABS unit requires a wire to run to it. This is typically one wire that runs from the front brake line to the front brake lever.

It could blend in, or be hidden behind fender mountings or other hardware. However, a wire running to the caliper would be either for ABS or for light.

Most motorcycles lack stock lights that are located below the front brake. Most motorcycles don’t have stock lights down by the front caliper. It’s most likely an aftermarket accessory and will not look right. A system with ABS will not look out-of-place. You can tell if a wire is running down the brake caliper and into your brake caliper that you have ABS. Most people don’t have lights on their front brakes.

Slotted Disc in Line with Brake Rotor

This visual check is not required for all motorcycles. Modern motorcycles with ABS feature a slotted disc which bolts to the disc brake. It looks like a small disc brake with a smaller diameter bolted on to the front axle.  These small slots are what cause the anti-lock brakes to pulsate when you hit them too hard on a rough surface or lock them up at high speeds.

These slotted discs can even be purchased in aftermarket kits that you can attach to your front axle and brake caliper.  As an engineer, I wouldn’t recommend an aftermarket ABS system. Your motorcycle’s brakes represent the most important safety feature. It is best to not do anything that might compromise the integrity of this system.

All Brake Lines Tied Together by a Proportioning Valve

Modern motorcycles have separate master brake cylinders for front and rear, so there’s no need for a proportioning device.  You may have ABS if you find a large proportioning cylinder hidden under one of your side covers.

A proportioning device does not look like a typical valve. It looks like a rectangular block of aluminum/steel with two or three brake lines threaded through it. You will most likely have ABS if your motorcycle has a proportioning valve and you also have a front or rear master cylinder.

A proportioning valve splits brake pressure between the rear and front brakes.  You can have 80% of your braking power come from the front and 20% coming from the rear.

ABS Light on the Instrument Cluster

This is the fastest method to determine if your motorcycle has ABS from the factory.  If your motorcycle still has its original instrument cluster and gauges, then turn the key one click to the right. “Accessory” Position the device and check if the ABS light is on.

ABS does not necessarily mean that the light is on, but it does indicate that ABS was present at some point. Many people take ABS off their motorcycle because they don’t like how it feels when it pulsates. So if you’re looking at buying a used motorcycle and the instrument cluster has an ABS light then verify a few other things on the motorcycle before you feel confident that it does have ABS.

Owner’s Manual Specifications

Check the brake section if you have a copy or a paper version of the owners manual. This will allow you to check for information about anti-lock brakes. If you don’t have access to the owners manual, try using emanualonline.com. I’ve used this to access affordable motorcycle specific manuals that offer quick and easy downloads.

However, it is important to note that just because the motorcycle had ABS installed at the factory, does not mean that the ABS system is still in use. It is often disabled or removed completely by many people.

Most people disable ABS by simply taking out the fuse connected to it. Most people do this because it is possible to perform stunts with their motorcycle, which ABS prohibits.

If they have just disabled it then that’s good news for you.  Make sure to plug the fuse back in, and that all brake lines leading to the ABS proportioning vale are properly connected.

Reach out to your local dealer

One of the faster ways to figure out if a specific motorcycle has ABS, but you currently don’t have access to the motorcycle, is to call a motorcycle dealer of that brand.  Any Harley-Davidson dealer anywhere in the world will be able to tell you if your 2012 Harley Nightster 1200 ABS is working.

If you do contact a dealer and they say they can’t answer that question then call a dealership in a bigger city. My experience is that larger cities have more skilled technicians. This is because there are more potential employees. They can then hand-pick the most experienced.

Take a look at online forums

A huge amount of information is available online, which is one of the greatest things about the internet.  If you search for a specific model, you’ll most likely get a forum post from other people that own that exact motorcycle.  You can ask any question you want in the forum!

If you can’t find any answers online about a specific model then start a new post on a forum. Most people will respond within 24 hours to your questions.

I’m part of a forum for my 1969 Triumph and constantly use it to ask specific questions about my classic motorcycle.  Although I think I know a lot about motorcycles, having a vast community of like-minded people to share my knowledge is a great resource for learning new things.

Anti-lock brakes make motorcycles more attractive and are an important selling point.  It is one of the safety features that I have never personally had on one of my own motorcycles, but I have ridden plenty of motorcycles that do have it, and it’s a pretty cool feeling knowing that you can’t lock up the brakes even if you try.

It’s always a good idea to check and make sure you have ABS on your motorcycle if you don’t know for certain. It will be easy to find the clues that will help you prove ABS on your motorcycle.

Similar Questions

Why are motorcycles equipped with different sizes of wheels? Most motorcycles have larger front wheels, meaning they’re bigger in diameter and skinnier, to help with movement and steering. To help control and traction, the rear wheels are narrower and smaller. You can click here to read a detailed article that I wrote about this topic.

Is it possible to put ABS on a motorcycle that doesn’t have it? You can install antilock brakes on a motorcycle without them. If you’re mechanically minded, you may be able to do it yourself. To ensure it is done correctly, it is better to bring it to the shop.

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