2009 Honda CBR600RR-ABS - It Really Works!

Honda's Electronic Combined ABS Could Revolutionize Sportbikes

By: Roland Brown, Ari Henning, Photography by Giuseppe Gori, Honda

Like many riders--and the majority of professional racers--I never use the rear brake on the track; its benefit is negligible compared to the difficulty of dividing one's attention between front and rear. But when I squeezed the Honda's lever, the ABS computer sneakily and efficiently added a small but beneficial bit of rear brake, helping to reduce fork dive and keeping the chassis notably more stable on the way into turns.

Less welcome was the fact that because the CBR didn't dip at the front as much as normal, it needed a touch more steering input to make it change direction. Reducing the fork's compression damping slightly might have remedied this, given more time for fine-tuning. The system's other disadvantage, apart from cost, is the aforementioned weight penalty. But the ABS parts are located centrally, and I couldn't detect any detrimental effect on handling.

In case this all sounds too positive, the test did have one flaw: The ABS we tested in Qatar had a modified electronic control module, similar to the programmable units Honda will offer to racers. Engineer and test rider Tetuya Kudoh said this was necessary because the race-compound Bridgestone BT003 tires we rode on are wider than the standard-equipment BT015s for which the stock ECM is programmed. "It is possible to use the standard ECM with race-compound tires, but the ABS performance is not 100 percent," he said. "It's maybe 95 percent--the ABS might activate slightly earlier."

Given that most serious riders who intend to use these bikes on a racetrack will want to fit sticky rubber, that is surely a disadvantage. After all, someone who has just paid extra for ABS won't be happy about having to spend more on a kit ECU. Honda doesn't offer the option of disconnecting the ABS, either; although simply unplugging one of its wires would disable the fail-safe solenoids, leaving you with traditional brakes.

Racers Andrew Pitt, Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam were present at the Losail test, and reckoned they were braking at almost exactly the same place on the ABS-equipped machine as on the standard one. So did Martin Bauer, who won last year's German Superbike Championship on a CBR1000RR, and will defend his title on an ABS-equipped model this season if the regulations allow it. His opinion is that it will be a big advantage in the wet: "Its performance will be very close to a non-ABS bike, maybe half a second per lap slower in ideal conditions. But it would be very good in the wet, and you could find the limit very fast on the first lap. Over a whole race distance it might be faster because you would be less likely to make mistakes."

There are those who won't want ABS on the road, either because they prefer to be in full control or because they believe the system will be a disadvantage in some circumstances. That was certainly true of previous ABS systems--but not of this one. Honda admits that an expert rider can narrowly outbrake even this system after two or three attempts on a dry surface. But an average rider's braking distance is longer, even after several tries. And even the best riders take longer when the road is wet or gritty.

More importantly, on the road you don't get a second chance. Honda's technically brilliant invention worked better than I thought possible, without detracting from the thrill. But it's on freeways, city streets and twisty backroads that the system will show its worth, when it prevents a skid or allows a rider to avoid a hazard he would otherwise have hit. Whether or not you like the idea of anti-lock brakes, the verdict is clear: With the arrival of Electronic Combined ABS, sportbike safety has taken a significant step forward.

Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!

*Please enter your username

*Please enter your password

*Please enter your comments
Not Registered?Signup Here
(1024 character limit)
  • Motorcyclist Online