BMW Motorcycles: ABS History

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BMW Motorrad Innovation

Twenty-three years ago, BMW Motorrad was the first motorcycle manufacturer in the world to fit its machines with the anti-locking system ABS, setting a milestone in active motorcycling safety at the time.

As of today over 1.2 million BMW motorcycles have come off the production line fitted with ABS. ABS can be selected as an optional extra in every current BMW model.

Initially introduced as an extra in the BMW Motorrad models of the K series such as the K 100 and K1, it soon blazed a trail of success in the boxer series and later in the F models.

While the first generation of BMW Motorrad ABS already offered a high level of additional safety by ensuring lateral grip on vehement straight-ahead braking manoeuvrings, even on slippery surfaces or with abrupt changes in friction coefficient, BMW ABS II introduced in autumn 1993 improved the range of performance even further.

At the time this marked the debut a completely new design of the traditional BMW boxer engine in the BMW R 1100 RS, which also ushered in the second innovation stage in the field of ABS. Here, the more sensitive regulatory capacity of the system was a major technological advance.

A short while later, BMW ABS II was also introduced for the new BMW R 1100 GS – in a form which was specially adapted to the needs of a high-performance travel enduro and disengageable for off-road use.

Another major step forward in terms of ABS development was the BMW Integral ABS introduced in 2000, incorporated not just in the BMW Motorrad road models but shortly afterwards in the GS models, too.

It was this innovative strength that has enabled BMW Motorrad to establish itself as a trendsetter in active motorcycle safety in the course of the last two decades. Today almost all motorcyclists opt for this massive safety bonus.

Enduropark Hechlingen has had a key role to play in the development of BMW Motorrad ABS systems since 1990. It has become established as a development site for this technology and in hindsight can be regarded as the birthplace of off-road ABS.

But in the course of ABS development with a view to increasing ride safety even further, BMW has also created drive control systems such as traction slip control or most recently dynamic traction control DTC for the new BMW S 1000 RR.

Race ABS in the BMW S 1000 RR – the latest culmination of ABS development

The high point of ABS development for motorcycles as it currently stands is the new BMW Motorrad Race ABS, developed for the supersports bike S 1000 RR. The rider can press a button to select engine characteristics including the relevant Race ABS characteristics for a range of conditions such as a wet surface (“Rain”), road (“Sport”), race track with supersports tyres (“Race”) and race track with slicks (“Slick”).

These are combined with the various modes and are mutually harmonized for maximum safety. In this individually adaptable rider assistance system, the rider himself selects the level of support to be provided. For example, unwanted early intervention of ABS while riding in sporty style is now a thing of the past.

The new BMW Motorrad Race ABS is a completely newly developed system which is significantly lighter than previous part integral systems. With a control unit weighing just 1.5 kg and a total weight of just 2.5 kg, it is ideally suited for use in supersports motorcycles. But in addition to weight the system especially provides even further improved regulation response.

In addition to an excellent set-up, the main reason for this is the use of a total of four pressure sensors which operate with a very sophisticated rear wheel lift detection system to distinguish even more effectively than before between a bump and a locking rear wheel.

In “Race” and “Slick” modes, the rear wheel lift detection function does not interfere with the rider’s desire to brake. In this way, the “Slick” mode allows particularly skilled riders to perform so-called brake drifts without having to do without the benefits of a front wheel ABS.

Even though this new system – just like any other ABS – cannot redefine the laws of physics, the new Race ABS provides the rider with valuable support and an enormous safety bonus.

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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007 and is currently Editor at Large at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of 365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).