To ABS or Not to ABS, That is the Question

What a week! Sometimes being in the Biker Lawyer business is rough. This week, two clients run smack over on their bikes by drivers with no insurance, other clients confessing to FBI on hidden camera, and someone in my office keeps stealing my damn pomegranate juice from the fridge! Is nothing sacred? So, by the time Friday came, I was ready to jump on the bike without waiting for the weekend and with no Court or office appointments I called my buddy Chip and hit the road Friday at 5:30 a.m. for a trip to the hills of North Carolina. Two modern bikes with all the bells and whistles. A BMW and a Honda. Some would argue that a real man’s bike is a thing of the past. Today’s modern scoots have slipper clutches, blue tooth, gel padding and vibration isolation systems. Anyone remember their first ride on a rigid shovel? Shake the teeth from your head, but hell, if you ain’t tough before hand you will be in a few hundred miles. I’m lucky enough to straddle both worlds, old iron and new aluminum. If you have read my articles, you know I love the old stuff and I take stock in value of the flatheads, knuckles and pans of yesteryear.

Remember when brakes were ‘drums’ and lined with a ‘shoe’ and tires had tubes inside with a bias ply tread outside. Remember when there was something called a ‘carburetor’ and it had something called a ‘choke’ and shocks were spring loaded and not injected with gas? Those were the days. Nowadays, bikes have more wires and electrodes than a NASA rocket and a minor glitch requires a computer and 90 bucks an hour to fix at a fancy shop with leather couches and latte coffee. This biker world of old and new, of modern and vintage, I love them both. Each has its place. This morning, the modern saved us! Not from inconvenience, but from launching over a cliff. ABS really is cool. At least it was this morning.

As much as I think a Vincent Black Shadow is art or a good investments or sexy or just cool, I do love fuel injection at 6,000 feet. I love blue tooth in my helmet when my wife calls and puts the kids on. I love a heated seat and grips. I love cross drilled ABS disc brakes, which brings me to my point. Most of these modern accoutrements are trappings of convenience not necessity. I mean who really needs an electric center stand? I think not.

On this morning’s trip we headed north on back roads and circled the back of Lake Burton, into Rabun County by sunrise. After a country breakfast of eggs, bacon and no grits thanks, we headed across ‘war woman’ pass towards the ‘Highlands’. The sharp curves are plentiful in that 30 mile stretch and with copious horsepower and virtually no traffic, we were taking all the liberties the pavements allowed. Speeds were aggressive but not irresponsible. Chip leading on his ST 1300, and me a meter or two behind on my GS. Then it happened. We went into a sharp left hander a bit hot 5 miles in and I watched the ST out front lean low with pipes and left hard bag an inch or two from tarmac. Chip’s brake light blinked early then lit loud mid turn with a noticeable wobble signaling trouble. Within a millisecond, the turn ran out curving left harder than Chip. From the compression of the suspension, I could tell Chip locked down front and back utilizing all that the ABS had to offer. My bike, likewise equipped with ABS, slowed hard enough that I struggled to keep from pitching can over handlebars. Chip’s bike decelerated so fast that the distance between us closed in an instant. Neither bike skidded as God (or engineers) intended. To do so would have caused disaster. I pulled down hard left passing but missing the ST by inches, watching Chip spin off to the right into the gravel. Our speed was probably less than 40 going in and Chip “low-sided” at probably 20. Nothing earth shattering, but enough to make one’s sphincter air tight!

Once safely stopped at the road side 30 yards in front of the minor wreck, I did the responsible biker thing. Throw my kickstand down and immediately rifle through my bags looking for a camera to record the aftermath of Chip’s indiscretion. Nothing is funnier than someone else’s minor wreck (so long as no one or nothing got hurt).

The interesting thing is that once we regrouped and caught our breath, we noticed that a steep ravine lay 10 feet off the curve across a small patch of gravel directly in the path of Chip’s bike as it decelerated in the curve and skidded onto the shoulder. Had maximum braking traction not been applied both bike and rider would have pitched over the edge. All hail to ABS! Certainly bikes had big horsepower 10 or even 15 years ago, but no ABS. A decade ago, my laughs may not have taken place (not for a few months anyway). So, all things considered, I say to err is human, but to ABS is divine!

Well, signing off for now. Ride strong, ride safe and in the end, make sure you ride home.

Leave a Comment