Saturday, April 17, 2010

The KLR ABS Dilemma

The Kawasaki KLR650 may have many virtues, but strong brakes are not one of them. KLR people joke about KLR ABS, even though as a cheap motorcycle, there is no fancy electronic anti-lock braking system (ABS) available. KLR ABS is the fact that, with the stock front brake, its impossible to lock the front wheel on dry pavement. Not enough braking power. You certainly can't do a stoppie with a KLR.

Meanwhile, IIHS has come out with a study that shows that motorcycles equipped with ABS are 37% less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than motorcycles without ABS. Its not in the IIHS study, but ABS also prevents stoppies, so I guess this guy will have to do his kissing the usual way.

In the case of a motorcycle, the most important factor in braking stability is avoiding front wheel lock-up. If you lock up your front tire, several bad things can happen. The best of these is that you can't change direction and slide head-on into an accident. More likely is that the front end will slide out from under the bike causing the bike to low side and the bike and rider slide uncontrolled into the accident. Finally, there is the possibility that you will pull an uncontrolled stoppie and fly over the handlebars.

So all things considered, it makes sense that ABS keeps the front wheel from locking up and the rider able to both stop and turn the bike.

Which brings me to the KLR dilemma. Riding with the weak stock brakes, I know that braking stability is pretty good on good pavement and I can brake aggressively and not lock up the front tire. On the other hand, I have to wonder if I couldn't be stopping shorter, if the brakes were stronger. As it happens, there is an inexpensive aftermarket fix for the brakes, a larger front disc kit which increases the available braking power by about 25%. Installing the big disc would let me stop shorter, but would take away my KLR ABS.

So the dilemma comes down to longer stopping distance all the time versus the potential to screw up and lock the front wheel in an emergency stop. To bad its not easy to add electronic ABS on top of good brakes on an older bike.


  1. Jac,

    Every old timer knows that when you're in a jam on yer 'sickle the best thing t' do is lay 'er down! Surely you must have had at least one old guy (anyone older than us) tell you that.

    For the KLR my preferred option would be the uprated brakes. You should be able to adjust the force to suit your needs and then your braking skills as needed.

  2. Doug,

    Why no, nobody has ever told me that. I guess that makes you the "old guy", or at least the "rider of long experience."

    Thinking about it further, in my guise as a geeky engineer, the old timer wisdom makes sense. After all, if you lay'er down, then you are sliding behind the motorcycle. When the bike hits whatever its going to hit, its transferring its momentum to that object, hopefully making your turn hitting it a little less severe.

    By the way, about an hour after writing this post, I came to the same conclusion as you did and the upgrade brake parts are on the way.

  3. Appreciate this post. Will try it out.

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  4. Lay down is not an option on blind turn accidents on two way streets. Hopefully you can ride it out on the shoulder if any.