4 (Must know) answers to motorcycle safety system questions

Motorcycles and safety should go hand and hand, but what happens if the safety systems designed to keep you safe aren’t preventing what you expected them to?

Do you know exactly what your anti-lock brakes do to keep you safe? How about traction control?

Does your motorcycle have a governor or do you even know what that is? What about a rev limiter?

These motorcycle safety systems are designed to keep you and your engine safe but if you are unfamiliar with how they work, they may do more harm than good.

In this article, we will look at

  • Will motorcycle Anti-Lock Brakes prevent stoppies and why it matters
  • Does motorcycle traction control prevent wheelies and what you need to know
  • Do motorcycles have govenors and why it’s important
  • Is it bad to hit the rev limiter on a motorcycle, what it is and what you should do

Will motorcycle Anti-Lock Brakes prevent stoppies?

Although you would think having brakes that are incapable of locking up on you would prevent you from performing stunt maneuvers like stoppies but this is far from the truth.

Anti-Lock Brakes on a motorcycle will not prevent the rider from performing a stoppie.

What is a stoppie?

The maneuver known by the term “Stoppie” is performed when a rider applies the front brakes with enough force to cause the rear wheel of the motorcycle to come off the ground.

You can see where the term comes from because you use the front brakes to “stop” per se, just in a fancier and more dangerous fashion.

Riders who are proficient at this particular skill can hold these up to a 1/4 mile. I have even seen riders shift the rear of the motorcycle while doing a stoppie and complete a 180-degree turn.

What are anti-lock brakes?

An anti-lock brake system or ABS for short is a technology that uses signals from sensors to prevent the locking up of a tire.

This is done mostly through the speed and wheel sensors, the electrical control module (ECU), and a special electronically controlled brake valve.

To save you a lot of technical terms and a long-drawn-out explanation of how anti-lock brakes work I can sum it up like this.

If the sensor on your tire reads 0 but the speedometer still reads that you’re still in motion (something other than 0) then the valve releases the brake.

I can only imagine the sophistication and detail that goes into programming the electronic control module that controls the whole operation.

Why would anyone want anti-lock brakes on a motorcycle anyway?

You may have heard that anti-lock brakes are mostly for helping in snow and ice so why would a motorcycle want to come equipped with abs?

Well if you have ever had the pleasure of riding in the rain or wet pavement you know it can act very similar to snow and ice.

Basically, anti-lock brakes are skid control and what better to put it on than something with a limited amount of wheels on the ground.

Can anti-lock brakes on a motorcycle be dangerous?

I mean some of these motorcycles today are virtual replicas of the ones being raced and they don’t have anti-lock brakes?

According to manufacturers, motorcycles with anti-lock brake systems don’t stop any faster than ones without them equipped.

So what’s the deal here? Are abs somehow dangerous?

No motorcycle anti-lock brake systems are not dangerous, most racers are skilled enough and prefer to control the brakes by themselves.

This added with the benefit of fewer electronics to worry about and less weight on the motorcycle more than makes up for the benefits of abs.

Why would anti-lock brakes affect stoppies?

I think this comes from the fact that the term stoppie is a bit of a misnomer, you are more slowing down abruptly than you are stopping.

As I said earlier anti-lock brakes are skid control and only come into action if the tire stops but the motorcycle keeps moving, therefore during a stoppie the abs never come into play.

However, you can see why people might think anti-lock brake systems might prevent stoppies as abs is a brake safety system and stoppie is a bit of a misleading term.

What about wheelies? Again this has nothing to do with locking of the tire.

Experts at performing wheelies do use the rear brake quite often and they are the secret to helping you from bring the front wheel too high but won’t be affected by the anti-lock brake system.

Does motorcycle traction control prevent wheelies?

The short answer here is no. Traction control will not prevent wheelies on a motorcycle.

Traction control on a motorcycle is designed to stop your tire from spinning out from too much power reaching the rear wheel.

Wheelies on the other hand are a consequence of quick acceleration or improper weight displacement.

What is a Wheelie?

The term “wheelie” comes from the fact that you bring the front wheel of your motorcycle off the ground riding only on the rear wheel.

This is performed by either hard acceleration, engaging the clutch at high RPM (revolutions per minute), or offsetting the weight of the motorcycle. Sport and off-road motorcycles are most associated with wheelies.

What is traction control on a motorcycle anyway?

The main function of traction control on a motorcycle is to prevent the rear tire from losing traction with the road due to excess force reaching the rear wheel.

Unlike traction control on an automobile, which has some thought toward rain, ice, and snow; motorcycle traction controls main focus is on helping the rider prevent the rear from losing traction during hard acceleration.

This should not be confused with “wheelie control” which is a different system entirely.

Why would motorcycle traction control prevent wheelies?

Somewhere along the line wheelies became associated with a motorcycle being out of control. Perhaps it is all the videos online of riders falling while performing a wheelie or maybe it is just not their idea of fun.

Whatever the reason, the truth is motorcycle traction control was never designed with preventing wheelies in mind.

Will motorcycle traction control save your life?

Traction control under certain conditions will save your life. Under other conditions it is debatable.

With the motorcycle traction control essentially mandatory for any road legal bike being made today, except for a few on/off-road models, more countries are forcing manufacturers to remove any option to turn this safety device off.

The real question here is has traction control on a motorcycle saved any lives?

I can’t find any meaningful stat’s for this but what I have found is many stories of how traction control on their motorcycle has increased their performance and even helped smooth out acceleration curves.

In fact, this works so well that the motorcycle Grand Prix (MotoGP) has it as one of their fundamental pieces of equipment.

With that in mind, I believe motorcycle traction control has and will continue to save lives.

Not only that traction control on motorcycles is one of the only things I can say with confidence that will improve your motorcycle.

What is wheelie control then?

Wheelie control is a technology that uses the difference in the speeds of both motorcycle tires to determine if a wheelie is being performed and can cut the power to the rear tire to prevent this.

Wheelie control on a motorcycle is designed strictly to help keep your front tire on the ground at all times.

Do motorcycles have governors?

The idea that motorcycles have a governor has been around almost as long as motorcycling itself.

Although some smaller motorcycles use a type of restrictor or throttle limiter to help beginners gradually get used to the power and learn to ride, motorcycles do not have governors.

Do motorcycles need governors?

With speeds now reaching 200 miles per hour, the need seems to be there.

As of now most of the focus seems to be on reducing emissions and limiting impact on the environment, speed limiting (governing) seems to be flying under the radar.

One has to wonder when the crackdown on speed comes and whether it will come by force or sneak in like anti-lock brakes.

Is it bad to hit the rev limiter on a motorcycle?

While it may not be the most comfortable feeling when pulling a handful of throttle to have the power cut off and then suddenly engage again, especially on a two-stroke motorcycle.

You can rest assured hitting the rev limiter on a motorcycle is not bad.

It most likely means you need a little more practice with your motorcycle or perhaps your bike is a bit underpowered for your purpose.

What is a rev limiter?

A rev-limiter is a safety device that will cut power to the engine if the revolutions per minute (RPM) reach a level deemed to be unsafe.

This is designed to keep the RPM below what is known as the red line (the red area of the tachometer).

If the engine were to go past this level damage would almost certainly occur. Each motorcycle engine has its own specific restrictions as the needs of a v-twin are very different from an inline 4 cylinder engine.

What happens if you continuously hit the rev limiter?

Continuously bouncing off the rev limiter probably won’t cause too many issues other than motorcycle jerking.

You do have to ask what kind of damage are you doing if you are constantly revving your engine to the upper limits of its capability.

Motorcycle engines are designed to operate best below the red line which is well before the rev limiter even kicks in.

Final thoughts

Safety systems in theory sound like a great idea but when unfamiliar with how they work or at least how they are designed to work, staying within their boundaries becomes ever confusing.

With so many so-called safety systems being outfitted on motorcycles it is increasingly more difficult to know which system does what and how it actually works.

I’m hoping that the information provided here will help clear up some of this confusion.