Aftermarket ABS Motorcycle Brakes – Debunking the Myth in 2023
It’s NOT possible. You’re toying with your life, man! Forget about aftermarket ABS motorcycle brakes and get yourself a real ABS bike.
This is what they were telling me when I was looking to install aftermarket ABS on my ’87 Indian cruiser.
And if they were a bit right… Well…
I wouldn’t be writing this article, since I’d be three feet under!
So, is it possible to get and install aftermarket ABS motorcycle brakes? Is it worth the effort?
The answer is yes, it’s technically possible (though very tough on the wallet). But there’s also the question of whether it makes sense.
Read below to find out!
Related Post: Bleeding Motorcycle ABS Brakes – All You Need to Know From A to Z
Can You Fit Aftermarket ABS Brakes on a Motorcycle?
Everything’s possible, but how can you truly fit an ABS aftermarket system on your bike?
By this time you already know how ABS on a motorcycle works. It’s a perfect aide when push comes to shove.
So, why not have it on your bike?
It doesn’t matter which non-ABS motorcycle you want to modify. What matters is to find the right parts compatible with your bike. Now, that’s the tricky part.
When modifying my ‘87 Indian to fit ABS, these are the things I needed. And those thingies, you would need as well.
The biggest challenge is finding a compatible ABS unit and an ECU unit. The whole thing falls apart, and hundreds of dollars are gone if you don’t get those two right.
It’s like trying to put two wrong pieces of puzzles together. It just doesn’t go that way.
What to Look for in Aftermarket ABS Unit
So, here is what you need to pay attention to when searching for the ABS unit:
- Can you fit it with those dimensions on your bike?
- How many brake ports/valves does the unit have?
- What kind of communication does the ABS unit have?
- Does the ABS unit come with mounting brackets?
You don’t want an ABS unit that goes on a Hummer truck, but a tiny one you could easily fit underneath your seat.
If you want to have the front wheel just under the ABS, the unit will be smaller and more compact.
Some ABS units have two, four, or six brake ports. They always go into pairs. Unless the ABS unit has an individual brake port for a circuit reservoir.
But don’t worry.
You’ll immediately notice the ABS unit has a circuit reservoir by its off-putting third brake port.
“What kind of communication” point is a do-or-die.
Literally! And here’s why.
Every ABS unit needs to communicate with ECU back and forth. But there are different kinds of communication for the ABS unit.
From CAN bus, J185, OBD II, to manufacturer-made communications, you need to know what you’re aiming for.
In my case, it was the CAN bus. It was widely used on many motorcycles before J185 replaced it. So, many ECUs support that kind of communication.
Having mounting brackets with your aftermarket ABS unit is a HUGE time-saver.
Unfortunately, mine wasn’t. I had to improvise-adapt-overcome in this case.
So, it’s crucial to know if an ABS comes with its dedicated brackets. If it does, you’ll save yourself a bunch of time & money!
What About the ECU?
Without the “smart brains”, your aftermarket ABS is just a dumb piece of mechanics! Sure, the ABS will send signals from the wheel sensor, but what will interpret them?!
Here is what you need to look for when choosing an aftermarket ECU:
- Has it been used on a motorcycle?
- What features does it support?
- What kind of communication does it support?
- Does it have its mounting brackets? (Again with the brackets, right?)
A used, functioning motorcycle ECU has already uploaded ABS codes! That’s an ENORMOUS advantage since most ABS codes are protected property of many motorcycle brands.
For features, go for ABS-supported ECU. Some ECUs don’t have an ABS support, but they do have Traction Control and EFI.
You don’t want to install ECU with all the wiring, just to find out it does work with your aftermarket ABS!
What type of communication ECU has also matters.
All those above points are tiresome and overwhelming to google. There has to be another way around this, right?!
So, is there an easier way of adding ABS brakes to your non-ABS motorcycle?
Yes and no!
No, because trying to modify an old bike with aftermarket ABS is a hell-of-a-job. By the time you finished everything, you’d know so much about brakes and ABS systems, MotoGP or BMW would hire you on the spot!
And yes if your bike has an ABS version – a “better, ABS sibling”. In that case, fitting aftermarket ABS on your motorcycle would be like a walk in the park.
You can “steal” and fit most of the ABS components from the ABS version, from the aftermarket. Not the flea market.
(Speaking of which, never buy ABS units or brakes on a flea market!)
But if you could retro-fit all those components onto a non-ABS motorcycle, that begs the question:
Is it worth the cost?
How Much Do Aftermarket ABS Motorcycle Brakes Cost?
Refitting your motorcycle with aftermarket ABS brakes can cost from 2000 to 4500$.
Modifying my ’87 Indian ended up being 2857$. Trust me, it’s not a small price to spit out.
And the price is just for the mechanical parts and later-on ABS diagnosis. Labour cost wasn’t included.
So if your bike has an ABS sibling, get it! Don’t think or doubt for a second!
You’ll go cheaper and way better buying a motorcycle with ABS, than trying to modify a non-ABS one.
How much cheaper?
A couple of Clevelands (thousands of dollars), that’s for sure!
But, what if you’re crazy like me and want to embark on this “adventure”? Where do you even find such aftermarket ABS parts?
eBay, Craigslist & Amazon are your biggest resources!
And don’t forget to ask around on motorcycle forums.
Sure, there are always nay-sayers and “mechanic-specialists” who will talk you out of it, but eventually, you’ll find people willing to help.
How Hard Is It to Install Aftermarket ABS Brakes on a Motorcycle?
Let’s forget for the moment about ABS and ECUs, and talk about the elephant in the room. That is, mounting brakes for toner rings and wheel sensors.
And trust me, that’s one ginormous elephant!
Brackets for toner rings and wheel sensors are mostly a part of the brake disc and have their screw holes on the wheel hub.
So, how are you going to fit toner rings and speed sensors if there are no available slots on the wheel hub?
You either have to improvise by machining your own add-on brackets or modify the front fork to fit some aftermarket brackets.
Both of which are VERY risky and dangerous tasks. If you don’t know what you are doing, you could easily wind up dead!
And finding a skilled mechanic to machine those 1-1.5 mm of space is like trying to dig gold in the Sahara desert.
Pretty hard if you ask me!
But even if you manage to do all those things and put aftermarket ABS brakes onto your motorcycle, you have the next part to worry about.
How do you properly check if everything works?
That includes testing the ABS, ECU, wheel sensors, bleeding the brakes, cycling the ABS pump.
That’s why you need to have a motorcycle diagnostic tool. With it, you can cycle the ABS pump and automatically see if you’ve done the wiring and brake connection right, besides a working communication of ECU and ABS.
FYI, get ready for the “I’ll-burn-this-god-damn-bike-down” feeling if the diagnostics tool reports an error.
So, how hard is it to install aftermarket ABS brakes on a motorcycle?
Let’s just say it took me a year to finish!
By the time I was done, I gained so many skills I could easily work at the American Chopper.
Is It Worth Getting Aftermarket Motorcycle ABS Brakes?
A better question is why you want to add aftermarket ABS brakes onto your motorcycle.
Do you think your skills would greatly improve having ABS?
Or maybe you think your bike would feel more capable on the road with ABS, than without?
ABS is a great aide, but too many riders are using it to mask their brown-stuff-worthy riding skills.
That’s just the fact!
It’s way better to invest in yourself and your riding skills than to venture into an uncharted territory called aftermarket motorcycle ABS.
So, unless you have a sentimental feeling towards your bike and find great value in it – it’s not worth it, at all.
In terms of money, effort and time invested, it’s way better getting an ABS motorcycle than trying to fit aftermarket ABS brakes on a regular one.
There is also the note of reliability I haven’t told you.
Manufacturer-made ABS systems are far more reliable when the “Oh, crap!” feeling strikes than the aftermarket ones.
What’s the Conclusion?
Aftermarket ABS brakes for a motorcycle are an expensive, risky investment that can flop any second and backfire on you.
Sure, there are aftermarket ABS units provided by Bosch and BMW, but there are also so many things you need to add into the mix for your bike to become an ABS one.
It’s wise to leave that tinkering and problem-solving to the pros.
That’s why it’s worthier to pay $500 or $1000 instead of half a your kidney to have that ABS added onto your motorcycle.