The dividing line between what is good-to-have and what is must-have is indeed a thin one. However, if one were to distill a rule of thumb from the trends of the past, what was yesterday's good-to-have is usually today's must-have and by tomorrow it will be a standard requirement. And this principle, I believe, is universal in its application, including the world of automotive, both two- and four-wheeled. Wondering what I'm talking about? To be very precise, I'm talking about ABS for motorcycles in Thailand. Rather the lack thereof.
For those of you who have not got much insight into what ABS does for you, here's the gist. ABS, or anti-lock braking system, is a technology that uses a set of components to detect if the wheel is locking up under harsh braking or on a slippery surface. If there is indeed a danger of the wheel locking up and sending you (the rider) into a skid, then ABS systematically releases the brakes and then re-engages them to help the tires retain grip. The action is similar to what will happen if you squeeze and release the brake lever in quick succession.
With that out of the way, let me come back to my original story. There was a time not so long ago when ABS on a motorcycle was unheard of. The inexorable march of two-wheeled technology has turned ABS for motorcycles into a reality and now there are countries where you'll be hard pressed to find a modern day motorcycle being launched without the benefit of this life-and-motorcycle-saving technology. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all the motorcycles being sold in Thailand. There are several manufacturers who think nothing of launching a motorcycle, sometimes a powerful and fast one, without this crucial bit of kit. Among the reasons cited, the oft-repeated one is 'cost'. Apparently, Thai consumers have poor survival instincts and, therefore, do not value stuff that might save their skins. On paper that seems like a sound argument; it is indeed a challenge to teach people the value of safety in a nation where people don't even look at what's coming before crossing a busy road.
The question to ask, however, is, does that one rationale absolve manufacturers of all responsibility to provide safety? I think not. In fact, sometimes I think the manufacturers are so involved with the selling part of the equation that they simply neglect to even spare a thought to safety. Some months ago I was riding around in Europe on a decently powerful motorcycle that featured ABS. The motorcycle was subsequently launched in Thailand but , shockingly enough, without the benefit of ABS. Forget standard fitment, it wasn't even on the optional equipment list. On being asked why so, the management's response was… yes, you guessed right… cost.
The irony of that response lay in the fact both the motorcycle that I was riding (the one with ABS) and the motorcycle that was launched in Thailand (without ABS) where being produced on the assembly line outside Thailand. So some manufacturers sell motorcycles that are produced outside Thailand, and due to the high Thai import tax they skip some features… I feel that motorcycle manufacturers should at least sell ABS as an option for those whose survival instincts may be slightly above the Thai average.
Meanwhile, motorcycles continue to be launched, luckily less and less, and sold to Thai riders without ABS. Riders continue to skid and fall; sometimes escaping with just some injuries, sometimes less lucky…
Law or no law, motorcycle manufacturers should recognize the importance of promoting safety and should be the ones lobbying for the introduction of safety norms instead of us. In the interim, they should make safety kit as accessible to consumers as they can. At lest as part of the options list.