Motorcycle speed wobbles can be downright terrifying while riding at higher speeds. The handle bar starts to oscillate rapidly and you start to lose control of the motorcycle.
Irrespective of whether you face a wobble or not, it is always better to know the things one should do during a speed wobble.
What should one do when the motorcycle wobbles?
When faced with a motorcycle speed wobble, the rider needs to – i) have a loose grip on handle bar; ii) slowly roll off the throttle and decelerate; iii) apply the rear brake if slowing down; iv) lean forward if possible.
What are Speed Wobbles?
Motorcycle speed wobbles, also called tank slappers or death wobbles, are caused at high speeds when the front tire loses traction and the handle bars start to oscillate violently.
Motorcycles naturally wiggle. The traction between the tire and the road always produces vibrations in the motorcycle. So, there is always some wiggle in the system.
However, the problem starts when the wiggle goes out of hand. The handle bar starts to shake rapidly and you have no control over the oscillation.
This wobbling usually happens at high speeds north of 70 mph. It is very unlikely that you will face speed wobbles while riding at low speeds.
Speed wobbling can be extremely dangerous because of the fact that you are riding at a high speed, and it can even end up in hazardous accidents.
What Causes A Motorcycle To Wobble?
While there are many potential causes for speed wobble, here are the main reasons why your motorcycle is wobbling.
1. Acceleration at a very fast rate
When you are running your motorcycle at a high speed and on top of that, you start accelerating at a very fast rate, there is a possibility that your front tire might lose some traction due to the sudden acceleration.
You may have experienced this before whenever you accelerate rapidly from rest, the motorcycle jumps slightly forward. This is again because the front tire loses traction because of the sudden acceleration you have produced.
The same phenomenon happens but at a dangerous level during high speeds, resulting in speed wobbles.
2. Wheel misalignment
Another reason for speed wobbles can be the misalignment of wheels.
When the front and rear wheels have more than required room for lateral movements, the motorcycle will start wobbling. The wobble might not be pronounced at low speeds, but once you speed up, it gets noticeable with increased oscillation of the handle bar.
The misalignment between the front and rear wheels can be caused because of a part malfunctioning, worn-out components or alignment was not proper during your last servicing of the motorcycle.
3. Flat tire or low PSI in the tire
If either of the tires does not have sufficient pressure in them or one of the tires is punctured, then you might face speed wobbles in your motorcycle.
Flat tires are much easier to identify if you have been riding motorcycles for long. Even at low speeds, you will know something is not right in the wheels.
For low pressure, you must regularly check your wheels. A large difference from the actual to the required PSI will always create problems in some or the other ways.
The ideal air pressure required for bikes varies depending on the type of motorcycle and the manufacturer. Typically, a regular motorcycle used for commuting are in 26 to 42 PSI range. The front tire usually requires lower PSI than the rear one.
4. Suspension or bearing problems
Speed wobbles can also be caused by problems in the bearings or suspension. Worn-out bearings specially on the front side can be quite dangerous which might result in death wobbles.
However, it is comparatively difficult to identify the root cause here. You have to take it to a mechanic or dismantle the components yourself to identify the issue.
5. Uneven loading on the bike
If there is a heavy loading on the rear part of the motorcycle sufficient enough to create a large differential, speed wobbles might occur while riding at higher speeds.
The uneven loading coupled with the high speed in your motorcycle might induce the front tire to lose traction from the ground surface. As a result, you could be facing the handle bar oscillating rapidly.
What you need to do?
Now that we know what causes a motorcycle wobble, here are the things that one needs to do when faced with a speed wobble.
- Have a loose grip on handle bar
- Slowly roll off the throttle and decelerate
- Apply the rear brake if slowing down
- Lean forward if possible
#1 Have a loose grip on handle bar
During speed wobble, the handle bar oscillates rapidly on both sides. As a response, you might intuitively feel like holding the handle bar tightly in order to stop the wobble.
However, do not, I repeat – do not hold the handle bar tightly. It would do more harm than good
Instead, you should loosen your grip to not cause any further disturbance to the motorcycle. Loosening the grip will also allow the motorcycle to self-correct and slow down the oscillation.
#2 Slowly roll off the throttle and decelerate
The next thing to do is decelerate and slow down the speed of your motorcycle by slowly rolling off the throttle.
Do keep in mind to not pull in the clutch or apply front brake in a hurry to stop the motorcycle.
Applying sudden brakes might complicate the wobbling rather than reducing it. You might end up completely losing the control and crash the motorcycle.
#3 Apply the rear brake if slowing down
Once you have started decelerating the motorcycle by slowly rolling off the throttle, start applying the rear brake.
Applying rear brake slows down the bike further in an organic way instead of any sudden brakes. This is helpful in two ways – i) motorcycle slowing down to low speed can stop wobbling; ii) reduced speed will help you to gain more control of the handle bar.
#4 Lean forward if possible
In case you are not freaking out, which is difficult to do (I totally freaked out during my only experience of wobbling), try to lean forward.
This is helpful specially when the wobbling is because of uneven loading in the front and rear end of the motorcycle. The low weight in the front end might have caused the front wheel to lose traction. As a result, leaning forward will be helpful to rebalance the load slightly.
Motorcycle tries to self-correct
The momentum at high speeds and the make of the motorcycle will always try to keep the motorcycle straight whenever there is a speed wobble.
The motorcycle itself will strive to stay up and go straight without falling down. However, if it is a nasty wobble, it can overpower the motorcycle’s tendency to stay straight.
Still, it is useful to understand that motorcycle strives to maintain the balance during a speed wobble. If it is mild one, the bike may well self-correct itself.
What you should NOT do
Despite going through the to-dos, it might be better to go through the things you should not do when your motorcycle wobbles.
Some of these might be just opposite of the to-dos listed above. However, keeping in consideration on how intuitive these things are, I have mentioned them again for the benefit.
Here are the things you should not do when your motorcycle wobbles.
- Do not grip the bar tightly
- Do not pull in the Clutch
- Do not use front brake
- Do not accelerate the throttle
- Do not Lean Back
Take your Motorcycle to the Mechanic ASAP
As soon as you have recovered from the speed wobble, take your motorcycle to your mechanic at the earliest. There is a high chance that you might again face the wobbling if you speed up higher. And you should definitely not risk that.
For prevention of speed wobbles, you need to do regular motorcycle maintenance. Take it for servicing frequently. Check the components and their working condition time to time.
- Motorcycle speed wobbles, also called tank slappers or death wobbles, are caused at high speeds when the front tire loses traction and your handle bars start oscillating violently.
- Speed wobble can be caused by – i) acceleration at a fast rate; ii) wheel misalignment; iii) flat tire or low PSI in the tire; iv) suspension or bearing problems; and v) uneven loading on the bike.
- Things you need to when the motorcycle wobbles – i) Have a loose grip on handle bar; ii) Slowly roll off the throttle and decelerate; iii) Apply the rear brake if slowing down; iv) Lean forward if possible
- The momentum at high speeds and the make of the motorcycle will always try to keep the motorcycle straight whenever there is a speed wobble.
- Things you should not do when your motorcycle wobbles are – not grip the bar tightly, not pull in the clutch, not use the front brake, not accelerate the throttle and not to lean back.
- As soon as you have recovered from the speed wobble, take your motorcycle to your mechanic at the earliest and service the motorcycle regularly for maintenance.