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Encountering a high speed wobble on a motorcycle is something every motorcyclists wishes to avoid. They are incredibly dangerous, especially if they aren’t handled right. The worst part is that they usually happen without warning.
Even if you’ve never found yourself in a high speed wobble on a motorcycle, you’ll want to know how to handle one if it ever does happen to you.
How do you stop a high speed wobble on a motorcycle? To stop a high speed wobble on a motorcycle, firmly hold on to the handlebars but do not attempt to correct the wobble as that could make the wobble worse. Ease off the acceleration but do no apply the brakes. Move your body weight forward and down over the tank to assist with weight distribution and pull off the road as soon as you can.
Knowing how to stop a high speed wobble could potentially save you from serious harm. There is a certain way to handle it and it’s a good idea to know how to avoid it in the first place so you don’t ever have to know what it’s like. This article can explain everything you need to know about high speed wobbles.
Stopping A High Speed Wobble
Whether you’ve already experienced a high speed wobble on your motorcycle or you’ve seen the scary videos of others doing it, it’s obvious that it’s something you never want to encounter as a rider. It can be hard to know how to handle a high speed wobble once it happens and it often strikes a sense of panic among the rider.
They’re especially dangerous when you’re surrounded by other vehicles going high speeds. Being prepared is key and is the difference between serious injury and simply walking away with a scratched ego.
When a high speed wobble occurs, the handlebars are quickly moving from side to side which makes it difficult to control the motorcycle. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll first need to hold firmly onto the handle bars. Do not attempt to correct the wobble because you’ll likely do the opposite of what you’re trying to do and make the wobble worse.
Ease off the throttle and cease any type of acceleration. Increasing speed could make the situation much worse because high speed wobbles occur when you’re already going fast.
Once you let go of the throttle, let the motorcycle coast; do not apply the brakes. Lean forward over the tank to give the motorcycle the best aerodynamics which can help correct itself. Pull over and stop as soon as you safely can.
Let’s recap the steps. When you find yourself in a high speed wobble, you should:
- Hold the handle bars firmly but don’t attempt to correct them
- Ease off the throttle
- Do not apply the brakes
- Lean forward over the tank
- Pull off the road
As a disclaimer, there is no guarantee that this method will work. This is the exact method that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation suggests (page 32), but high speed wobbles can happen so fast that even if you do all of these steps correctly, you may still result in an crash. Abiding by these steps will decrease your chances of a crash, but it’s not promised. That’s why it’s important to stop yourself from getting into one in the first place.
The Causes Of A High Speed Wobble
There’s a simple science behind the idea of a high speed wobble and it’s important for every motorcycle rider to understand it if they’re going to ride a motorcycle at all. There is a fluid dynamics term call oscillating turbulence. There are several names for this phenomenon, but this is the most common way to refer to it.
If you’ve ever put a stick or a board in a river or stream, you can see that as water goes around it there are swirls that form behind. The swirl is technically known as an eddy. The same thing happens with the air as you are driving a car or riding a motorcycle. The air gets pushed around and eddys are formed behind you. That’s why items in the back of trucks gets thrown around going high speeds; there is a turbulence zone that those objects are caught in.
These turbulent zones are usually pretty uniform; half of it goes to the right side of you while the other half goes to the left side of you while you’re riding a motorcycle. They usually go back and get sucked by the wind behind.
Occasionally, you can have this frequency that occurs where a bigger eddy will form on the right and swirl around you then get sucked back and then a big one forms on the left. It will start going faster and faster between the right and the left of your motorcycle.
As those eddys form and break, it can push your motorcycle from the right to the left, back and forth. This will induce the wobble on your motorcycle and cause your handle bars to rapidly move back and forth.
There are several reasons why this oscillating turbulence can occur and create those uneven eddys behind a motorcycle. The first is wind frequency. If there are high winds outside, the wind can greatly throw off your aerodynamics and get that wobble started. High winds mixed in with the natural wind that occurs during high speeds can also cause this.
Overtime, large trucks will create deep grooves in high traffic roads. This means there are two thirteen inch grooves in the road located on the outer sides of the lane. If you happen to get into one of those grooves and hit it just right, your tires can bounce from one side of the groove to the other which throws off your natural turbulent zone.
A high speed wobble on a motorcycle can also be caused by rider error. Sometimes a motorcyclist will hit a bump or hole in the road and over correct themselves. This, in turn, can cause them to have that uncontrollable wobble.
A loose front axle nut may also be the cause of a high speed wobble. If your front tire isn’t tightly put in it’s place, the tire can eventually wobble from side to side especially at high speeds and cause your whole motorcycle to wobble. This is especially dangerous on the front tire since it’s what helps you steer.
The tires themselves on your motorcycle can have a big impact on how your motorcycle rides. They can also cause a high speed wobble if they’re placed in the wrong situation at the wrong time. Improper tire pressure can cause the motorcycle to wobble at high speeds and also cause bald spots.
How To Prevent The High Speed Wobble
Knowing what causes a high speed wobble can greatly reduce your chances to finding yourself in one on your motorcycle. Follow these safety measures and you’ll be at a much lower risk of becoming a victim of the dreaded high speed wobble on your motorcycle.
The very best way to stop yourself from getting in this scary situation is following speed limits and to accelerate at a reasonable rate. It can be incredibly tempting, especially if you have a faster motorcycle, to test out it’s ability and see how fast you can get to (or get over) 100 MPH. Doing so increases your chances of a high speed wobble.
You’ll notice that most YouTube videos of motorcyclists getting themselves in a high speed wobble are going way too fast and are accelerating to an unnecessary speed.
If it is dry outside, ride your motorcycle in the middle of the lane. This will prevent you from riding in those grooves that heavy trucks make in the road. You’ll be riding on better, less compressed asphalt that can help with traction on your motorcycle. Riding in the middle of the lane also helps other drivers see you better.
Routine motorcycle maintenance is always key in preventing a lot of problems in the future. Proper maintenance also helps prevent a high speed wobble. Such maintenance that’s important specific to this problem is maintaining your tires, keeping the proper air pressure in them, and getting new ones when they are breaking down. See our other article here to learn more about motorcycle tire maintenance.
Wobbling At High Speeds vs. Low Speeds
We’ve touched up on the fact that high speed wobbles usually happen at, well, high speeds. Though this is the time they usually happen, motorcycle wobbles can actually occur at lower speeds as well. As scary as low speed wobbles can be, they’re actually a bit easier to get out of compared to high speed wobbles.
The biggest difference between high speed wobbles and low speed wobbles is that low speed wobbles are usually due to just mechanical issues. And because it occurs at a lower speed, the consequences are much less scary than high speed wobbles.
You’ll feel the same sensation during a low speed wobble as you would during a high speed wobble. The handlebars will whip back and forth and it will likely raise a sense of panic. The way to handle a low speed wobble is the same as a high speed wobble: cease acceleration, do not apply the brakes, hold the handlebars tightly but don’t correct the wobble, and lean over the tank.
The main cause of a low speed wobble is due to tire issues such an imbalance, bald spots, or the wrong tire pressure. Suspension may also factor into low speed wobbles, so if you’ve noticed your motorcycle wobbling at lower speeds it’s a good idea to have the tires and suspension checked out.
Low speed wobbles can also be caused by uneven weight distribution. Always consider weight when carrying heavier cargo on a motorcycle, especially on smaller motorcycles or motorcycles with smaller engines.
What should you do if your motorcycle tire blows? If you’re out for a ride and one of your tires blow, cease any acceleration. Use the brake for the opposite tire to gradually slow yourself down and ride in as straight of a line as possible to a safe spot to stop. See my other article here for more information.