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What Causes Speed Wobbles On a Motorcycle?

What Causes Speed Wobbles On a Motorcycle?

One of the biggest dangers riders may face, especially while riding at high speeds, is speed wobble. The handlebars start to shake violently, making it difficult for riders to control the motorbike. Speed wobbles occur due to an imbalance between the velocities of the motorcycle’s front and rear tires. Read this article to learn why speed wobbles occur.

1. The Difference Between Handlebar Vibrations and Speed Wobbles

Handlebar vibrations are common, especially in older motorcycles, because they do not have rubber-mount engines and counterbalancers to reduce engine vibrations. While riding an old motorcycle, handlebar vibrations are more noticeable, making rides uncomfortable. However, handlebar vibrations tend to be normal, even on newer models.

Meanwhile, speed wobbles are high-frequency vibrations that can last longer. It can result in severe or fatal motorcycle crashes if you are riding at high speeds. This is why a speed wobble is also known as the “death wobble” and “tank slapper.”

2. What Causes Speed Wobbles on a Motorcycle?

Speed wobble refers to excessive shaking in the handlebars that usually occurs at normal or high speeds. Speed wobbles may occur when a rider hits an obstacle, quickly accelerates, or while performing stunts. It can be due to issues with motorcycle parts, low tire pressure, and physics.

The difference between the velocities of the front and rear tires is normal and the rider can survive a speed wobble while riding at slow speeds. However, if the difference in the velocities occurs at high speeds, the oscillations become much higher.

Velocity = Speed / Time

Velocity is a type of vector and therefore has a direction. Even a slight difference between the speeds and directions of front and rear tires at high speeds can cause the handlebars to shake violently. While trying to maintain balance during speed wobbles, harmonic resonance will be created. The speed wobble continues until the velocities of both tires become equal.

2.1 Front Tire Losing Traction

While accelerating rapidly at high speeds, the motorcycle’s front tire can lose traction. This is because the engine delivers power to the rear wheel. When a rider rapidly twists the throttle and accelerates from rest, the motorcycle engine immediately sends power to the rear wheel, making it move at a faster pace than the front wheel. This is the reason why nose lifting occurs and a motorcycle jumps when rapidly accelerated from rest. In such cases when the front tire loses traction, the front and rear tire speeds become unequal and cause speed wobbles.

2.2 While Performing a Wheelie

While performing a wheelie, the motorcycle’s front tire is in the air and not rotating. As soon as it hits the ground, there is still a difference between the velocities of the front and rear tires, causing speed wobbles.

2.3 Hitting an Obstacle/Pothole

Speed wobbles can also occur when the front tire hits a pothole or an obstacle since the front tire temporarily not being in contact with the road can cause a difference in the velocities of the front and rear tires.

3. Other Reasons for Handlebar Shaking and Speed Wobbles

Speed wobbles can also occur due to mechanical issues with the motorcycles, including:

  • Suspension problems
  • Misaligned motorcycle wheels
  • Loose or worn-out wheel bearings
  • Low tire pressure
  • Flat tire
  • Unbalanced weight distribution

4. What to Do When You Experience Speed Wobbles on a Motorcycle

What to Do When You Experience Speed Wobbles on a Motorcycle
Try to regain control of your motorcycle
Keep calm
Slowly decelerate
Hold the handlebars gently (have a loose grip)
Change your posture to a forward riding position (it will help balance weight and put more weight on the front tire for better traction)
Slowly apply the rear brake

5. What You Must Not Do When You Experience Speed Wobbles on a Motorcycle

What You Must Not Do When You Experience Speed Wobbles on a Motorcycle
Do not immediately apply the brakes
Do not panic
Do not accelerate suddenly
Do not hold the handlebars too tight
Do not pull the clutch lever
Do not apply the front brake

6. How to Avoid Speed Wobbles

How to Avoid Speed Wobbles
Photo Credit: Shifting-Gears

6.1 Visit the Mechanic

If you have experienced speed wobbles, immediately visit a mechanic and get your motorcycle checked out in case your vehicle is suffering mechanical issues.

6.2 Keep Your Motorcycle Maintained

Keep your motorcycle well-maintained by strictly following a maintenance schedule. Make sure all the parts, including the suspensions, swingarm, handlebars, wheel bearings, wheel alignment, and tire pressures, are regularly checked.

7. Takeaway

Speed wobbles are dangerous as they can result in severe motorcycle crashes. Get your motorcycle checked if you ever feel your handlebars shake even a little. If your handlebars start to shake violently while riding, do not panic try to loosen your handlebar grip and slowly decelerate. Do not pull the clutch lever or apply the front brake. To prevent speed wobbles, keep your motorcycle maintained and consult a professional mechanic if necessary.

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