Initially, this video was going to be a less-than-subtle reminder of why every rider should wear all their safety gear, but the more I watched it became about something else. This video is, in fact, about two things: Why you should wear all the gear (Dude. Really?), and about the dreaded “speed wobble of death.”
I love to ride. For some horrible reason, I also “love” (read: get pulled into the rabbit hole of) motorcycle crash videos, which can sometimes lead me back around to wondering why I take the chance. Oh yeah, I love to ride.
This summer I met a young rider. While riding on the highway at highway speed (just to clarify) her bike started to wobble violently and she couldn’t get it back. She tried accelerating, letting the handlebars do their thing, let off the throttle, everything but she couldn’t regain control. The tiny, young thing (she really is!) high-sided it onto the pavement and ended up in the ditch. When she realized she’d survived, and fairly unscathed at that, she also noticed the roadway was clear. A trucker had seen the wobble happen and had slowly positioned himself across the lanes to block traffic and keep her safe.
This rider walked away from her crash, not just because she was fully geared up, but also because she was lucky. Very lucky. Her new bike has a steering damper.
I haven’t been able to shake this crash story. Every crash video has a story to tell, and advice to give: wear more gear, don’t stunt on the highway (or ever?!), slow down, watch for traffic, don’t be a jerk, assume drivers don’t see you; all things within your control. Technical failures like this one? Terrifying.
The rider who smeared himself across the I-80E will hopefully suit up from now on, but what about the steering issue? The people who took this video had been driving alongside him for long enough to notice that his bike only wobbled at higher speeds. “We couldn't figure out why it was shaking, but we noticed it would only do it once he hit high speeds.”
What is a Speed Wobble?
Well. Exactly that. It happens when something causes a disruption to any vehicle that has a “single steering pivot point and a sufficient amount of freedom of the steered wheel”. Thanks, Wikipedia. The oscillation (fancy physics term for that shimmy) quickly amplifies until it shakes the entire object – in this case, your bike. It's not just bikes, though. Bicycles, skateboards, and even planes have the same issues.
How do they happen?
There are so many causes of speed wobbles. Could be your bike’s steering (damaged bearings or tires, messed-up forks, for example), road obstructions like potholes, bumps, garbage, oil, rain, or speed differentials like gearing down too fast. Some of these can be avoided, some cannot.
Keep riding, have fun but do prepare yourself. Go over what you’d need to do if you felt the bike go into a wobble so that it’ll be second nature when the panic hits, especially if you’re a rider who likes to take chances.
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube