Harley Davidson Wobble
Harley Davidson has been manufacturing motorcycles since 1903. Their bikes, known for their distinctive design, are very popular with our clients, the general public, and police forces across the United States. However, many riders are experiencing a dangerous problem. It's referred to as "the Harley wobble" and has been linked to serious injuries and deaths.
At Keller & Keller LLP, we have been asked, what is the Harley wobble? Everyday, we approach these questions and find answers. These answers lead to solutions for our clients.
The issue is a problem with the engine is mount that could lead to motorcycle accidents and motorcycle injuries. The type of mount constrains the frame from motion. The reason this presents a problem is because the swing arm, the rear suspension member of the motorcycle which is the pivot point, is mounted to the aft end of the transmission on these Harley-Davidson motorcycles. If the engine is not constrained in all three axles, you can develop an elastic relationship between the swing arm and the frame of the motorcycle. While the system isn't novel, there are a lot of motorcycles that do have some sort of a system to isolate engine vibrations from the rest of the motorcycle. Harley's method is patented and somewhat unique.
This problem has become known as the rear steer and even the death wobble - and for good reason--- as the condition can kill you in a motorcycle accident.
Why hasn't Harley Davidson fixed the problem?
Harley is playing the odds in these situations, because unfortunately many jurors are of the mentality that motorcycles are dangerous and that riders fall off of them all the time for no reason. It's easy to suggest that the rider was going too fast and simply lost control because they were riding beyond their abilities.
This is a situation that is much more likely to occur in a turn or at high speeds. People report it as occurring around 90, 95, or even 100 miles an hour. Well, where can you legally ride a motorcycle in the United States at 95 or 100 miles an hour? Nowhere; so these people are going to be speeding. They're going to be on a canyon road that is real curvy or simply going too fast. I think that makes for a really fantastic defense for Harley in a lot of respects because they can point to what the conduct was and say look, this isn't a problem with our motorcycle; this guy just overcooked it into a corner and ran out of talent. So, don't blame us.
The "Harley Wobble" is perhaps familiar to those who ride Harleys and ride them at high speeds. It's when the front end starts wobbling on you, and you can't make it stop without slowing down.
A search for "Harley Wobble" on Google brings up a multitude of documents covering this topic. There's also several news reports of people suing Harley for injuries.
Here's an article written by a California Highway Patrol officer that talks about Harley Wobble, among other interesting experiences.
I've experienced the Harley Wobble many times, but never while riding in a straight line. It's only when I hit a curve really hot, when there's a lot of G-force at work.
For example, I was riding south along Hwy 62, outside of Yucca Valley, CA, going down the grade through the curves. I think the posted signs measured the curves at 55mph, but I was hitting them at 80mph. At one point, the front end on my Ultra Classic was wobbling so bad I was convinced I was going to lose control unless I eased off on the throttle. That's what I did. A buddy of mine following behind me later told me that I was wobbling really bad and that he thought I was going to lose it.
I usually take a curve between 15-20mph above the posted recommendation, and most of the time I experience some wobble, but it's almost always slight enough not to worry about.
And it's not just FLH models that have this. A friend of mine has a 1200 Sportster, and has the same wobble. I know of a guy with a Softail Springer who has wobble at high speeds, even going in a straight line. Another guy has a Dyna Wide Glide with exactly the same problem.
I suppose most people would say that I shouldn't be riding an Ultra Classic Electra Glide as if it were a sport bike. True. But then again, I don't have this problem on my Yamaha Road Star. That bike is smooth as glass on the curves.
• Interesting that I found this. I have a 2006 sportster 1200 roadster with a bad wobble as well. Primarily happens on long sweepers, above the posted speed limit. Bike goes into shimmies and feels like your going to highside. I've tried everything from tires, springs, different oils, shocks, etc. and none of them have fixed the wobbles.
I know several others with sportsters that wobble to which only ONE has seemed to cure them. However, he still displays some wobble above 85 in a straight line.
I feel it's something inherit in their bikes. Although they should be able to be ridden as hard as you can push one, I believe there is wrong with them. Could be the rubberizing of the engine mounts, who knows? But it is dangerous and I plan on selling the bike before I hurt or kill myself.
By Anonymous, at 3/08/2007 09:46:00 AM
• i have a custom soft tail that developes wobble at about 75 mph. i have read plenty of other matching stories but few remedies. am i forced to keep my S and S 100 with baker six speed under that speed? or is there a real fix. i dont even need the sixth gear if thats as fast as i can ride it.
By Anonymous, at 4/11/2007 07:23:00 PM
• I'm riding my eighth Harley FLH(1st was a 1959), and have never experienced a wobble. A friend of mine had this problem, and fixed it by adjusting the primary chain.
By Anonymous, at 6/19/2007 05:03:00 PM
• I'm not an HD rider at all, but this is deja vu to me.
I rode with HD guys in the pleistocene era, and they often added 6 inches of fork tube to banish tank slappers by increasing rake and trail. This evolved into the ridiculous bike-chasing-a-wheel trend of the 70s B-movies biker fad.
Why have the other marques evolved without such a reputation? I've ridden bikes from Ariel Square four to Zundapp Super Saber and never had a wheel wobble.
Well, that BSA Victim had a nasty shudder at speed.
For $20K, this shouldn't be an issue.
I don't mean to knock the Motor Co.
Its just an observation. I understand this is a predominantly HD site.
BMW, Triumph and JAP lover.
By Anonymous, at 8/17/2007 06:33:00 PM
• I had the wobble on my Dyna until I got a Sputhe Stabilizer Kit - The kit fits on the engine mounts and prevents the engine from moving side to side (allows the movement to be front to back). For $330, I had a new bike. Note: The kit only fits on Dynas.
By Anonymous, at 9/06/2007 03:53:00 PM
• I have a 2000 classic-also had a bad wobble in turns. Only when I replaced the air shocks with a pair of progressive did I realize one of the shocks was shot, anyway problem solved.Make sure one of your shocks is not losing air.
By mario machado, at 9/29/2007 12:53:00 PM
• my 2004 deuce is realy bad in the sweepers as well ... I think my harley days are over... give me a 87 super magna....thats a honda....
By scott, at 11/01/2007 04:43:00 PM
• I had my first oil change at the LaCrosse/Onalaska HD shop on Saturday 3 May 08 (odometer mileage 1950). Proceeded to Madison, WI for a wedding reception and overnighter. Sunday May 4th I rode down to meet some BON friends at Mustang Shelly's near Milwaukee for an 80 mile poker run. Coming back I-94, picked up I-90 south (odometer mileage 2400).
All day long the performance of the big bore stageII and brakes were functioning superbly! Even on the straight-a-ways punching it to match the top speedo numbers was a rush! Took the sharp left sweep doing over 80mph, sweet left hand curve!
As I was approaching the off ramp two lane exit to the 12/18 west beltline, I slowed down considerably from the high speeds of following the Chicago Autobahn folks. As I entered a very mild right hand sweep of the road that I'd taken at speeds of over 80 mph on my 2002. The front end of the bike started wobbling mysteriously out of the blue on my new 2008 Ultra, since the front was wobbling I applied the foot brake to slow me down, which caused a harder wobbling sensation in the front end of the bike. I was in the left lane, cars on the right side of me, eventually the slower I was becoming the wobbling became so uncontrolable it forced me off into the grass tundra.
The last thing I remember was looking down at the speedo (65-70 mph) and thinking "this is gonna hurt!" Suddenly I was bouncing like a rag doll and finally ended up on my left side in the fetal position. Layed there for a few minutes and layed onto my backside.
Fortunately for me, no broken bones, no internal injuries, not wearing a helmet. I was one of five MC accidents that day and the only one to walk home. You should see my dresser! Looks like a MACK truck hit me doing 70mph as if I were stopped and got hit.
I think my next bike will be a BMW! This was my 4th HD in the last 20 years of riding, none of my others had this problem?
By Anonymous, at 5/08/2008 08:06:00 PM
• I'm doing some research as of late, possibly looking at this problem as the cause of my parents Accident.
They were riding their 08 Electra-glide classic in Washington, he figures they were at about 60Mph and All Dad remembers is it starting to wobble, seeing a flash of the bottom of the bike, And Waking up to Paramedics.
Mom Still hasn't Woken From the Coma.
So I'm lookin' at possible causes.
It's bothering me to see this Wobble as Commonplace. If you can buy a Fix kit, Why isn't this part of the Bike in the first place?
Any more information anyone has would be appreciated.
Thanks. Big T.
By Anonymous, at 6/09/2008 04:54:00 PM
• sorry, i said 08, it is an 05. . . little typo there. . Big T.
By Anonymous, at 6/11/2008 01:46:00 PM
• Imagine riding on a divided highway
with a car to your right, a car behind you, and a car entering on the
upcoming on-ramp. I was in this
situation, running about 75 mph, so
in order to "clear" myself from close
traffic, I twisted the throttle up to
about 83 mph. The handlebars began
to rip back and forth in 6-8 inch jerks uncontrollably. The slower I got the worse it got, so I gassed it
wide open and it suddenly stopped. It is definitely a harmonics problem, a gyration out of sync. I've been riding over 40 years, been over 180 mph on two different
sport bikes and I have NEVER, EVER
been so frightened for my life. The
"shimmy" was UN-CONTROLLABLE. Harley WILL have to "step-up" to this problem, and the sooner the better! Barry "Hopper" Hinton_Fulton, Ms..
By berris, at 7/12/2008 04:00:00 PM
• Owned my 01 E Glide for 2 years no wobble. At one point my engine bolt came loose still no wobble. Put on a new rear tire last year no wobble. Put on a new front tire, ran 500 miles and out of the blue i have a 80 mph wobble. It is harmonic and will break if you speed up or slow down, nothing aggressive just a change. I wonder if the "harley" tires are a problem.
By Anonymous, at 7/13/2008 03:44:00 PM
• That is definitly a tire issue (last post) The balance is off or the tire is defective. The dealer should have found this when they balanced the tire unless they bubble balanced it which I doubt.
By Anonymous, at 7/17/2008 11:20:00 AM
• W C H
I have a 2008 Ultra Classic and have the front end wobble also. Dealer put a performace stabblizer for the rear end but the front still wobbles. I belive its time for a Class action suit against Harley to fix all existing problems with wobble and future HDs. HD will not respond until forced. I'm selling my HD and going to Honda which has a superior product.