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What is a Speed Wobble?

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Have you ever been riding FAST down a descent and your bike starts to speed wobble?

It’s a frightening experience and I hope that you were able to safely navigate the wobbles without crashing. In this article, we’ll answer any questions you may have pertaining to speed wobbles.

bicycle speed wobbles

What is a Speed Wobble?

A speed wobble is when the front of your bike begins to shake uncontrollably. It’s a term that is used to describe an oscillation of your bike’s handlebars that occurs at high speeds. Any vehicle that has a single steering pivot has the potential of experiencing speed wobbles.

Other names for speed wobble include: speed shimmy, death wobble, tank slapper, and the bicycle shakes.

What causes a speed wobble?

Surprisingly, no one knows 100% exactly what causes a speed wobble. There are a few theories on what causes a bike to speed wobble.

The first theory is that your bikes tires aren’t perfectly aligned. Because the alignment is off the tires are fighting against each other which causes the steering wheel to shake at a certain speed.

Another reason for the cause of a speed wobble is that your bicycle isn’t stiff enough. If the top tube is not stiff enough and most of your weight is on the saddle, than the front of the bicycle can pivot from the seat tube and oscillation can occur.

Modern bikes are stiffer than older bicycles, and are known to be less prone to speed wobbles.

For some, they’re sure that the wobble started because they were too tense or cold on their ride. Their arms were slightly shaking ,and this is what started the wobble.

There are many cyclists who experienced a scary speed wobble, because of a strong gust of wind. The gust hit them, and initiated the wobble.

Weight distribution could also be a key factor in what causes a speed wobble. If as a rider your weight is primarily on the back of the back than it allows the front of your bike more freedom to shimmy and shake.

An easy way to help prevent speed wobbles is by holding onto the handlebars, and keeping a proper distribution of weight throughout your bike.

What To Do When You Get A Speed Wobble on a Bicycle

  • Stay calm! Speed wobbles can come out of nowhere, but stay relaxed.
  • Squeeze your knees together on the top tube. This will help distribute your weight across your bike and provide stability. Personally, this is the #1 advice I can give when speed wobbles start. I’ve experienced my bike shaking while going over 35 mph and this trick helped me get control of my bike.
  • Don’t stand up, but slightly lift your weight from the saddle.
  • Your natural instinct when speed wobbles suddenly start is to grip the handlebar even tighter, but the harder your grip the worse the wobbles get. Instead you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a relaxed grip on the handlebars, and to bend your arms to act as suspension.
  • Obviously, you’ll want to slow down. Don’t slam on the brakes, but starting with the rear brake slowly begin to decrease your speed until the bike stops shaking.

Speed Wobbles are Scary

Take note of what to do in case you ever find yourself riding your bike and get the wobbles. You want to be prepared, because crashing a bike is never fun.

Just remember to bend your arms, squeeze your knees on the top tube, and use your rear brake to slow down.

Speed wobbles shouldn’t be happening every time you go down a hill or increase in speed. If so, you’ll need to evaluate your bike and weight distribution.

It’s possible that there’s an issue with your bicycle or the way you position yourself while riding. Keep your weight distributed throughout your bike, a relaxed grip on your handlebars, and arms bent to act as suspension.

Also different riders can experience speed wobbles on different bikes. For one rider the can go high speed down a hill without any trouble, while another cyclist will experience severe speed wobbles on the exact same bicycle.

Just because your friend has no trouble with speed wobbles on a particular bike doesn’t mean you’ll have the same experience.