How To Avoid A Tank Slapper Or Speed Wobble

Let’s hope that you never have, or nevel will have, to encounter a tank slapper while you’re riding. A tank slapper, or otherwise known as a “speed wobble,” “head shake,” or “death wobble,” is when the handlebars of a motorcycle “slap” back and forth quickly and violently. And as the last nickname accurately puts it, it can be fatal. Needless to say, this can be dangerous, and it should be avoided at all costs. Luckily, Gear Sustain has got you covered with tips to avoid a tank slapper (or “speed wobble”).

What is a motorcycle tank slapper? 

A tank slapper can be caused by a number of ways when the front wheel is lifted off of the ground, including hittle a pothole, popping a wheelie, or possibly even when accelerating (as most tank slappers happen at high speeds, which is another why the nickname “speed wobble” applies here). 

Typically when the wheel comes back to the ground it will align itself right away, but sometimes it will not land properly and overshoot to the other side, instinctively trying to correct itself. A pendulum-like oscillation then occurs rapidly, causing the bike to wobble back and forth. Bikers who have encountered a tank slapper all agree that it can be one of the most helpless feelings when riding, because it happens so quickly and will take you by shock. You might be so startled that you’re only able to watch as the handlebars excessively oscillate. Many even said it can be difficult just to hold onto the handlebars during a tank slapper. 

Avoiding a tank slapper

Proper maintenance. Many tank slappers occur because of inferior motorcycle maintenance. It’s important overall to get regular maintenance on your bike, but it’s especially important since it will play a direct result in your likelihood to have a tank slapper. 

Check to make sure that your tire pressure is sufficient, the wheels are aligned, the forks are not crooked, dented, or damaged, and that the bearings of the motorcycle are aligned to effectively guide the bike. Your suspension also needs to be checked that it is adjusted to your weight (it’s suggested that heavier riders have a better chance of not having a tank slapper, so weight adjustment with the bike is crucial) and preference (especially if you will ride off road or aggressively). 

Use a steering damper. Acting on the front of a motorcycle, a steering damper helps manage any sudden forces, uncontrolled movement, or oscillation. So, it plays a great part in prohibiting tank slappers. 

However, a steering damper does come with some drawbacks. Primarily, it will dampen turns, so you will need to exert more force to the handlebars, depending on how much resistance the damper provides. You’ll also have to double check with your installation, because an incorrect adjustment of the steering damper will make it more difficult to straighten a turn. And, as expected, a steering damper won’t completely stop tank slappers, but it does fix the root of tank-slapper problems, so it can be very helpful (and safe). 

Riding posture. Putting all of your weight on to the handlebars and holding too tightly isn’t the proper way to ride your bike, and it can put you more at risk to a tank slapper. A tight grip of the handlebars especially, along with other poor posture techniques, will only magnify a tank slapper. 

You will have to better position: 

  • Your feet – having the balls of the feet on the pegs to better move your feet as needed throughout your ride.
  • Your seat – hanging one cheek off of the seat during a turn gives you a good foundation with the body (so you won’t require your arms to take full control) while maintaining a neutral position. Sitting a small way back from the tank also is beneficial so you can easily slide sideways and be in sync with your lower body. 
  • Your lower body – as mentioned, the lower body is instrumental in maintaining good posture and ride safety as a result. Stability of the lower body will allow you not put all of your weight on the handlebars when cornering, preventing any unneeded stress from the front of the bike. 
  • Your upper body – with all of the above recommendations taken into action, your upper body can then serve as a balance by being able to lean into turns, committing to the direction you want to go. 

Be smart. A lot of the causes for a tank slapper can be because of stupid mistakes. So, one of the most effective ways to prevent a tank slapper is to ride with caution proactively. This includes not trying stunts, like a wheelie, or excessively speeding. Driving cautiously will keep you in check for avoiding any tank slappers. 

When in a tank slapper

Even if you find yourself in a tank slapper, you still have some control over the situation, but you need to react quickly and confidently. One of the best methods for getting out is accelerating and leaning back. This will reduce the weight on the front of the bike and hopefully give you control over the oscillations shortly. 

This is easier said than done, especially to go against a natural reaction of breaking or holding on to the handlebars tightly. That’s why it is better to think ahead and try to avoid a tank slapper at all costs with these tips. 

Final Thoughts 

A tank slapper is no joke. It can be a frightening, and possibly deadly, experience to happen to while riding. Experts and beginners alike don’t like running into them, and neither should you. Think clearly and proactively while you ride so that you have a fun, enjoyable, and safe experience on your bike.