Diagnosing Steering Wobbles

Posted by Bare | Last Updated August 23, 2013

This article is written for those experiencing steering wobbles and struggling to resolve them. Steering wobbles can come from unexpected places outside of the usual suspects and most riders don’t realize how tiny little things can have a magnified affect on steering wobble under certain conditions. It is important to understand that steering wobbles can be caused by one big problem or a combination of many small ones. This means that diagnosing a wobble can sometimes take a lot of time, testing and troubleshooting before a true solution to the problem is found.

The first thing I usually recommend to someone experiencing a steering wobble is to ask a trusted friend (and experienced rider!) to take the bike for a spin. Obviously this doesn’t apply for dangerous or severe wobble situations, but a second opinion of a “normal” wobble can sometimes be enlightening. It has been my experience that sometimes people will overanalyze a problem like this to such a degree that they begin to confuse normal functioning with characteristics of steering wobble.

This list is loosely compiled from easiest to check/most likely to cause problems at the top and harder to check/less likely to cause problems towards the bottom.

Things to check when experiencing steering wobbles:

  • Check your tire pressure
  • Check for “cupped” or badly uneven tire wear (especially the rear tire)
  • Check both wheels to see if they lost a wheel weight
  • Remove both wheels
    • Check for bad bearings
    • Check trueness of axles
    • Check trueness of the wheels (primarily for spoke wheels)
    • Reinstall both wheels making sure they are installed properly
  • If you have a windshield, remove it. If the wobble goes away with the shield then reinstall it but adjust it. Minor tweaks of as little as 1/8″ can impact airflow and in turn cause or affect wobble. Sometimes a windshield can be mounted unevenly and this can cause wobble. This same thing applies to lowers as well.
  • Sit on the bike, squeeze the front hand brake to lock the front wheel and push forward. Do this a few times and listen for a clicking noise. Sometimes loading the front end in this manner will cause a bad or dry (all grease is gone) bearing to click. While doing this also watch closely to see if the steering stem/triple tree shows any signs of movement or “slop” in the bearings.
  • With the bike on a lift slowly turn the front end side to side, lock to lock and feel for flat spots, rough spots, etc in the bearings. Anything other than a completely smooth motion is an indication of bearing problems. Make sure when you’re doing this that you do not confuse drag or rubbing caused by wires and cables with actual bearing problems. Like in the last check you can also try lightly pushing and lifting the front end to check for movement or “slop” in the bearings.
  • If either of the 2 checks above point towards bad steering stem bearings then replace them
  • If all else fails to show improvement and the bearings appear to be ok you can try adjusting the stem tension using the assembly article as a guide. Obviously you will not need to disassemble and reassemble the entire steering stem, just use the article as a guide for setting and checking the proper pre-load.
  • Check the swingarm bearings, bad swingarm bearings can cause the wheels to not track in a straight line.
  • Check your suspension
    • Do you have overly sagged or worn-out front springs?
    • Is it possible you have worn out fork components like slider bushings? (high mileage mostly)
    • Do you have enough of the proper weight oil in the forks? (usually only an issue after a fork seal leak)
    • Are your forks aligned properly in the triple trees?
    • Are your rear shock bushings worn out?
    • Has anything suspension related been adjusted that could throw the steering geometry out of whack?
  • Check your tires
    • Are you running mixed brands front and rear? On rare occasion 2 different brands won’t “play well together”
    • Are you mixing bias-ply and radials? This is only OK if the radial is in the back
  • Has the bike been wrecked or laid down?
    • Are the front forks and triple trees twisted?
    • Is it possible you have a bent frame?
  • When all else fails start checking around the bike for any bit of weight that can vibrate. It is best to remove whatever you can, even if only temporarily, to eliminate the source of the problem. If you get to this point and nothing else has worked then you really need to start looking long and hard at almost every nut & bolt on the bike for a cause or solution
    • Adjust exhaust hanger brackets
    • Check motor mounts and mounting hardware
    • Check luggage and saddlebags – ensure they are packed in a balanced manner

2 Responses to “Diagnosing Steering Wobbles”

  1. Shawn says:

    I had the same problem. Removed the wheel and the Dyna beads had gunck on them and were sticking together. This was after about 8k miles.

  2. BROKA says:

    I had Front wheel bounce and wobble and it just kept getting on my nerves cause i new i had a bad Metzeler made in Brazil! I told the dealer right from the start that the tire was Bad. I tuned up the spokes with an inch/lb torque wrench. Spoked wheels are welded chromed rims that will always bounce a little. Dyna Beads in tubes are very good at balancing spoked wheels!
    Also, new Shinko 230 tour master great handling tire!!

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