, speed wobble
, and even death wobble
are all words and phrases used to describe a quick (4 - 10 Hz) oscillation of primarily just the steerable wheel(s) of a vehicle. The rest of the vehicle remains mostly unaffected. Vehicles that can experience this oscillation include bikes, both motorcycles
, and in theory any vehicle with a single steering pivot point and a sufficient amount of freedom of the steered wheel; this does not include most automobiles
, however, coil-sprung vehicles with a track bar
setup such as the Jeep WJ, XJ, ZJ, and TJ with both stock and after-market suspension lifts may have this problem also. This instability occurs mostly at high speed and is similar to that experienced by shopping cart wheels and aircraft landing gear.
Sustained oscillation has two necessary components: An underdamped second order or higher system
and a positive feedback mechanism
. An example of an underdamped second order system is a spring and mass system
where the mass can bob up and down (oscillate) when hanging from a spring.
Wobble or shimmy begins when some otherwise minor irregularity accelerates the wheel to one side. The restoring force is applied in phase with the progress of the irregularity, and the wheel turns to the other side where the process is repeated. If there is insufficient damping
in the steering the oscillation will increase until system failure. The oscillation frequency can be changed by changing the forward speed, making the bike stiffer or lighter, or increasing the stiffness of the steering, of which the rider is a main component. While wobble or shimmy can be easily remedied by adjusting speed, position, or grip on the handlebar, they can be fatal if left uncontrolled.
Since shimmy frequency is independent of bike speed, gyroscopic effects "are clearly not essential to the phenomenon." The top five influences on wobble have been found to be lateral stiffness of the front tire, steering damper, height of bike center of mass, distance of bike center of mass from rear wheel, and cornering stiffness of the front tire.
An academic paper that investigated wobble through physical experimentation and computer modeling, concludes "the influence on wobble mode of front tyre characteristics, front frame inertia and chassis stiffness were shown. In particular, it shows that increasing front tire inflation, stiffness chassis, and front frame inertia about steering axis and decreasing sideslip stiffness of front tire, wobble mode damping is improved, promoting vehicle stability.