How to beat speed wobbles on the bike

Are you getting into trouble going downhill? The good news is it's completely avoidable

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Speed wobbles on the bike are a curious phenomenon. At best they’re frightening. At worst they can result in a crash. But the good news is that they’re completely avoidable.

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What is a speed wobble?

A speed wobble is a fast oscillation of the front wheel. It starts as a little shimmy and can lead to the whole bike shaking uncontrollably from side to side.

Your instinct when the front end starts to wobble is to try to control it by tightening your grip on the handlebars and attempting to force the front end to stay straight. Chances are that this will actually make things worse, while getting your hands on the brake levers can be impossible because of all that movement.

How do you stop a speed wobble

You can cure a speed wobble by altering your speed, your position or your grip on the handlebar. Here’s one well-proven technique: clamp your bike’s top tube between your knees with your cranks horizontal and stationary. 

Then you need to try to relax your white-knuckle grip on the handlebars. You don’t want to let go of the bars entirely, but you do need to slacken your hold slightly. Taking some of your weight off the saddle without standing up can also help. This might sound crazy, but if you do this the bike will start to calm down and the wobbles will diminish. Honestly! It works every time.

Cyclist going downhill

So when the speed wobbles strike, rather than tensing up, you need to take a deep breath, calm down and go through this simple process.

Make sure you practise the technique first though

Of course, you shouldn’t wait for the speed wobbles to hit before learning the technique. Try gripping the top tube between your knees in training, initially on the flat, then while descending and finally while descending at speed. Then store the technique in your memory bank ready for an emergency.

Once you know this little trick, you can use it whenever you feel the speed wobbles coming on and stop them ever becoming a major problem in the first place.

(Images: Jonny Gawler / Ben Winston)

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