Harley Davidson Motorcycles: Why Are Some Claiming They’re Defectively Designed?
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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Harley Davidson motorcycles, commonly referred to simply as Harley’s, are being associated with what many are calling a serious design flaw. It’s being referred to as the Harley wobble and seems to have even the loyalist Harley riders concerned.
What’s it all about?
Kevin Liebeck, a California attorney whose practice represents plaintiffs in personal injury, medical malpractice and products liability actions, explained the phenomenon in a recent interview:
It’s a rather transient phenomenon as far as its occurrence in nature, if you will. It is going to be a function of getting the motorcycle into a situation where it has some dynamic inputs that are going to excite this particular condition. You’ll ordinarily find it in turns when the rear tire of the motorcycle is being loaded with a lateral “g” component. That’s when you’re going to begin to distort the relationship between the swing arm and the frame and you may start to see an input into the motorcycle as a result of that – when the longitudinal plane of the motorcycle and the longitudinal plane of the engine in the swing arm can become divergent from one another.
Liebeck put it in simpler terms. He told us, “What you’re effectively having happen is that the rear wheel is changing its angle relative to the centerline of the motorcycle and is, in essence, steering it.” He provided the following example:
If you have the handlebars pulling the motorcycle straight ahead, then the angle of the front wheel is the same as the angle of the frame of the motorcycle. So, the centerline of the motorcycle and the centerline of the front wheel are identical when it’s straight ahead. When you start to turn the handlebar, you change that angle. You change the angle of the front tire relative to the longitudinal plane of the motorcycle or the centerline of the motorcycle and as a result – the motorcycle turns whichever direction you have turned the handlebars.
This is what’s happening, except it’s happening to the rear wheel. It’s not something that the rider can control because the angle of the rear wheel is changing as a function of forces being imparted on it from the road. So, if you’re essentially steering it from both ends, you can see where you can run into a problem very quickly as a rider.
Other variables may have an impact
Other variables, such as the rider’s weight, the weight distribution of equipment/gear on the motorcycle, how much gas is in it, whether it’s going uphill or downhill and whether the driver is on the throttle or off the throttle or brakes are also dynamics that have to be taken into consideration, according to Liebeck, who said:
If you get the right set of variables – and if those variables come together – what will happen is that the bike will start to oscillate back and forth and it will literally store energy like a spring. So, with every oscillation back and forth, it gets worse and it is a very short period of time before somebody can be thrown off the motorcycle.
This can happen even to an experienced rider and happens very, very quickly. Everything goes from perfectly normal to extremely abnormal in the blink of an eye. It is a sensation for which the rider is unlikely to have any experience; it’s a feeling that does not make sense to the rider.
If you’ve been injured on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, contact an motorcycle accident attorney whose practice focuses in this area of the law. Consultations are free, without obligation and are strictly confidential.