The Harley Davidson Wobble: What Is It?

Harley Davidson has been manufacturing motorcycles for over 100 years. Their bikes, known for their distinctive design, are very popular with the general public – and police forces – for which the company supplies bikes. However, many riders are experiencing a very dangerous problem as of late. It’s referred to as “the Harley wobble” and has been linked to serious injuries and deaths.

What is the Harley wobble?

To answer that question, we asked Kevin Liebeck, a California attorney whose practice represents plaintiffs in personal injury, medical malpractice and products liability actions. He explained:

The issue is basically a problem in the manner in which the engine is mounted into the frame and is constrained within the frame from motion. The reason this presents a problem is because the swing arm, the rear suspension member of the motorcycle which is the pivot point, is mounted to the aft end of the transmission on these Harley-Davidson motorcycles. If the engine is not constrained in all three axles, you can develop an elastic relationship between the swing arm and the frame of the motorcycle. While the system isn’t novel, there are a lot of motorcycles that do have some sort of a system to isolate engine vibrations from the rest of the motorcycle. Harley's method is patented.

Liebeck says that the problem has become known as the Harley wobble, the rear steer and even the death wobble – and for good reason as the condition can kill you.

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Why hasn’t Harley Davidson instituted a recall?

That’s what many riders and consumer groups want to know. Liebeck explained, “I believe that they haven’t because it would involve recalling tens of thousands of motorcycles. Furthermore, they deny that this situation exists at all. If they admitted that the problem exists, I would expect that they’re going to have a whole lot of people suing them for injuries that they have sustained as a result of these accidents.”

However, Liebeck says that Harley has an advantage in these types of cases. He told us:

Harley is playing with a full deck of cards in these situations, if you will, because I think that many jurors are of the mentality that motorcycles are dangerous and that riders fall off of them all the time for no reason. It's easy to suggest that the rider was going too fast and simply lost control because they were riding beyond their abilities.

This is a situation that is much more likely to occur in a turn or at high speeds. People report it as occurring around 90, 95, or even 100 miles an hour. Well, where can you legally ride a motorcycle in the United States at 95 or 100 miles an hour? Nowhere; so these people are going to be speeding. They're going to be on a canyon road that is real curvy or simply going too fast. I think that makes for a really fantastic defense for Harley in a lot of respects because they can point to what the conduct was and say look, this isn't a problem with our motorcycle; this guy just overcooked it into a corner and ran out of talent. So, don’t blame us.

While that can be a defense for the company, it doesn’t mean that riders can’t be compensated for their injuries. An experienced attorney will be able to determine whether a case exists. 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.

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