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Common motorcycle handling issues and how to fix them

Has your motorcycle been handling strangely? Here's what you can do.

Motorcycle Rider POV

The feeling of a motorcycle not handling as sharply as before may be a little disconcerting to many riders out there. Issues with handling could present themselves in more ways than one making diagnosis and repair a little bit tricky to the average rider. While major issues will definitely need the eye and magic touch of a trained mechanic, more common handling issues can often be diagnosed and attended to at home. If you’ve found that your motorcycle carries itself differently as compared to before, here are a few things you can look into for your own safety.

Most common issues

BMW Cafe Racer

Before we jump into the more technical side of handling issues, it would be best to first pay attention to the more common issues that may cause uncertain or unsettling handling. The first and most common would be to inflate your tires to the correct tire pressure as dictated by your service manual. Poorly inflated tires can lead to vague steering, poor grip, and uneven tire wear. The next thing you may want to look into is whether your suspension adjustments are dialed into factory settings. Pay attention to your preload and any damping and fork height settings—you want to make sure that they are within factory specifications for the additional weight on your motorcycle including the rider, the passenger, and accessory luggage.

The last thing to check would be any leaks in your suspension. Leaks will definitely cause poor damping and vague handling characteristics and should be resolved at a reputable shop or at your dealership. After you’ve checked and resolved these more common issues which can lead to poor handling characteristics, go out for another test ride to see your problems have been fixed. If your issues have been fixed, then you won’t need to reassess the diagnosis. However, if you’ve found that your issues haven’t gone away, you may want to check out the next few sections in order to get down to the bottom of your handling issues.

Misaligned rear tire

Motorcycle Swing Arm

The next most common issue that may cause uncertain handling feel is a misaligned rear tire. This often happens after a chain slack adjustment, removal and reinstallation of the rear tire, or simple wear and tear. A misaligned rear tire can cause a motorcycle to veer left or right on a straight line, or cause your right turns to feel vague compared to the left turns, or vice versa. You can attend to a simple rear tire alignment job at home with the right tools and it shouldn’t take any more than 15 minutes to get your rear tire dialed to the correct settings. Make sure to follow the instructions of your service manual for best results.

Misaligned forks

Motorcycle Forks

If you’ve fixed your rear tire alignment and have found that your motorcycle still behaves quite unnaturally on a straight line or through corners, you may want to look at your front fork alignment. Your motorcycle’s forks typically get misaligned after a fall or a light accident, but can also be caused by improper assembly of the front suspension or regular wear and tear. To fix misaligned forks, you will need to loosen the bolts on the bottom of your triple clamp, hop on your motorcycle, hold the front brakes, and pump on the front forks using your upper body weight. After a good few pumps, keep your motorcycle standing upright and have the triple clamp bolts tightened to factory torque specifications by someone else. It’s important to keep your motorcycle upright while the clamps are being tightened for best results.

Old or worn out tires

Motorcycle Tires

If you’ve found that your motorcycle is still handling quite strangely after aligning your rear tire and your front forks, it may be time to pay attention to your tires. If your tires are worn out unevenly or are expired, you may experience vague handling on your motorcycle. A motorcycle tire’s production date can be found on the sidewall of the tire, typically indicated by a 4-digit number. A motorcycle tire typically expires 5 years after the manufacturing date and should be replaced immediately.

Unevenly worn-out tires on the other hand can lead to vague and unsettling handling characteristics, including poor acceleration and braking, tires skipping or sliding, a tendency for the motorcycle to veer left or right in a straight line, or excessive road noise. Unevenly worn-out tires typically come in the form of a squared-off tire which has a very flat center band from excessive straight-line only riding, or cupped or scalloped tires that have uneven tire wear between the left and right portions of the tire. These kinds of wear patterns are dangerous to your motorcycle’s handling, in which case you will need to swap out your tires to a brand new set in order to restore the ideal handling characteristics of your motorcycle.

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