Wobble, shimmy, tank-slapper, 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. Initially, the rest of the vehicle remains mostly unaffected, until translated into a vehicle yaw oscillation of increasing amplitude producing loss of control. Vehicles that can experience this oscillation include motorcycles and bicycles, skateboards, and in theory any vehicle with a single steering pivot point and a sufficient amount of freedom of the steered wheel, including that which exists on some light aircraft with tricycle gear where instability can occur at speeds of less than 50 mph; this does not include most automobiles. However, coil-sprung vehicles with a track bar setup such as the Jeep WJ, XJ, ZJ, TJ, and JK with both stock and after-market suspension lifts may also have this problem. The initial 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.
In two-wheeled vehicles
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, it 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 [by] 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."
- Bicycle and motorcycle dynamics
- Caster flutter
- Hunting oscillation
- Vehicle dynamics
- Hough, David L. (2000). "Glossary". Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well (2nd ed.). USA: BowTie Press. p. 253. ISBN 1-889540-53-6. "tank slapper: a speed wobble so severe that the handlebars bang alternately against the sides of the fuel tank"
- Wilson, David Gordon; Jim Papadopoulos (2004). Bicycling Science (Third Edition ed.). The MIT Press. pp. 263–390. ISBN 0-262-73154-1.
- Cossalter, Vittore (2006). Motorcycle Dynamics (Second Edition ed.). Lulu.com. pp. 241–342. ISBN 978-1-4303-0861-4.
- Kettler, Bill (2004-09-15). "Crash kills cyclist". Mail Tribune. Retrieved 2006-08-04.
- Manfred Plöchl; Johannes Edelmann, Bernhard Angrosch, & Christoph Ott (07 Jul 2011). "On the wobble mode of a bicycle". Vehicle System Dynamics: International Journal of Vehicle Mechanics and Mobility (Taylor & Francis) 50 (3): 415–429. ISSN 0042-3114.
- Mauro, Salvador; Fabris, Davide (May 27-28, 2004). "Study of stability of a two wheeled vehicle through experiments on the road and in laboratory" (PDF). Modena, Italy. Retrieved 2008-08-31.