Some Harley motorcycles plagued by ‘Death Wobble’ – Video

The last thing a rider wants to do on a motorcycle is lose control, but that’s what some Harley-Davidson riders say happened to them.

To riders such as Vince Herre, the bikes are a status symbol. “I like it just because it’s Harley-Davidson,” Herre said.

Other riders, such as Cliff Anderson, said there’s a certain amount of homegrown pride.

“It’s an iconic piece of America,” he says.

Riders such as Blake Tomlinson said they think riding a Harley-Davidson is a way of life.

“To drive one is the ultimate sense of freedom,” Tomlinson said.

To Jerry Costa, it was only a matter of time before he owned one.

“I had Triumphs, a Suzuki, Hondas and Yamahas. I had all of them before I ever had a Harley,” said Costa.

The Peoria biker has been riding for 40 years.

“This is my fifth Harley,” Costa said.

But no amount of road experience could have prepared Costa for what happened in October along a scenic highway just south of Prescott.

“I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. I wasn’t doing anything I hadn’t done a thousand times before. I had been on that road a couple hundred times,” Costa said.

Costa said his speed was about 25-30 mph when, “The whole bike started shaking. I had no idea why the bike was vibrating like that, and it wasn’t a little vibrating. I never felt anything like that in my life.”

“I got this thought in my head I’m going over the ravine, and I don’t want to go down,” Costa said.

Costa did go down and was flown to a Phoenix hospital, where he coded and then slipped into a coma. Five days later, he awoke with a quadruple compound leg fracture, eight broken ribs and a punctured lung.

His massive Harley-Davidson Road King was totaled.

Costa blames faulty equipment for the accident, but Harley blames him.

“They say it’s operator error,” Costa said.

Costa is not alone.

A CBS 5 Investigation found similar incidents across the U.S. The possible equipment malfunction Costa describes has become known as the Harley-Davidson Wobble, or “Death Wobble.”

A camera mounted on a Georgia state trooper’s police-issued Harley shows Officer Richard Barber traveling 90 mph along an interstate. His 2007 Harley Electra Glide begins to shimmy and wobble. Eventually, Barber is able to stop the bike safely.

But a Raleigh, N.C., police officer was not so lucky. In 2002, 30-year-old Charles Paul was thrown from his Harley Electra Glide after it began to wobble. He died, and his family later settled a wrongful death suit with Harley-Davidson in 2008.

Harley’s have been widely used by law enforcement. But the California Highway Patrol decided not to put their troopers on Harley’s after testing the bike by comparing it to BMW bikes. A 2006 test track video shows the Harley side-by-side with the BMW. In the video, you can see the Harley wobbles when heading into and out of turns. The CHP report also says the bike wobbled on the straightaways.

Court cases against the company have centered on these bikes: the Road King, Ultra Classic, the Electra Glide and FLH series. The suits focus on their patented design for keeping the engine mounted to the frame of the bike. Critics argue the system is susceptible to a side-to-side motion, causing a wobble.

Harley-Davidson does acknowledge that its bikes are susceptible to a weave or wobble — depending on the bike’s speed. But they said that this does not cause accidents, and that weave or wobble happens to other bike manufacturers, regardless if it is a Harley or not. Harley also said the wobble problem is worsened when riders add on certain parts and suggests people follow the owner’s manual.

Jerry Costa said wobble is what happened to his bike, and it haunts him during his long days in physical therapy, where he learns how to do the simple task of moving his ankle again.

Costa can’t sue Harley-Davidson because he’s already settled with insurance, but he said he doesn’t want a payout.

“That’s not what I’m after. I want people to know about this. I don’t want more people falling off these bikes,” Costa said.

24 Comments on Some Harley motorcycles plagued by ‘Death Wobble’ – Video

  1. Anonymous // April 10, 2016 at 9:31 pm //

    I have had different models of Harleys to include the electra glide and now owning a ultra…Ive never had a wobble in any of the bikes…..Harleys excuse that add on may cause this is pure BS tho. Be safe everyone….

  2. i think its a fork issue. one fork is leaking oil or empty. only my theory but its def a problem.

  3. I currently ride two Harley’s, one a 12 softail and one a flhxs, the only time ever since the 60’s i experienced wobble was on a Honda I did a full chop on myself with no understanding of rake and trail, it wobbled predictably at high speed and in low speed turns. I named it the Widow Maker

  4. Anonymous // April 11, 2016 at 4:52 am //

    i ride a 2005 softail and i experienced this severe wobble within the first 4 months of ownership. We found the wobble for me was due to loose spokes from the factory.

  5. Anonymous // April 11, 2016 at 8:53 am //

    i had my first Harley at 16 basket case and and ten more after that i have been on two wheels since I was 8 years old I was 47 at the time when my road glide and myself went off the road at 35 mph left me with a back broke in four places bleeding on the brain broken sternum and it was reported as operator error I have well over 200,000 miles under my belt on a scooter never have I not been able to control a bike even in blinding rain storms with no were to pull over Harley said its not true about the death wobble I don’t no if it was the wind that started it catching the faring or grooving in the road or both of them but it happens

  6. Mr Cartwright // April 11, 2016 at 8:13 pm //

    I had it couple of times on my road king ’05
    Never had it on softail

  7. Anonymous // April 11, 2016 at 10:36 pm //

    Had that wobble happen on a1982 cb900 honda at about 120mph but not on my ultra yet.

  8. Anonymous // April 12, 2016 at 12:26 am //

    Harley Just buck up and fix it …What the fuck.. Toyota stands by their product, replacing frames at 12 grand a pop… Why can’t you buck up and fix your problem? without FUCKING your customers…And why do Harley Dealers have this ” You need us more than we need you ” attitude ? Good example of fuck you dealers is High Octane HD Laconia HD ..Good dealer example is Sheldons HD and American HD

  9. My 2007 Heritage was rock solid at any speed or condition. My 2009 Heritage just doesn’t feel the same. I have never had a wobble but I get that feeling one can happen if I rode it like my 2007. It’s a little shaky.

  10. Clayton Sandmel // April 12, 2016 at 4:02 pm //

    The only time I’ve ever had a wobble on an H-D was at 130 mph,after getting it stopped and checking it out. I found out it was my fault,loose spokes and low tire pressure on both front and rear tires. I have a 2012 ultra classic now and average around 6000 miles a year and have yet to have any handling problems.

  11. Anonymous // April 12, 2016 at 6:56 pm //

    Happened on both my Harleys.

  12. Hillbilly // April 13, 2016 at 1:50 am //

    on my 3rd Harley 97 Ultra, a 06 Ultra & now a 2012 Limited; over 125k on these bikes in 30 plus states & into Canada. Only time had a wobble was from front tire going flat while traveling, this happened when I slowed down to exit interstate; good thing H-D dealership was at that exit for a fix.

  13. I have a 2015 dyna fld, I have it,mostly heading into a left turn but have had it in straights, my servicing dealer does not seem to concerned…told the wife if it kills me to sue the dealer and harley, Harley knows about it,after I bought mine I found there were recalls and there was a 2012 bulletin out on chance at making my wife and daughter rich.

  14. I also have a 2015 Dyna FLD (Switchback) 12″ apes, highway pegs. Up to 90mph 6000 miles. Never had a problem. Solid bike.

  15. I also have a 2015 Dyna FLD (Switchback) 12″ apes, highway pegs. Up to 90mph 6000 miles. Never had a problem. Solid bike.

  16. Alan Sicard // April 21, 2016 at 10:23 pm //

    2005 FLSTSCI noticed a slight wobble while cornering, had it checked and all the spokes on the drive belt side were loose. after tightening and truing the wheel haven’t noticed it again. Knock on wood…

  17. 120mph & 130mph! On your Harley! You guys reckon? Ho ho he he. Such an imagination! The guy had a speed wobble and crashed, happens all the time, a bit like a dog ran out, I swerved to miss a cat, and they came outa nowhere!

  18. Terry morris // April 27, 2016 at 3:24 am //

    I ha w own of 30 harley but my 2013 road glide need have a wooble from the first bu t we tighten up the fork bearing and now it gone so it sh is happen

  19. I feel loss of control on windy days with the front fairings and also the centerline wheels on highway speeds on windy days as well,wobles I noticed happening with worn old shocks in the back or dry of oil in one front fork as well,i’ve had bikes 40yrs and watched others wobble in slight turns or bumpy road conditons and found bad shocks or misadjusted even bad or lose swing arm bearings as well as goose neck bearings,when buying a bike always beware of a tweaked frame from even a minor collision,a simple ride and lightly let go of the handle bars will tell you if the bike pulls to one side,also poor rear wheel alignment,many rarely ever check,it’s a Harley and most just wax and ride,like your car,everything must be checked even more so after all your on 2 wheels not four and no fenders to help the impact! RIDE SAFE,RIDE SMART!

  20. I have a 2011 softail deluxe , and when I accelorate it’s fine, but when i let off the gas the front end begins to wobble !

  21. Problem Fixed.!!

  22. Anonymous // May 17, 2016 at 5:04 pm //

    I ride a 05 Heritage softail classic.. I bought it in 2014 it had 7000 miles on odometer. It had a wobble at all speeds whenever i would let of of the throttle. I took it to Harley they said nothing was wrong. I took it to a real motorcycle mechanic , and he new exactly what i was talking about and didn’t even have to ride it. He pulled my motorcycle in his garage and torqued the bolts for the clamps that are holding the forks. And charged me 35$ and problem solved…. No more wobble at any speed .NOW I RIDE IT LIKE I STOLE IT ALL THE TIME NO PROBLEM. SO the answer is get a real mechanic if it’s wobbling get it fixed.!!!!! Don’t ride the f-ing thing until.

  23. I think its all the bull shit they add to there bike.some people want to ride a bike ,but want all the shit of a car????I never seen this and I hve had 7-8 all different harles

  24. Bob Collins // May 26, 2016 at 12:36 am //

    Wobble lose spokes, flat tire, spacer missing on rear wheel. Never heard about motor mounting issues sure it could happen.
    I have had Everthing but the spacer problem I watched this happen to another dude ounce.I did have a broke seconday sprocket break and bind up in the chain at nighty miles a hour on a honda. Rear wheel locked up the thought crossed my mind what happens when the air escapes the tire and starts wind g up in the fender.
    There was a long stripe on the concrete and the tire held. Me I sold the motorcycle on the spot for seventy five dollars it’s all the man had.

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