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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 4/5
Section - 8h.5 Shimmy or Speed Wobble

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 4/5
Previous Document: 8h.4 SPD cleat compatability
Next Document: 8h.6 Soft Bicycle Saddles
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Date:    Mon, 16 Aug 2004 00:29:14 -0700

Shimmy, a spontaneous steering oscillation of the front wheel, usually
occurs at a predictable speed when riding no-hands.  The likelihood of
shimmy is greatest when the only rider-to-bicycle contact is at the
saddle and pedals.  This position gives the least damping by hands,
arms, and legs.  When shimmy occurs on descents, with hands on the
bars, it is highly disconcerting because the most common rider
response, of gripping the bars firmly, only increases it.

Shimmy is not related to frame alignment or loose bearings, as is
often claimed.  Shimmy results from dynamics of front wheel rotation,
mass of the handlebars, elasticity of the frame, and where the rider
contacts the bicycle.  Both perfectly aligned bicycles and ones with
wheels out of plane to one another shimmy nearly equally well.  It is
as likely with properly adjusted bearings as loose ones.  The idea
that shimmy is related to bearing adjustment or alignment has been
established by repetition.

Bicycle shimmy is the lateral oscillation of the head tube about the
road contact point of the front wheel and depends largely on frame
geometry and the elasticity of the top and down tubes.  It is driven
by gyroscopic forces of the front wheel, making it largely speed
dependent.  It cannot be fixed by adjustments because it is inherent
to the geometry and elasticity of the bicycle frame.  The longer the
frame and the higher the saddle, the greater the tendency to shimmy,
other things being equal.  Weight distribution also has no effect on
shimmy although where that weight contacts the frame does.  Bicycle
shimmy is unchanged when riding no-hands, whether leaning forward or

Shimmy requires a spring and a mass about which to oscillate and these
are furnished by the frame and seated rider.  Unloading the saddle
(without standing up) will stop shimmy.  Pedaling or rough road will
also reduce the tendency to shimmy.  In contrast, coasting no-hands
downhill on a smooth road at more than 20mph with the cranks vertical
seems to be the most shimmy prone condition.

When coasting no-hands, laying one leg against the top tube is the
most common way to inhibit shimmy and also one of the most common ways
to coast no-hands.  Compliant tread of knobby tires usually have
sufficient squirming damping to suppress shimmy.  Weight of the
handlebar and its extension from of the steering axis also affects
shimmy.

Shimmy is caused by the gyroscopic force of the front wheel whose tilt
is roughly at right angles to the steering axis, making the wheel
steer to the left when it leans to the left.  This steering action
twists the toptube and downtube, storing energy that both limits
travel and causes a return swing.  Trail (caster) of the fork acts on
the wheel to limit these excursions and return them toward center.

Shimmy that concerns riders the most occurs with hands firmly on the
bars and it is rider generated by muscular effect whose natural
response is the same as the shimmy frequency, about that of Human
shivering.  Descending in cold weather can be difficult for this
reason.  The rider's "death grip" only enhances the incidence of
shimmy in this situation.  Loosely holding the bars between thumb and
forefinger is a way of avoiding shimmy when cold.

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Previous Document: 8h.4 SPD cleat compatability
Next Document: 8h.6 Soft Bicycle Saddles

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