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Riding Right: Why Is My Bike So Top-Heavy?

We have the answer

By Jerry “Motorman” Palladino


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I must get this question via email five or six times a day, every day: “I just got a brand-new (fill in the blank), and it’s so top-heavy! What can I do?”  

First, let’s get one thing straight: It ain’t the bike. There’s no such thing as top-heavy. It’s simple physics. The bike has two wheels—one in the front and one in the back. If you don’t put the kickstand down, obviously the bike will fall over. If you’re going extremely slow and you don’t keep power to the rear wheel with your clutch and throttle, the bike will fall over. It’s called gravity.    

why is my bike so top heavy sportster
Some Sportsters have a reputation for feeling top-heavy.

Why does the bike feel stable at higher speeds? Why is it that you don’t have a problem balancing a bike above 15 or 20 mph? Again, it’s simple physics. The two spinning wheels create a gyroscopic effect—that is, the force pulling you forward overcomes the force of gravity pulling you down. The faster you go, the more the motorcycle wants to continue going straight. Because of the gyroscopic effect of the two spinning wheels at speeds greater than 15 mph, you must make the motorcycle lean in order for it to turn. If you push forward on the left grip, the bike will lean left and go left. If you push forward on the right grip, the bike will lean right and go right. Again, this is because of the gyroscopic effect.    
 
why is my bike so top heavy bmw
Certain BMWs feel top-heavy to some riders because of the upright seating position and higher ground clearance.

So the question is, how do you keep the bike from falling over at low speeds? How do you overcome the force of gravity? Thankfully, the answer is very simple. You use the clutch and throttle, i.e., the friction zone. In addition, you put a little bit of pressure on the rear brake. As long as you keep power on the rear wheel and, at the same time, a little pressure on the rear brake, the bike cannot fall over as long as the wheels are turning—even if the wheels are turning very slowly. By “very slowly,” I mean 1 or 2 mph. Anyone who’s watched a slow race has seen this. If you see a motorcycle fall over during a slow race, or if the rider has to put a foot down to keep it from falling over, it’s because of a momentary loss of power to the rear wheel. 
 
If you don’t believe me when I say that there’s no such thing as a top-heavy bike, go to YouTube and watch police rodeo competitions. Notice that the rider’s seat on a police motorcycle sits about 4-6 inches above the frame. The rider’s weight, of course, is on top of that. That should make for an extremely top-heavy motorcycle, but if you watch these videos, you can see these motor officers whipping their bikes through the tightest of turns and maneuvering with ease. They’re able to do this because they know how to use the clutch, throttle, and rear brake. Knowing these simple techniques will allow any rider to ride any motorcycle regardless of its size or weight—even at the lowest speeds—with skill and confidence. You’ll be able to say, “Good-bye, top-heavy bike!”
 
How do you know if you’ve mastered the clutch and throttle? Remember, just having the ability to start from a stop without stalling doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the clutch and throttle. Here’s a simple test: Go to a lined parking lot and make a circle within 2.5 parking spaces. With the motorcycle straight up and no leaning, begin riding around that circle using the clutch, throttle and a little pressure on the rear brake. You should be able to do this at an extremely slow walking pace—that is, 1-2 mph, or just barely moving. Keep your head and eyes up at all times. If you can’t do this, you have yet to master the clutch and throttle. In that case, you should start practicing the slow race in a straight line until you feel confident. Then, start riding the circle.
why is my bike so top heavy
Here’s a diagram of the circle you should make to practice. It should be 24 feet across.

If you have a couple thousand miles under your belt, you should have this mastered in about one hour. Good luck.
Riding Right No More Wide Turns Jerry Palladino
 
About the Author
Jerry Palladino is the founder of Ride Like A Pro, Inc., a company that produces motorcycle instructional DVDs and books. Jerry also teaches classes to experienced riders who want to enhance their motorcycle skills. Visit RideLikeAPro.com.
 
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Reader Comments


Everyone tells me as a first time rider I should of never bought the bike I have. I have an 1993 Harley-Davidson FXLR. They say it is top heavy. I took the riding lessons, which I passed. I do seem to have a lot of trouble handling this bike. Found out gravel is no good, laid her down trapping left leg, split muscle an damaged knee. I am not giving up. If I have to I will turn it into a trike. Have nice knee dip in gas tank. Thanks for the info.

Diana
Fairview, TN
Tuesday, August 04, 2015
Editor Response
Diana,
I've ridden that motorcycle. It's not necessarily top heavy but rather simply a big bike for a new rider. But do your best and keep practicing. Here is our article on riding in gravel.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
Excellent, excellent article. Just finished a MSF class and they taught this very procedure. Thank Motorman.

Jim
Chicago, IL
Friday, June 19, 2015
For me on my HD 883, it feels top heavy when stopped, and when trying to maneuvre it for for parking. One little sway to the left or right, and I mean little, and the bugger wants to pitch over.

K Steeves
Digby, NS, Canada
Friday, May 08, 2015
I agree with Neva S. I just traded my 2010 XL1200X for a 2008 FLHRC. I have no problems riding until I either have to get it off the kickstand or park it on uneven ground. I cannot lift the bike off the incline and balance it to flip the kickstand up. I am having it lowered with adjusters to see if my center of gravity improves once I'm not on my tip toes. For now, I will not park where I will have to back up because I know I will drop her. Higher heeled boots are a must, and I often must use a block of wood to take off riding. Trying the adjusters first. I know I should just do lowering shocks, but I cannot afford the bill at this time.

Cherri Briscoe
Peru, IN
Friday, May 08, 2015
Editor Response
One trick for getting the big Road King off the kickstand is to turn the handlebars all the way to the right while seated on the bike, and then use the inside of your left leg to push the bike upright. This works on an incline and on a level surface.

And yes, when you have a "bigger" bike, you must be very careful about where you park it. I have a Street Glide and am always looking ahead to where I can safely park and maneuver the motorcycle on my own, even if it means leaving a group I'm riding with to park where I know I can handle the motorcycle myself.
Genevieve Schmitt, Editor
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