what does a steering damper do on a motorcycle

What Does a Steering Damper Do on a Motorcycle: Saving You From Death Wobble

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(**85s sales conference music plays**)

Welcome, readers, riders, and whatever you are in between. This is another article where I tell you stuff about I DON’T use on my bike, but you SHOULD.

(My mind: Tell ‘em you use it. It will set more authority. Wink, Wink.)

Why?

You are a super-sport bike addict. Like every addict, cough-cough, I meant rider, you like giving the finger to us, cruiser guys. (And doing dank nooners all day long.)

(Well, I’d rather say squids than super-sport riders. But I fear my editor will censor me. Again!)

Anyway..

You’re here for a couple of reasons:

  • You experienced a death wobble.

    It shook your bike like a son of a B***H. So, you had to check your pants for that brownish stuff, at the first stop.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky when I experienced my first death wobble.

    Let’s just say I carry an extra pair of undies in my bags. Just in case.
  • You came back to earth after doing that EPIC dank nooner, but your front wheel was unstable.

    So, it caused a slight wobble. It was scary but you managed to gain control again.
  • You suddenly accelerated, but that turned into a tank slapper.

    It’s like an overture to a death wobble. The musical part of it is the sound of an ambulance coming to stitch you up.

But, if you survived all those things and are out there, reading my article, then I have to have your autograph.

You’re a LIVING, F-ING legend! Literally, bullet-proof!

(My editor: John, let’s leave asking readers for autographs for the end of the article, please.)

To prevent that death-defying experience ever again, you heard about some steering damper.

You don’t truly know what it is, what it does on a motorcycle, and how it will save your butt, but you want to find out.

Steering Damper, Tank Slapper, Crash Sample – What Does It All Mean?

motorcycle wheelie
This is NOT what a motorcycle steering damper is

Ahh, explaining scary, macabre things is what I enjoy the most. It’s that sweet satisfaction, that pleasure of…

SLAP!

(Also me: Stop talking to yourself and explain to these poor, tortured souls what a steering damper REALLY is.)

Put into simple words: Steering damper is a fancy little device that you can install onto your front wheel.

With it installed, you can say GOOD-BYE to tank slappers, death wobbles, unstable and uncontrolled front tire movement.

And say hellooo to front wheelies and dank nooners all day LONG!

It’s like adding a small Superman onto your motorcycle front. It fights off all those scary, uncontrollable tank slappers, set to send you early to the grave.

Once you install it and give it a ride, you’ll think “How on earth did I ever ride without it?”

Not convinced?

Well, here is what my squid buddy, cough-cough, beginner sport rider Mark said:

“You know, if I didn’t have that Scotts steering damper installed, that day, I wouldn’t be here, drinking beer and doing shenanigans in the parking lot, with my R1.”

Plus, it’s easy to install. A couple of screws here and there, and VOILA!

You’ll never be afraid again. Afraid? I meant you’ll never experience tank slappers, death wobbles, and any other brownish stuff induced in your undies EVER AGAIN.

3 Types of Steering Damper and Their Benefits

steering damper motorcycle what does it do
Bumper12, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By now, you’ve already understood what a steering damper is and what it does. But you have another challenge – Which steering damper is best for your bike?

And..

What if you ride an ADV or a dirt bike?

Yep, I didn’t forget about you, my beloved dirt chaser. You’re my favorite type of rider, even though I ride a cruiser.

(**Setting up a little sanctuary with a poster of a KTM 350 SX-F inside my bedroom**)

Those branches on the road, sudden holes, and terrain changes also make a LOT of wobbles. That’s a hellacious steering job for an inexperienced ADV or dirt rider.

Those are tricky movements if you can smell what I’m cooking here. Wink.

(**Trying to be funny, but failing at it.**)

So, here are types of steering dampers:

  • Linear, regular, pogo-stick-looking steering damper.

    They are your steering dampers next door. Easy to mount, easy to use. Great for light-cheap-fix riders.

    They do a good job protecting you from those accelerating tank slappers and wobbles.
  • Radial, almost -squarish, funny-looking steering damper.

    When you want to level up your game, these pricey mods are AWESOME.

    They are adjustable, easy to mount, and small.

    Hint: ADV and dirt bike fellas are gonna love this one. Why, I’ll tell you later.
  • Electronic, advanced steering damper.

    Leveling up? More like experimenting up with these types of dampers.

    The damping is adjusted according to your speed, with all kinds of sensors and suspiciously-smart servos.

    But, these are pricey. Trust me. I Googled them out and after I saw the price tag, my tabs blacked out.

    I had to bleach my mind from the amount of zeros the price tag had!

    (**Exaggeration 101**)

But which one should you choose for your motorcycle?

After doing countless hours of research. Doing local focus groups with fellow bikers. Interviewing dozens of steering damper manufacturers, I’ve come to a RESULT!

Just kidding, I posted a question on Reddit and received a ton of crazy answers.

Which Steering Damper is Best for Your Bike?

Beginner sports bikes

Go with a regular, off-the-shelf steering damper. No need to go to the Moto-GP professional level..

To be honest, those regular steering dampers would cost you some hundred green, funny -money.

(**The only currency I believe in is high-octane fuel**)

Some sports bikes will come with stock steering dampers, so HIPICA-YEEY for you! You lucky curse-word, curse-word.

Yes, they’ll come in slightly worse in quality, but hey – it’s a steering damper alright. Better something than nothing. And you’d better NOT experience a tank slapper.

Super sport, track day bikes

If you can afford a fancy, God-knows-how-many-digits sports bike for a track day, then you can afford an electronic steering damper too.

Actually, super-sport bikes for tracks come with electronic steering dampers. All those turns and sudden acceleration just REQUEST that kind of mod.

Manually adjusting your damper to fit such riding style is like trying to adjust a perfect air/fuel mixture, without fuel injectors.

NO-WAY-HO-ZAY.

ADV or dirt bikes

Get a radial steering damper.

Baby, you’re gonna love this one. (**Talking to my KTM 350 SX-F poster**)

It’s SUPER adjustable with the little damping-amount knob. Plus it has a Sweep, Low, and High Speed adjustment.

Wow, what’s that?

Sweep adjustment on a steering damper is when you are doing more technical slow movement.

With that feature you can set the length of the damping effect.

Here is when it comes handy: You’re on your dirt bike going down the hill. You’re going through slow, twisty corners. You have your radial steering dampers installed.

But you don’t want it to damp all the way. You want that little damp-free play, so could easily move your handlebars.

High speed adjustment on a damper is to prevent sudden, quick jolts of your handlebars from left to right.

When you hit that pothole, uneven bump, or a small log on the road/dirt and you get a FAST, short tank slapper. Well, high-speed adjustment cancels that out.

Low speed adjustment on a damper is when you have a wobble in your front wheel for a consistent amount of time.

Your handlebars are NOT snapping from left to right, but causing just a slight wobble goes for a couple of seconds. Enough to scare you out a bit.

4 Issues Steering Dampers Can NOT Solve

motorcycle wheel

Whoever invented steering dampers for motorcycles should be given a Nobel Prize for mechanics.

They are so simple, yet they solve such a twisty, hard phenomenon by the name of tank slappers.

But there are some things steering dampers can’t solve:

  1. Uneven tire wear.

    How you wear your tire and with what amount of pressure can cause a mysterious wobble. It’s like you know your bike is starting to wobble, but it’s not from acceleration.

    Adding a what-ever type of steering damper to fix it, will only cover the main issue. Your tire won’t last much longer and will reach the recycle bin after the next tank slapper.
  2. Wheel alignment

    Do I have to explain this one?

    Yes, I put a bunch of damper-like-buzzwords in this segment, but let’s keep it short.

    No Moto-GP rated steering damper will save you from a slapper, when you havehaving crooked wheels. So you better set them straight. REALLY straight!
  3. Rusty or clingy wheel bearings.

    Let me just put this 450$ damper on my bike, while missing a couple of ball bearings in my wheel hub.

    Heck no, dude!

    Again, it won’t fix anything. You will only blind yourself with an IMPORTANT issue. Get professional-grade ball bearings and then start thinking about adding a steering damper.
  4. Poor setup motorcycle sag.

    An imbalanced motorcycle sag is what causes tank slappers in the first place!

    Having a stiffer front and softer end of your bike, when going from 0 to 100 in 3 seconds is what will give you a tank slap of your LIFE. (Brownish stuff in pants comes included.)

    The vice versa also applies.

    So check your sag and then install a quality steering damper.

What Does a Steering Damper Do on a Motorcycle: Key Takeaway

Steering dampers are simple yet POWERFUL pieces of mods for your bike. With them you’ll ride peacefully and without them, well, you’d better call an ambulance in advance.

Because you’re gonna need one.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are steering dampers worth it?

OMG, yes, yes, and …yes! Especially if you own a Hayabusa-like super-sport. Install one and you’ll thank me later.

Better yet, if your bike came with a steering damper, replace it with a Scotts or GPR one. Stock ones tend to be lower quality than these.

The last thing you want is a hydraulic oil slowly sipping on your disc rotor or water radiator.

How long does a steering damper last?

Long enough that you’ll forget you have it. Seriously!

Professional and semi-professional steering dampers are built tightly. When I say tightly, I mean there is no room for the oil to slip through. Plus, rubber seals that play a big part in damping have better quality than those stock ones.

There are better chances of you switching between 5 different sport bikes than your steering damper going faulty on that first one.

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