In a viral video posted on Malaysian police social media, a Honda RS150 rider is seen losing control of his motorcycle and falling after riding across some white road markings on the highway. While no information was given as to the fate of the rider, we hope his injuries were not serious.
In the video, what can be learned from the incident by other motorcyclists? As many riders know, paint on the road, no matter what the colour, is slippery, especially when wet and sometimes not even then.
While efforts can be made to avoid road markings, there are locations where there are simply too many markings and worse, in the wrong places like in the apex of corners. While braking or leaned over in a corner, the issue of reduced grip caused by road paint is exacerbated, regardless of wet or dry conditions.
In the video, the rider crosses the road marking which promptly destabilises the steering, causing a tank slapper. For those who might not know, a tank slapper is when the motorcycle’s handlebars go into an uncontrolled oscillation after the front forks are upset or unable to react fast enough, or in a proper manner, to road irregularities, or when the motorcycle’s fore-aft balance is thrown off by rapid acceleration or deceleration, and this can happen at any speed.
Some riders, in a misguided attempt to control tank slappers, install a steering damper, something commonly seen on racing motorcycles, or tighten the steering cone bearings. This does not solve the problem but only addresses the symptom because racing motorcycles are by design inherently unstable to allow quick changes of direction.
Holding on tight to the handlebars merely intensifies the tank slapper as the rider’s hand movements feed into the oscillation. To properly solve a motorcycle prone to tank slapping, attention should be paid to tyre wear, condition and pressure. Suspension should be adjusted to the rider’s weight and riding style, where possible, and weight distribution be done with care.
Bearings in the steering cone, swingarm and axles should also be in good condition. Whatever you do, when a tank slap occurs, don’t stiffen your arms, that only serves to push the bar movement back into the front wheel with subsequent loss of control.
Instead, relax your elbows but maintain a firm grip while gradually closing the throttle and if you have enough road space, the front wheel oscillation will work itself out. This happens because a motorcycle’s front wheel is a gyroscope and will naturally fall into a state of equilibrium, continuing to roll straight on.
In the meantime, if you’re riding on the roads and highways, be aware of the road surface. Ride within your capabilities and the capability of your bike and most of all, be safe and ride defensively.