Are Motorcycle Steering Dampers Worth It? (The Truth)

A steering damper, also known as a steering stabilizer, can help a motorcycle rider keep control on rough terrain. Those who ride on smooth roads may never need to install a steering damper, but it can be difficult for beginners to know if motorcycle steering dampers are worth it for them.

Motorcycle steering dampers are worth it for those who ride on bumpy terrain. Dampers aid the rider in stabilizing the front wheel. They also prevent the front wheel from turning very fast after hitting a bump on a bad road, which can have disastrous effects.

But how likely is something like that to happen, and just how necessary are steering dampers for rough terrain? In this article, we take a closer look at the different types of motorcycle steering dampers and how they can help you to stay safe.

What Are Motorcycle Steering Dampers/Stabilizers?

Motorcycle steering dampers/stabilizers are devices that slow the speed at which a motorcycle’s handlebar can be turned. Just as shock absorbers buffer the movement of the wheel vertically, a steering damper buffers the handlebar movement horizontally, which increases a rider’s handlebar control. 

Steering dampers have been around since the 60s when they were installed on racing bikes. As they became popular, their use has increased to the extent that they are a standard fitting on dirt bikes, motocross bikes, and even on bicycles. Manufacturers of street motorcycles and high-performance bikes have made it an accessory available on selected models only.

A steering damper does not interfere with normal riding when the handlebar is turned slowly. Instead, it resists turning when the handlebar is turned hard and fast. This ensures that regular steering is light and easy. It is usually seen on motorcycles with short wheelbases in the 600cc to 1,000cc range.

Do You Need A Steering Damper On A Motorcycle?

You need a steering damper on a motorcycle that often rides on sand, rocks, and bumps because it will help you to ride across this terrain safer. If you ride your motorcycle on smooth roads within city limits, you may never need a steering damper. It all depends on your riding environment.

Sports bikes that are used on good roads can also benefit from a steering damper which can be fitted on as more of a precautionary measure. Generally, the heavier motorcycles are the ones that need it the least, because they are less prone to wobble. A motorcycle’s weight makes it harder for an obstacle to push the front wheel off course, leading to a tank slapper.

The typical sports motorcycle has a short wheelbase that suffers from reduced stability but allows the rider to turn faster. These are lightweight bikes with steeply-raked front forks that move very fast if the wheel hits a bump. They can benefit the most from having a steering damper. A light sports bike with a long wheelbase has more stability because weight distribution makes a difference.

Do Steering Dampers Really Work?

Steering dampers work very well and are a must for all motorcycles that are going to be used on rough roads. In its most basic form, a steering damper slows down the speed at which the handlebar turns by using a hydraulic system similar to a shock absorber. 

In everyday riding, the handlebar works as it normally does so that the rider doesn’t even feel it. It only shows its effect when a sudden hard turn takes place, at which time the dampening action of the steering stabilizer absorbs the force of the turn and helps the rider to keep control of the handlebar. A steering damper can be fitted to enable smoother steering with more control.

Steering dampers are factory installed on cars and on some sport motorcycles, which is proof of their efficacy. On high-end bikes, they continuously vary the amount of damping based on their measurements of bike speed, engine rpm, and road smoothness. Even a steering damper cannot help if your wheel alignment is off, or your bearings need to be changed.

Types Of Steering Dampers

The 2 types of steering dampers are linear and rotary, some of which feature electronic control. A linear steering damper is mounted on the frame or halfway down the fork and looks like a shock absorber. Rotary steering dampers are more compact and are mounted on the handlebar or the clamp. They force oil through a series of passages.

Rotary steering dampers are much more expensive than linear steering dampers. They are easy to mount as they fit on top of the handlebar and are easy to adjust. Both rotary and linear dampers can be adjusted to the rider’s feel by changing the viscosity of oil.

For a rough idea of prices, a high-performance, adjustable rotary steering damper made by a reputable manufacturer can cost well above $550, while the prices of linear steering dampers and their mounting kits start from $35. Owners of street bikes that are unlikely to need the aid of a steering damper except in an emergency. They can opt to fit a relatively cheap linear steering damper.

Electronically-Controlled Steering Dampers

The most expensive steering dampers are electronically controlled. Some of the more sophisticated ones measure the bike speed and vary the amount of damping accordingly. On some of the high-performance bikes, they are a standard fitting to absorb most of the hard vibration from the wheel and to prevent a rider’s arms from getting tired.

Steering stabilizers use electronic control to correct the amount of damping during slow speeds, and at high speeds, they utilize multiple circuits to monitor exactly what the bike is doing at all times. If you are getting one fitted, it is in your interest to get the best available from a reputed, well-established company. 

Do Steering Stabilizers Prevent Tank Slapper?

Steering stabilizers don’t completely prevent a tank slapper, but they do reduce the possibility of it happening, which makes them vital riding aids for motorcyclists who ride on rough terrain. Any accessory that increases the rider’s protection from a crash is usually worth investing in.

A tank slapper, also known as a death wobble, occurs when a rider loses control of their bike and the handlebars hit the tank. This can result in a crash that can have major consequences for the rider and the motorcycle. It is at these crucial moments that a steering stabilizer comes to the aid of the rider by reducing the handlebars’ movements. 

What Is A Tank Slapper And How Can You Prevent It?

Before a tank slapper, a motorcycle’s front wheel hits a large object. If it’s tall enough to stop the tire from going over it, the front tire is forced to turn sideways, moving the handlebar with it very hard and fast. This pulls the handlebar out of the rider’s hands causing the tank slapper. 

If a steering damper is fitted, it will fight the sudden turning of the handlebar. Otherwise, the best way to keep out of such a situation is to be alert to obstacles and ruts on the road. Deep ruts are enough to pull the front wheel to one side. If the front wheel hits a large enough bump, the rider will not be able to keep balance even with a steering damper fitted. 

Final Thoughts

A motorcycle steering damper is an essential riding aid when riding on rough terrain. Even though it is of little use on smooth roads, a linear steering damper is not that expensive and can be fitted on any motorcycle to improve its handling, and they can make your bike safer to ride.

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