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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wobble, Wobble, Bagger Wobble! Pt 2 - Frame Brace ...

In the previous installment, Wobble, Wobble, Bagger Wobble! Pt 1 - Frame Brace, I went through the story of discovering that Bagger Wobble really exists, at least on my 1999 Road King. I also found that others had the same experience, and that solutions existed. In fact, there's a cottage industry out there with companies selling various, albeit similar, frame/engine stabilizing systems to take out the horizontal movement of the rear wheel/swingarm assembly on pre-2009* Harley touring bikes.

This assembly is all rubber mounted, allowing the swingarm and rear wheel to flex, effectively allowing the rear wheel to "steer" independently of your desired path of travel. And I don't care who you are, having your back wheel wobbling while you're in a fast turn ain't no fucking fun.

And no amount of muscle on the handlebars gets it under control....All you can do is ride it out while slowing down. The problem is under your ass, and not in the front of the bike.

Now, let me restate the condition: I am NOT talking about handlebar or front fork shimmy as a result of air turbulence on the fairing or windshield. I am NOT talking about loose spokes or unbalanced tires. I am NOT talking about getting blown all over the road by a semi. I AM talking about an oscillation while leaning into a fast turn in which the rear wheel seems to move somewhat slowly, left to right, as if on a pivot, while you're holding the front forks steady. In fact, they are on a pivot...a rubber one. It sorta feels like a tire is low and the bike wants to slide out from under you.

So my search for a fix wasn't a search for a magic bullet that will take away front-end shimmy resulting from air turbulence, or a bike that was immune to ruts in the road. That ain't happening. I was, however, looking for a solution to keep my back-fucking-wheel in line with the frame.

I'll add that my son's 2007 Street Glide has the same problem, and he describes the condition in exactly the same terms. And Kenny has been riding and racing bikes since he was 5, first racing Motocross and then running superbikes on a road course. He knows what he's talking about.

So that's the issue, and my path finally led to getting a True Track 20-00 stabilizer from the folks (Ron) at True Track. $380 bucks, or something close, shipped priority mail to my door. Made in the USA and the device even has a frickin' serial number.

Machining is second to none, and they even build their own Heim joint hardware out of stainless steel. Except tools and Loctite, everything you need is in the box. The cage is actually machined out of one solid block of aluminum which itself tells a story. It's far easier (and cheaper) to make something like this out of components, all bolted or welded together, but an assembly like that would be subject to distortion and would loosen and/or break over time. True Track didn't take the cheaper short cut, doing the work the hard, proper way.

Ron said he could install one of these braces in 15 minutes, and that being mechanically inclined, I'd be done in half an hour. I was. If I hadn't already straightened out the crossmember, it would have taken about half an hour more. See the previous Pt 1 post for info about fixing a bent crossmember or click here for a link to a tool to do the job.

It's possible to do the True Track installation while the bike's on the side stand, but I put the Road King up on a lift for easier access. First remove the five 1/4-20 socket head cap screws from the oil pan using a 3/16" extra long Allen wrench or extended socket.

No, the oil pan doesn't leak...not a drop. Clean off the mounting surface at the bolt holes with a wire brush or something...Scotchbrite would work too.... and start the long stainless steel replacement screws (supplied) using a couple drops of blue Loctite on the first couple threads.

Then slip the two pucks on top of the cross member, spigot side down, letting them plop down into the large crossmember holes. The slot in the outer diameter of the puck on the right (actually they both have slots, but the right one has nothing to catch on.) will catch onto a steel dowel that's welded on top of the crossmember. If there's a plastic wire tie mounted to that dowel, pop it off and toss it. I had one, though no wires were attached. A screwdriver popped it right off. The pucks need to sit flush on top of the cross member or you'll cross-thread the bolts.

Flip up the dog bone that mounts to the crossmember, looking up through the mounting holes into the threaded puck holes. If the holes aren't aligned, turn the adjustment screw on the Heim joint until the holes are in line. Then put some blue Loctite on the first couple threads and snug up those bolts by hand, with a light touch on the Allen wrench. I think they should thread in easily, and if not, something's not lined up. Check it again if necessary, but don't force the bolts.

Now torque down the cage and dog bone mounts per the supplied instructions. This is no time for a 3 foot piece of pipe on a wrench. Careful! You sure don't want to strip these threads!

OK, back to that adjustment screw on the Heim joint/link. It should be in a neutral position. To me, that means not pushing in one direction or pulling in the other. Use an open ended wrench if necessary to turn it to a position where there's a tiny amount of play in either direction. Just a small fraction of a turn. That screw has left and right hand threads. Turn it one way and it pushes the mounting points away; turning in the other direction pulls it together. Like an old drum brake adjustment screw.

When you find the sweet spot, dab a little blue Loctite ( I LOVE blue Loctite. I don't chase parts down the road any more!) on the tip of a matchstick or sliver of wood and rub in on the threads where the lock nuts will seat. Then lock up both sides. In case you're wondering, I used the matchstick approach for applying Loctite to the threads since getting the squeeze bottle to function, upside down in tight quarters, didn't work out.

Ok, that's it. Now the tail end of the engine/swingarm assembly is solidly linked to the frame, horizontally. The fit was flawless, and there were no surprises or "Oh Shit" moments. It looks good too, though I was a little worried that the right side stuck down too far and might drag in right hand corners. I dropped the lift and took off for the Interstate.

Early results:
  • Generally, the bike feels more solid and in control.
  • No noticeable new vibration as a result of adding that link. The tail of the engine can still move vertically. It's only restricted horizontally.
  • The fairing/windwhield wiggle when around trucks is still evident; I had some unrealistic fantasy that it would go away. That said, the bike feels more stable and easier to hold now while wallowing around in the turbulence.
  • The bike is far more stable encountering grooves in the road parallel to the path of travel. Doesn't feel as squirrelly. Again, any bike will follow a rut, but my Road King had more of an issue with ruts or road grooves than my Softail or my Nightster.
  • There was no dragging of the mount on the right side, even when I seriously laid it over in a turn. 
  • Fast turns carrying a lot of weight has yet to be tested, but I have been around a few corners with a passenger, and there wasn't the slightest wobble. I'm optimistic that this condition of Bagger Wobble is under control.
    • I should add that I didn't try to convince my passenger that they were going to participate in a high-speed cornering test to see if a life-threatening wobble was still present. Or put another way, Donna would have killed me, even if the wobble didn't! LOL
  • And of course, I found out that going first to the high-end True Track vendor would have saved me a lot of time and grief, which would more than cover the extra $100.00 their unit costs. But that's your checkbook and your decision. If you do decide on a True Track, and I highly recommend it, you won't be sorry.
I'll report back in after the next run when the bags are loaded and I run into a corner hard and fast. And it'll either wobble or it won't (and I'll still be able to write or I won't! LOL), but given how solid it feels around town and on the interstate, I think that's one problem I no longer have.

THIS JUST IN! A Must-Read for 2009-up touring bike owners; From Ron at True Track:

"One should note the swingarm set up on the new frame 2009 - present hasn't changed though Harley has done a great job in marketing the public to believe they have. The swingarm is still rubber mounted and still has horizontal movement. Our part number 20-00-09, supplied for all 2009 -present framed Touring model Harleys, sells just as often as the earlier frame model True-Tracks. Just a heads up.

Thanks for the great write up - it's always appreciated and keeps us going!


True-Track, Inc |  Rear Suspension Stabilization Experts
Direct: 818-623-0697 | Fax: 818-623-8705

So it's not just the pre-2009 Touring Harleys that have this issue. If you have questions or are uncertain about your bike or have special issues, I highly recommend picking up the phone and calling Ron at True Track. He's knows this stuff and is eager to help out. Great guy and great service.


PS Here's a link to the final post, Bagger Wobble, PT 3