What Can Cause a Motorcycle to Fishtail? And How to Avoid It

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Owning a motorcycle comes with a lot of joys that owning a car doesn’t provide. While riding a motorcycle, there are some additional dangers that a rider must be aware of.

There is a possibility of fishtailing, which can be dangerous and one of the precautions. All vehicles are capable of fishtailing, but it’s especially dangerous on a motorcycle because of the lack of protection.

What causes a motorcycle’s fishtail? Fishtailing is caused by loose ground, snow or ice on a motorcycle. This causes the back tire to lose traction and cause it to sway backwards and forwards. Motorcycles are usually rear-wheel drive. This can lead to the back tire becoming more vulnerable to slippage in these conditions.

Fishtailing from a motorcycle can prove dangerous and even deadly. It’s important to know, as a motorcyclist, the reasons a motorcycle fishtails, how to handle them, and how to avoid them in the first place to keep you safe on the road.

Why Use Motorcycle Fishtails

A lot of motorcyclists are under the impression that their motorcycle isn’t susceptible to certain phenomena that other vehicles are in danger of because they’re smaller. Motorcycles are as vulnerable to fishing as any other vehicle, and can have more devastating results.

A vehicle that fishtails means its back tire(s), or tires, starts to sway side to side. This makes it difficult for the driver to control the vehicle. Hence the name; the maneuvering of it is similar to that of a fish’s tail swaying back and forth while it is swimming.

In a perfect world, all roads would be free of any debris or dangerous water and us motorcyclists wouldn’t have to worry about running into such conditions. But you never know what you’ll come up to while on the road and that’s why it’s so important to be aware while riding your motorcycle.

Rear wheel drive is the most common type of motorcycle. The rear wheel drive means that the engine generates power when the gear is set to the right. This rotates the back tire. That is what essentially powers the motorcycle and the front tire is merely for steering purposes and doesn’t not assist with powering the motorcycle.

Sometimes, fishtailing can be caused by debris or water elements combined with the constant torque received by the back tire. Sometimes, a motorcyclist may twist the throttle to give more power to the motorcycle at the wrong time. This could mean that the motorcycle is riding on a thin sheet of ice or on a sandy road. Sometimes the back tire can lose traction on the road, which will cause the motorcycle to sway back and forth.

A motorcyclist may also experience fishtailing if he has to abruptly stop in slippery conditions. Although the back tire might have some torque, it may want to keep going forward even though the front wheel is trying halt.

Sometimes, a rider may fishtail on a motorcycle to try and avoid it. “peel out.” Riders may increase their power and the bike will suddenly accelerate. The back wheel will feel the extra power and want to propel the rider forward faster than the front.

Fishtailing on a motorcycle doesn’t necessarily mean the rider is a bad driver. This is something that an experienced motorcyclist will likely have experienced at some time during their riding career. So instead of thinking it’ll never happen to you, think ahead about how you’re going to handle it When it does happen.

How to React to Fishtailing

Now that we’ve covered what causes fishtailing on a motorcycle, it’s always a good idea to know how to handle one if it happens to you while you’re out for a ride. Even if you think it’ll never happen to you, you should still understand how to maneuver through one because like I said, it’ll probably happen at some point if you plan on riding a motorcycle long term.

Whether you’re riding in grass, on gravel or sand, or have found yourself riding in wet conditions and start fish tailing, the very first thing you’ll need to do is let off the throttle and stop giving any power to the engine. Many people will say that giving it more power will make it work, but I find that less power equals less control in a fishtail.

The power is what’s causing the fishtail. Therefore, it is sensible to stop any power that would cause the fishtail to move from one side to another. After you release the throttle, allow the motorcycle to coast as much as possible.

If your situation permits, don’t apply the brakes. It will be an automatic reaction to use your brakes because you’ll want to stop the vehicle from moving at all, but that could essentially make your situation worse. Again, the back tire has power that it’s trying to get rid of, so braking would only make your fishtail worse and make that back tire want to go forward even more.

Steer into your motorcycle if it starts to fishtail. This means that the back tires should be swaying towards your right. The back tires should be swaying towards your left. This will allow the back tire to return to its original position.

You may find yourself in a situation in which you have to use your brakes quickly (which could be why your bike starts fishtailing).

Alright so let’s recap. To fishtail on your motorcycle, you should first let off the throttle. Then, coast with your brakes and then steer into the swaying of your motorcycle. Once you feel that you are in control of your motorcycle again, you can apply your brakes slowly.

How to Avoid Fishtailing Your Motorcycle

If you’ve ever fishtailed on a motorcycle, you’ll know how unpleasant and scary of an experience it can be. You can reduce your chances of getting caught fishtailing, and maybe even avoid it entirely.

Be aware of the weather conditions before you set out on a ride. If you know if it’s going to rain or snow or if you know the temperatures are below freezing, perhaps you should think about saving your ride for another day. You can reduce the chances of getting caught fishtailed by avoiding wet conditions. For more information about knowing when it’s too cold to ride, see my other article here.

This is obvious, but it is crucial to keep your speed steady and not exceed the speed limit. There’s a reason speed limits are posted and it’s not to make you feel restricted. Fishtailing usually happens during high speeds, so there’s no point in risking it by going over the speed limit.

Always be aware of your surroundings, including what’s on the road ahead of you. It can sometimes be hard to know if there’s going to be a patch of gravel or some black ice on the road until it’s too late. But being aware of what’s on the road can greatly reduce your chances of falling victim of fishtailing.

Inclement weather is a possibility. Keep your distance from other vehicles. This will help you avoid fishtailing by not having to slam on the brakes. Also, give yourself plenty of space in the case you randomly find yourself fishtailing and need room to coast so you don’t have to slam on your brakes.

Finally, make sure to check your tires regularly. The right tire pressure is important to ensure you have good traction. You should replace your tires as soon as possible if they are starting to fall apart.

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