10 Causes of a Motorcycle Tip Over

No one wants to have a motorcycle tip over. Balance can be a precarious condition, especially under slow-speed conditions. Allow weight to shift too much in one direction and you lose it. In a lifetime of riding, I’ve experienced them all. I’ve helped many right their bikes and seen countless more in undignified positions on their side.

Motorcycles are designed for moving under engine power, not being pushed around. Anyone can stay upright under speed but real skill is required for adept slow speed control.

Depending on the center of gravity deigned into the bike, some are easier to balance than others. Cruisers have most of their weight low and the correspondingly low seat heights means most riders can comfortably reach the ground. Dual-Sport and Sport Bikes need higher ground clearance so their weight and seat height is higher, making them tippier at slow speeds.

Even when we get to know our bikes and how to maneuver them, a split second of inattention can lead to a tip over.  I pulled into a parking lot at a historic mill to take a photo and knew as I was parking on loose gravel on a downhill grade it was a bad idea.  I took my photo but then found it next to impossible to back my bike out of the spot. I summoned all my strength and moved it about 18″  uphill. Knowing it was futile to continue, I put the sidestand down, leaned it over, realizing as I did that the sidestand wasn’t fully out. The bit of a grade and the loose gravel combined to make it unstable and it gently lay down on it’s side. The photo below shows how it was resolved.

Here are ten common reasons bikes tip over:

  1. Forgetting to put the sidestand down before dismounting.
  2. Stalling and losing your balance.
  3. Losing your footing while at a stop. Loose gravel, sand, an oily surface, or a simple pebble can cause this. So can putting your foot down in a pothole.
  4. Sidestand sinks into hot pavement and no longer supports the bike.
  5. Leaving it running while on the sidestand on an uneven surface. My previous bike was carbureted and needed to be warmed up. I left it running while on enough of a downward slope that it vibrated forward, the sidestand came up and over it went.
  6. Improper technique while putting the bike on or taking it off the center stand. It can also happen if the bike is on the center stand on an uneven surface. Or hot pavement.
  7. Applying the front brakes during a slow speed turn.
  8. Stopping suddenly and losing your balance.
  9. Losing good judgment due to fatigue.
  10. Improper technique and/or losing footing while moving a stopped motorcycle.

Fortunately for me, these good Samaritans passed by and stopped to help.  The guy on the right picked it up like it was a bicycle! The photo gives you an idea of the grade I was fighting against.

Tip overs happen but if they’re happening too often, you need to step back and assess your skills. Learning to manage your bike takes time, persistence and patience. Even so momentary lapses happen –even to experienced riders. So when it happens to you, learn from it and avoid a repeat.

 

Related Posts: 10 Things to Do With a Dropped Motorcycle and 10 More Reasons Motorcycles Tip Over

 

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31 comments on “10 Causes of a Motorcycle Tip Over
  1. Carol Hayes says:

    All great advice! I had a sporty for my first bike and it was very top heavy. I tipped it several times within the 6 months I rode it…..and it was my first bike! Now I have a Harley Dyna which is much more balanced and after seven months all is good. Center if gravity and skill make a lot of difference!

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Carol. Great examples! My bike is top heavy and I knew I was putting myself in a precarious situation. Did it anyways. The crazy part was, I had decided to go for help and had stopped to put the sidestand down – only didn’t have it properly engaged. Almost.

    • Amanda says:

      Hi Carol, I’m a new rider and have dropped it over 4 times and just got it Saturday. I also have a Dyna Wide Glide. Thought maybe I just got a bike to big for myself. So glad to hear you mastered it! I think my problem is using the front breaks and not having the wheel straight when stopped. I’m praying I can figure this out. Also going to take the endorsement class. Wish me luck.

      • lizjansen says:

        Thanks for that Amanda. You’ve mentioned a few reasons why it’s hard to keep upright. A class is a good idea! Good luck!

        And yes – you CAN figure it out. 🙂

        Liz

  2. brett says:

    Great list. Mine have been a result of putting my loaded DR650 on the sidestand on an incline (like on the shoulder while trying to put on my raingear with the bike sliding sideways down into a ditch). Glad I’m not on the bike every time I knock it over.

    • lizjansen says:

      I can only imagine the sinking feeling when that happened Brent. Mud, rain, incline, loaded bike on side – Nice! : ) The stuff stories are made of. : ) Thanks for sharing it Brent.

      Liz

  3. Mike (Aus) says:

    Nice tips, Thx.
    I Had another bobble (tip over) today. Been riding my Triumph Bonneville for a couple of years a cruiser prior to that.

    Got startled by a big truck just before taking off (stopped) and with the slight weight shift, the tip began and was too heavy (230+kg) to straighten up. It’s like you sense it half a second too late,…..embrassing! Not to mention, a new clutch lever & time etc.

    I know for me a little slow, turn and stop practice can only help

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Mike,

      That’s how these things happen. All it takes is a moment’s inattention. Thanks for having the courage to share. 🙂
      And you know what to do to lessen the chances of it happening again. We can never get enough practice to develop muscle memory for the right reactions.
      Save travels,
      Liz

  4. Dave says:

    Thanks for the tips about tipping 🙂 I picked up my 2015 Police Road King yesterday and already tipped it twice (today), both times while backing into a parking spot. Pulled a hamstring on the second tip. I guess the key is not turning the wheel ‘at all’…and more practice practice practice.

  5. Mickey Davis says:

    I know this too well. Ready to sell the best bike in the world. So beautiful. But I’ve tipped our three our four times the first week. Going for more instruction this weekend

    • lizjansen says:

      Don’t give up Mickey. Instruction will help, as will lots and lots of practice. It may be the best bike in the world, but is it the best for you at this time? Your instructor will give you sound advice. Best!! Liz

      • Mickey Davis says:

        I don’t know if it’s best for me. I usually think it’s the riders skills not the bike that’s at fault. All I know it’s the only bike I’ve ever wanted. If course I’ll listen to the instructor. If he says my skills will never be up to it I’ll listen. But he just signed me off in the regular course so I think he’ll spend some trying seeing if I can control this beast at site speeds

        • lizjansen says:

          Depends what you bought for a first bike. While ultimately it boils down to rider skills, you want to set yourself up for success and not try and learn on something that’s too big/heavy/powerful for your skill level. Good luck!
          Liz

          • Mickey Davis says:

            This is not my first. It’s my fourth. I had a small Japanese bike then a smallish bmw then a larger bmw. I committed 50 miles a day to work ride cross country and down to Florida. Never had the slightest inkling if an accident or near accident. But this big cruiser seems to be winning. I so want to master it

          • lizjansen says:

            Without wanting to overlook the obvious, make sure there’s nothing mechanically wrong with your bike.

            Look for the lessons it’s trying to teach you—beyond motorcycle skills.

            Good luck! Liz

  6. Mickey Davis says:

    It’s hard to practice alone when the consequences are a drop that you can’t lift. Otherwise I’d be out there all day doing small turns with and without acceleration, breaking, no breaking, clutching, deceleration. But with just me to pick it up at best it’s embarrassing.

    • lizjansen says:

      It’s best to have someone with you in any case, especially when you’re learning and building your confidence. Your time with the instructor this week should help.
      Liz

  7. sophia says:

    ,I am meeting men who are older and have motorcycles. My dad had them when I was a kid many many years ago. I never liked riding with him when he did take me for a ride, when he made a turn. The leaning scared me even though he said it would not fall over. It felt like it would.

    These older guys want to ride long distances with their bikes… it seems to be a big deal. I really don’t want to, nor do I want to prevent a possible new friendship because I’m a bit frightened about the leaning. I’m a photographer and would love to go to shoot the state where I am now located… but…

    What should I do?

    Thanks,
    sophia

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Sophia,

      Leaning is an integral part of controlling the motorcycle and should feel natural. When the riding and leaning get too aggressive, that’s when you feel frightened. Don’t be concerned about preventing a possible new friendship. Considerate riders and friends do not do that to passengers. Are you willing to sacrifice your safety to ride with someone like that?

      I can’t tell from your comment if you are a rider also. If you aren’t, consider taking the basic course to learn to ride and you’ll soon understand the importance of proper leaning, and how it helps control the motorcycle.

      If you would prefer to ride pillion, ride only with those who consider your feelings and safety. It may take some time for you to get used to it, especially if you’re carrying memories/fears from childhood, but a friend can help you gradually.

      Do you need to ride a motorcycle to shoot your photographs?

      Consider these questions carefully and you’ll have the answer.

      Good luck!

      Liz

  8. Been a long time since my last bike. Picked up a heritage softail. She’s heavy but manageable under speed. Took her out around the neighborhood recently to test the waters. Straight lines, stops and some turns i did great. Finishing my ride i was in a straight line in first gear and about to turn right to go up my driveway and it went sideways! It felt as if it slipped out from under me and im still boggled. Was it me? Did i use the front brake at way too low of a speed? Did i turn the bats too hard or too much to the right to make the turn? Idk but i dented the tank and broke the brake pedal and my right fog lamp and scraped up my knee and elbow but i think my ego took the worse hit… The wife is pretty upset too! I have decided to take a class cause quiting isnt a choice for me.

    • lizjansen says:

      You’ve made an excellent decision George. As embarrassing as it was, it was minor – and a little nudge to send you in the right direction! Save riding! Liz

  9. Van says:

    I thought I was the only one having tip over problems…..Although I have been riding for years off and on…the last break from riding seems to have taken it’s toll. I decided to get back into it and bought an older Goldwing, similar to one I had some years ago. Anyway, I have been having big problems with tipping over coming to a stop. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but it has almost made me wonder if it’s time for a trike. I have ridden before, and never had this problem, but now I have it. Don’t know if I’m not getting my foot down at right time, maybe too soon is what I’m thinking. You have a tip on proper way to stop? I need some refresher info. I have previously taken the safety course. I don’t really want to go to a trike.

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Van,

      It must be frustrating for you. Without seeing you ride, it’s hard for me to comment. There may be differences in how the weight is distributed in between the 2 GW’s you owned. Where are you looking as you come to the stop? Keeping your eyes focused ahead, rather than immediately in front of you, helps maintain balance. When you come to a stop, are you in the habit of putting only your left foot down? It’s the most stable way to stop. Are you using your brakes correctly? Holding the rear brake on at slow speeds and while you’re stopped helps stabilize the bike. What else is loaded on the bike and how does that affect the (COG)? Is the center of gravity (COG) higher on this bike? Have you had any changes to your health that could affect the strength in your legs? Have you tried a smaller motorcycle? Good luck! Liz

  10. Mike says:

    I picked up a BMW 1150 RT. It’s a former Police Motorcycle. I test rode it and all was great and I fell in love with it. I started to ride it and as my legs, particularly my left leg began to become tired when I came to stop I couldn’t hold it and it went over. After riding home I became paranoid about stopping at stop lights. I lost my balance in total 4 times. Thankfully there are bars on the bike which protected it. I’m wondering now if I shouldn’t have bought it. I’ve ridden motorcycles for years but this is the heaviest. It is the most comfortable at speed and handles beautifully around corners and slow riding. It’s just difficult when I come to a stop. The fairing seems to be bulky and putting my feet down is a problem. How the cops do it I don’t know?. Should I give up or any advice would be great. Do I put both feet down or do I put my left foot down first? This bike is 600lbs in weight and once it goes I can’t stop the fall.

    • lizjansen says:

      Hi Mike – I consulted with my friend Steve who is an encyclopedia about all things BMW. He’s more familiar with the configuration with the configuration and weight distribution of your bike. Cops get lots of drills and lots of practice so don’t compare yourself to them. You don’t mention the kind of bikes you’re used to riding. The BMW 1150 RT with the boxer engine will feel very different. It’s heavy, has a large gas tank and with the fairing added, carries a lot of weight up high. You also need to get used to putting your foot down a certain way because of the location of fairing and cylinders. I never advise anyone to give up. Having said that, you’ll need to evaluate whether this is the right bike for you at this stage of your life. A different style of motorcycle may be a better choice, rather than risking your confidence and safety on a bike that’s not right for you. There are many miles for you to enjoy yet!!!

      • Jill Coert says:

        Thanks for sharing your story and advice! It’s very encouraging. I just purchased a BMW r1200rt and tipped it once by stopping too quickly, and there were a few more times where it started to go but I was able to stop it. I had to change to the low seat – the BMW’s are very tall! I am 5’11, but I still needed that low seat. Also, I used to ride a Harley Heritage Softtail (still do sometimes) and that bike is so much lower to the ground and has such different brakes – I am really having to work to get used to this new bike. I’m trying really hard not to let my fear get in my way – I’m going to take it out tonight and practice slow speed turns and braking. I sure have learned to make certain that the wheels are straight before I stop and not to slam on those Brembro brakes.

        • lizjansen says:

          Thank you Jill! that bike is a very different configuration than the HD – When I’ve ridden them, I’ve always had to be mindful of how I put my foot down because the front plastic gets in the way from what I’m used to. You’ve got the right approach. Time and developing new muscle memory will help you – it’s a wonderful bike and I’m sure will lead you to many wonderful memories. Best, Liz

        • Mike says:

          Jill

          Where did you get the new seat from? Is it easy to replace?

  11. Mike says:

    Thank you so much. I am thinking of selling it. I don’t want to but I’m paranoid. In the past I rode street bikes. Suzuki TL1000R, Ducati Panigali, Ninja ZX12 which I sold because it kept cutting out at the wrong time. I’ve ridden since I was in my 20’s but now as I age I’m developing arthritis and can’t hunch over on a street bike like I used to. I love this bike but don’t know what to do.

    • lizjansen says:

      Let your intuition guide you. What’s your gut reaction to the thought of never riding again? What’s the reaction to riding with modifications? As long as you can operate a motorcycle safety, there are many ways to modify your motorcycle to accommodate your needs. It may not be the same kind of riding you’re used to, but you can still ride!

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