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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

Speed Wobble

As a young man I learned the hard way about the phenomena known as the “speed wobble.” Take a motorcycle (or bicycle), add speed, a novice rider and combine that with a perfect set of circumstances, conditions, and scientific laws (which still remain a mystery to me), and “IT”, the Speed Wobble, more likely than not, will make its appearance.

At some unknown speed, unbidden and unexpected, the features of the universe come together at a certain time and place and wash over the unsuspecting rider; in this instance me. It begins as a nearly imperceptible side to side movement, a bit of a swaying motion. The bike leans just a bit to the left as if one is leaning into a turn, in spite of the fact that the rider is trying to go straight

In this case, I correct that sway with a slight automatic body shift to the right. She seems to regain her balance …. but wait, it seems I may have made a bit too much of a correction. Now she is dipping a bit to the right. I shift my body back towards the left, going back to center and stabilizing for just a brief second and then…I am too far to the left. I correct again to the right. Too far. Back to the left.

Now I am chasing this thing. It refuses to be caught. The dance continues, with each subsequent correction, the swaying becoming more and more pronounced, like a slow dance that picks up speed as the tempo increases. The dance becoming more and more wild.

Larger and larger corrections are needed. The wobble is now very pronounced. I am totally out of control, still trying, still hanging on. Nothing I do helps. Everything I do seems to make it worse. I am frozen. At this point I am just a passenger on this carnival ride, hanging on for dear life. Hoping against hope that something good happens.

I am on an “A” ticket ride. Not the “Tilt-a-Whirl”, or the “Merry -Go-Round” or the swirling “Tea Cup”. It has a name, the Speed Wobble. It is one of those rides spectators can enjoy. The riders, not so much.

How it originates, I could not tell you. I am sure an engineer could explain it very well. When it comes to visit me, it does not matter whether I understand it or not. I am in the middle of it. I am at the mercy of it. And, near the end of the dance.

The bike is now swinging wildly. Deeper and deeper into that wobble. Left, center, right, center, left, center, right. All the while I am still trying to go straight. I am the spinning gyroscope, nearing the end of its run. Wobbling. The end is inevitable. It is only a matter of time before I and my ride go our separate ways. I am simply, desperately, hanging on for my dear life.

The inexorable countdown begins. 3-2-1 “We have ignition.” “We have lift off.”

And there I go lifted off the bike, launched, snatched by the invisible hands of mother nature’s cohort, gravity. Flying ass over teakettle, as I see the ground coming to meet me, saying to myself “this is going to hurt.” “Tuck and roll, tuck and roll, tuck and roll, tuck and roll,” a messenger reminded me. I hit the ground and feel like I am being polished like a gemstone by the unforgiving gravel.

I was correct about one thing, it did hurt, badly. I lay there trying to figure out what happened, and I look up. I see the bike, still wobbling, not as much as before, going straight into forever. Like a horse that has just thrown its rider and is free. Straight ahead she goes, into forever. That is until the road turns and she does not.

She hit a tree dead on.

On this particular day in my life, June 2021, I feel as if I am in a bit of a speed wobble. To the left, joy as I have never experienced it. Then swinging right into sadness.

Elation to despair. Hope to letting go. Dreams moving into nightmares. Knowing to not knowing.

Connection – isolation. Being known – Feeling like a stranger. Belonging – Being shut out.

Laughter – Tears. Feeling a part of things – Apart from things. Fond memories – Painful ones. Sharing deepest truths – Being gaslighted.

Yes, I am in my very own existential speed wobble.

The only question is will I be thrown off. And if so, into what? Into where?

On that day long ago after experiencing my first (and last, thankfully) Speed Wobble, a wizened veteran who had witnessed my experience came over to see if I had survived. He looked down at me and after he stopped laughing, asked me if I was ok and after I assured him I was, said, “Son, you have two choices. When she starts that wobble, crank the throttle, and sit deeper or hit the brakes.”

The exact opposite of what my instincts had told me to do, “HANG ON NO MATTER WHAT!!!!!”

He went on to say, “You have to change something, or you’ll be here on your ass again.”

Today is another one of those days it seems. I am today, in another speed wobble. At least I know what my options are. My only options. Do I speed up, or slow down? If I do not do one or the other, I know where I will end up. Been there, done that.

Both my ass and the teakettle are much more fragile now. And a trip into the ditch will have a more painful ending.

So, I think I will throttle up. That does not necessarily mean speed up, but to sit deeper. Go deeper. Say it, do it, write it, see it, risk it, live it. We will see if the old codger’s advice is better than my “just hold on” instincts.


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