High Siding a Motorcycle Vs Low Side: Everything You Need to Know

High Siding a Motorcycle Vs Low Side: Everything You Need to Know

High siding a motorcycle. Regardless of your experience level or type of bike, this is something you’ve likely either witnessed, heard of, or even experienced first hand. 

If you are new to bikes, you may be wondering what exactly is a high side crash, what causes it, and what steps you can take to prevent it. You might have also heard of a low side crash, and you find yourself trying to understand the differences. 

No matter your situation, it’s always wise to refresh yourself on the origin of each type of crash so that you can ride in a manner more likely to keep you and your bike upright and intact. 


In this post, we’ll cover:

  1. What is high siding a motorcycle?
    1. What causes a motorcycle to highside?
    2. How to prevent a highside? 
  2. What is low siding a motorcycle?
    1. What causes a motorcycle to lowside?
    2. How to prevent a lowside? 
  3. Lowside vs highside
  4. Protecting yourself in the case of a crash  


What is high siding a motorcycle?

A motorcycle high side crash is one where the bike’s rear wheel loses lateral grip then regains it suddenly. When the tire regains traction, the momentum of the bike forces you into the air off the bike. And usually right over the handlebars. Put differently, as the rear tire loses traction, it generally goes into a sideways skid. Once the tire grips the road again, get ready to be airborne.

For the reasons you might have imagined (being flung over the bike), this is one of the more dangerous crashes you can have. It’s also harder on your bike than other crashes, including a low side crash (which we’ll get into later in this article)


What causes a motorcycle to highside? 

As mentioned, a motorcycle highside often occurs when a rider is traveling at high speed and the rear wheel loses and regains grip rapidly and violently. In simple terms, it generally happens when you over-slow going into a turn and then add throttle and lean in. 

This causes the grip on the rear to be overloaded due to the application of power while the tire is already trying to maintain the grip to corner. Then, as you lean in, the tire’s radius is reduced, which results in an increase in RPMs. These two factors together exceed the grip of the rear tire and cause the initial loss of control. 

Some additional factors that can cause a motorcycle to highside include: 

  • Trail braking too hard on a slippery surface (like water, black ice, or an oil slick)
  • Downshifting too fast before entering a turn, causing the rear wheel to lock 
  • Accelerating out of a corner too soon when you still have a lot of lean in the curve. This can cause the rear tire to lose traction while it picks up speed 
  • Leaning too far into a curve causing something on the bike to touch the ground, like the footpeg or muffler, resulting in the rear tire losing traction
  • A locked up wheel due to a seized engine 
  • A chain coming off the bike

You may notice that there’s a trend between many of these causes: a rear wheel slide. So when a rider over-corrects, the bike suddenly grips and you go the other way.


How to prevent a highside? 

Though it’s not possible to 100% avoid a high side in every situation, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the risks. The first is to remain calm - panic will only make the situation worse. Then, release the throttle and use the clutch to disengage engine power from the rear wheel. Shift your bodyweight towards the inside of the turn to lower the bike’s center of gravity; which may prevent a total flip. 

Be sure to avoid counterstreeting in the direction of the skid - even though that’s what your instincts might be pushing you to do. Though you’ll likely still crash, not countersteering will likely make it into a low side crash, which are generally less dangerous and damaging. 

Also, no matter what the situation, ensure you're equipped with proper protective gear, including a helmet, gloves, jacket, pants, and boots. This is vital to minimizing injuries during a crash. 


What is low siding a motorcycle?

Conversely, a low side crash is when a rider wrecks while leaning into the corner and crashes on the same side. A front-wheel low-side crash typically occurs when the front wheel loses traction mid-corner, causing the bike to slide out. On the other hand, a rear-wheel low-side crash results from the rear wheel losing grip and sliding out from under you. 

Though these types of crashes are generally less damaging, they are still unpleasant. 

Low side crashes start to occur in the middle of the corner, where it is the sharpest and your bike has the most lean. The faster you hit the mid-corner, the more the bike has to lean to get around it. Should the corner be sharper than you expected, you’ll have two options: lean more or go off the edge of the road. Generally, slowing down at this point is not an option. And if you try to straighten up too early, you won’t turn around the corner. 

low siding a motorcycle

What causes a motorcycle to lowside? 

We’ve already established that a lowside crash occurs when one of the wheels of your motorcycle slides out from underneath you. But what can cause that initial loss of traction and slide to start happening?

  • Excessive speed, aggressive braking, or sharp cornering 
  • Overbraking on the front or rear 
  • Understeering when entering a turn too fast or there’s an unexpected road hazard that hit the tires 
  • Oil or debris on the road 
  • Mechanical failure like faulty brakes or tires 

An inexperienced rider or poor riding can also be a major culprit when it comes to loss of traction. For this reason, it’s important to always ride at your level and be conservative on roads that you aren’t familiar with. Be wary of target fixation, panic braking, or improper body positioning. 


How to prevent a lowside?

The most important part of avoiding a low side crash is to maintain traction in your tires. How do you do that? 

Start by keeping in mind the conditions you are riding in. If you have a freshly mounted tire or are riding in slippery, cold, or slick conditions, your risk of losing traction goes up immediately. This is particularly true for the front tire which is only designed to carry about 30-40% of the cornering load. 

Taking smooth and controlled actions when you’re braking, throttling, and steering can help you to maximize your available traction. Be deliberate and careful with your actions - both stopping and steering. In slick conditions in particular, avoid trying to turn a bike with front brakes still applied as this puts extra weight on the front tires.

In a similar vein, avoiding trail braking is crucial for keeping weight off the front tire (even in perfect conditions, too much weight can cause this type of crash). Trail braking requires you to turn while applying the front brake, so you can see how the physics of this might add up to a crash. 

Should you choose to trail brake, make sure to decrease the pressure as you’re adding lean angle as this does lower the risk. You should also apply gas at the first possible moment as this will transfer the weight backwards, further minimizing the risk. Trail braking is an amazing skill to have, but it takes a lot of experience and practice to execute it correctly.


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Lowside vs highside

Now that you understand the details of each type of crash, let’s take a moment to summarize and compare low side vs high side.

High Side Crash:

  • Cause: A high side crash generally occurs when the rear wheel loses traction and then regains it suddenly, causing the bike to flip over to the side opposite the initial loss of traction. This can cause the rider to be launched into the air. 
  • Sequence of Events: It usually begins when the rear wheel slides out due to factors like excessive throttle, abrupt braking, or loss of traction in a turn. As the tire regains grip suddenly, it can then catapult the rider over the bike's high side.
  • Consequences: Because the rider can be thrown off the motorcycle, more severe injuries due to the higher speed and trajectory of the fall can occur. 
  • Potential Injuries: Common injuries include fractures, head injuries, and abrasions.


Low Side Crash:

  • Cause: A low side crash occurs when one or both tires lose traction with the road surface, causing the bike to slide out from underneath the rider.
  • Sequence of Events: It usually begins with the front or rear tire losing grip due to factors like excessive braking, cornering too fast, or encountering slippery road conditions.
  • Consequences: In a low side crash, the motorcycle typically slides along the road, with the rider sometimes remaining in contact with the bike or sliding separately.
  • Potential Injuries: While injuries in a low side crash can still be significant, they are often less severe compared to high side crashes since the rider tends to slide at a lower speed and closer to the ground.


Protecting yourself in the case of a crash 

Though we would like to believe that we’ll never crash, the reality is that this is rarely the case. In addition to safe riding and regular bike maintenance, you should take steps to equip yourself with appropriate protective equipment.

We recommend the following items:

If you are unsure of which product to choose, feel free to contact us or stop by our storefront in Sterling, VA. We’ll be happy to help you choose the perfect products for your riding style and needs. And in the meantime, happy (and safe) riding!

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