Touring Tip: Get Suspended!

Touring Tip: Get Suspended!

No, I’m not encouraging inappropriate behavior that might get your license suspended. I want to talk to you about your motorcycle’s suspension. This is an area that OEMs often shortchange in order to keep the MSRP of their products in a lower price range. They know that a bike’s suspension performance is difficult to assess on a short test ride and impossible to do in the showroom.

If riders haven’t experienced the joys of a bike with a high-performing suspension, they often just accept the bike’s limitations without question. And many would rather spend their money on shiny stuff than on aftermarket suspension components, which can’t be seen by others.

That approach is all well and good if your motorcycling is limited to short day rides. If you’re a serious touring rider, however, the comfort and performance of virtually all motorcycles can be improved by suspension upgrades.

Most OEM suspensions are not strong enough to effectively manage the weight of many touring bikes. Fork springs should be designed to handle the weight of bike, rider, passenger, and luggage, and should increase resistance progressively as they compress. But, the additional weight of a passenger and/or luggage may not always be present, so it’s important that a suspension be adjustable for changing circumstances. The motorcyclist’s riding preference of plush versus sporty also requires the flexibility of an adjustable suspension.

The best suspensions allow for adjustment in three main areas: 1) preload, which changes spring force for increasing or decreasing weight loads; 2) rebound damping, which adjusts the rate at which a spring returns to its starting position; and 3) compression damping, which adjusts the rate at which a spring moves from its starting position. A properly adjusted suspension is immediately noticeable to the rider. The motorcycle is smoother and more comfortable on changing road surfaces and more confidence-inspiring in the curves.

The finer aspects of motorcycle suspensions and their adjustment can become very technical. One of the leading authorities on the subject is Race Tech’s Motorcycle Suspension Bible, which is a good companion for anyone doing the modifications themselves. Most aftermarket suspension suppliers also have information on their websites and/or technical support telephone numbers to consult for help with installation and adjustment.

One course of action for those who don’t feel confident doing all the work themselves is to have someone else who has suspension installation and adjustment experience do the work for you. When help is not available locally, a middle path for the semi-skilled home mechanic is to remove the OEM shock and forks and send them to the manufacturer for installation. On the bikes I have that are designed to handle the weight of multiple riders and luggage, I have upgraded the suspensions in just about every conceivable combination of ways and have not been disappointed.

Results have been more dramatically positive on some types of motorcycles than on others. The most noticeable improvements were on my adventure and small displacement dual-sport bikes. This is logical, because longer suspension travel offers more potential for improvement. My 700-plus-pound sport-touring bike was significantly undersprung from the factory. An aftermarket suspension improved both ride comfort and cornering capability. My 300-pound café racer just needed upgraded fork springs combined with adjustable aftermarket twin rear shocks for improved corner carving.

These upgrades are well worth the time, effort, and investment. So go forth and get properly suspended!