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The Ups and Downs of Motorcycle Suspension

When it comes to motorcycle aftermarket improvements, replacing the suspension is often seen as the ultimate upgrade for performance riders. This is one of the few upgrades that allows you to feel IMMEDIATE improvement after installation (and some slight adjustments to dial it in). 

A good suspension setup can take a mediocre bike and transform it into the smooth handling beast you didn't even think was possible. And more importantly, it can inspire confidence that you never knew you had, transforming you into a riding superstar, whether on the street or track. Confidence while riding is a huge deal that will ultimately translate into a safer, funner riding experience.

Even if you're not sliding the back end around on a race track, upgrading your suspension whether in whole or in part, will vastly improve the riding experience because, after all, it's really all about the experience. That's why we ride!

Suspension 101

Before we get too far into this post, let's quickly review the setup and function of a suspension system.  A motorcycle suspension system is typically made up of shock absorbers in the back and forks in the front, acting as a cushion between you and the road. (After all, you're basically sitting on a chair on two wheels zooming down the road at 70+ mph!). The suspension system is usually made up of an assembly of dampers and springs (for the rear) and forks (for the front) to insulate you from road vibrations and bumps by compressing and rebounding. These are basics.

In a well set up system, in the event of a road bump, the suspension would take in all the impact, keeping the wheels in contact with the road at all time so that you can ride hard, safely and comfortably. In the simplest of terms, an awesome suspension system will make you feel like you're gliding on velvet and riding as smoothly as silk. It will let you ride faster and smoother while being more controlled and, as a result, you'll enjoy the ride more and feel like a superstar.

Benefits of Upgrading the Suspension

Upgrading your motorcycle's suspension system is one of the most costly aftermarket improvements. It could cost thousands of dollars depending on how much of it you want replaced. So for anyone who's not a serious performance or track rider, what would be the benefit of investing this much money? Good question.

Stock suspensions are usually fine (until they wear out), but manufacturers still must cut costs where they can in order to produce their bikes at an reasonable price. A truly great suspension that works for you will have to put weight and road conditions into consideration. So as a result, manufacturers end up supplying a suspension system that fits the "average" rider for "normal" roads. Anything not average or normal and the suspension suffers. This is when riders look to aftermarket systems to boost performance and to dial in the ride for each rider's personal differences and preferences.

Here are the benefits of buying an aftermarket suspension:

It makes the bike smoother and safer! -  When you encounter a bump or a hole, your bike will jerk up or down. The travel distance is how much your suspension is able to move before being fully compressed, or "bottoming out."   The amount of travel affects the handling characteristics of the bike. Aftermarket shocks often offer a longer travel distance, meaning the bike will not "bottom out" as easily. The bike will also turn much smoother with the wheels gaining better traction on the ground. Better handling + better traction = a safer ride!

They are adjustable -  Stock suspensions do not take into consideration the terrain or additional loads and, more often than not, do not have a wide range of adjustment capabilities and some don't even allow for compression or rebound adjustments. Carrying more load, riding with a passenger, or riding on more twisty or rough roads will all burden the stock suspension.  Aftermarket suspensions typically have a greater range of compression and rebound adjustments, thus allowing you to custom tune your suspension to suit your weight and riding style. With some prestigious brands, such as Ohlins, even the shape of the damping curve can be changed to suit all types of tracks and conditions.

Öhlins: The Best of the Best

Öhlins was founded in Sweden in 1976 by Kenth Öhlin, and since then has dominated the motorcycles suspension market. Their products can be seen on race tracks all over the world on world-championship winning motorcycles in every class of racing.  By 2012, over 300 World Champions have won using Öhlins products.

Öhlins suspension products are developed with state-of-the-art technology and thousands of hours of research and test data from race teams across the globe. With a focus on service and support, Öhlins have their distribution networks across 50 countries ranging from MotoGP circuits to the local national racing events.

Some special features on Öhlins shocks include:

-All independent settings, with high and low-speed compression and rebound damping.

- A huge range of adjustments with equal increments of force. Even the shape of the damping curve can be changed to suit all types of tracks and conditions.

- Unique compression damping forces caused by an increase in pressure on the compression side (as opposed to a drop in pressure on the rebound side of the piston like in conventional shocks). This reduces cavitation and makes high gas pressure in the shock reservoir unnecessary. The internal pressures in the shock unit is kept low, which results in excellent suspension response.

- A piggyback-type shock reservoir gives improved cooling to the shock oil for more consistent damping and long damper life

- Integrated remote hydraulic spring preload adjuster.
Quite simply put, Ohlins is used in most aspects of motorcycle racing so they have an immense amount of product feedback and development to go off of so that the end consumer product is absolutely brilliant.


So is a suspension upgrade worth the steep cost? We think most definitely! The price may be hard to swallow, but once you feel the difference in handling, we can't imagine anyone regretting it! If going for a full system upgrade is not possible in one shot, we recommend first checking and setting the bike's sag and possibly adding aftermarket springs and valves, as it'll give a significant improvement over stock while you save for the big upgrade!

*photos via Öhlins 
By Daniel Relich

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