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How Does Motorcycle Suspension Work?


Motorcycle suspension is the foundation of performance, yet it's the most misunderstood and often an overlooked upgrade. Even if you have a high-end motorcycle or sport bike, there is likely room for improvement in the suspension department. Trust us: The best you know is only what you've experience so far! This sentiment applies to many things in life.

While we tend to see more exhaust first-purchases when riders are buying motorcycle parts online, those that are looking to go faster and ride more confidently should absolutely think about getting their suspension dialed in through tuning and using the correct spring rates, etc. - at least as a baseline.

Suspension on my bike has always had a bit of voodoo behind it and, for this reason, I would shy away from making this major leap in performance when I should have been running towards it.

Investing in an aftermarket suspension setup will improve almost every part of your ride or race. For example:
* Better overall handling
* Improved control and traction
* Enhanced safety
* Reduce rear end chatter/skipping (more power to the ground)

With so many benefits, suspension is hard to ignore when considering upgrades for your bike whether you're taking a spirited ride through the canyons, hitting the occasional track day or just on-ramp warrior-ing it. I'm going to try and give you an overview about how motorcycle suspension in particular works so we can shed a little light on this subject and, hopefully, make it a little less scary.

Motorcycle Suspension Basics

Forget everything you know about automobile suspension. The rider/bike weight ratio is much larger, requiring research and time to adjust sag, compression and rebound settings. Rear suspension is comprised of a damper and a spring -- aka the shock absorber. Suspension enhancements and personalization can improve handling and control when hitting a bump in the road or track.

Suspension Sag and Springs

Loaded sag refers to the amount of suspension travel used when a bike settles with the rider on board. Adjusting the sag to match your weight helps your suspension work at optimum levels. Before you begin, write down the original settings so you can go back to them if you go too far. If you're dealing with a pre-owned bike, refer to the owners manual to revert to the original settings.

If you buy aftermarket tools or parts to help with sag adjustment, an instruction guide will be provided. Also, refer to the owners manual. It's definitely a two-person job. Or you can take it into a shop.

Compression Damping and Shock Rebound

Compression damping helps keep the wheel on the ground when going over a bump. Shock rebound returns the wheel to the ground as smoothly as possible. Many aftermarket suspension kits come with instruction manuals and customer service.

Ride Height

If the ride height is incorrect, it can affect the stability and safety of the rider. Aftermarket spring shocks offer preload adjustment features to set the right height.

Front Forks

Aftermarket front-fork suspension kits can alleviate a harsh ride due to weak springs, worn parts or binding.

Bearings and Tires

Bearings and tires are also suspension items. Be sure to check all wheel bearings, swing arm bearings and steering head bearings. If you're not certain how to do it, a reputable shop can help you.
Tire stability involves more than a pressure check. Too much compression or insufficient compression can negatively impact tire stability and traction when taking corners or pulling out. If tire stability continues to be an issue, go back to your shock compression settings. If you don't have proper control, the settings are wrong.

Final Thoughts

Don't be afraid to dive into your first suspension evaluation. Once you improve the handling of your bike through suspension adjustments, you'll feel the difference, and you'll be ready to dive into even more suspension troubleshooting.

We carry many different brands of aftermarket motorcycle suspension components on our motorcycle parts website like springs and gold valves from Race-Tech Suspension as well as world renowned, direct bolt-on replacement shocks, kits and forks by Ohlins Suspension.

Learn more about the ups and downs of motorcycle suspension.

By Daniel Relich

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