Why Upgrading Your Motorcycle Suspension is Important for Motorcycle Safety.

Motorcycle Suspension issues by biker law blog guest contributor Greg N.This article is by Guest Contributor Greg N. of MotoYard.com.

I talk to a lot of people who say, “why should I upgrade my suspension, I don’t race”, well there are many other very good reasons why you should upgrade, most important one being safety. I can’t tell you how many times I thanked myself for upgrading mine.

Whether you ride a Harley or a Suzuki GSXR, there are upgrades available and they are similar on both types of bikes. For cruisers there are plenty of choices – Progressive Suspension, Works Performance, Race Tech to name a few. For sport bikes there are choices as well with Penske, Race Tech and of course Ohlins among others.

So what is the difference between your stock suspension and an aftermarket one? Well, it’s always safe to assume that aftermarket is better, because although the manufacturer wants to put out a good bike, they do try to cut costs, so of course they cut corners, and the only thing an aftermarket manufacturer can do is improve (otherwise why would anyone buy it). There are very few manufacturers that use good components, like Ducati, but instead of spending $20K on a Ducati, you can have the same suspension for much less on pretty much any bike. Most stock forks (made by Showa or other manufacturers) are damper rod forks, with aftermarket forks you get cartridge forks. Although most newer sport bikes come with cartridge forks, they use wimpy springs that can’t compare to an Ohlins fork for example. One thing to remember is that most newer bikes will have a much better suspension than its older counterpart. For example the 2008 Yamaha R1 shock is a much better shock than say, the 2006. What a lot of people don’t know is in a lot of cases the shock on the newer model bike will fit an older one just fine. What that means is you can go to a site that has used motorcycle parts, like eBay.com or Motoyard.com and find a used one for much cheaper than you would pay for an Ohlins shock. A lot of people will replace their brand new shocks with an aftermarket one and sell the stock one for cheap.

Another way to go is of course to get those expensive aftermarket components. In my personal experience there is no comparison, no matter how good the manufacturer says they made the suspension that year. A really nice rear shock can run you over $1000 new, and so can the front forks. On some bikes you have some options, instead of replacing the whole fork, you can replace the internals (the cartridge). There are companies that will build the forks for you like Race Tech, but you can usually go to any competent bike shop and they can change the fork internals for you. This is not a very simple job to do on your own, since the springs are under pressure and there are many little pieces that tend to get lost. As for replacing the rear shock, you can probably do it yourself, with a help of a friend. Most times, it’s just one or a few bolts that you need to take out (top and bottom of the shock) and while your friend is holding the bike up by the seat (since it’s not attached to the swingarm or wheel with the shock, it’s pretty light), you can pull out the old shock and put a new one in, in about 20 minutes.

Another great thing about aftermarket shocks and forks is that they are adjustable. Yeah, the manufacturers claim theirs are adjustable too, but if you have ever tried to adjust your compression or rebound on your stock forks, you will probably notice that the changes are so small, they are barely noticeable. With an aftermarket shock and forks you will definitely notice the difference.

So the question still remains: why do you need a new suspension? Well, if you race, you know the difference it makes on the track. If you don’t, what you get is a much safer bike on the street. Aftermarket shocks will not “bottom out” as easily when you hit a bump and your bike will feel much more predictable in turns. You also will have much better braking feel and performance. What is predictable? Well, when you are in a middle of a turn, and you hit a bump, you don’t expect or want your bike’s front wheel to skip and go in another direction. With a good suspension you can minimize those times, we all had, when we wonder if we might have been going a little too fast into that turn.
So, is it worth spending thousands of dollars on new suspension? In my opinion – Yes. If you are looking to do it on a budget, and you have an older model bike, find out if a newer model bike has a better suspension and see if it fits yours – you can probably upgrade for a quarter of the price or less.

By Greg N. of Motoyard.com.

If you want to write an article for The Biker Law Blog which gets well over 100,000 hits per month, please email your article to me at Norman@norman-law.com.


Biker and Motorcycle Accident Attorney

Norman Gregory Fernandez

7 thoughts on “Why Upgrading Your Motorcycle Suspension is Important for Motorcycle Safety.

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  2. Thanks for a great article. I was really impressed with your suggestion to buy a newer model part used, then install it on your older model bike. It makes for a better bike than buying the same model part new!

  3. Stock sport bike suspensions are harsh. (Maybe others are but I am more familiar with sportbikes.) You hit a bump, the suspension does not give at all, and thus it wants to throw you from the bike. In areas with poor roads, the effect is perpetually unsettling to the rider. I do not mind being on the pegs, but the road is not a motocross track where I should have to let the bike completely sway fore and aft underneath me.

    One of the causes of this is that the stock valving is slow. As the suspension wants to compress the fluid cannot move fast enough within it, thus it cannot compress, thus it does not do its job and absorb the shock. Changing to a lighter oil can help, although that may mean removal and disassembly to get all old oil out. By then you may want to have the fork or shock upgraded.

    There are suspension shops that will replace the valving with faster valving and select springs to match the rider weight. At a cost of under $700, this is a great value. You still have the poor adjustability of the stock suspension, however, it is finely-tuned and will serve you well. You would be best to study and gain a great deal of skill before going to the next step of a replacement racing suspension. Sport bikers have this idea that expensive bolt ons makes a great bike. They make great cars, but with motorcycles the rider is 99% of the performance. Imagine Valentino Rossi beating you in the twisties on a 450 while you are on a 1000 CC bike with a $3,000 suspension. Just to give you some perspective on, “is it really worth the cost?”.

    The racing suspension does have good, linear, meaningful adjustment. Meaning on a stock bike you may adjust it a notch or two and it does nothing, but on the race suspension you turn it one click, and it makes a noticeable, linear change. This is what you gain with the racing suspension, but it is only valuable if you are on the track, have reached your skills limit, and need that little bit more from the bike.

    I found it important to stress this as in the motorcycle blogs some of the hothead know-it-alls are screaming, “the OEM rebuild is not nearly as good as an aftermarket suspension.” My next quote to them would be, “Oh are you competing with Keith Code now on the track? Yes, you would need that extra boost from the racing suspension. Otherwise, go home and practice more and cut out the nonsense that money equals performance. It does not.

  4. A few flaws with the logic here:

    “.. the only thing an aftermarket manufacturer can do is improve (otherwise why would anyone buy it). ”

    Simple, Hype, almost every product exaggerates to some degree (just try buying the Hamburger you see in the adverts) as long as someone spends $$$ on your product a percentage will convince themselves $$$ = performance because the company told them so.

    “you can usually go to any competent bike shop and they can change the fork internals for you. This is not a very simple job to do on your own”

    If you have the gear to change engine oil you can rebuild your forks, with perhaps the addition of a homemade plate for taking spring pressure of a sinlge nut..

    Actually I take it back, your whole article is a load or garbage.

    “Aftermarket shocks will not “bottom out””

    That really depends doesn’t it.

    “Another great thing about aftermarket shocks and forks is that they are adjustable.”

    The adjustments on an OEM 2007 DR-Z 400 are noticeable for a 230lb rider, somewhere between floaty and soft and hard and jouncy

    “So, is it worth spending thousands of dollars on new suspension? In my opinion – Yes.”

    Well that is your opinion, which is very narrow minded spending “thousands” on a bike only worth “thousands” is false economy, take the aforementioned DRZ, why spend even 2000 on suspension on a bike worth “only” twice that?

    1. Yep I agree 100%. I have not done much in upgrades, but have owned my fair share of bikes. Not all stock suspension is the same by any means. I owned a 2014 gsxr with showa big piston forks and it was probably one of the best from the factory. On the other end I have a 2004 zx10r that is fairly decent as well. Then there is my 2012 cbr600rr, and it’s mushy already. I think that suspension is due for some upgrades. It’s a track bike for me and I can’t see spending 3k+ to upgrade suspension alone. I’ll start with springs $240 for front and rear, then re valve the forks. I would bet after that it would be a world of difference from the stock settings. At the most someday I might drop in a cartridge set, but that would be if I get into racing competitively. Big name suspension is just too much to afford for the minimal change in performance.

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