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.
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Norman Gregory Fernandez