Providing everything is going according to plan, a moving motorcycle has only two points of contact a with the floor, the front and rear tyre. All too often we get asked what the best bang to buck bike mod you can do is, and we 100% think it is having your motorcycle suspension set up correctly. Who doesn’t want to get more grip from these two contact patches, get more even tyre wear giving longer life, and more feedback and confidence in the bike’s handling.
Despite most modern motorcycles running wide tyres, the profile of the tyre means that there is only a contact patch roughly the size of a credit (or debit) card. The size of this contact patch changes with every rider input, through the brakes, throttle and the handlebars. Going hard on the front brake will shift the weight of the bike forward squishing the tyre into the floor. The same happens to the rear tyre under acceleration.
One of the most significant factors in all of this is the rider, and as we know, riders come in all different shapes and sizes. Common sense would say that a person of 50kg bodyweight is going to have a completely different ideal suspension setup to a 120kg rider. But setting the bike up from the factory is entirely unrealistic, so bike manufacturers will cater to all sizes and shapes of people, by making a compromise – a suitable setting for everybody. But as well all know, compromise is bad, and not the best it COULD be. So what is the solution?
Motorcycle suspension setup
Why settle for what might work for everybody else? What you should do is get your bike set up for you, accounting for your weight, riding style, real-world use, and of course the terrain you ride on. The suspension setup for a Yamaha R1 on track is going to be miles apart from a CRF250 motocross bike.
Depending on the age of your motorcycle, your suspension might be adjustable from the factory. Most modern bikes will come with some form of compression, preload or rebound tuning. These come in the form of adjusters normally tweakable with an Allen key or screwdriver.
This might seem an easy job, just add a few clicks and everything will be grand. Well, no. Setting a bikes suspension up properly is a dark art and of course, if you have no idea what you are doing, it’s going to be best to see somebody who does.
People who know what they are doing with motorcycle suspension have been learning and applying their trade for years, and still learn every day.
Before you set the suspension, is it actually working?
Before looking at getting the suspension setup, it is worth noting motorcycle suspension is a serviceable part. Suspension components need maintenance and rebuilding, just as the engine needs an oil and filter change; a fork or shock will benefit massively from fresh oil, seals and some general TLC.
With suspension components being telescopic in nature, (one part sliding inside another) debris can get past seals, and be suspended in the oil. This can accelerate wear and block up channels used to move oil around. Water can also ingress through the seals, mixing with the oil which degrades the oil quality, can rust internal components, emulsify the oil and worst of all, cause ill performance due to the varying nature under compression. A thorough clean and rebuild with new seals and fresh fork oil can transform tired suspension.
As with everything, added costs, adds quality. Your mass-produced Ohlins may have the name on them, but the difference in quality between the OEM fitment and aftermarket parts is massive. Changing OEM internals with piston kits, cartridges, or a more simple re-vale and re-spring can all transform the ride. This will be useful to do during the rebuild process whilst the components are apart.
Now the fork is working, get it set up
Hopefully, after a complete rebuild, the suspension will be sprung to your weight and will be working at an optimum level. Now is the time to get it set up properly to your weight, riding style and feedback.
Depending on the application, the suspension setup isn’t set it once and then forget. If riding on the track, one track will have different requirements compared to another. Undulating, tight and twisty Mallory park will have a massive change to wide open and flat Silverstone. Of course, this is where trial and error will come in unless you have your own suspension technician with you. Word of advice from experience, NOTE EVERY SETTING DOWN SO YOU CAN GO BACK IF A CHANGE FEELS WORSE.
From a road bike perspective, I’ve had both the GSXR and the R1 set up by SSR. It completely transforms the feel on turn in, so much so on the ride home it catches you by surprise at how much quicker it leans. Confidence and feel have been vastly improved on both acceleration and braking. Some parts of the setup require homework; trial and error, this is pretty simple. Add one turn, see if it feels better. If not go back a turn. So simple even I can do it.
Hands down, getting the suspension set up properly has been bar none the best mod done to both bikes. Also being around the £45 mark, it is also one of the cheapest mods you can do.