Is it time to update your motorcycle suspension?

By: AdvWisdom
Title: Is it time to update your motorcycle suspension?
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Published Date: Mon, 23 Aug 2021 07:31:43 +0000

Julian Challis, ABR’s Chief Bike Tester, explains how you can improve your riding experience by upgrading your motorcycle’s stock suspension.

Photos: Pierre Maelzer

Ask a reputable motorcycle tuner about improving your machine and they will get a simple answer. Upgrading and properly adjusting your bike’s suspension is the most effective performance enhancement you can make.

Whether you want to stay on the tarmac or like to tackle a few green slopes, whether you want to conquer the Stelvio Pass or just want to zoom down a few B-streets closer to your home, the suspension of your bike is the key to your riding experience.

So before you think about changing that exhaust socket, before you search for Power Commanders online, and before you even decide it works better on super unleaded, you can upgrade the springy parts on either end of your scooter and refine dramatic effects on each one Aspect of your riding that you will ever do.

While we love to spend our money on jewelry, it seems that investing in the parts that actually make our bike easier and better to ride might be lower on the list.

And this is where Öhlins comes in. If you have a racing background, particularly from the sacred pits of motocross events in the 80s and 90s, you will be more than familiar with the Swedish brand, with its signature gold forks and yellow bumps. If you had Öhlins, you were serious about racing. If you had Öhlins, you knew your shizzle. If you had Öhlins you would win.

As it was then, it is just as true today. And while some of us may be getting on in years to get started these days, upgrading the suspension on our adventure bikes will have a similarly transformative effect. We might not take the Lady of Farleigh Castle, but mastering the sweeping fast corners of your favorite road without deviating a millimeter from the line comes pretty close.

Upgrade the suspension

Time to upgrade?

To prove the theory, we sent regularly APR Contributor Pierre Maelzer to BG Motorsport at Silverstone, armed with his relatively large but well-equipped equipment Yamaha Tenere 700. Now we could have buried our heads in the shed and tried assembling the new suspension ourselves, but when the opportunity arose to have it installed and set up by a team of seasoned professionals, a service that costs around £ 200 we have the wise made choice to go with the pros.

The T7 comes with reasonable but “budget built” suspension that works pretty well in most situations, but after about a year of use on tarmac and green paths, Pierre wanted to improve the bike’s handling and general road behavior. And as the official Öhlins service center, BG Motorsport was happy to take on this task.

After weighing the motorcycle and the rider and asking Pierre carefully about his riding requirements, the technicians got down to work and removed the stock KYB forks, linkage and damper with a few nifty twists of the snap-ons.

In its place, the front was treated with the Öhlins FKA 114 front fork kit (900 € plus VAT) and at the rear the YA 818 shock absorber (849 € plus VAT) was silently pushed into the drawing like a butler Zimmer. The forks are in this rich gold color and at the back the yellow spring with the golden piggyback reservoir and the remote adjuster simply screams “Factory-Bike” -cool.

Upgrade motorcycle chassis

Fully adjustable

But it’s not just looks that count. The forks are fully adjustable, the right leg provides rebound damping and the left leg provides compression damping. The separation of the various functions is common on motocross bikes and it’s good to see the technology making its way into the adventure machines, with the settings requiring a 3mm Allen key to prevent accidental changes. Plus, you can change the preload of the springs in each leg with a 14mm socket on the top nut, so you can easily change the setting to handle extra luggage or passengers.

The damper unit is similarly adjustable at the rear. Change preload requires just one turn of the beautifully crafted adjuster while making compression and rebound changes on the bottom and top of the damper assembly.

As with many customers, Pierre wasn’t familiar with the correct setup of his bike, so Öhlins’ service centers will do all of this for you before you roll out the door a Dakar pit crew, but maybe a little slower.

Upgrade motorcycle chassis

So was the chassis upgrade worth it?

To get the full amount of Öhlins units, I took Pierre’s Ténéré with me to the Adventure Bike Rider Festival on the 20 km long AX41 Adventure Trail. From the moment I rode the Ténéré for the first time at launch in 2019, I was a fan, but just like the XT660 model it replaced, the limiting factor on the Yamaha was the suspension.

The full Öhlins treatment should always improve the bike’s performance and handling, so I was curious to see how the latest incarnation of the Ténéré would play out. Fortunately, Pierre and I are built roughly similar, so aside from tweaking the rear camber a bit before I set off, the setup was spot on.

The bike was just so tight and precise on the trails. You can put it exactly where you want and it sticks to the floor like granola in an old cereal bowl. The steering becomes more responsive, you can reduce power sooner, and the bike holds a line better than you can ever imagine.

From whoops to uneven braking, wide gravel roads to a trickle through the forest on pegs, the Öhlins kit is just right. It changed the performance of the bike.

The owner’s opinion

I met Pierre a few weeks after assembly to find out what he thought of the suspension of his bike.

He said, “As soon as I got on the bike, the changes were obvious. Instead of the usual sag, the bike moved very little and felt tighter and more balanced overall. On the road, the ride felt much more stable and controlled, with very little of the previous dips when braking in corners or when squatting while accelerating. With the much more controlled bike feel, you can get out of corners much earlier without worrying about things getting out of shape.

“And when it came to going off-road on the trails, the difference was enormous, especially on the front axle, which was soft and was used to punching through with big hits on the standard fork. With the Öhlins units, I have not yet achieved anything that is even close to that. I’ve never looked at the suspension of my bikes much in the past, but after seeing how much the Öhlins units made the bike better, I wish I had.

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