Suspension Is King!

Motorcycle Suspension


The sun is settling beautifully across the horizon sky, giving off a light almond tint. It’s slightly reminiscent of a sunflower swaying in the summer breeze. A quick time hack from a glance at the dash gives roughly 30 minutes before the return ride home. It’s plenty of time for just a few more laps.

Waiting all week through the 9 to 5 hustle and bustle you’ve finally arrived to Saturday morning’s ride (Boat Ramp Road…LoL). Senses are heightened by the pressure the other guys bring to the ride.  Yea we’re all buddies but when the lid comes down and the rev limiter is pushed it becomes a dog-eat-dog world.

You relish in the feeling of being one up on most of the two-wheeled jockey’s out today. Heck, you’ve even blew by a few guys in the corners on the way up to this point. It’s the final set of asphalt to own for the day and everything is clicking!

Then it happens…

Head nods are exchange and attitudes put into gear. You rocket down the asphalt paved road MotoGp-like anticipating the urge in the opportunity for bragging rights (quietly) amongst the others. Titles are rarely spoken on street rides but it’s all said through the eyes. You aggressively lean into the first bend head tucked, knee out. Rossi would be so proud. But slowly the sweet dream is darkened by the sound of a motor not your own. The overbearing roar of this other motor progressively becomes the only thing you can concentrate on now.

You instantly lose faith in your abilities and begin questioning your logic of “Ricky Bobby go fast”. Realizing somewhere between 1st and 4th gear you’ve shifted somewhere on the food chain from predator to prey. You’ve become that gazelle trotting through the African safari unaware of the 600lb lion in the bush getting ready for din din.

The kill comes swift and clean. You’ve been past at your finest hour left with nothing but a broken spirit. Your very nature instinctively tries to fight back. So you latch on like a baby to a mother’s milk but soon realize from that last corner the pace is far too great for your ego to manage. The bike no longer responses to the very will of thought. You begin fighting too hard to stay the pace and your bike becomes a ragging bull to stay on. It quickly becomes imminent a roll off the throttle is necessary.

The roller coaster ride comes to an end and you are mortally wounded by the sight of this a-hole (joking) already turning his bike around to head back. “Really Pal?!” Left with a helmet saturated with the bewilderment of getting owned and the magic displayed by his ride through the corners.

We’ve all been here at this very spot. Flustered by the fact that someone can ride faster than you. The worst case is when you feel you are at your best as depicted in the story above. Most riders want to dump a bunch of power in the motor. Drooling at the site of the other rider taking off into the heavens of glory. It all seems to boil down to raw untamed, nothing but balls to the wall power. But I beg to differ.

Think of it like this. You can never look at horsepower exclusively in a straight line. If so, it can only be applied to a rider who’s main objective is the quarter mile drag strip (no turns). For the subject of this article I want riders to understand the very most important thing on a bike is its suspension. Yup…suspension is king!

A motorcycle suspension is the knees and elbows of a bike. It allows the bike to absorb all negative and positive inputs to the motorcycle in assisting to maintain its trajectory or line. These inputs can be from the surface the bike is ridden upon or from the rider (pilot) as he or she steers.

Using the example given above the first rider wasn’t able to maintain the same pace as the second rider due to the increase in stress and force against the bike’s contact patch.

It wasn’t that the rider was too far over his head on the ride but that the bike was simply not allowing the more aggressive pace. The point made is the bike was not setup (suspension) correctly to handle the speed of the motorcycle through the turns. It is simply put: if you are not comfortable on the bike you will not increase throttle input (More gas. Less brake). A rider’s bike should feel like a humming sewing machine in the corners. If it doesn’t you will not have the confidence to increase your pace.

I’ve felt this myself many times (mostly on the track). When I’m searching for the right setup for the weekend it becomes a journey. The bike may feel agitated in the brake zones of the corner but feel fine on the exit. Sometimes the feel from the bike may feel reversed. Then there are mid-corner issues. Holding a line through the corners is paramount as it can directly affect drive. You don’t want to sacrifice an exit out of a corner as it may cause you a few places in the end.

Let’s brake things down a bit further…

If a rider’s suspension is too stiff it will give you a sharp pogo feeling through the arms and legs. In this scenario the front and/or rear tire is losing touch with the asphalt. In most cases this will cause the rider a hard time staying on a consistent line through turns. Hard settings such as this are restricting the flow of fork oil through shims in the fork tubes.

In cases where the settings of a motorcycle suspension are set too soft a rider will lose all the feel for what the bike is doing. The bike will feel lethargic and unresponsive to the inputs from the rider. This causes the first shock from the ground into the bike to be absorb and dealt with far too long before another hit can be managed. The bike will never settle back to its original state in the necessary time grossly unsettling the bike. Not a fun time.

For me, to better understand the feel of my bike I would turn my suspension setting all the way one way. Conduct a test ride and then try them the other way. Doing so allows me to further understand what I’m reading and hearing so the application process is that much better applied to my riding abilities.

If I may, I would like to part a bit of advice for your tool box. Follow these steps below to help in your journey in becoming a faster, safer, rider.

1. Set your Sag

  • Always start with a good baseline. You will need two other people for this but it will help in finding that sewing machine setup.
  • Check this link out for a quick reference guide
    Sag Adjustment

2. Tune your suspension (stock or aftermarket)

  • This is your bread and butter. You will be amazed at the difference in feel of your bike once you successfully achieve a fine-tuned suspension. Everything will become effortless on the ride.
  • If you need a good suspension guy DM me on FB @jesse.c.williams1978

3. Test your work

  • Always go on a light ride first. Never push to the max on a new change in anything done to bike.

4. Have fun!

  • Enjoy the ride. Don’t frustrate yourself with what the other rider is doing.


In closing, there are other more detailed areas I’m excluding from this read. Not to get you scratching your head but Google them later. Research key words such as: Preload, Compression, Rebound as they relate to motorcycle suspension.

See you at the next turn!

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