Dear MOby Sir,

I own a 2014 Triumph Street Triple R and ride almost exclusively in the twisties north of San Francisco where I live. My bike’s suspension copes beautifully with the smoother roads, and manages the slightly bumpy roads well, but it is harsh and uncomfortable on the very bumpy roads which are common here. I’ve ridden my friend’s KTM 990 Adventure on the bumpy roads, which manages these roads easily. Is it possible to modify my bike’s suspension to handle the bumps comfortably and effectively, or is this simply the nature of the bike? Note: my suspension has been set up for me by the suspension experts at Catalyst Reaction in Redwood City, CA, so adjusting it is unlikely to help.

Thank you,

Jay Williams
San Francisco


Dear Jay,

According to our previous tests of the model, your ’14 Street Triple R is packing fully adjustable KYB suspension at each end, which is a good thing, with 4.5 inches travel in front and 5.3 inches at the rear. Those are sportbike travel numbers, which are of course shorter than the 7.5 inches of wheel travel to be found at either end of a 990 Adventure. In fact, longer wheel travel, to compensate for neglected pavement and aging backs, are two big reasons why “adventure” bikes have become so popular.

Adjusting Motorcycle Suspension

Having your bike “set up by” Catalyst was a smart move; I’m going to guess they set the spring preload, front and rear, to accommodate your weight, which is the right place to start. The general idea for most bikes is you should be using up roughly 1/3 to 1/4 of the suspension’s total travel (depending on the bike) from your weight alone, which gives your suspenders the remaining two-thirds to absorb bumps and one-third to extend into depressions.

Then you’ve got compression-damping and rebound-damping clickers to deal with, which do just what their names imply. The compression-damping circuit controls how quickly the suspenders can compress when you hit a bump. The rebound circuit controls how quickly it can re-extend. The Catalyst people can’t follow you around to adjust for all the different conditions you’ll encounter.

Try this: Go to the bumpiest section where your bike is least happy. With suspension fluid now warm from getting there, turn the compression damping adjuster on the rear shock all the way soft, turn the rebound-damping adjuster mostly all the way soft, and ride back and forth at your usual pace. (If the adjusters aren’t marked, check your manual.) Any better? If you can’t feel any difference, write the KYB people a nasty letter and think about upgrading to a nice Öhlins or Penske shock or something.

The blurry thing on top is the compression damping adjuster; the rebound adjuster’s probably at the bottom of the shock, down there under the swingarm.

For a number of years there, some of us were pretty convinced the adjusters on many bikes’ stock suspension units were like the toys they put in bird cages to give parakeets something to do – but not so much by 2013.

If your bike feels better but now feels too soft and bouncy, add a couple clicks in at a time until it feels just right. If it feels soft, add compression damping. If it feels bouncy, add rebound. (Too much rebound damping can feel like too much compression if the shock is unable to re-extend quickly enough between bumps.)

When you find a happy place, do the same with the front fork (though a lot of what we perceive as too stiff or too soft comes from the rear end of the bike). Basically, play with the adjusters in a logical way, and you might get lucky. Write down all your changes, easy to do with a note in your phone.

You won’t get a perfectly smooth ride over a really bumpy road, but you might be able to make things a lot better. And if you do get your suspension working better but still feel beat up, look into a gel seat or something, since your bike’s seat is its first line of suspension.

Good luck!


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  • Jon Jones

    My sportier bikes also beat me up on bumpier roads. This is why I’ve gravitated toward adventure bikes. I try to keep the sportbikes on smoother roads. I’ve also learned to ride “light in the saddle” on bad pavement. More weight on the pegs and bars, very little on the seat. Let the bike work beneath you as your body works with the suspension.

    And yes, it’s tiring. Best to be in decent shape if you ride a sportbike regularly. I’m spent after a good ride on a sportbike. Part of the admission fee.

    And railing corners on blown-out pavement is an absolute blast on adventure bikes. Even modest singles like KLR650s and XR650Ls can make me all giggly and stupid on tight, messy roads.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Just did a 50 mile round trip on a gnarly rocky fire road on Saturday, standing on pegs the whole time on my KTM 1190 R. Rear end was going every which way but the front end was going where it was pointed. Sitting down was not an option due to the rocks, gravel and pot holes, plus it keeps the rear end from moving around freely.

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  • At the end of day it depends on what kind of bike you have. Suspension is usually adjustable, but the stiffness level differs massively from bike to bike.

  • matthew patton

    > write the KYB people a nasty letter
    KYB can’t do suspension worth d*ck it seems of late. I fielded this *exact* question out of the blue last week from a rider in Thailand on a 2015 model – I guess he Google’d me. The valving is just plain wrong. You can get some temporary relief by going with a 10cSt@40 fork oil (do NOT use ‘W’ notation to pick your oils) and a minimum of 140mm of oil height. And running the adjuster mostly open.

    You see quite a few people who run rebound way too tight. If your suspension feels harsh first take a good hard look at rebound. You want it to damp *just* enough that it doesn’t oscillate. Back when I used to walk paddocks and shove on a front end and the number that were essentially rigid on the way up was just astounding.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Do you do suspension work?

      • matthew patton

        yes.

  • Vrooom

    I was shocked when I got my first set of Ohlins. I didn’t know bike suspension existed that was that good at smoothing out the road.

    • Goose

      During my brief time working in a motorcycle shop one of the most difficult things was selling high end suspension. Once they bought jt they loved it but the first sale was tough. It almost seem suspension houses need to have road tests like bike companies. Yes Bunky, Honda (BMW/ Harley/ whoever) sold you poor quality, poorly sorted shocks. Denial will not make them work any better.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        Same with exhaust. I find it hard to justify spending $1100 to get Akrapovic for my KTM 1190 R when it already came with a decent exhaust.

        • Goose

          I’m not sure I see a similarity, modern exhaust systems (maybe except Harleys) are pretty close to Ohlins/ WP levels of performance. A better shock/ fork can make a bike better at everything but sitting at a stoplight. At best an exhaust can make a bike sound better, slightly lighter and slightly more powerful.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            The Akrapovic is 11 lbs lighter, looks and sounds better and increases power. The combination of light weight and more power makes the bike run better. My Suzuki Bandit has a carbon fiber Yoshimura which is smaller and much lighter than the huge exhaust that comes with the bike.

  • TC

    Best suspension on any bike I owned for street use was a Buell Ulysses. The first 1/2 inch or so was soft enough to soak up small bumps, like tar strips, and the rest was firm enough to give a well controlled ride without porpoising. HD take note, 2 1/2 inches of rear suspension is not nearly enough

    • Sayyed Bashir

      I have been riding my current Harley for 10 years and the previous one for 16 years (for a total of 212,000 miles). You learn to avoid pot holes and uneven pavement until it becomes second nature. Then it is no longer a problem. The seat is very comfortable, and the low 27″ seat height is very welcome.

  • Shlomi

    I had Street Triple Rx with Ohlins TTX which I revalved, and long link (and I tried the stock short link). The suspension was revalved and set up by Phil Douglas (After Shock) several time based on my feedbacks. I know the roads you are riding, Marin county roads are the worst in California, so I say this: DONT WASTE YOUR TIME, you will never get your STR be comfortable or even compliant on those roads. I loved my STRx, its a great bike, but it was not built for this kind of roads (Marshal Pataluma? ). I got my self Africa Twin, and problem solved. Yes my friends raised their eyebrows, “why do you need off road bikes to carve canyon roads?” Well our 3rd world country California roads are that bad.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      In some areas.

    • Jay Williams

      Thank you for your response, which is the answer to the question that I actually asked. Burns missed the point. You did not.

      I rode Marshall Petaluma today, and it’s true that our roads are an insult to 3rd world countries. Your unsatisfactory results with Ohlins and After Shock saved me lots of time and money. Of course I’ll spend that “saved” money on a new bike one of these days. I’m thinking of the new (2018) Vstrom 1000, though the Africa Twin is also a consideration. I don’t think I could handle the KTM ownership experience, if you know what I mean.

      • matthew patton

        You probably need to get out more and see an actual 3rd-world country’s roads. But leaving that aside, many/some tuners do not have the time or interest to come up with their own shim stacks. They simply follow a 3rd party recipe – for race use add this extra shim, for this weight of rider, add/sub this shim or that.

        The STR was tuned for the track and ‘perfect’ A roads most likely. There is nothing that says your forks or even the Ohlins/AfterShock can’t be done so as to handle the terrain in question. It just that Phil didn’t get it right after a couple of attempts or Shlomi got tired to having to go back again and again.

        Jay, pay the freight to/from me in northern VA and I’ll do your forks for free and see if I can’t make you a believer.

        The reason bikes like the Africa Twin do better on lousy surfaces is because one they have bigger wheels which reduces the speed of suspension stroke, but more to the point they have pistons with bigger orifices and shim stacks designed to handle the necessary flow rates. If the piston and bleed circuits are choked up, playing around the edges with shims is not going to achieve the results you’re looking for.

        • Shlomi

          I work with Phil for over 15 years, and he have done magic for my bikes before. He also set up my Africa Twin to be a canyon carver, rather than off road monster. However, this is the 3rd street figther i had (Tuono Gen I, and Duke 690), All were killers on quality twisty roads. But simply can not handle the bumpy stuff. You are right its not all about the suspension and my 21″ wheel makes magic on those roads. Perhaps, you would like to fit the Street Triple with 21″ front wheel?

    • matthew patton

      Maybe the youtube videos I watched are not representative but sheeet, you call that a horrible 3rd-world road? Those are what we call normal roads here in VA, MD, and PA. In fact in some places we’d be lucky to have roads that nice.

  • dtrides

    I have ridden those roads, on a street triple, after having my suspension set up at said shop.
    I wanted to trade my bike in mid way through the ride….
    A wiser friend asked if I kept a record of old settings and maybe I should try resetting my suspension before throwing the bike off nearest cliff. Much better.
    Remember, most suspension shops deal in track bikes day in and day out, not back road bombers.
    Now I do what is recommended here and set up my own suspension for the road and only see the specialist for the track.
    PS: I have had longer travel suspension set up as well from shops and it was just as bad . Bike skipping all over the road when things got rough.
    Some of the best back road bombers I have owned were sport bikes with properly adjusted (quite often aftermarket) suspension.
    Good luck!
    DT