How to fix stiff suspension

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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