Why is My Suspension so Stiff?

John Burns
by John Burns
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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.

why is my suspension so stiff

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.

why is my suspension so stiff, 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
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!

Send your moto-related questions to AskMOAnything@motorcycle.com. If we can’t answer them, we’ll at least make you feel temporarily better by thinking you’re talking to somebody who knows what they’re talking about even if we don’t. And if we’re wrong, some smart aleck like Dick Ruble will let us all know immediately.

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John Burns
John Burns

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7 of 20 comments
  • Shlomi Shlomi on Sep 12, 2017

    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.

    • See 4 previous
    • Shlomi Shlomi on Sep 18, 2017

      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?

  • Dtrides Dtrides on Sep 13, 2017

    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!