Updated January 2020
The basic concepts are easy enough: coil springs and compression damping determine how your suspension compresses. Rebound damping (and the same coil springs) determine how it uncompresses. The rates at which those two things happen and under what conditions is the complicated part. All I know is that when your suspension is right, it’s good, and when it’s not, it’s often uncertain what is exactly to blame.
Paul Thede of Race Tech, a big suspension player, used to say “the best you’ve ridden is the best you know,” and that’s exactly true. Some late-model bikes come really close right out of the box, I noted as I watched the shadow of myself rolling down a bumpy dirt road in Death Valley a while ago: the KTM 1190 Adventure’s tires were churning up and down like crazy, but you could barely tell from the saddle. If you’re trying to make that happen on an older machine, you might need a little help, and the fastest, cheapest way to get there in the end is to consult a specialist in the beginning. You might get there eventually on your own, but there’s something to be said for having a big database.
Yours truly has been blessed with the chance to spin a lap or two on some pretty incredible championship-winning race bikes over the years, and while they’re all horsepower-packed, the other thing they share is that they don’t really feel at all intimidating, because their chassis do such a good job of putting that power to the ground.
If ever a thing deserved the description “black art,” motorcycle suspension is it. Your bike’s suspension needs to suck up bumps, control fore and aft pitch, steer the front wheel, create traction at the rear … and do it all from straight up and down to leaned all the way over on the tires’ edges. You could spend a lifetime studying vehicle dynamics; a lot of people have, and do. Here’s a partial list, in alphabeticalish order, of some of the best – but consult your Google along with your specific bike for even more suspension options.
In the San Francisco Bay area, San Carlos to be exact, Catalyst Reaction is a full-service shop as well as a suspension service. Highly active in the AFM racing association and in AMA competition, CR can help you make the best of your stock suspension or fix you up with something aftermarket.
Computrack Boston carries top-quality components like Öhlins, Penske, JRi and K-Tech. They can also straighten your bent bike with their GMD Computrack machine, or provide a complete chassis service for $899, where they disassemble your bike, grease all bearings, service the suspension components and put it all back together ready to ride and perfectly aligned.
Dick is into dirtbike suspension, mostly your KTMs and Euro-exotic Husabergs and Betas and things, but he can handle it all, including lowering your bike an inch or two the proper way. Not to mention 2- and 4-stroke carburetor mods, for those old enough to remember. Now that the interwebs and UPS are here, Washington, Utah, might as well be right around the corner.
Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, DMr got a rave review or two from our sources, and appears to be a good resource for revalving your stock components in addition to selling you new BD40 shocks and fork cartridges for reasonable prices.
Dave Moss’s product is really his expertise in helping people to get right with their motorcycle, across all disciplines. Through evaluation of your bike’s ergonomics, your weight and ability and your bike’s current suspension, Moss says he will not let a rider spend money until they need to and at that point, will help prioritize what is needed and when. We all get better so NEVER leave your motorcycle behind you, says Dave. Upgrade at the appropriate time to keep your motorcycle AHEAD of you so you can continue to learn.
Another East Coast suspension option is EPM, in New Jersey, where owner Klaus Huenecke doesn’t want you to think Öhlins is the only game in town. EPM carries Hyperpro shocks from the Netherlands, YSS Racing shocks for twin-shock motorcycles. Check out the Hyperpro Street Box, which includes an emulsion shock and progressive fork springs for a bunch of bikes, for as little as $629.
A big player in the world of motocross and off-road racing, FC has six locations around the U.S. to service and ship your suspension ASAP, like within 2 or 3 days. These guys have been around since the ’80s and have tons of moto experience, as well as a website with valuable troubleshooting/ tuning info.
Proprietor David Behrend spent many years in AMA and Canadian roadracing with some very big-name riders, followed by a stint at Öhlins USA. Now located in North Carolina, he’s the source for Öhlins knowledge in the southeastern U.S., as well as Nitron and Andreani components from Italy.
One of America’s original aftermarket shock makers is busy building suspension components for ATVs, UTVs, snowmobiles, mountain bikes and monster trucks. But the only motorcycle suspenders they make anymore are for Harley-Davidsons. Go where the money is, I suppose? The Rusty Butcher QS3-R for Sportsters is just one of many H-D fitments.
Purveyors of Penske shocks, proprietary fork inserts and cartridges for Harleys, Indians and all popular sportbikes, re-valve kits and steering stabilizers, GP is all about improved handling, comfort and feedback.
Jeff Ryan’s shocking enterprise builds excellent dampers for almost every powered vehicle on the planet including the Polaris Slingshot, but he too has dropped sportbikes from the catalog, and now caters only to American motorcycles – Harley-Davidson and Indian. The Indian Dual Adjustable shocks shown are available in three weight ranges, with black or red springs, for $899.
High-quality componentry built in the U.K., K-tech’s line of products includes SSK piston kits to fit most front fork cartridge damping systems, designed to give enhanced damping control for improved comfort and confidence. Also complete rear shocks, complete forks and fork inserts, steering dampers, tools, the whole nine British yards, now available through K-tech Suspension USA in Brentwood, NY.
Dan Kyle was AMA Tuner of the Year not once but two times, once upon a time, and claims his little shop on the central California coast is the world’s largest Öhlins dealer. Besides suspension, Kyle carries all sorts of other high-end components including Sato, Brembo, Marchesini … as well as a wealth of experience in making it all work together. And he’s a bit old school; he likes to talk on the phone. Dial (831) 394-1330.
Harley-Davidsons only need apply. Revo Arc piggyback shocks shown are available for Dyna, FXR and Sportster, in 13- and 14-inch lengths, regular or Heavy Duty. Also shocks and fork kits for FLH, V-Rod, Softail…
Suspension guru Jim Lindemann has left the building (RIP, Jim), but the suspension tuning company that bears his name lives on under former racer Ed Sorbo in Redlands, California. Ed says the company is back in business as of September 2020, after a brief hiatus playing with cars. Once a motorcyclist, always a motorcyclist, it seems.
Sweet Swedish suspension Öhlins US headquarters is in Hendersonville, NC, and its website is full of information to guide you to the products that fit your application (including your automobile), along with a dealer finder to locate your nearest Öhlins outlet.
These guys have only been in business for 42 years in Brentwood, NY, and run a website with over 12,000 part numbers. Among them are the K-tech suspension pieces imported from the UK, including these very blingy new Bullit shocks for Harleys and Triumphs, along with K-tech “bundle” kits for most sportbikes that include a shock and fork internals for around $2500. OE also carries other big-name suspension, including shocks for Hogs and cruisers, stretched swingarms for your Hayabusa – pretty much a one-stop shop for whatever two-wheeled path to freedom you want to blaze, really.
Progressive might be the number-one source for twin shocks for cruisers, both metric and American. Also air shocks for touring rigs, and off-road suspension items for dual-sport bikes like KLRs and BMWs, including lowering kits. The all-new 465 Series R.A.P. (Remote Adjustable Preload) pictured is a state of the art high pressure gas monotube shock design for the new Harley-Davidson M8 Softail models.
Race Tech is the 800-pound gorilla of the motorcycle suspension world, and the forks in the photo are one of its latest innovations: G6 Custom Fork Legs come with 25mm Compression and HFR Rebound Gold Valves and Hi-Performance Lightweight Springs, custom built to your application. Dirt, street, ATV, UTV, Harley – if you haven’t heard of Race Tech already, you haven’t been paying attention. Selected for the individual rider’s size, type of riding and ability. Main man Paul Thede actually did write the Bible.
Located in beautiful Smyrna, Tennessee, SB is your midwestern outlet for all of your suspension needs, including an excellent 25mm fork cartridge setup and custom shock for the Ducati Scrambler. SB is the official midwest Öhlins service center, but they’ll rebuild any shock, for an average labor cost of around $150. Also this: “We perform service in the most environmental friendly way possible. The technicians health and the planets health come first. We have researched and tried many different techniques. The hands down winner: All parts are cleaned with an Ultrasonic water-based hot tank. We utilize Mirachem water based cleaners. We do not use petroleum based cleaners in our service process. The added time and effort are worth the cost.”
Tuning by Travis (Flateau) began as a cottage industry in 1991, that’s now grown into a small empire, with four locations including one in Brazil. Strictly dirt for now, TBT offers custom revalving in addition to engine work, etc…
Woodstock, Georgia, is the home of Max McAllister’s Traxxion Dynamics, which deals in everything from Penske shocks to mountain bike pieces to cartridge fork kits for Harleys. TD also manufactures the AK-20 and AK-Gas drop-in cartridge kits completely in house. McAllister also claims to be “the world’s go-to source” for suspension upgrades to Honda’s Gold Wing. For those on a budget, TD also provides low-cost fixes for old-school damper rod forks in the form of Race Tech Gold Valve installs, and reasonable prices for rebuilding/revalving your stock shock(s).
You know how you BMW guys are. Wilber’s shocks come from the Fatherland, and Wilber’s America caters mostly to BMW via Scotts Valley, California. How about an ESA conversion for your tired old Beemer? Ted tells you all about it in this ten-minute vid. He can also tell you all about other Wilber’s products that allow you to lower your R1200GS Adventure up to 80mm. Which is really the only thing that bike needs to be perfect. While Ted’s motorcycle service business specializes in BMW, his suspension business sells and supports the complete Wilbers product line for all models.
Formerly Works Performance, the suspension shop Gilles Vaillancourt (inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 2009) began in 1973 in Canoga Park, California, is now being run by his daughter. Go to any AHRMA event, and Works Performance stickers nearly outnumber gray hairs. These days, there’s a custom-made Works shock for everything from ESA-equipped BMWs to ATVs to snowmobiles.
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