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Old 12th July 2009
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Default The first 7 pages of suspension from XLXR

I decided to write up a thread on basic suspension set up because I seem to be answering the same questions over and over. I had to split up the paper into two different threads. The first starts below.

Here is an index of the different sections on both threads:

First 7 pages:
Tire pressure
Shock preload
Rider sag and preload of forks and shock
Fork stiction
Chasis pitch
Shock spring rates
How to select shocks
My impressions of different shocks

Second 7 pages:
Fork spring rates
Works Dual Rate fork springs
Lowering a bike
Ricor Intiminators vs Race Tech Emulators
Fork oil viscosity, oil height, changing fork oil
Air Forks
Loosening drive belt and aligning rear tire
Deciding how to set up your bike
Wobble thread link and summary
More links to suspension threads

link to the second set of 7 pages on suspension

I will start with the simple things and work into the more complex. If I mention something you don’t recognize, it is probably explained in more detail at a later point. Naturally, you can google any terms for more information. Wikepedia and the websites of the shock companies and Sport Rider have lots of good information. The information is based on experience with my 2006 Roadster. I weigh 260 lbs. Reading and learning about suspension is only the start. The only way to really learn about suspension is getting in the garage, make changes and test ride. In a year or two, you will be ready to buy a new bike and start all over. It is very common to think you know what the problem is. But you will never know for sure until you make the correct changes and the problem goes away.

If you want to work on your bike, you are going to have to buy tools. A bike jack, Torx bits, fork cap socket and clamp to get the forks caps back on is just a start. Whenever I jack up my bike, I use a motorcycle tie down strap from the handle bars up to a hook in the roof rafters to prevent knocking the bike off the jack. Be sure to read the other sticky links in the suspension section.

TIRE PRESSURE

The very first step is to check tire pressure. My 2006 owner’s manual says 30 psi front, 36 rear and increase the rear to 40 psi for two up riding. However, everyone has a different opinion. I found the stock front tire was so bad I had to run 40 psi in it to keep it from wandering from side to side down the highway. In addition, at 30 psi I could feel the rim bottom out against square edge bumps in big pot holes or driveway transitions. At the opposite end, too much air steepens the curve of the tire resulting in a smaller contact patch in the center, and that can reduce braking effectiveness.

Another misconception about tire pressure is what the label on the side of the tire means. Those are maximum tire pressure recommendations when carrying the maximum weight capacity of the tire. If you are not at the maximum weight capacity, you do not need to run maximum tire pressure.

With my Avon Venum X tires I run 35 psi front, 33 rear, solo. I found these pressures to make my bike handle best overall. Don’t simply use my pressures, do your own testing and find what works best for your bike.

SHOCK PRELOAD

Setting the shock preload is the next adjustment to work with. The preload adjuster is the collar under the spring that has different notches in it. Turning the collar upward with the special spanner wrench shortens the spring and that makes it stiffer Turning the collar downward lengthens the spring to make it feel softer.

In theory, the standard springs are for a 185 lb rider. If you weigh more than 185 lbs, you need to increase preload to stiffen the spring. If you weigh less than 185 lbs, you need to decrease preload to make the spring softer. If you add a passenger, you will probably need to move the adjuster collar to make the spring as stiff as possible.

If the ride feels harsh and does not use all the shock travel, reduce preload. If the ride feels soft and bottoms out too much, increase preload. Some shocks may have a threaded adjuster, or have the adjuster on top of the shock.

“Bottoming out” happens when the spring is too weak for the rider’s weight and the shock compresses through all the suspension travel when hitting big bumps in the road. If you have the preload adjuster set to max stiff, and you still bottom out, you need a stiffer spring.

“Topping out” is opposite of bottoming out. Topping out is when the shock fully extends and hits metal to metal when the bike is thrown up into the air over bumps. Topping out can feel as rough as bottoming out. Topping out can be caused by too little rider sag due to too much spring preload and/or too little rebound dampening.

In general, you want the shock to bottom out softly when you hit the biggest bump you ever hit. That way, you know you are using all the shock travel you available. You never want to bottom out so hard you break something or hurt your back.

A plastic tie around the forks or shocks can be an important suspension tool. If you put a plastic tie on a fork or shock, and then observe different kinds of bumps, you can learn a lot about how your suspension reacts to different road conditions. For bikes with gaiters on the forks, you will have to figure out a way to hold them up in order to use a plastic tie on the fork.

RIDER SAG AND PRELOAD of FORKS AND SHOCKS

Setting rider sag in the forks and shocks is one of the first things you must do for proper suspension tuning. Rider sag of the shock is generally measured vertically, from the axle straight up to the fender. Rider sag of the forks is generally measured parallel to the forks, not vertically as with the shocks.

If you jack the bike up so the tires are in the air, the suspension is fully extended. As you lower the bike and put weight on the suspension, the suspension compresses a bit. That is called bike sag. If you then sit on the bike, the suspension compresses even more. That is called rider sag.

Rider sag is the distance the forks or shocks compress when the rider is sitting on the bike. Generally you want the forks and shocks to compress 1/3 to 1/4 total travel when you sit on the bike. Nightsters and Lows with short travel suspensions, need to have rider sag set at the minimum in order to maximize usable travel. Roadsters can usually get away with a little extra rider sag because they have more suspension travel.

Changing spring preload changes rider sag. More preload stiffens the spring and reduces rider sag, less preload softens the spring and increases rider sag. Shock rider sag is set by turning the adjuster. Fork rider sag is set by changing the length of the preload spacer inside the forks.

The absolute minimum fork preload you can use is whatever length is needed to take up the space between the top of the spring and bottom of the fork cap when the fork cap is screwed all the way down and the forks are fully extended. This will keep the spring from bouncing around inside the forks.

Another consideration is after 15,000 miles or so, the springs may lose a bit of tension, which is normal. If that happens, you may have to increase the length of the preload spacer a bit to compensate and get back to the orginal sag you wanted. Eventually, the springs may get so weak, no amount of preload will help. Then you have to get new springs.

The second thread has more details of fork set up.

FORK STICTION

Fork stiction is when the drag of the internal bushings is so high, checking rider sag becomes difficult because the forks compress to a different point every time you try to check rider sag. This is especially true for new forks.

Sometimes you have to push down on the forks and let them extend very slowly and measure that point. Then lift up on the forks and let them compress very slowly. In both cases, end up with your weight on the bike. Then use the difference between those two points as your rider sag.

CHASSIS PITCH

Chassis pitch is the relationship of the front ride height (fork rider sag) to the rear ride height (shock rider sag). Usually, lowering the front end or raising the rear end, makes the bike turn sharper, but may make the bike unstable at higher speeds. Raising the front end or lowering the rear end usually makes the bike more stable at highway speeds, but reduces its ability to handle sharp turns.

However, I found this did not apply to my Roadster. I found that setting up the chassis of my Roadster to be as stable as possible actually improved stability and confidence while cornering.

The easiest way to check for the correct balance between front and rear ride height is to sit on the bike and measure if the frame rails under the engine are parallel to the floor. The front can be a bit higher (rear lower), but every time the front got too low (rear higher), my bike started to get a high speed wobble. Use the frame rails parallel to the floor as a starting point. I have verified this on my Roadster, XL 50, and Nightster, but not on Customs, Lows or XR’s. It may not apply to other bikes at all.

You must set rider sag of forks and shocks correctly before you set chassis pitch. Then move the forks up or down in the triple clamps to get the frame rails level to the floor with rider on the bike. Once you get a few test rides in, you can set the fork height to get the handling you prefer.

Be very careful on the first test ride after making suspension adjustments. You could have set the bike up to wobble, even if it did not wobble before. On your first test ride, start off slowly, say 40 mph and give one side of the handle bar a little bump. If it wobbles, go home and fix it. If it doesn’t wobble, do 45 and give the bars an easy bump. Keep increasing speed in 5 mph increments until you can go as fast as you want without any signs of wobble. It is far better to find out you have a wobble at low speeds than high speeds. This I know from experience.

There is a link to the famous wobble thread and a summary of things that can cause a wobble at the end of the second 7 pages thread.

I like to set my forks in the triple clamps so the bike is very neutral around the average corner at average speeds. Once leaned over in a smooth corner, I can let go of the bars and the bike will just stay there. (I can’t totally let go of the bars because I have to keep the throttle steady.)

If you are leaned over in the “average” corner and feel like your bike is turning in too sharply, raise the triple clamps. If you feel like your bike is trying to straighten out, lower the triple clamps.

I make no mention of shock motion ratio or fork rake and trail. If you want to change those beyond stock parameters, you are replacing major components or cutting and welding frames.

SHOCK SPRING RATE

Spring rate refers to how much force is needed to compress the spring a certain distance. Straight rate springs will compress the same distance under the addition of the same force at the beginning of travel as at the end of their travel. Progressive rate springs have a soft rate in the initial part of the travel, and transition to a hard rate in the final part of travel. If the rates are correct, this will provide a smooth ride over small bumps, yet resist bottoming out over big bumps.

For example, take a 4” long straight rate spring with a rating of 100 lbs/in. The first 100 lbs will compress the spring 1”, the second 100 lbs (200 lbs total) will compress the spring 2”. It will take 400 lbs total to compress the spring all 4”.

A progressive rate spring is normally described as 75/125 lbs/in. The 75 lbs/in is the soft initial rate, the 125 lbs/in is the hard final rate.

Using a 4” spring rated at 75/120 lbs/in as an example, let’s assume it is wound to stay in the initial rate for the first 3” of travel. That means it will compress one additional inch for each addition of 75 lbs for the first three inches. Therefore, 225 lbs (75 +75 + 75) will compress the spring 3”. Then add 125 lbs to compress the last inch and you have 225 +125 = 350 lbs total to compress the spring all 4”.

However, the spring may be wound to have only 1” travel at 75 lbs/in and then the final 3” will be at 125 lbs/in. In this case, it will take 75 lbs + 125lbs + 125 lbs = 325 lbs to compress the spring 3”. Then add an additional 125 lbs to compress the spring the final inch. The total becomes 325 lbs + 125 lbs = 450 lbs total to compress the spring all 4”.

This designation of a progressive spring rate does not tell you anything about the where, or how quickly, the spring transitions from the initial to final spring rate. A progressive rate spring with the correct initial rate will provide a smooth ride over small bumps in the road. However, if the transition range is too short, or the final spring rate is too stiff, medium and larger size bumps will not compress the spring beyond the travel of the initial rate and the rider will feel a very stiff ride over those medium and larger sized bumps.

HOW TO SELECT A SHOCK

Start by deciding how long a shock you want, how much weight you want to carry, and how much money you want to spend. Shorter shocks and heavier riders need heavier springs.

On Rubbermounts, shocks approaching 14 1/2" long may cause the lower run of the drive belt to drag on the linkage from the rear brake pedal near the master cylinder.

When you take the stock shocks off for the first time, hold the Torx bit still and loosen the nut. This will help prevent stripping the Torx head.

If the new shock bodies are much thicker than stock, you will need longer bolts and spacers to keep the shock body from hitting the belt guard.

Go to Progressive Suspension’s web site and see what shock is recommended for your bike. The standard spring rate for 12.5” and longer shocks is 75/120 lbs/in and is for riders in the 185 lb range. The heavy duty spring rate for 12.5” and longer shocks is 90/130 lbs/in, and is for 260 lb riders and up. Whittlebeast found the springs for the longer shocks are actually “step” springs, meaning the transition zone between the initial and final rate is very abrupt. That provides a harsh ride over smaller bumps, but may resist bottoming better.

12” and shorter shocks use a 90/130 spring as standard, 115/155 as heavy duty. There have been plenty of riders who report shorter shocks provide a good ride. I suspect the big reason is the transition zone between initial and final rate is much longer and more travel is used over small to medium sized bumps. But shorter shocks will likely bottom out over larger bumps.

Check the specs carefully. Just because the over all length of a shock is longer, does not mean it has more travel. Note the spring numbers, springs with the same spring rate may have different part numbers to indicate other parameters such as diameter or length. Expensive shocks are not always better, especially if the spring does not match rider weight.

MY IMPRESSIONS OF DIFFERENT SHOCKS

Stock shocks on my 06 Roadster were really bad. In order to keep them from bottoming out, I had to crank up the preload. Then they rode too stiff to be comfortable, and still bottomed out. Harley changed the spring rates in 09. I haven’t tried any 09 shocks, but they seem to be a great improvement because a lot less guys are complaining about the newer shocks.

The FXDX shocks on my Roadster were a good example how excessively short transition zone and excessively stiff final spring rate result in handling problems. I weigh 260 lbs, the initial rate of the FXDX springs matched my weight pretty good and absorbed small bumps very well. However, the transition to the final rate was so abrupt, and the final spring rate was so stiff, it felt very harsh over medium size and larger bumps. This became a serious problem when hitting a series of medium sized bumps while leaned over in a corner. There was enough weight on the spring to compress it through the initial part of the spring just fine. However, there wasn’t enough weight to compress it into the final rate and the back tire would skip over the bumps and loose contact with the road. With the FXDX shocks, I was using only the initial part of the travel, and rarely got it into the final part of the travel. I have no idea if there are different FXDX shocks from different years with different springs.

The Whittlebeast Hybrid shocks, a Roadster shock body with a Custom spring (and spacers) were the opposite. The initial rate was pretty good, and the transition range was fairly long. Therefore, small and medium sized bumps were absorbed and provided a smooth ride.

Whittlebeasts low stops and handles like a real sport bike

Be sure to understand the part of putting the spacers under the springs to keep them from rubbing on the shock body.

The WB Hybrids prove cheap shocks with the proper spring rate and dampening curves are far better than expensive shocks with improper spring rates and bad dampening curves. Unfortunately, I was just a bit too heavy for the springs and they would bottom out every now and then. 220 lbs is about the max solo rider weight that both the WB Hybrids, and the standard 75/120 spring used on Progressive’s 12.5” and longer shocks, can handle without problems.

Here’s an example illustrating how 30 lbs can make the difference between a particular spring riding smoothly or harshly. Doxbike weighs 230 lbs and tried Progressive 13.5” 418’s with the heavy duty 90/130 springs on his Roadster. The 418’s were always too stiff for him over small to medium sized bumps, but he kept trying to find the best compromise of rebound dampening and spring preload. I rode it, and felt it was pretty good, but I weighed 30 extra pounds. He rode my bike with the Whittlebeast Hybrids which provided a much softer ride without bottoming. However, with my 260 lbs, bottoming the WB Hybrids was fairly frequent. He switched to Whittlebeast Hybrids and sold the 418’s.

Based on this experience, I think for the 12.5” and longer shocks, the heavy 90/130 spring works best for riders 260 lbs and up. This leaves riders between 220 to 260 lbs without a good spring choice from Progressive Suspension.

The 13 ½” long 1200S shocks are getting harder to find because they originally came on a frame mount Sportster for only a few years. They have a 54/78 lbs/in spring which is very good for 140 lb riders on Rubbermount bikes. They also work very well for light weight riders on Nightsters when combined with a 1” lowering block so short legs can get their feet on the ground. They should work well with 180 lb riders on rubbermounts who do not ride two up. The 1200S shocks provided a very good ride for me on the highway because there was a lot of movement in the spring. However, I was too heavy for the spring and bottomed out too much.

There have been questions about riders, either solo or 2 up that weigh 300 lbs. The Road King air shocks are really the best option if you have a very wide range of weights to carry. They can be found on eBay for as little as $50. The parts guy at a local dealer gave me a pair for free, they were going to be thrown away.

There are two basic lengths, the 11 ¾” and 12 ¾”. The longer ones are far more common and probably ride much better solo because they may have softer springs than the shorter shocks. They are generally too stiff for 150 lb riders solo. But they work well enough for 180 lb and up riders. They might be able to carry more weight than the Sportster is rated for. There are several part numbers for the RK air shocks, so it is difficult to be sure what differences there are.

My Road King 12 ¾” shocks have 54565-97A, and another pair C on the end. The oil will drain out through the port for the air fitting if it is not capped off during shipping. The only way to tell how much oil is in them is to weigh them. Mine weighed 5 lbs, 2 oz’s. It is possible to change the oil in the shocks. I changed to 5w in attempt to soften them up, it helped a bit, but not enough to say it is worth the work.

If you add oil, you must be very careful to not overfill the shocks. That could cause a hydro lock and blow them apart. Not something I have seen, only heard about. At the very least, you should put only one shock at a time on the bike with the air fitting removed, pump it several times to bleed all the air out, and then bottom it out so it will blow out all the excessive oil. Even then this is way too much oil because you will not have an air chamber on top of the oil level.

More discussion of RK air shocks with pictures of air shocks cut apart

An easy way to change RK shock oil

I am currently using 13.5” WP 3 Way shocks. WP is the European company, not Works Performance. 3 Way refers to having adjustable high and low speed compression dampening and rebound dampening. I had to send them back twice to get the dampening curves changed to work well. Even then, they sat on the shelf for over a year because I liked the WB Hybrids better. My 260 lbs ended up being too heavy for the 97/142 lbs/in spring, too light for the 154/228 lb/in spring.

Then the Ricor Intiminators came along for the forks. The Intiminators softened up the 154/228 lb/in springs enough to ride smoothly enough over small to medium size bumps to be comfortable riding all day. These high end shocks really start to work well when pushing the limits of high speeds and rough roads. Far better than any other shock I have tried.

Harley 2 up shocks for a Nightster

I haven’t tried these, but rider reports seem good.

The very first pair of shocks I bought were Progressive 440’s. The were hydro-locking and felt like a hard tail. This was before I figured out about loosening the drive belt. Maybe that was the problem. I have read one other report where an over tightened drive belt caused the 440’s to ride strange, and loosening the belt let them work better.

I also tried the Works Performance Pro Racers. I sent them back 2 or 3 times. They had a hard hit in them and Works only moved the hit deeper into the shock travel. I gave up on them.

The Progressive 440’s, Works Pro Racers, and the WP 3 way shocks I have now, all have some type of check ball and spring valving system. None of them worked very well. It seems the check spring and ball system was just never tuned correctly to match my weight and bike.

The best shock I have ever ridden on was a Penske 3 Way shock on a Ducati Monster. I try hard not to laugh when someone says how good Progressive 412’s are.

link to the second set of 7 pages on suspension
I had to split up the paper into two different threads.
__________________
Former Ricor test rider for IAS Shocks, Intiminators and Vibranators. Works Dual Rate fork springs, fork brace, Avon Venom X tires, loosen drive belt, and set frame rails level to floor. Read the "7 Pages of Suspension" thread in the Suspension Sticky Index to learn how to fix your suspension.

Last edited by XLXR; 18th July 2009 at 07:50..
  #2  
Old 18th July 2009
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I have been typing up this description on how to set up suspension for a few weeks now. I think it's done. If anybody has any ideas to add information or improve the descriptions, let me know while I can still edit it. I don't know when they lock out the edit function.
  #3  
Old 18th July 2009
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Thx for the help, jackass
 
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Hooooooly shit.

I haven't even read it, but I might as well sign onto this while it's fresh.
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Old 18th July 2009
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Awesome resource... good to have all that info in one place. Thanks for compiling your experiences and knowledge like this! Appreciated!
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Old 19th July 2009
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Love it man! Keep 'em coming!!!
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Old 20th July 2009
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Sportster/Buell Year: 2006
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I am going to close this thread to keep things simple. Follow the link at the end to the "Second 7 pages of suspension" and post any additional comments or questions there. In addition, any corrections or additions I need to add will also be on the other thread.
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