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Dec 25, 2015
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Victoria, BC,
I have been looking into a suspension upgrade for my 2012 VStrom DL1000. As with all the bikes I've owned, suspension is one of the issues I address up front especially since most of the bikes I have are long in the tooth.

I do suspension upgrades because the suspension is the only item on the bike that keeps the tires firmly planted on the road, and provide good ride quality and performance. It is also a factor in tire longevity, and your ability to spend a longer time in the saddle.

An OEM suspension is designed and based on a specific demographic, say a person of 5'8 to 5'10 stature, and approximately some 80 kgs. Just a WAG, but the OEM has to determine a base. From this a suspension is designed and used that is a good cost benefit fit for the OEM, not the consumer, and it is expected to perform not too bad for a certain number of Kms. The OEM decision is also based on the bike price point to ensure sales.

There are high end bikes that have very good suspensions, but even these are based on a cost/benefit factor in favour of the OEM. These suspensions may or may not have all the adjustments that can be had, but generally have a much better tuning aspect than most.

Point in case is the older Triump Tiger 1050 - my riding partner just bought one. Has a set of Ohlin front forks with preload, compression and rebound adjustments, but just preload and combined compression/rebound on the rear shock. Different from my VStrom that has preload only on the front and preload, compression on the rear. The saving grace here is that the Tiger has the base Ohlin suspension installed, and after a few years and Kms, an upgrade would be beneficial.

Going out on a limb here, but believe I can say that there are not many of us that go into a dealership to buy a bike and part of the purchase is a suspension setup. Not that this is done on purpose by the buyer, but we tend to get caught up in the moment and probably don't think about this aspect of owning a bike, I know I didn't ask.

I did not come to this decision because of what I read on the various threads/forums. It seems to be an aspect of purchasing a bike that is one of the last items to be considered, if not before purchase, but definitely after. With our GWs, this is to be expected because there is very little, if any adjustment on the GWs that can be done, and suspension tuning appears to be seen as a black art and the purview of those few in the industry.

I submit that we have become a group of riders that have a mindset that if the bike handles fairly well it's good enough. The "good enough" club is alive and well in all areas of life, not just with motorcycles. I am part of this club, but as I learn more about a specific issue, I do try to adjust what I do and include this new knowledge into what I do to change what has been done (considering cost, time and such) and what I will do in the future.

Another consideration is what is available, even for newer bikes. Finding suspension upgrades that you can do as a DIY project is becoming harder to do depending on your ride. Older bikes such as our GWs are quite susceptible to this. Not a lot of upside for a manufacturer to have a line of products for a bike that may, or may not be around in the near future. Getting specification information to determine if a product will work, finding a suitable alternative to what is presently installed can take a lot of "leg" work, and cost as well is a significant consideration.

Contacting manufacturers and dealing with these directly is getting harder to do. You can be directed to a distributor then to an authorized dealer. Everyone wants a piece of the pie.

Where am I going with this. I have my '85 1200 Limited, a '95 1500, and the VStrom. My '85 1200 had the suspension upgrade done by RMR Suspension in Abbotsford BC, as did my 1800 before it. Good job all round and good value for me. As with most GW suspensions, the only adjustment I had after the upgrade was rear shock preload. To adjust the front fork upgrade comprised of Race Tech springs and Gold valves would require the fork to be disassembled, not something I wanted to do on a regular basis. I did adjust the Gold valves in the last fork maintenance - increased the spring pressure on the emulator valve to increase compression damping. The suspension is performing quite well and the ride quality is very good.

The more I worked on the 1200, the more confident I got. When I sold the 1800 and bought the 1500, I figured I had enough knowledge to successfully upgrade the suspension on the 1500.

This was partially true in that the rear air shock upgrade was fairly straight forward, new Progressive 416 air shocks on the back. Not inexpensive, but had the same shock on each side instead of one air and one standard as installed by the OEM. The front forks were seen to be an easy fix as well, new springs and a fork refurbishment should do the trick. The performance of the front suspension is better, but it is a bit harsh depending on the road traveled - still better than the soft suspension that was replaced.

I have researched the suspension upgrade possibilities for the VStrom. Lots of forum articles, suspension videos, and manufacturer sites available for those who want to research this topic. The suspension bible from Race Tech was a good read as well. I have spent more time researching suspensions of late because I have more time as I am quite comfortable with the other aspects of my bikes. A lot of the information I have been looking at I have looked at before, but I had other issues I wanted to take care of, learning the more intimate side of suspensions was not at the top of my list. This has now changed.

Suspension recommendations depend solely on the bike. I would surmise that because there is a limited suspension component availability for a certain make/model, what has been tried and worked for one of these tends to become the norm for that make/model - stands to reason, why reinvent the wheel so to speak.

I have been learning suspension tuning with a more "critical eye" because a suspension upgrade is not an inexpensive proposition. Another reason why suspension upgrades are not at the top of a maintenance list.

Not only am I paying attention to the various tuning aspects, but listening to the side issues surrounding a properly tuned suspension. I mentioned that I do suspension upgrades because the suspension is the only item on the bike that keeps the tires firmly planted on the road, and provide good ride quality and performance. It is also a factor in tire longevity, and your ability to spend a longer time in the saddle. These thoughts are prevalent throughout the perusing I did.

I looked into front fork upgrades, what had been done and documented in various forum threads. Checked out the suspension companies that were mentioned in these threads. Called a few of the manufacturers and discussed my requirements.

Front fork upgrades tended to be a spring and revalve of the OEM system, or a cartridge replacement. Since I live north of the 49th, there does not appear to be an inexpensive solution available. Top end cartridge replacement is just north of $1K USD, but a spring and revalve is north of $500.00 USD as well.

Rear shock replacement is just as daunting. Emulsion shocks, non-emulsion shocks, piggyback/remote nitrogen reservoir. Preload, compression/rebound damping, high/low speed adjustments. Once again, your requirement(s) and pocket book factor heavily on your decision. A new aftermarket low end shock that is generally better than the OEM can be some $800.00 USD up to say $2K USD. The two suspension companies that I have talked with, BC and Ontario, give me costs in CDN dollars, but I quickly do the math (exchange and such) to understand the USD cost.

Your riding requirements need to be determined, as does your skill set. Shop labour is north of $100.00 CDN so this also enters into the equation.

Rider requirements, weight for solo - two up riding, local or long distance riding, luggage weight for local and touring. Percentage of time riding solo or two up. Type of roads being traveled, and percentages of such. The better your determination of these, the better the end product will be.

How does all of the above relate to my Goldwings you may ask. It has me thinking about what I had done and what may possibly done to better the ride of my 1200 and 1500.

The 1200 as I have mentioned is quite good with one exception. The rear shock replacement was not a direct plug and play. The Progressive shocks are a 14.5" eye to eye shock replacing the OEM air shocks with an eye to eye distance of 13.75". Not a huge difference and I find thee handling quite good; however, the rear tire when on the centre stand is in contact with the floor. Makes it a challenge to come off the centre stand without the assistance of a second person, or a bike lift. The other aspect is there is only a preload adjustment. Might be handy to have some other adjustments to improve ride performance and quality, and the ability to adjust/set the rear sag.

The front forks are, in my mind, fairly well dialed in. The only change I would make at present is to replace the OEM fork caps with aftermarket fork caps with a preload adjustment. This way I could adjust/set the sag in the front.

The 1500 is a different challenge - heavier bike, needs a little more attention to detail. The rear air shocks have been replaced with Progressive 416 air shocks. I generally ride solo with about 50 lbs air in the shocks, and max when riding two up. Fairly simple system and you soon determine what is good for yourself.

Replaced the OEM fork spring with a new Progressive fork spring. This spring is probably the same spring rate as the OEM spring, but being mew it does provide a better ride.

I have contemplated what more can be done to the front to get a better ride out of my 1500. I think a stiffer spring in the 1.0 to 1.2 kg/mm range. A set of Race Tech or equivalent emulator valves, and change the OEM fork cap for an after market fork cap with a preload adjustment. The cost of this is approximately $600.00 USD (approx $800.00 CDN). The other option is a cartridge upgrade, AK 20 from Traxxion is just over the $1K USD mark.

Having mentioned the above, where am I going with this novel other than providing some good reading to cure your insomnia. The various information that I have reviewed that has helped me make decisions regarding this and other issues, generally takes the form of what should I do, help appreciated. I wanted to write do a write up that is more philosophy and a story. It also helps me clarify my thoughts and why I have made certain decisions.

If you are in the process of looking for a new to you ride, have a look at the suspension, and what adjustments are there. If you are going to a dealer, same thing, but include a suspension setup as part of the purchase requirement.

If you have made it this far, I congratulate you, especially if you are still awake.

As always this is just MHO.