Biking tips

How to… adjust your motorcycle’s suspension

Carole Nash MCN London Motorcycle Show 2018

Adjusting your bike’s suspension is one of the most satisfying modifications you can make to your motorcycle at home. The good news is that most modern bikes have adjustable suspension, you don’t need specialist tools to do it, and it’s quicker and easier than you may have originally thought. However, it’s worth understanding how and why you want to make adjustments.

The front forks and rear shock are some of the most important components on your motorcycle. Having your suspension set up correctly can transform your ride and help you to get more out of your machine, by helping it to handle better and achieving more feel, inspiring greater confidence when riding.

For example, if you regularly ride a bike with a pillion and full paniers, having suspension that’s set too soft could cause the bike to use a lot of travel making the bike bounce around due to additional weight over the rear. This is an inconvenience in a straight line, but dangerous when cornering.

When attempting to adjust your suspension, make sure that you refer to your bike’s manual for specific details of each adjuster’s location, and any changes you make should be noted and referenced against the standard suspension settings so you can revert back to them.

Fork rebound

Rebound damping in the forks controls the rate at which they return to their natural position. The further the adjuster is in, the slower the forks will rebound back. When rebound is set correctly, the bike will settle quickly after going over a bump and it won’t continue to bounce. As you alter the rebound, some adjusters will click as they turn to help you manage the amount you are adjusting. If your bike doesn’t make a clicking sound, do half-a-turn at a time.

Fork preload

Fork preload makes the bike feel softer or harder at the front. But in reality, you’re not actually making the fork spring stiffer or softer. When you modify fork preload, the spring inside the fork is compressed by the adjuster which provides a different range of usable spring travel.

Fork compression

How quickly the forks compress is managed by compression damping. You can alter the compression damping using the adjuster, which usually found at the bottom of the fork leg. If the adjuster is fully in, the forks will be harder to compress and will deliver a stiffer ride.

Fork height

 If you want your bike to turn better, one of the things you can do is alter the front ride height by sliding the forks through the top yoke to make the bike lower. The more fork leg showing above the yoke, the lower the ride height. Only make changes a few millimetres at a time and check for any rubbing issues.

Rear shock compression

On the rear shock, the compression damping adjuster is usually located at the top. Again, when making changes to the rear shock compression, be sure to only do half a turn or a click at a time. Too much damping will create a harsh ride, while too little will cause the rear to bounce around and feel too soft.

Rear shock preload

Similar to the effects of adjusting front fork preload, rear shock preload makes the rear of the bike feel softer or harder. To adjust the preload on your bike’s rear shock, you will need a C-spanner to loosen the top locking ring and spin it up the shock to gain access to the adjuster ring.

If you want to increase preload so the spring has less travel and to make the bike feel stiffer, turn the adjuster ring clockwise. If your bike has too little preload it will use the majority if not all of its travel and potentially bottom out when going over a bump.

Why and wherefore

Stock motorcycle suspension is by its very nature a compromise.

Unlike racers, who run expensive components set-up specifically for their own weight and riding styles, manufacturers have to equip their bikes with cost effective suspension to accommodate riders of varying weight, sizes and riding styles.

These components are tested rigorously and if your bike has adjustable suspension, recommended settings are posted in the owner’s manual. To keep things safe, stock bikes typically have only a small range of adjustment, so you shouldn’t be able to set your bike up in a way that it is unsafe, but they will allow tweaks to best suit your circumstances, for example if you are riding two-up and with luggage then the recommended setting will be different to a solo set-up, to accommodate the extra weight you are carrying.

Your handbook will usually publish the recommended settings for these different scenarios, while sports bikes may also have recommended settings for the track and for the street.

The main reason for everyday solo riders to tweak their suspension settings would be to set the bike up best for their weight and size. Shorter riders often reduce preload to increase the ‘sag’ and make the bike lower to the ground, while heavier riders may want to ‘stiffen’ the bike to accommodate their weight.

Check your changes

 A simple way to assess the adjustments you’ve made is by pushing down on the rear of the bike and letting it return. Aim for a similar rate of compression and return, and repeat the same process for the front forks by pushing down on the handlebars.

Take a gentle ride and if the it doesn’t feel right and you don’t feel confident to make further changes, revert back to the bike’s standard settings that you noted down before making amends.

Tools needed to get the job done

Before you start to adjust your suspension, having the right tools makes it a lot easier.

  • Flat head screwdriver: A simple flat head screwdriver that fits tightly into your bike’s adjusters will do. If you use one that’s too small, it will chew the adjuster heads.
  • C-spanner: This will allow you to undo the locking ring on the rear shock’s preload adjuster.
  • Steel ruler: A steel ruler is useful if you want to drop your forks through the yoke to lower the bike, as well as for taking note of the amount of rear shock preload, which will make it easier to adjust in future or return to the standard settings.

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