How to care for your suspension

How to care for your suspension

From all my years running a motorcycle garage, by far the most neglected part on most bikes coming through the door was the suspension, and that always boggled my mind.

A properly setup suspension is critical not only to take the most out of any bike, but also to make sure the safety levels are as high as possible, so some questions started popping in my mind.

Why did most riders systematically neglected their suspensions?

Why do many of us believe that factory suspension settings are all we need?

Why aren't more riders paying closer attention to their suspensions on a day to day basis?

With those and more questions unanswered, I set myself to find answers, and today, I'm sharing with you not only the results of my findings but also tips on how you can keep your suspension in tip-top shape!


Before anything else we need to clarify two important definitions, suspension replacement and adjustment and suspension maintenance.

  1. Replacement and adjustment

    Motorcycles are designed and tuned to be suited for the average rider.

    This means that the chances of you buying a bike with the suspension settings you need is close to zero.

    With this in mind, as soon as you get a bike, used or new, you should adjust the suspension to your needs and weight.

    That means spring rates, oil viscosities, high and low-speed adjustments if possible… a million little details that your suspension mechanic will know how to address.

    This being, I strongly advise adjusting your suspension as soon as you get a new motorcycle, and if your new bike is used, overhaul it. 

    During the overhaul, your mechanic might advise you to replace some parts, or the entire setup depending on your riding needs and the overall condition of the existing suspension.

  2. Maintenance

    It’s important to understand that suspensions are usually under-maintained, and the reason for it is quite simple, suspension deterioration is gradual.

    You will get used to your suspension getting worst and worst until it is dead, so having a defined scheduled is vital to maintain performance and driving safety.

 

Having those notions cleared out, I believe it is also crucial for you to understand why suspensions deteriorate.

The main culprit for suspension degradation? Heat!

The oil inside your suspension, both forks, and shock, degrades as the suspension works.

The oil transforms the energy from the bumps into heat.

That heat changes the oil molecules, and the oil loses characteristics over time.

Knowing that the suspension working generates heat, and that heat degrades the oil, the more you use and abuse it, the more you need to maintain it.

This tells us that there are no defined dates in which you should maintain your suspension.


- Do you race?

You may need maintenance before every race or every couple of races.


- Are you a road rider that enjoys touring?

Overhauling it, or at least changing the oil on your suspension once a year or every 12.500 miles will more or less guarantee you will be riding with a top working setup.

During the overhaul, your mechanic may tell you some other parts other than oil should also be replaced, like bushings, seals or springs.


Another important aspect, is remembering that the options for bike use are endless; dirt, street or riding with a passenger just to name a few.

With this in mind, when you take your bike to adjust your suspension for the first time, you should debate your riding habits with your suspension guy, and he, better than anyone, will advise you on a maintenance plan suited for your needs.

 

    • Day to day maintenance

Regardless of having a great suspension mechanic or not, there are things you can and should do to improve the life of your suspension between maintenances.

  • Keep your suspension clean

    Dirt is a silent suspension killer.

    It may seem innocuous to keep some dirt on your forks and shock, but dirt will find a way to damage your seals and sliding tubes.

    A clean suspension is a healthy suspension!

  • Inspect it regularly

    Due to normal material wear and tear, every time we take our bikes out we are at risk of damaging something, so it becomes essential to keep an eye out and know what to look for.


    Seals:

    If your seals get damaged, you will get an oil leak, which can be massive, or minor.

    Any oil leak should be dealt with ASAP.

    Inspecting your fork for leaks has a few steps:

    1. Inspect your suspension before you clean your bike, search for wet spots

    2. Wash your bike

    3. After you wash it, force the suspension to travel a few times, or take the bike around the block which will produce the same result

    4. Inspect again, and again, search for wet spots


    Suspension leaks don’t always present themselves as dripping; most appear as the two examples below:

    Reference: Image from www.indianmotorcycles.net

    Reference: Image from www.ninetowners.com


    On the shock, a leak can present itself in a similar way, like this:

    Reference: Image from thumpertalk.com


    Sliding or inner tubes:

    Damage to the sliding tubes can occur, and that means damage to the slick sliding surface.

    If the sliding area stops being slick, it can damage your seals, creating a leak.

    Therefore, inspecting your tubes is essential, and easy to do when you wash your bike.

    As before, any tube damage should be address ASAP.

    It is also important to know that not all damage to the tubes forces you to buy new tubes, many nicks and dents can be fixed on the spot.

    Here are a couple of examples of tube damage:

    Reference: Image from thumpertalk.com


    Reference: Image from forums.sohc4.net


    Shock spring:

    Although not typical, it is also possible to get spring damage in the shock, as the spring is out in the elements.

    Check for cracks and rust during your inspection.



    In the end, suspensions are something extremely personal when it comes to setup, and crucial to our safety when riding, as such, they should be addressed on a bike to bike basis, and not using general rules.

    Adjust your suspension to your needs, debate those needs with your mechanic, create your maintenance plan, and keep an eye out between maintenances, that is how you should care for your suspension.

    Can you do it in any other way?

    Definitely, but remember that a poorly maintained suspension is a dangerous one.


    How to care for your suspension


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