When we look at modern motorcycles, compared to the machines of yesteryear, or even a decade or so back – there is so much more in play regarding technology.
Traction Control, Anti-Lock Braking, and Variable Power Modes all work together in a great waltz of computers, sensors, and algorithms allowing for even the moderately talented rider to do so much more on the bikes safely. Tires, too, have made massive leaps forward as far as traction and longevity. The tires that most machines roll on today would have been very welcome at the track a quarter of a century ago.
Although most modern machines, especially higher-end ones, carry ABS, Traction Control, and Power Modes, on some models manufacturers cut corners in an effort to keep consumer pricing to a manageable region. Many times tires are in the middle of the road, off-the-shelf product, and suspension, while usually adjustable to some degree, is certainly not as state-of-the-art as they could or should be.
The great thing is both of these can be swapped out or upgraded to better equipment.
When motorcycles first began to grow in popularity there was little, if any, real suspension. Sprung seats might have helped the rider’s tush – but did nothing to help the bike. Over the last century suspension developed and then became more and more innovative.
Where most automobile drivers might think of suspension as that thing that gives them a super smooth driving experience, and that the car's suspension is there solely to make the driver think he is anywhere than on the road – I like to think that suspension, motorcycle or car, is there for one thing… keeping my wheels in contact with the pavement.
Riding comfort does come into play – but that is not what I am primarily thinking when I look at proper suspension.
On some machines these days you have electronically controlled suspension. My BMW R1250 GS has Comfort, Road, and Dynamic; other brands have different names for different suspension settings; all named according to their legal teams.
Many machines also come with Cartridge-Style Front Forks which do a far better job with damping and rebound. With these forks, the fork legs carry a small cylinder inside the lower section which is, basically, an open-chamber shock absorber. A piston slides through this cartridge, which is submerged in the fork oil. Depending on how you adjust it, or dial it in, the fork gives a different response to road surface.
Okay… it's magic. Let’s stick with that.
When you start to wrap your mind around it, suspension work and set-up is almost a mystical art that seems to best be left to magicians and sorcerers, and sometimes you have to suspend belief and trust that it all works as promised.
But my point is that with all the improvements that have been made to motorcycles over the decades – tires, electronics, engine design, and chassis, body and luggage design… I think that suspension might be the single most important part of your machine.
You need to feel the road, you need to have your tires fully engaging with the pavement to get the most out of your machine, whether on the track or the backroads.
Suspension is there to keep it all on the ground – comfort is secondary in my mind.
My Kawasaki Z900RS came with suspension that did the job adequately for a bit, but with more familiarity and a couple of very telling track days, it was apparent to me that the stock suspension was designed for far lighter men than me, and even with it all cranked up it wallowed when pushed.
Thus a trip in mid-May to our friends at EPM Performance in Manalapan, New Jersey. Klaus and crew have been putting together, installing, and tweaking motorcycle suspensions for a long time and they took apart the cartridge forks, installed new, more progressive Hyper-Pro springs and far superior quality fork oil, and replacing the old and tired stock shock with a new purple-springed Hyper-Pro Type 466 rear shock.
Installation done, it was time for a little dialing in using a digital slacker tool that measures sag. Looking for more precision Mike and Frank (The Crew at EPM) removed the shock and made some adjustments. A short time later I was back on the road but not on the same machine I came down with. Nope – this Z was a far more precise machine, and later along the far twistier roads of western New Jersey the Kawasaki truly had a feel to it that I felt it should have had since I bought it.
All it took was some time and investment to suspend my belief!