Wilbers Shocks - Electronic
by Kenn Stamp, Editor, 2WF.com
Edited by webBikeWorld.com
Photos and Text Courtesy
2WF.com and Wilbers
Used with permission.
Shocks and Suspension Page
BMW puts a lot
of thought and effort into building bikes with a lot of active
technology packed into them: ABS (Anti-lock Braking System),
ASC (Automatic Stability Control), ESA (Electronic Suspension
Adjustment), RDC (tire pressure monitoring), to name a few.
While all these things can enhance your riding experience (and
possibly save your life), they aren’t perfect.
The ESA system in particular is a point where improvements
can be made. Like any factory suspension effort, quality must
be balanced against overall cost. While the ESA system itself
is high quality, the suspension bits it controls are typical
middle-of-the-road OEM parts. Not horrible, mind you, not on
a BMW, but they certainly leave room for improvement (as do
all OEM suspension parts).
Unfortunately there has been a minor problem; the ESA system
only works with the stock suspension parts...or does it?
Rick contacted me a few months ago about doing a review on
a new system from Wilbers called WESA (Wilbers Electronic Suspension
Adjustment). I said sure and in the typical rapid fashion (rapid
as compared to the age of the earth) emails started flying like
mad between me and Herman of Wheels and Wings, LLC.
Herman is the local Wilbers dealer and one of only two (at
the time this goes to press) people in the USA authorized to
not only sell the WESA system but also install it. More on Herman
later though; for now let’s talk about the parts themselves.
The Wilbers Electronic Suspension Adjustment
Within the BMW motorcycle riding community,
Wilbers has made a name for itself by building some very high
quality shocks and other suspension components. Ask any BMW
rider which suspension bits he or she wants on their bike and
Wilbers will probably be the brand you hear most often.
It only makes sense then that Wilbers would be the manufacturer
to overcome the ESA issue and build a suspension set-up for
ESA-equipped BMWs that not only performs better than stock but
is also fully compatible with the BMW ESA electronics.
Before we get into how the Wilbers WESA system works, let’s
look at what electronic suspension is in general. Using a button
mounted on the left handlebar, the rider can change the suspension
and damping characteristics of the front and rear shocks (struts
is a more accurate term I guess).
There are three steps to this process (on the R 1200 GS):
one step adjusts the dampening to suit the rider’s particular
riding style (Sport, Normal, and Comfort).
The second step adjusts the actual suspension itself at the
spring mount and base for pre-load for solo riding, two-up riding,
solo with luggage, two-up with luggage. On the GS, step three
takes it one notch further and adjusts ride height based on
the terrain you are traveling.
Add all those adjustments together and those of us that get
excited pressing little buttons (it’s a disease, I know) can
spend more time adjusting than riding.
While the system works very well to adjust or compensate
for prevailing conditions, the suspension bits themselves are
where the standard BMW comes-up short. On the stock BMW system,
there really isn’t that much difference between the Sport and
Comfort settings. This means that the "Normal" setting
might as well take a long vacation.
Also, like all OEM suspension parts, the spring rates are
set for the median size rider and passenger and not for the
actual rider and passenger. All the electronic adjustments in
the world won’t make up for softer or harder than needed spring
rates and under/over-damped shocks.
This is where Wilbers comes in.
Wilbers ESA Front and Rear Shock - Details
Wilbers builds their shock bodies from seamless formed piping
that is heat treated and anodized. The top and bottom mounts
are made from high-grade 7075 aircraft aluminum which is also
anodized; this offers the best combination of light weight,
strength, and durability.
I can attest to the light weight part, as I personally weighed
a stock rear shock vs. a Wilbers shock, and a stock rear spring
versus a Wilbers spring. This was done on a scale with TONS
of cool little buttons to push!
The Wilbers shock itself weighed 2 pounds less but the Wilbers
spring weighed 1 pound more; netting a loss of 1 pound over
stock. The aluminum makes the difference in the weight loss
of the Wilbers shock while the higher grade and beefier build
of the Wilbers springs accounts for their weight gain.
Wilbers custom-builds their shocks to suit each individual
rider based on information concerning the rider’s weight, load
typically carried, passenger’s weight and other factors. Being
the owner of a motorcycle with upgraded aftermarket suspension,
I can tell you that having your suspension matched to you makes
a huge difference.
One last bit of magic that Wilbers can offer are shorter-length
shocks, which can lower the motorcycle while still retaining
the functionality of the ESA system. For the BMW R 1200 GS,
this comes in two flavors: 35mm lower and 65mm lower. Wilbers
achieves this by cutting the stroke of the shock while maintaining
the ride quality by using stiffer springs and modified dampers.
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At the wBW
The BMW R 1200
GS With the Wilbers Electronic Suspension
with Herman Eshuis on a cold Florida morning (40 degrees is
cold for these parts) to sample the Wilbers WESA set-up for
myself. Herman has a 2009 R 1200 GS set-up with the 65mm lowering
kit as a demo for interested customers to ride.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Herman, should
you meet him, is that he is passionate about anything with a
motor in it; car and motorcycle posters adorn the office walls
while out in the hanger (he is based at an airport) you’ll find
a few of his other business items sitting around -- super-formance
On this day he had two Shelby Cobra MK III fully licensed
reproductions (not kits) of the original mid-60’s version sitting
there; one for service and one awaiting completion for shipment
to its new owner overseas. Herman is a man after my own heart
when it comes to all things powerful and fast!
Knowing these things about Herman is important if for no
other reason than that it shows his desire and commitment to
motorsports. Herman was involved in the motorsports business
for 15 years in the Netherlands before moving to Florida. As
mentioned before, he is only one of two (at the time this is
being written) Wilbers distributors that are authorized to sell
AND install WESA components. I always try to deal with enthusiasts
whenever possible and Herman is certainly an enthusiast.
While I don’t have a huge amount of seat time on the BMW
R 1200 GS line, I have had enough to learn two important things
about the bike:
I don’t like the stock R 1200
GS seat. If I wanted to sit on concrete I’d just plop down
on the sidewalk.
The stock BMW suspension has
a tendency to feel like someone put dirtbike shocks on a
500 pound motorcycle; floating and wallowing over bumps
isn’t my cup of tea.
But after riding the Wilbers WESA-equipped demo bike, I’ve
come to the following conclusion:
The Wilbers suspension does absolutely
nothing in regards to the comfort of the seat.
The Wilbers suspension does make
the bike feel more like a motorcycle and less like a parade
Being a moto-journalist isn’t all glamour, champagne, and
starlets. In reality being a moto-journalist sometimes involves
riding on cold days in search of some of the roughest roads
Once those roads are found you have to ride them back and
forth, judging, evaluating, and constantly thinking about things
like “How does this setting feel? Or this one? Is
there a quantifiable difference between the two? What
do I feel like having for lunch? Is it getting colder?
Will the muon-to-electron conversion experiment (MECO) actually
come to pass and will it find lepton flavor violations?”
What? You mean don’t think about things like that while
Ride Report: Wilbers Electronic Suspension
After multiple passes up and down the same stretch of rough
road and a satisfying lunch I was ready to put my thoughts about
the WESA system in some sort of order. Quite simply, it works
and it works well.
The ride is controlled over every type of surface irregularity
I could find. Whether it was a hard-edged bump or a dip, the
Wilbers suspension was well damped and never exhibited the sometimes
abrupt rebound tendencies of the stock BMW suspension.
Single Rider - Comfort Mode: Riding with
the suspension set-up for “single rider, comfort” seems to slow
down the suspension action to give the rider the softest ride
possible. The best way to explain it would be to think about
the suspension operating in slow-motion thereby offering a controlled
yet smooth ride.
Pushing the bike hard into corners on this setting gives
the big Beemer a softer than ideal feeling during mid-corner
bumps due to the slower response time of the damping and bound/rebound;
definitely the setting of choice though for those long distance
highway rides. Luckily, suspension settings more in tune with
sport riding are but a button push away.
Single Rider - Normal Mode: Switching
over to “single rider, normal” allows a little more feel to
be transmitted through the bars and seat without feeling harsh.
This setting also allows you to tackle twisty roads at a decent
pace without feeling like you are tying the suspension up in
knots. I actually found myself using this mode more than any
other simply because the damping worked well enough in corners
(at a sane pace) without sacrificing very much in the way of
rough surface damping.
Single Rider - Sport Mode: Final damping
setting in the “single rider” category is the “sport” mode.
Once again the Wilbers shocks serve up a well-damped ride albeit
one that transmits a noticeable amount of road surface information
to the rider.
In “sport” mode there is less squat under acceleration and
less dive under braking (not that there is much to begin with).
While the bumps and dips on the road are still well-damped,
you can feel the suspension reacting to them and compensating
for them in this mode.
Feedback on road surface conditions, braking, and traction
limits increases while overall ride smoothness decreases. This
certainly is a “sport” setting and the ride quality is much
closer to “sport bike” than it is to “adventure bike”.
No matter which master setting I put the bike in, “single-rider”,
“dual-rider”, “w/luggage”, etc., the three damping settings
worked exactly the same. The only difference was a little harsher
ride as the pre-load was adjusted to compensate for weight that
Off-Road Mode: Changing the mode into the
“off-road” settings showed pretty much the same results. Even
with the bike raised up into its “mountain” mode, the ride differences
between the three damping settings was consistent; “comfort”
= soft but controlled ride, “normal” = controlled ride with
better feedback, and “sport” = least amount of squat and dive
and most amount of feedback.
While I didn’t have the opportunity to do any real off-road
work with the bike I was able to put it into “mountain” mode
and then and run up and down a dirt road that had swales and
ridges in it from rain and traffic.
On this dirt road, when in “comfort” mode and being ridden
at about 30 mph, the Wilbers suspension reacted as I expected;
after a few good bumps and dips the suspension seemed to start
Rebound was just a little too slow to keep up with the constant
up and down motion. When ridden at 20mph or slower, the “comfort”
setting was spot on. Placing the suspension into “normal” mode
gave a well controlled ride at 20mph and below and quickened
the rebound settings enough to handle the road at 30mph.
Putting the suspension into “sport” mode made the ride above
30mph smoother but only if I rode the bike “over” the dips and
bumps and not “through” them. Below 30mph the “sport” setting
in “mountain” mode, while still being controlled, was a bit
too rough for my tastes.
One nice side-effect of the 65 mm lowered WESA kit from Wilbers
is in the slow speed handling department. Because of the lower
center of gravity, the usually top-heavy BMW felt much lighter
and was more nimble during slow speed turns.
One thing to keep in mind about the lowered suspension is
that even though in the normal modes you may be able to touch
the ground comfortably, putting the bike into the off-road modes
raises it up an appreciable amount; I’d guess somewhere in the
30 mm range.
I actually showed a vertically challenged friend of mine
the system and while he could touch down with the balls of both
feet comfortably in the normal modes, he was on the very tips
of his toes when in the tallest off-road mode. You should have
seen his eyes as he asked me if the bike would be getting any
A good suspension
makes all the difference in the world on a motorcycle but if
replacing the stock suspension removes some functionality of
the bike, what is the point?
With the Wilbers’ WESA you get to keep all the button pushing
fun associated with BMW’s ESA system combined with the class
leading technology and ride/handling improvements Wilbers is
known for; all for a reasonable price of $1,349.00 plus shipping
(more if you want Herman to install them on your bike). You’ll
even get to keep your original shocks in case you want to reinstall
them to sell the bike.
You can learn more about the WESA system at
More on Wilbers Shocks and suspension parts on the
along with a worldwide list of authorized installers.
As a last bit of information, Werner Koch and Benny Wilbers
wrote a book titled “Motorcycle Suspension Technology in Detail”
which you can also get directly from HermanUSA.com.
I was given a copy of the book which everything from how
suspension works to why it sometimes doesn’t, how to optimize
your forks, frames and swing arms, how the chain drive impacts
suspension, to tire technology.
It also covers ways to safely lower your motorcycle and tips
and tricks to setting-up your suspension for track duty. It
is an incredibly detailed book that covers not only Wilbers
suspension but suspension in general.
I highly recommend this for anyone who works on their own
bike or who just wants a more in depth knowledge of how bike
suspension works. The book retails for $25 and can also be found
Editor's Note: Herman is also the North
American distributor for the
Acebikes Steady Stand front wheel chock we reviewed.
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From "D.E." (3/10): "A
"It only makes sense then that Wilbers would be the
manufacturer to overcome the ESA issue"
WorksPerformance has been moving the ESA controls to their
shocks for well over a year now, and Hyperpro also has an ESA
solution available. I believe Ohlins also has a solution in
the works or available.
I found it rather odd that the *exact* same article, with
photos by the shock vendor is to be found (on the 2WF.com website).
It's also not made clear in either article - but it appears
that Wilbers is doing the same as Works and Hyperpro - moving
the ESA control units from the BMW shocks to their own shocks.
It doesn't appear that Wilbers actually makes their own ESA
This might be useful info for people, since it does mean
that the original factory shocks are rendered useless when the
control units are moved to the aftermarket shock. Ditto for
the Wilbers shock if the control units are moved back to the
factory shock if the factory shock is replaced on the bike when
I also have to assume the Wilbers shocks do loose the high/low
speed compression damping adjustments they have on their normal
Other than that - it's an interesting article."
Editor's Reply: Yes, 2WF.com and
webBikeWorld.com are co-publishing motorcycle reviews, as we
noted when this project started a couple of months ago. This
was announced on December 1, 2009 on our
Motorcyle Reviews index page.
Co-publishing gives us both a wider readership and lets 2WF.com
use the number of visitor stats from the larger webBikeWorld
audience of 10 million per year to "convince" the
manufacturers to lend them more bikes to test. Then we both
get the benefit of having more interesting bike test articles
By the way, Kenn Stamp, the 2WF.com Editor and the author
of the article (as noted in the masthead at the beginning of
the article) only had about 1/2 day with the bike, so it was
difficult to conduct a full review, thus the article is rather
light on details compared to both the webBikeWorld.com and 2WF.com
Herman Eshuis Responds: "Wilbers
is building a total new shock with settings at customer weights
and with the base spring also calculated to the weight of the
Inside the Wilbers shock is a combined needle which changes
rebound and compression once you change your setting, that's
why it drives so much better than the stock suspension from
BMW! You're right, no separate high / low speed compression
adjustment, it's all internal adjusted.
Another advantage is that Wilbers is offering 2 lowering
options with complete shock bodies and not only a shorter spring.
And indeed we then are mounting the BMW controls to the Wilbers
shock, this leaves you with a complete set of original BMW shocks,
which you can keep as a spare set or do whatever you want to
do with it.
Wilbers does NOT make their own ESA control unit !!
As far as I know ( but I need to check with Mr. Wilbers ) Hyperpro
is only making a electric control box with extra settings. No
new shocks !!
We do not know the quality of the Works system and how they
are fine tuning the suspension, we know that they offer a ESA