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Seven myths about motorcycle suspension

Suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver's Motorcycles
Suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver's Motorcycles

While most riders change the mufflers on their new motorcycle first, the most important modification to any motorcycle is the suspension, according to suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver’s Motorcycles.

Sam is from the UK where he spent eight years as a professional motocross racer and worked in the factory Yamaha team’s suspension workshop. Since he’s been in Australia he’s worked for motocrosser Jake Moss and now weaves his magic at Oliver’s.

MYTH 1: Suspension upgrades only affect handling.


Sam says sorting out your suspension will provide the biggest lift in performance of any modification. It will not only help with handling, but also with getting power to the ground, braking and ride comfort.

Suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver's Motorcycles
WP suspension on a KTM

MYTH 2: All bikes are set up in the factory for a 75kg rider.


Sam says some bikes are set up for lower or higher weights. He’s even measured some new bikes where he found the front was set up for one weight and the back for another!

If you manage to get a bike with consistent set-up front and back that matches you’re weight, you’re in luck. Otherwise, Sam says the bike needs to be set up for your weight.

Suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver's Motorcycles
Adjust the preload for weight

MYTH 3: Adjustable electronic suspension is superior.


Same says he is not a fan of electronic suspension adjustment, although he admits it is good for customers who want a quick adjustment for different loads or road conditions.

However, he says that, like conventional systems, they are factory set for a particular rider weight and the front and back may not necessarily match. He says they still require a basic “tweak” to suit the rider’s weight.

Electronic suspension
Electronic suspension

MYTH 4: You should replace the factory suspension.


Sam says some factory suspension is very basic, but can still be modified successfully with different springs, oils, valves, shims, etc, rather than having to replace the whole suspension.

Suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver's Motorcycles
Basic suspension may just need tweaking

MYTH 5: A decent set of rear shocks will sort out suspension problems.


Sam says a new rear shock can actually cause more problems than it resolves. He believes a good rear shock such as the Gazi units I’ve fitted to my Bonneville are a good first step, but they can create more stress and strain on the front.

The result is that the front and back don’t “talk” to each other and you can end up with a bike that is even less rideable.

Gazi motorcycle susension
Gazi shock fitted to our Bonneville

MYTH 6: Once the suspension is sorted, you can forget it.


Sam says you can leave the settings as is, but it still won’t suit all conditions. He says a track day will require different settings to touring with a pillion and luggage.

“I have a guy with a ZX14 who rides aggressively on the road, but also wants to go touring with his partner,” he says. “So I’ve taken static measurements, then measurements with him on board and then I’ll get measurements with her as well and give him a list of settings for the different applications.”

Also, you should get your suspension serviced and readjusted periodically as it will gradually deteriorate over time.

Suspension expert Sam Simmons of Oliver's Motorcycles
A complex arrangement of shims

MYTH 7: Suspension is a DIY job.


Sam says suspension set-up is both a science and a black art. One suspension expert will have different ideas to another. Sam laid out a complex arrangement of shims for a particular application, but says it can be varied for all sorts of applications.

He has his preferred arrangement, but another expert may have theirs. Suspension technicians spend years fiddling with various settings and often have experienced racers to give them feedback to finesses their suspension strategies.

As good as you may be as a backyard mechanic, it’s always best to take your bike to a suspension expert like Sam for a professional set-up.

  1. Any chance you can chase up Sam and ask him whether suspension damping settings has any impact on how rapidly a front tyre will flex/deform under braking.

  2. The biggest improvement to most bikes I have owned is replacing the poor quality stock tyres.
    The last one I changed was on a CBR250, it comes stock with IRC Roadwinners, lethal tyres especially in the wet. They feel like riding on wooden rims.

    Stick on a pair of Michelin Pilot Street tyres and it will outperform any suspension modification for a fraction of the price.
    Did the same on a Honda Grom, changed the stock Vee Rubber to Michelin City Grip and it felt like a new bike.

  3. Hi,
    Wondering if you could help. I’m thinking of getting a 2017 XJ6 Diversion and I’ve been unsuccessful in scouring the internet for the possibility of raising the seat height by a couple of inches. I’m 6′ and coming from a dual sport bike the 785mm seat height is really a little low. I could get a custom seat to raise it an inch but I’d also like a little more ground clearance.
    My knowledge of suspension is as good as my mom’s. Could you tell me if I can do something about the stock suspension, or recommend a slightly longer replacement that will fit, without breaking the bank? Can the XJ6 front forks be raised at the same time to counter the lift in the rear?

  4. IRC Roadwinners are fine tires if you have a decent bike. They grip fine. I can’t say what the real problem is for those who complain about them.

  5. It’s interesting that adjustable suspension systems are set for a specific rider weight, so you’ll have to adjust it to fit your weight. My husband just bought a used car and a motorcycle. I would imagine that he will want suspension repair on both because he is a little larger.

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