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.
Where to Buy Wilbers Electronic Suspension Accessory
The Wilbers Electronic Suspension Adjustment System
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.
Where to Buy Wilbers Electronic Suspension Accessory
The BMW R 1200 GS With the Wilbers Electronic Suspension
I met 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 cars.
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 float.
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 possible.
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 riding?
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 wasn’t there.
Where to Buy Wilbers Electronic Suspension Accessory
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 lagging behind.
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 taller. Priceless.
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 HermanUSA.com. More on Wilbers Shocks and suspension parts on the Wilbers website, 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 at HermanUSA.com.
Editor’s Note: Herman is also the North American distributor for the Acebikes Steady Stand front wheel chock we reviewed.
“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 control units.
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 it’s sold.
I also have to assume the Wilbers shocks do loose the high/low speed compression damping adjustments they have on their normal shocks?
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 to publish.
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 normal reviews.
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 customer.
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 conversion too.”