During a recent trip to northwest California for a group ride, I came to realize how inadequate the stock suspension really is on my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650. The bike has 62,000 miles on it and the suspension is completely stock without modification or adjustment. Over time, suspension components soften and wear out and need to be replaced. Because this degradation had taken place over tens of thousands of miles, I didn’t notice the change.
The first evening of our group event, a presenter and fellow rider by the name of Jay Jobes of Adventure Power Sports, out of Eagle, Idaho, talked about suspension on V-Stroms in particular and adventure bikes in general. Jay, who goes by the nickname “Sasquatch”, discussed the mechanics of front forks and rear shocks, how they work, and what they’re designed to accomplish. Jay also talked about what happens when suspension isn’t up to the task, either through weak design or pure age.
During the day, our group had taken a 180 mile loop ride on the finest back roads California has to offer. This can best be described the way the locals put it, “If you go off the pavement and the ride gets smoother, you know you’re in California.” The route went from asphalt with more bumps than a teenager’s face to washboard gravel with gnarly potholes. It was rough, and my bike let me feel every bump in full detail.
I noticed several characteristics of how my bike behaved on those challenging roads. On abrupt bumps, I’d feel a ‘chunk’ in the front suspension. This was a result of the forks not being able to handle the impact and slamming at full compression. Other sections of pavement had numerous, small bumps like riding across invisible corduroy, that dislodged the bike and left the tires airborne for fractions of a second instead of remaining in contact with the ground. This created a slight stopping effect that felt similar to the way ABS pumps your brakes several times a second. When this occurs repeatedly and in rapid fire, I was actually pushed forward slightly. Finally, when cornering, because the bike’s tires were becoming airborne in tiny but rapid intervals, it became nearly impossible to go around a bumpy curve with any kind of stability or sense of safety.
That night, Jay talked about suspension and described its dual roles: to efficiently absorb bumps in a way that conducts the least amount of shock to the rider, while immediately after pushing the tire back down as quickly as possible to maintain constant contact with the road surface. I asked a few questions and, with Jay’s well structured and informative answers, I quickly realized just how inadequate my suspension had become.
A rebuild or replacement of my stock suspension components was long, long overdue.
Jay has developed a technique for rebuilding the stock V-Strom suspension. This is significant because it was designed from the factory to be a throw-away component. It’s not built to be rebuilt. Jay’s technique provides riders like me a cost-effective way to get better-than-factory suspension without having to buy after-market third-party components. He takes the suspension apart, replaces the internals with higher quality after-market components, and puts it all back together. Even more, Jay interviews the customer to determine their weight, height, riding style, and frequent luggage load to make sure he chooses the right internals and makes the proper settings for their particular needs. It is custom suspension at lower cost than off-the-shelf after-market parts.
A week after the trip, I contacted Jay and gave him the details he needed. I took my bike to my local dealer and had them remove the front forks and rear shock, then store the bike in the back of their shop. I shipped the components to Jay at his location in Eagle, Idaho. He made sure he had the new parts ordered and on-hand in anticipation of the job.
Jay did the work and had my parts on a big brown truck headed back to my dealer within 24 hours. Once back at my dealer, they put the rebuilt forks and rear shock back on the bike. The total cost was $1280, and that included $200 in shop labor and $160 in shipping (there and back). I could have spent $1,600 for just an after-market rear shock and still had to pay for installation (or done it myself, which isn’t feasible where I currently live) -- and that wouldn't even include the front forks!
When I picked up the bike from the dealer, I took it for a short ride on a nearby semi-bumpy road for comparison. I had ridden the same road the day before I had the suspension removed, in anticipation of doing an A-B comparison. I didn’t feel much of a difference. The road wasn’t bumpy enough to make an adequate comparison.
The following weekend I took the bike for a 265 mile ride around Mt. Hood on a mix of gravel roads and bumpy Forest Service paved routes with lots of bumps.
The following Monday I called Jay to discuss my observations. Initially I was disappointed with the results. I hit several hard bumps and felt them similar to before. I went over washboard roads and they still felt like washboard roads. Other riders at the group ride had told me, “The difference is night and day.” My experience wasn’t anywhere close to that. More on that in a minute.
During my phone call with Jay, we talked about the specifics of how my bike was acting with the rebuilt suspension. Being an expert on the subject, Jay knew what to ask and how to describe the different aspects of the ride. I realized that the difference was there, the improvement was there, I just had unrealistic expectations.
My cornering seemed to be improved. Most of the route I took was very familiar to me, much of it memorized, so I was used to how fast I could go around numerous curves. I noticed I could go around the same corners at greater speed and with increased confidence and stability. Under hard braking, the bike seemed to stay level to the pavement, and felt as if both tires were providing equal grip to slow it down with greater efficiency. Before, the bike would dive forward like the forks were saying, “We give up!”
When hitting harsher bumps, I still felt them, but gone was the ‘chunk’ sound and sensation of the forks being overtaxed.
Rather than attempting to be an ace motorcycle mechanic, I needed to focus on how the bike behaved instead of how it functioned. In the end, it became clear to me that the bike was allowing me to ride at a higher level of performance and confidence with a lot less stress than before.
In the end, I have reached several conclusions. Above all, I was impressed with Jay’s knowledge and willingness to patiently explain a complex mechanical apparatus to a complete novice. He spent quite a bit of time describing how I can adjust the settings and do comparison rides until I get it dialed in exactly the way I want it. He met his commitments, was prompt, returned calls in a timely manner, and was well organized, having my parts on hand before my components arrived, got them rebuilt, and shipped back in very short order.
I also concluded that my bike’s suspension has become something I don’t have to think about anymore. I can now focus on the ride and other aspects of the experience instead of worrying that I might bounce out of a curve or lose hard parts from hitting big bumps.
Although I wouldn’t describe the before and after comparison as “night and day,” I would give it my highest endorsement of any expense for a bike: it is worth more than the cost, and to me, that is the best definition of a good value.