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Rear Shock Options, Including Budget

90685 Views 81 Replies 30 Participants Last post by  urbane
Hopefully this summary will help to group a bunch of scattered replies on the topic. Obviously, it's all JMO. :)

I found just a re-springing of the stock shock to be a very adequate economy answer to the wallowing and general lousy handling experienced on these as you start to push them, ESPECIALLY for just street use. It's NOT a Penske but is still a dramatic improvement. If you're not experiencing those wallowing problems, not pushing it a bit, or just a cruising type rider, ignore this post. ;)

I took the time honored approach that on a budget, the best bang for the buck is get the spring right. These are so soft that that approach made even more sense the more I thought about it. I took the measurements, figured the linkage ratios, drew up some cups, sourced a used spring, and proceeded. I was AMAZED with the improvement and easily recommend it to anyone who wants to improve the suspension but hasn't the money to do it "right" (translation: Penske, translation: $). ;)

I've used this on the track and will again, finding it totally rideable, but the shock absorber's weakness really shows there, cold tearing tires. Inflating a couple of extra pounds over typical track pressures will help, but not totally cure that. If you're a rider who track rides and can push that hard you could probably justify the cost of a Penske just with a season's tire wear savings alone and could realize the benefits of a nice, tuneable shock.

But if you're a street rider, possibly a novice track rider just getting into it, you won't have the tire tearing problem and will LOVE the dramatic improvement in handling if you're riding twisties even a little hard. On the street, even experienced riders won't be able to push so hard as to have the cold tear issues and will find that it's rideable at a pretty good pace, certainly FAR better than a stock set-up. Not a Penske, but not so bad. :)

It requires a spring for your weight, a set of special machined spring cups and, not necessary but highly recommended, a set of links (often called dog bones) to raise it.

The spring is a 2" X 6" series from Hypercoil and is the same spring used on Penske's shock. They are available in 50# increments. The range most likely to be used on these is 400, 450, or 500#, and for the really husky ones, maybe a 550#. New cost, about $100.

The spring cups are machined from 6061 aluminum and should cost no more than $100. I can make them for that, shipped. That price may be better depending on material costs.

The links to raise the rear and built with a minor outward step in them to clear the spring's slightly larger diameter should cost no more than $65. If you weren't raising the rear the stock links can be used but a washer should be added to each side to afford just a little more clearance. The addition of the washers then requires a longer set of bolts to maintain the engagement of the locking feature on the stock nuts. The spring will just fit between the links either with this mod or a purchased Penske, but even the slightest shift of it on the spring cups or the smallest variation in diameter will cause it to rub. Not good. The additional 1/16" per side assures clearance.

Summary: The cost for the shock mods alone is about $200.
Add the links for a truly complete package and the total is $265.

Shopping for a used spring from a racer who has had occasion to change his Penske shock's spring could be as little as $25 shipped (that's what mine cost) so you could conceivably complete the whole deal for under $200. If you have access to a machine shop and can figure out the parts, maybe way less than $200.

Next lowest cost package to my awares is a basic Works Performance shock, ordered and sprung for your weight, at about $400. That's an old price and from memory so it may be more, not likely less. It would still need the links if raising the rear was to be done so add the $65 for those to complete the package. That makes a total of about $465.

The ultimate, the Penske, sprung for your weight, is around $875. It has everything including adjustable ride height. (For those not familiar, ride height adjustment is NOT the same as spring adjustment. All of these, including your original, have spring adjustment, but not ride height.) At its lowest setting it already raises the rear 7/8" but can then be adjusted up from there. It should have washers added to the stock links to assure spring clearance and then longer bolts to assure the locking nut engagement. Those longer bolts will not be hardware store stock in that size and length so will have to be ordered from a fastener supplier. Expect between $10 at best and $20 at worst by the time you cover shipping and handling, getting that package up to just under $900.

So, there you go. A good list of the options... for the rear. ;D If you're going to do the rear you should really consider doing the front, too. The best handling is when you keep the front and rear working similar. With a spring change at the rear that will be at least a one third increase for anybody but the lightest rider (the stock rear is 300#) and it will underscore the front's soft springing. :(

At the front expect to spend $150 for parts to do the springs alone. That would include the springs, fork oil, and a little for miscellaneous. Add another $150 for cartridge emulators and you'll have all of the parts for the front, as good as it gets. No high dollar Penske options here, thank goodness. ;) The works for $300, the minimum for $150, or maybe shop the racers again for used.

Additional Notes:
This list is from my experience with my bike over about 10,000 miles riding as modded, riding it on both street and track, about equal amounts of each. (I use it coaching novice sometimes.) The total list of mods is:

1. re-sprung rear.
2. links to raise rear (started at 7/8", now at 1 1/2").
3. re-sprung front.
4. cartridge emulators front.
5. front raised 1/2" by sliding tubes in triple tree clamps.
6. radial tires.
7. lowered stock bars (approx. 2") using old 600 risers.
8. carburetor pilot screws out 2 1/2 turns.
9. EBC front brake pads.
10. EBC floating front rotor. (Just installed, warped two stockers beyond hope.) :(

That's the TOTAL list. And in that configuration it can be ridden quite fast without doing scary things. :) If I were racing it or running against my lap timer at track days, going for the track record, ;) I'd certainly want a Penske. If one comes my way at a steal, I'll buy it and put it in. Other than that, I'm content with the bike as it is.
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Those are dirt bike sags. Sportbikes are much less. They don't even have much more suspension travel than you're talking of using for sag settings.

A sportbike for street use can be as little as 7/8" at the stiffest extreme, but is getting in the realm of troublesome after 1 3/8". They get worse the further out of the specs you go.

And there's not a suspension expert you'll talk to who would agree with those numbers you quoted. If you require the measurements in millimeters it's between 30 and 35mm that you're typically striving for. I'm old and think in inches ;) ... but .03937 gets me the mm's every time... including too many decimal places for this work. :)

Please, let's not fight about this. If you're not clear or don't understand something, please ask. It may be tedious at first but in the end, it's pretty straightforward stuff. I'm sure we can get to an understanding. And do you know what? Most DON'T grasp this and don't know how to interpret what the info is telling them. I guess I should get typing. :( ;D
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"I guess the head instructor at MMI in Florida doesn't know what he's talking about ...."

You're right about that!
This write up is about at track setup of a race bike, the question was about buddie's street bike.
Their system would work IF they have done alot of the preliminaries,have a good set of race notes, using the SAME bike, with the SAME rider (who doesn't gain or lose an ounce from weekend to weekend...yeah right), etc etc. On a race bike the variables should be known before hand, only to save time in the pits, from doing set up weekend after weekend.

We don't have that luxury.
Since I've opened this can of worms, might as well try to finish it. Sag settings. What should they be, how to measure, and what we can tell about the appropriateness of our spring rate from them. This is also pretty generic for sportbikes in general so it's a good thing to understand.

There are two sag numbers.
One is called "Free Sag". That is the amount that the suspension will compress without the rider on the bike. Just the bike, standing upright, all by itself, on level ground.

The other is called "Static Sag". That is the amount that the suspension will compress with the rider on the bike, standing upright, on level ground.

The sag is adjustable by changing the "pre-load" on the spring. That is accomplished by turning that spanner nut on top of the spring for the rear, or changing the spring spacer lengths in the forks at the front. OR, most newer bikes have adjuster screws on the top of the front fork tubes that allow some pre-load adjustment without requiring modification to the internal spacer length. (Unfortunately, the EX isn't one of those.) :( When acceptable ranges can't be accomplished, it requires changing the spring. It will become clear as we go. ::) ;D


For this segment we'll focus on the rear but the basic principles/theory apply to the front equally. There will be details that vary but the core principles remain the same.

You'll need a tape measure, a friend or two to help with holding the bike and getting the readings, and I recommend some duct tape to attach the measure to the bike. Extend the measure and lock it in the extended position. Tape the free end to the body directly above the rear axle, letting the locked tape measure body hang down, measure tape in line with the axle. (Place a strip of ductape on the body to serve as a paint protector, then tape the measure to this.) It is nice to align a whole number with the reference point you chose on the axle. This would be with the suspension topped out, extended fully against the top stop. Now proceed to getting your measurements.

At the front, measure the fork movement directly. Place a wire tie around one of the fork tubes to use as a sliding reference point. As you compress the suspension it will slide the tie up the leg, holding the travel reference point to be measured.


At the rear.
The desired "Free sag" is a pretty well fixed number and should be between 1/4" up to as little as just zero. Any tighter and the bike's suspension can't extend sufficiently after hitting a bump to maintain tire contact with the ground. We'll look at this more, later. It is measured by first lifting up on the bike to be sure the suspension is fully extended, topped out. That can be done by pulling it over on the sidestand or just lifting up on the grab rail. In this position, check that the axle reference you are measuring to aligns with a whole number on the tape measure. It makes it easier to get your measurements if it is aligned with a whole number. Then, gently let just the weight of the bike settle down on the suspension. Make sure the bike's vertical and you're not lifting on it or pushing down on it, just steadying it so it won't fall. Record the change in measurement at the axle, the amount that the suspension compressed from topped out.

Now, to cancel out the stiction of the suspension components from your measurements, bike still vertical, push down on the bike, compressing the suspension slightly, then gently release it. Let the bike come up slowly and when settled, record that dimension. The difference between the two is the stiction of the suspension components and needs to be cancelled out. Take 1/2 of that difference between the two measurements and either add it to the first measurement (compression, the one from letting the bike settle from the fully extended position), or subtract it from the measurement taken by compressing it and letting it rise (rebound). That number is the "free sag", corrected for component stiction.

If you got NO movement from topped out to the weight settled on the suspension, then the spring may be too tight, too much pre-load, and we have no way of knowing how much that is. Of course, it's possible that the suspension is just topped out, not pressing hard against the top stop but just settled against it. To determine if that's the case, with the bike standing upright, apply the lightest of downward force on the bike, just the force of a lightly placed fingertip. If it starts to move right away, that could be considered zero and may be left alone at this time, BUT... only the lightest of downward force, just a fingertip's effort. Otherwise, you have to back the spring pre-load off and measure until you get at least some sag, or at least a number that we can comfortably call zero as we just defined it. (More on this later.)

As long as you have some "free sag" and have recorded that number, corrected for stiction, then proceed to measuring the "static sag". We'll adjust after we get both of these numbers and digest what they tell us.

At the front.
All of the basics remain the same but the methods of getting the measurements will be slightly different. Place a wire tie around one fork leg. Slide it down to engage the fork leg. Now, it will slide with the fork movements, pushed to a position by the travel. As you lift the bike the tie will remain at its highest travel point so the travel can be measured directly from the tie to the top of the fork leg by topping the suspension out and measuring the exposed fork leg directly. For rebound dimensions you'll be bouncing the front down and releasing slowly, therefore will push the wire tie past the point that you're trying to measure. For those dimensions, once the load has settled, hold that position while the person recording the measurements slides the wire tie down to engage the fork. Then unload the bike, top it out, and record the measurement. All of the principles remain the same. Only the method of measuring has changed.


"Static sag" is the measurement of the suspension travel with the rider aboard, feet on the pegs, in riding position. To get this measurement it will take a person or two to hold the bike upright and one to read the tape measure. The rider should assume riding position and try to remain still to assure the accuracy of the measurements. To measure the rear it may help to steady the bike from the front to have the least possible effect on the rear readings, and from the rear for measuring the front.

Proceed in the exact same fashion you did getting the "free sag" numbers, front and rear, except rider aboard this time. The measurement is that from the suspension topped out at full up travel to compressed with the rider aboard, bike held vertical. (This why it's handy to set a whole number on your scale to the topped position at the beginning. No need to recheck it. It doesn't change.) Lift the bike slightly and let it settle gently, recording the number. Then compress it and let it rise gently, recording that number. Take 1/2 of the difference between those two readings and add it to the compressing number or subtract it from the rebounding number, the same as you did getting the "free sag", cancelling out the stiction. Now we've got the "static sag" number, corrected for stiction.

Again, measuring the front repeats the steps described for "free sag", but with the rider aboard. OK?

Checking the measurements a couple of times is good practice to be sure you haven't accidentally pushed on the bike in a fashion that will alter the readings.

NOW, we got 'em, what do we do wit' 'em. ;)


Well, first, let's think through what the spring is doing and get rid of an often held but wrong idea. The idea that winding down on the spring makes it stiffer. It DOESN'T! :eek: Bear with me on this, and don't proceed until you understand it. It is critical in the whole picture and once understood, you'll never refer to "winding down" on the spring as "making it stiffer" ever again... because it doesn't and you'll be part of the select few who understand why. ;) :eek: ;D

We'll pick some nice round numbers out of the air to demonstrate the principle, keeping the math simple, focusing on the principle as it applies to the spring ONLY. The example will focus on the rear but the same principles apply at the front. (BTW,this principle is generic to springs but we're using a suspension example.)

As the need for a specific number arises, we'll use:
1) a 100"# linear spring.
2) a 100# force each end from a 200# rider sitting on the bike.
3) a 200# bike, balanced with 100# at each end.
4) 5" total suspension travel
5) For simplicity, we'll place the spring in straight alignment/compression with the axle so we don't have to adjust for the leverage/ratios of the swing arm or rocker linkages.

Here goes. :) Spring, all by itself, not in a bike. It's a 100"# linear spring. That means the spring compresses 1" for each 100# of load applied to it. If we apply a 200# load, it compresses 2"... and so on... (until it's coil bound, of course). ;) Got that? Make sure.

OK. Now, we have this spring in the bike, pre-loaded with the adjustment nut to a number, let's use 1/2". As such, we have the nut wound down 1/2" so have pre-loaded it with 50# of force. Got it so far? Make sure. (Linear spring, 100"#, wound down 1/2" = 50# of force.)

OK. Now, if we were measuring the "free sag", what would we do? We'd lift on the bike to be sure it's topped out. Right? The spring will extend until it comes up against the adjuster nut. The nut that we wound down 1/2", pre-loading the spring with 50# of force. Right? That's our starting point. Now, when we stand the bike up to measure the sag, applying its 100# of force to the spring, it will move down, compress. How far? An additional 1/2", yes? The first 10, 20, right through to 50# never caused any movement. Why? Because we already had a 50# pre-load in the spring. At 51# and beyond we started to get movement. Got it so far? Make sure. We would have a reading of 1/2" "free sag". (With a 50# pre-load on a 100"# spring, placing 100# load on the spring results in 1/2" additional movement.)

OK, if you're still with me, ;) let's look at the rider aboard. We already determined that our example has 1/2" "free sag". Now we're going to place an additional 100# force on the spring by putting the rider on the bike. We were already compressed 1/2" (free sag) due to the settings we had so when the rider gets aboard, we add another 100# so the spring compresses another 1". We now have a "static sag" of 1 1/2". Right? We had a 50# pre-load, applied a 100# force to the spring from the weight of the bike alone, compressing it 1/2" additional, then added 100# more, compressing it another 1", to the present measurement of 1 1/2". Got it? Cool, huh? :)

Now, let's play with our adjusting nut, see if we can make this example stiffer.... or do we just move it around, wind it up OR wind it down.
Let's turn the nut down another 1/2", adding another 1/2" pre-load. That has us at 1" pre-load on our 100 pounds per inch spring. So what happens to our sag readings? Our pre-load is at 100# and our bike only weight is 100#, so the "free sag" goes to just zero. Right? Got it? Therefore it follows that our "static sag" goes to 1", right? Our "free sag" is now zero so when we put our rider aboard, his 100# force moves the bike down 1". Hmmm.

Winding the nut down hasn't done anything but move the starting height that all of this occurs. Putting 100# weight on it moved it 1", same as before, even though we wound down 1/2" on the spring. We didn't change the amount the suspension moved. The same load moved it the same amount, just from a different starting point. Got it? Did we "stiffen" anything? No.

Now, just to complete the circle, we'll back the nut off to zero spring pre-load. We stand the bike up with its 100# load and measure our "free sag". It will be 1", right? And then we put our rider aboard with his additional 100# and our "static sag" will go to 2", right? If you're seeing it and agreeing, you've got it... this far.

OK, so all of the screwing we do on that nut has not directly changed the spring's stiffness, the loads, the spring's ability to handle loads, NOTHING... except the ride height, moved it up or down. BTW, we don't want to adjust ride height there. While it effects ride height, we don't want to adjust ride height there. More on that later.

Now, and this is important. All we want to use the adjuster nut for is to move the spring's operating range to optimize the available suspension travel, getting it in the most useable, practical operating range. The best range for both up and down movements, to allow the wheel to follow the road the best it can.

Let's continue to use our ficticious suspension above, one more exercise at the extreme to underscore the point. We wouldn't want to adjust it to have 4" of "free sag" in a suspension that has a max travel of 5", would we? As soon as our rider got aboard, his 100# would move it down another 1" to 5" "static sag", the full operating range of our suspension. The first bump we hit, the suspension could absorb nothing. It's bottomed. Not that it is a likely scenario to see anything this extreme, it's still demonstrative of the principles involved and adding spring tension at this point... or taking it away, we accomplish nothing. The suspension is completely out of its operating range, unable to do a thing for us.

And to complete this circle of extreme examples, what if we pre-loaded the spring 2". It will be pre-loaded with 200# of force. Stand the bike up on its own, applying its 100# force, and the suspension never moves, right? Now put the additional 100# force of the rider aboard. The suspension still doesn't move, right? Make sure you're following this far. Now, the first bump you hit, the suspension moves a bit because it exceeds the 200# load and pre-load, the bike goes up a bit, and then as you clear the bump, IMMEDIATELY the wheel leaves the ground!... because we've got it set topped out hard against the adjuster nut, unable to extend. :eek: Not good. ;) But this is EXACTLY the nature of the problem you create as you try to wind down on too soft of a spring to get an appropriate "static sag", having ignored the "free sag". More on this later. :)


At this point we should have a good grasp on the basic concepts and terminology as it relates to the springs. What we should understand is:

1) The definition of "free sag" and static sag".
2) How to measure them.
3) A given spring has given capacities, and will move a predictable amount for a known load. (A 100"# spring moves 1" for each 100# applied. 200# will move it 2", etc.)
4)The adjuster nut changes the height, the position in the available travel range that the spring moves as its capacity to support the applied load dictates. It does not stiffen the spring. It does move the range in which the spring operates.
5) The travel range is fixed by the shock travel length at the rear, and the fork travel length at the front.

This is continued in another post titled: FINAL EXAMPLE, CONCEPTS APPLIED
This one exceeded the allowable characters. :eek: ;D
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Hang in there... some/many of us are still reading & thinking.

Keep the emotions in neutral & the brain in gear & analyze, eh?
The group of us will get things squared away, or agree to disagree... no harm done, eh?
As far as racing goes, it appears that the consensus is to purchase a Penske (or other brand) set-up. I was considering this until A) I learned it would cost me ~$700 and B) I learned that this is more for "racing" applications, not really just tooling around town/hills, sometimes with the wife on board. The alternative I was told about was to purchase replacement parts, and send my set-up to a "Suspension House" (anywhere that has the know-how and the technology to professionally assemble and set up suspension). I was told that this would only cost $200-$300 for everything, and it would be the best (most cost effective) solution for a guy like me...

Just my two cents
Re: Rear Shock Options, Including Budget - ADMINISTRATOR ACTION REQUIRED

I recommend that the ADMIN create a "sticky" from the information "dad" has provided in this thread (and hopefully will expand upon after bandaiding his bleeding fingers :)). As a noob having someone more experienced to explain and "fill in the details" of technical activities such as determining sag is priceless. I'm anxious for warmer weather so I can start making my bike the best it can be for me, and from what I gather from reading, those improvements will start with the suspension.

"dad" keep up the good work!
Just let me know when everything is set. it's a good article as long as majority agrees.
Re: Rear Shock Options, Including Budget: [u][b]FINAL EXAMPLE, CONCEPTS APPLIED[

One more example to see how all of this theory applies to a riding scenario. We'll use our same theoretical bike.

What if the spring installed was much weaker, say 25"# for example. And the rider load was still 100#. Let's set the "free sag" at zero, the highest it should ever be set, ideally. We will have to wind 4" of pre-load into it to accomplish that but so what? We got it at zero like we wanted, right? The rider climbs aboard and the "static sag" goes to 4". Right? So we only have 1", of a total 5", of suspension travel left to absorb load variations. Hmmm. What else might be happening?

Well, let's think about this a minute, consider what we DO know at this point. What do you think happens as we hit mild variations in the road or load the suspension just from the centrifugal force pushing down on the suspension from the mass of the bike and rider leaned into a bend? Without knowing what's perfect, what would a 100"# spring do differently than the 25"# spring, all else being the same? Zero "free sag" for both, the same 100# rider load, but those two springs, a 25"# and a 100"#.

Let's assign some numbers to the load in this scenario so we can see it. We'll say that the imperfections in the road, as well as centrifugal cornering force, caused a 25# additional load compressing, then went over a rise causing a 100# unloading of the applied weight.

The 100# spring bike starts with a free sag of zero. The rider gets aboard, applying his 100# force so the suspension compresses 1" (1" static sag). We start down the road, through a corner, applying an additional 25# force so the total sag, total downward travel, went to 1 1/4". OK? Now the bike advances to the 100# unloading imperfection. The resultant suspension travel is what? The bike was at 1" compressed, "static sag", the load is reduced by 100# from the road imperfection, we have a 100"# spring, so the suspension travels upward 1", positioning the suspension at just 0" sag. Follow that so far? 8)

So, here's the summary of our suspension action for the 100# spring as it travelled our theoretical road:
Max sag: 1 1/4".
Min sag: 0"
Total that the suspension travelled: 1 1/4"

Now the 25# spring bike, same scenario. Start with the same zero free sag. The rider climbs aboard, applying his 100# load, so the suspension goes to 4" compressed (4" static sag). We start down the same road, applying the additional 25# force, so the total sag, total downward travel, goes to 5" (just bottomed). OK? Now the bike advances to the 100# unloading imperfection. The resultant suspension travel is what? The bike is at 4" compressed, "static sag", the load is reduced by 100# from the road imperfection, we have a 25"# spring, so the suspension travels upward 4", positioning the suspension at just 0" sag. See it so far? 8)

So, here's the summary of our suspension action for the 25# spring as it travelled the same theoretical road:
Max sag: 5".
Min sag: 0"
Total that the suspension travelled: 5"

WOW, WHAT A DIFFERENCE! The exact same road, the exact same rider, the exact same conditions, one bike used the whole 5" of suspension travel while the other, again in the exact same conditions, used a total of 1 1/4". NOW, what do you think our "exact same rider" felt riding those two bikes through the exact same conditions. ;) ;D One of those bikes would be inclined to feel planted, inspire rider confidence, while the other is wallowing down the road, maxing out the suspension's total travel.

And THAT, my brain fried friends, ;) is what this spring stuff's about... in principle. The actual suspension numbers desired may be changed... to "protect the innocent", ;) but the basics demonstrated will always apply. If you go back and read the first post in the thread, see if it makes any more sense.

EDIT ADDS: I'm still editing and adding but I think this is it for the theory. Next I'll get to some specifics. This is tedious. :)
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Then the ideas are:

1) to have the spring that lets the rider+load run in the middle of the available suspension travel.
2a) comfort-cruiser riders would likely be happier with a softer spring that uses more of the travel
2b) sporty-racer types would prefer the feel of a firmer spring that keeps the suspension geometries in a tighter & more predictable range.

Yes, no?
MrSciTrek said:
Then the ideas are:

1) to have the spring that lets the rider+load run in the middle of the available suspension travel.
Sorta' ;) Actually, it will be more in the upper 1/3, sitting still. More to come when I get the chance.

MrSciTrek said:
2a) comfort-cruiser riders would likely be happier with a softer spring that uses more of the travel
Again, sorta'. ;) But even those guys might find a little more planted feel rides better. A lot of it will depend on how hard they ride the thing and what they weigh, same as these.

MrSciTrek said:
2b) sporty-racer types would prefer the feel of a firmer spring that keeps the suspension geometries in a tighter & more predictable range.
Yes, if by that statement you mean the bike's more "planted". As this progresses we're going to use some given numbers. Ones we'll take on faith but also ones that are tried and proven and agreed to by almost any suspension tuner. One tuner to another, spring rates don't change much if at all.

Their art is partially in this stuff but a lot in the shocks, which ARE way more artful in their interpretation and complexity. Also, the tools that we need to do the springs with accuracy are easy and found in most household toolboxes. The tools that might let us use measured and defined parameters for shocks would be a shock dyno, which is very expensive and beyond the normal tool box, or the art of reading by feel and description, something acquired only after years of experience.... plus a good knowledge base of the fundamentals.

Let me get some more of the specifics down and then we can go back and forth on what it all means, if we need to.

Thanks for your interest this far. Is this helping to see what your suspension is doing and by the last example to have some sense of why the spring rates might be important? And also why different riders at different weights might be better served with a different spring? No one size fits all option?

Hopefully, when it's time to get to adjusting to some more specific numbers, all of this background wil help with a grasp on what's going on and help to identify problems and proper solutions. Make changes with some confidence about what's going on, and maybe even read the bike's feedback while riding with some accuracy and confidence.

More later as time allows. I'm trying to be careful, to be thorough and accurate.
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Now that we know how to properly measure static and free sag, what can we tell about our suspension from those two numbers?

The difference between free and static sag will tell us if the springs installed are appropriate for the bike and rider without knowing anything about the specific spring rate, bike weight, or rider weight. This does NOT mean those aren't good bits of information to have. In fact, that's the data that the tuners use to predict and recommend the proper components for your bike, sight unseen. All it means is, we are striving to optimize the suspension in its travel in an application, and that the tell-tale measurements, the final proof of our work, are the free and static sag. They can be calculated, accurately predicted, and bench adjusted if sufficient data is available, but at the end of the day, the proper components will fall into the range and the improper won't. If our bike measures in that range, we don't need to know the details of why, just that they are, and let that final fact be our documentation that the components are correct and the same we would have arrived at with all of the data. Understanding all of the original theory should make this evident. If it's not, re-read the theory portion until you can satisfactorily understand the claims just made.

OK, so what should those numbers be? The difference between free and static sag for typical sportbikes should be approximately 1" for street use. That can be reduced, stiffer, to about 7/8" (maybe 3/4" at the rear but...), and softer to as much as 1 1/8". Any stiffer than 7/8" is really asking for trouble with the suspension being able to skip on corner bumps. As you get softer, beyond the 1 1/8" range, the flaws aren't as absolute as being too stiff, but the rider comfort and positive feeling of control diminish. At 1 1/4" it's already showing on hard corners and wallowing may appear, especially with a soft shock. By 1 3/8" expect wallowing at the rear and a generally unplanted feel as you push the bike harder.

For the track, all of the above numbers can be reduced by 1/8". That would mean that the minimum differential between the two numbers would be 3/4" (maybe 5/8" at the rear, but...) at the stiffer end and softer to about 1". Notice that the two, street and track, overlap. Soft on the track might be considered stiff on the street. Consider that to be in the realm of rider preference, not right or wrong.

Recommended Settings

For the street or track, free sag should be set between 1/4" (6mm) and up to just zero. Static sag for the street should fall between 1" (25mm) and 1 3/8" (35mm). On the track that can be reduced to as little as 3/4" (20mm) and as much as 1 1/4" (32mm).

So where should I set mine? The ranges are fairly loose, aren't they? The end to be most concerned about is the top out possibility from a spring that's too stiff and a static or free sag not sufficient. A spring that's on the stiff side of the range then set at the minimal end of the static sag, will wind up with a minimal free sag as well, and may not be a good choice. The potential to top out on a harsh bump, not allowing the wheel to reach the ground, becomes greater as those two numbers are reduced. A spring that falls on the stiffer side of acceptable might be better set with the free sag at the greater end of its range allowing the static sag to fall in an acceptable portion of its range.

On the street, front sag should be conservative, that's to say, "When in doubt, add a little". You don't want the front too restricted. You might get away with a rear a little on the tight side but not the front.

Example: If we have a sag differential of 7/8" and have the free sag set at zero, then the static sag will be only 7/8". This may be trouble. If we set the free sag at 3/16" it will add directly to the static sag and will end up at 1 1/16". I don't think I'd want any less for this scenario, maybe even another 1/16" (to 1/4") free sag, 1 1/8" static sag. On the other hand, if we had a spring that was compressing 1 1/8", we could run the free sag up at 1/8" and still have a comfortable static sag of 1 1/4".

The shock settings, which we have not addressed because we don't have any, ;) will also come into play here. I'll mention it because it's worth being aware of, just not much of an option for these. Shock settings can have an almost overlapping effect as we get on the edge. A spring that's softer on its scale can be compensated for with a slightly stiffer shock setting and the opposite also holds true. BUT... a shock NEVER supports weight dynamically and can therefore NEVER fix a true spring problem. It can and does only assist by controlling the springs' movements in the short term.

Now you're in the range! Slight tweeks from this point may show some improvement in handling but you have it in the range and can say so with some confidence. The biggest thing to consider if you've reduced sag is to be aware that it may tend to skip on bumps. If it does, consider adding some sag. If we had shock adjustments we might look there, too.

Ride height should not be changed with the spring adjustments. That should be evident by now. Get the springs right, sags right, then change ride height externally, like with the links at the rear or sliding the tubes in the trees at the front. Some shocks can be shimmed at the attachment points and even others have adjustability built in. It's a different setting. Even though setting the sag effects it, it's NOT where we adjust it, right? :) OK, just a little. ;) Keep it in mind when setting sags, but keep the point in mind too. It's NOT your ride height adjustment. You don't get much there and it can create more trouble elsewhere by wasting useable suspension travel.

On the street, front sag should be conservative, that's to say, "When in doubt, add a little". You don't want the front too stiff. The above numbers should work fine but weigh the whole picture carefully if you choose to get on the stiff side of the spring range, or minimal sag settings within their range. Good roads, maybe. Bad roads, trouble. You might get away with a rear a little on the stiff side but not the front. It's unnerving when the front's not planted.

Fork oil level has an effect on the spring rate in the front. As such, it's a critical number. The air that is trapped in a fork tube has a piston effect on the fork leg and works as a progressive air spring, adding force over and above that of the spring compressing. Raising or lowering the oil level effects the volume of air, therefore the amount of the spring effect that compressing it affords. A higher level (up to the extreme point that it would hydraulically lock the front) will have the effect of making a front spring that's linear in its characteristics, act progressive when both the air and spring's forces are combined. This is critical for the extreme front loads that can occur under hard braking, placing ALL of the weight of the whole package on just the front wheel. As such, it's important.

Guidelines for oil height will come with a set of springs and will be very close if the springs are properly sized for the weight. To prove the appropriateness of the level, a wire tie left on the fork leg will indicate the max travel under hard braking. It should not bottom but at the same time, should not leave a great amount of unused travel. If we aren't using it, why have it? Right? Real hard braking, smooth surface, should leave maybe 1/2" travel. That's the reserve for hard braking and a bump. If the spring's right it will handle the load nicely and the fork oil assist will be sufficient to handle the extremes of braking. BTW, an appropriate fork oil level with the appropriate springs will typically fall in at about 5" to 5 1/4". Not because it's etched in stone but the factors that are in play tend to fall in that close, one application to another. Still check the recommended numbers for your starting point. Chances are they'll be perfect. Those guys have done this before. ;)

.... more to come. I'm working on it. :)
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And finally, what about fork oil viscosity and fork oil level and cartridge emulators ? BTW, what are cartridge emulators and why might I want them?

I would strongly consider the cartridge emulators. Especially for street riding. They really do make a difference. For those who don't understand their purpose, here goes.

The damper rods we have are fixed orifice. That means the damping rate, dictated by the ability of the fixed orifice (drilled hole) to pass oil, are at best a compromise. The damping is too soft at low speed fork travel, the small bumps, flowing the oil too freely, not dampening much at all. The passage is too large to have much effect on the low volume of the oil passing through them. Somewhere in the middle of that fork speed, caused by a little harsher bump, the restriction of the fixed hole is just right and has the perfect effect, perfect restriction and resistance to flow, perfect damping rate. Then, when you hit a big bump and the fork needs to travel a large amount quickly, the hole is too small to pass the necessary volume of oil so is therefore too harsh. It's virtually hydraulically locked and unable to move fast enough. Very harsh! It's those erratic responses to varying conditions that the cartridge is designed to fix.

The cartridge emulator is an assembly with a much smaller fixed orifice so it flows a smaller amount of oil at some restriction/pressure, damping the small bumps perfectly. Then, as the bumps become harsher and a larger volume needs to flow, but still with some resistance to dampen the action, a spring loaded disc in the cartridge is hydraulically lifted by the increased fork oil pressure, affording the larger opening to allow the larger flow required, yet dampening according to how stiff the spring is to resist that lift. The spring in the cartridge is adjustable to vary that effect. It ends up affording the greater amount of damping for the small bumps that the fixed hole couldn't do, accomodates the middle of the range as the fixed hole did, and then can really open up for the harshest of bumps, letting the fork move over them with the proper resistance, but not hydraulically bound.

If you think that through, does it become clear how that might be very desireable for the WIDE variety of conditions we meet on the highways? It's every bit as beneficial to the street rider as the track rider, maybe even moreso. We encounter a LOT of different road conditions so a damper that readily accommodates a broad range of conditions is quite nice.

Fork oil viscosity. Does it really matter? It sure does. In a damper rod front end the orifices are fixed so a thicker oil will resist flow, increasing damping. With the emulators, it also matters but is tuneable. Unfortunately, the tuning is in the compression direction only. Therefore the only way to tune the rebound is with the oil viscosity and then tune the compression side to the desired effect. Expect a noticeable difference in a 5W change.

In a stock front end especially, I'm not sure that I would change to a thicker oil unless you had a specific service in mind. It will improve the low speed damping but will become harsh all of the way up the range, probably WAY too harsh by the time you hit a big bump. On the street, with the many varying conditions, it may prove too thick, too harsh. On the track, maybe, depending on the conditions, but then shouldn't you just get some emulators? ;)

There's another reason to consider staying with 10W that's not readily evident. That's the stock rear shock. One thing about suspension tuning that's a standard is maintaining the front working in conjunction with the rear. If one end is acting much different from the other end, even if one is right, the package may feel worse than having both less than optimum, but equally so. If you've got a stock rear shock you may want to leave the fork oil weight at the recommended 10W in the interest of a balanced package. On the other hand, it's relatively easy and inexpensive to change fork oil. If you try one and it's not good, it's easy to change.

One way to get some sense of the package's balance, front to rear, is to stand the bike up, place your hand at the rear of the tank and a foot on the peg. Sharply press down with the foot and hand, watching the front and rear's response. If they seem to compress and/or rebound at very different rates, you've got a problem. A well set up suspension will respond similar at both ends.

And for some specifics on using cartridge emulators with a stock rear shock. Follow the factory guidelines in all respects with the following additional details. 3 turns on the 68# spring and 10W fork oil. What's interesting is if you have an older set of instructions, Racetech will advise 10W oil. On their newer instructions or those on-line, they recommend 15W. Apparently an update. :) With an aftermarket shock capable of stiffer shock settings I'd set up the front stiffer, too. Just not with the stock rear shock.

For the track and with a stock rear shock, I'd use the same settings as a starting point. You may like another turn on the cartridge spring and may like 15W oil but I found it had the front too stiff and not reacting in conjunction with the rear. I found I preferred the comfort level of the more uniform action front and rear and was able to push it harder that way. Four turns on the spring was OK, but not 15W fork oil. Again, as before, it's easy to change fork oil so experiment with it if you care to, I'm just relaying what my experience and preference was, having tried both.

Fork oil level is important. It's also generic by style, meaning the measurements are taken the same way regardless of manufacturer. The books will often mention a volume in CC's, one volume for a total dismantle and rebuild and a second lesser one for a fork oil change without dismantling. That's because some oil is retained in the mechanisms when the forks are not dismantled. How much you get out is effected by how well you purge them, pumping them through their cycle, but you'll never get it all out. The retained oil can easily be more than 10% of the dry fill amount but that's never 100% accurate. The only way to be sure is by measuring the level.

The fork oil level sets the air spring rate and is important to the whole package. It's NOT critical to the shock functions, that of damping the spring action, because that level could be MUCH lower without ever uncovering the shock valves/passages, therefore allowing the damping functions to occur. This is not to say fork oil doesn't matter to the shocks' functioning, just that the level could be MUCH lower without losing the shock damping functions.

Setting the fork oil level is done with the spring and spacer removed, fork fully compressed, bottomed out. The measurement is from the top of the open tube down to the surface of the oil. Corrections for the spring volume, spacer volume, position of the retainer plug in the tube and its corresponding volume, are all factored into the level spec and therefore do not need to be considered. The volume change of a different spring and spacer will be negligable and from what we know about the function, it's a starting point anyway (although often final), proven by the travel and resistance to bottoming once in service. If that's not understood, go back to the theory above until you do understand. All other components, including cartridge emulators if they are being used, should be in place in the tube.

The volume specs in CC's are handy to tell you how much oil to purchase and to give you a rough starting point when filling. The final level should be measured. Pour in a measured amount of oil using the cc specs as a guideline. Cycle the tube full stroke to bleed the captured air from the system. You'll hear it and also feel the resistance to travel as the air passes through the system, escaping to the surface of the oil in the tube. Multiple strokes and then letting it settle for a few minutes to allow any small trapped air bubbles to reach the surface of the oil is good practice. A couple of additional strokes at this point to prove that the air is fully purged is also good practice. Once you're sure the system is bled of air, drop in the emulator (if you're using one) and let the tube compress fully into the lower leg.

Measure the level now. A simple scale or tape measure is sufficient but the handiest way to do this is with a hand vacuum pump with a brake bleeder cup attachment. (Mity-Vac is a common brand of these and available at any auto parts store.) Wrap a piece of tape around the free end of the hose at the position of the desired level and insert that into the collapsed fork tube using the tape mark as your reference, pumping out any excess oil. If you get none, add oil until the fork is slightly overfilled, then insert the hose and pump it down to the desired level. That's the easy, clean way. Any other method to remove oil will also work. A straw capped with your thumb, a small scoop on the end of a wire, dumping it and fishing the emulator out of the drain cup, ;) etc, but none are as clean and simple as the brake bleeder kit.

I didn't mention much on shock settings for two reasons. One, it can get pretty artful. Two, we don't have adjustments. ;D That can be a good thing at times. ;) If you put in emulators, follow the guidelines furnished with them and consider those specifics mentioned above. Being adjustable, you can try different settings but always remember the balance of the action from front to rear, also outlined above.

In closing, the springs are the biggest part of your package, best bang for the buck in any suspension tuning, and a good grasp on this stuff will be a good basis to start learning how to use your shock settings if you ever have them. I'm calling this done at this point... for these bikes. ;D Hope it helps someone.
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man, i say we give dad some sorta award for this write up.
OK... I wanted to know what a cartridge emulator looked like so Googled:

Another write-up, w/ pictures...
http://www.fjmods.btinternet.co.uk/emulators.htm (LARGE print)


Pictures of one brand:

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MrSciTrek said:
OK... I wanted to know what a cartridge emulator looked like so Googled:

Another write-up, w/ pictures...
http://www.fjmods.btinternet.co.uk/emulators.htm (LARGE print)


Pictures of one brand:

Yup, that's them. :) And the spring on the bolt is the adjustment.
I think I'm done. I finally edit/added fork oil level to the final post. Anybody following this, please review all of the posts again, being sure to catch all of the latest edits, and then ask away if something's not clear. Be sure to read each point until it's understood. You're the proof readers. :)

And after reading, see if you can go to your bike and measure, interpret, and see where yours stands.

Mods, if it seems complete after some review, maybe you could select the key posts and make a sticky. The original thread could be left and/or linked for discussion. Mods preference dictate. ;) :)

Happy reading.
Here's a chart I worked up to be used as a guideline for rear shock street spring rates. It's a guideline only and applies to EX-500's only. Spring rate and the corresponding rider weight. They will be suitable to take to the track, especially if you're not a lot heavier than the weight indicated as optimum. If you were going to race, I strongly suggest a Penske as noted throughout the post. Track only rates will be about one size up from those listed in the chart.

Spring Rate______Minimum_____Optimum_____Maximum






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