Does your Motorcycle Handle like a Shopping Trolley?

Let’s look at the science behind getting the it right. Of all motorcycle engineering’s dark arts, chassis tuning is the most transformational, the most useful, and the least understood. Power, they say, is nothing without control. Control is only gained when a motorcycle’s tires are firmly in contact with the ground, And the components that maintain this critical union of rubber and road are what’s known as a suspension system.

Now, although this will instantly conjure mental images of a fork, shock, swingarm and the related springs and things that let them compress and extend in a controlled manner, they’re not the only parts that affect bump absorption and road-holding.

The motorcycle in its entirely is a suspension system constantly yielding to impacts and rider inputs through flex in the frame- tires, wheels, triple-clamps and even the engine. The suspension components are just the last line of defense in the battle for wheel control and chassis stability and are, generally, the only element of ‘give’, which can be adjusted for resistance and rate of movement.

Let’s get into the science. Yes, it’s complicated. Suspension tuning isn’t a one-cure-fit-all science. Anybody who says there’s only one way to set up the chassis of a motorcycle, regardless of its rider, will only show that he or she has very little knowledge of a motorcycle set up. You’ll notice I said ‘set up the chassis’, because suspension tuning is just one element of the goal: a perfectly harmonious chassis.

When you change the suspension settings, you’re changing the chassis geometry. When you change the rider or the position of the rider, you change the weight distribution and chassis geometry. As a result, you’re also changing where the optimum suspension settings will be found.

The message is that no matter how small the change in a motorcycle’s fabric or function, it will have an affect elsewhere. Managing all these interwined relationships is what makes chassis development and suspension tuning so complicated and rewarding. Compromise isn’t an option. It’s the rule and an art form in itself. And this also illustrates the frustrating side of chassis set up: when you fix something, nine times out of 10, you screw up something else.

The dynamic, eclectic, and often-erratic element of the rider, or riders, is the main reason for there being no single ‘right’ setting for any motorcycle. Add tires into the equation, with their myriad constructions, compounds, sizes, profiles and states of gradual deterioration, and suddenly you have a befuddling soup of scenarios, all of which can throw a curly one at any moment and turn your suspension settings from superb to a trembling turd.

Hell, don’t let me put you off, though, the pleasure of suspension tinkering is in the perpetual pursuit of unattainable perfection.

So get spannering!

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