How To Adjust Motorcycle Suspension To Your Weight

The Ins and Outs of Motorcycle Suspension

The suspension is an essential part of your motorcycle. Between providing comfort and stability as you ride alongside contributing to safety when it comes to handling and braking, both front and rear aspects of this system pull a lot of work. However, is your bike's suspension working in a way that works best for you?

No two riders are the same when it comes to their motorcycle needs and driving styles. Since that's the case, why should they keep their suspension the same way? With advances in technology that make the entire process more accessible, there is no real reason not to adjust your suspension to fit your body. We've got the details on the how and why of motorcycle suspension.

Why Should You Adjust Your Bike's Suspension?

The suspension is responsible for many aspects of your bike—most notably minimizing the impact of bumps while you ride. When the suspension is on the right settings, you won't feel much of those hits. When it's not, you'll likely find yourself having an uncomfortable ride that doesn't handle as well as you want it to do.

Adjusting to height and weight is also essential. Though motorcycle manufacturers have their default settings, they know that not every rider will sit, fit, and ride on a bike the same way. Adjusting the suspension to better suit the rider themselves can impact how well the motorbike handles as well, allowing you to customize it to your riding style. Additionally, used motorcycles may have the suspension tweaked to its previous owner instead of your needs.

With all that in mind, there isn't one right group of settings to adjust your motorcycle suspension to run. As said, what you need out of your suspension will depend on how you settle onto your bike, and the ways you want to ride it. And while we can't tell you the ultimate tuning for your needs, we can explain the different stages of adjusting the motorcycle suspension.

How to Adjust Your Motorcycle's Suspension

On older bikes, adjusting motorcycle suspension was an involved process that could involve taking parts out of your bike and putting them back in altered form or handling fluid viscosity—among other means. Nowadays, most modern bikes—be it a 2 or a 3 wheel motorcycle—have suspension screws and knobs that we can tweak to get the settings that we want.

With that in mind, note that the steps and stages ahead are going to involve a lot of tweaks and then test drives to see if you've made the adjustments best suited to you. If you're new to the process, you may want to make more significant changes so you can get a better idea of the impact that tweaking your suspension can make on your overall ride.

Setting Preload and Sag

Preload is a term that works in tandem with "Sag," referring to how much the bike sags whenever the rider sits on it. The preload, then, is how much the bike is at an adjustment to account for the weight. This preload adjustment is inevitable, but you do want it to fall within a specific range for the best results on your bike.

To determine preload, you want to take measurements of the length of the fully extended suspension, the length when the suspension is at rest, and one more time when you (the rider) is on, along with any appropriate gear or cargo that you'd regularly take along with you on your motorcycle.

There are many ways to calculate a preload value to determine if it's correct. We'll be using the percentage method, which takes the fully extended rear suspension and divides it by the suspension under the sag of the rider. You want to have this bit of math come out close to one-third, or roughly thirty percent for the starting point.

If the percentage comes out to less than thirty percent, you need to reduce the amount of preload, which you can do by spinning the retaining collar on the shock upwards. If you have over thirty percent, then you will need to turn the collar downwards to increase the amount of preload.

In situations where you know that you'll sometimes ride with more weight (transporting passengers, extra cargo, etc.), you can do all the measurements in one session. Doing so will allow you to make a guide of how to adjust the retaining collar for the best drive given your circumstances.

Adjust the Rebound (Damping)

While calculating appropriate preload uses some measurements to help guide you, tweaking rebound is a bit more subjective to determine. Your best bet is to start by writing down your current settings, so you know where you've started. Since this adjustment has one of the most significant impacts on the handling of the bike, you want to take care of.

After you've documented your current settings, it's time to determine how many "clicks" there are on your adjustment knob. Start by turning the knob as far as it will naturally go clockwise. Then, once you've reached the end, turn it counterclockwise to the other end, counting clicks as you go.

Once you have that number, you want to set the knob to the center. You can easily do this by dividing the total number of clicks in half and turning back that value. For example, if your knob had a total of twenty clicks, you would turn it ten to get to the center.

The center often works best as a gauge of what you need from your rebound. While doing a test ride, determine if the bike feels too loose or too harsh. If it doesn't handle well in the conditions you need it to, then you'll need some adjustments. You also don't need to go overboard; one or two clicks at a time will be enough to feel the changes.

For bikes that feel too loose while handling, you'll want to wind clockwise "inwards." For too harsh processing, wind "out" counterclockwise. Continue testing until you get the effect you want.

Adjust the Compression

Not all shocks have compression adjustments, but for those that do, you can make changes to impact how the bike handles bumps and braking. Much like we did with the damping stage, we want to count the total number of clicks that the knob has and then use that to find the center and take it for a test ride.

For bikes that have the rear wheel hop while braking and go too hard on bumpy terrains, you'll wind the knob counterclockwise. For the opposite issue, where the bike feels too soft instead and achieve bottoms out, you'll want to turn clockwise. If your suspension doesn't have this knob, then you do not need to worry about trying to tweak it.

Adjusting the Ride Height

 With everything else in place, it's time to set the ride height. This setting can impact the overall steering and handling, as well as some aspects of the comfort level. Overall, to achieve this effect, you'll be adjusting the rear. It's possible through an adjustable eye on the shock, which will allow you to change the length to better suit your height.

Aside from shifting the build to be comfortable for you, the changes in steering are much more clear cut to achieve. By lowering the rear, the bike will feel more stable, but the steering is more on the "vague" side. Raising it will have the inverse effect, which is less stable with much sharper steering. Overall, this will be a matter of preference, but better control can save you nasty accidents and insurance claims.

Pay attention to the setup of your shock absorber. Some of them have a locking nut in place, so you will need to take it out to make changes, then put it back in whenever you finish.

Best Practices for Adjusting Your Bike's Suspension

When it comes to measuring your suspension, you're not going to be able to take care of everything on your own. Friends can help you get at those tricky angles up and underneath your bike, plus they'll be able to handle taking notes while you sit on your motorcycle to measure payload and the like. Since accurate measurements are the key to getting the ride you want, assistance is invaluable.

Don't Neglect Your Notes

You may feel that once you've got your suspension in the prime settings that you won't want to mess with it again, but that's rarely ever the case. You may change your gear setup, decide to drive in a different environment, or want to see what a few tweaks can do to your overall performance. Keeping notes is essential so that you can see what you've already noted in your current system, plus track other changes you've made in the past.

Wear All Your Gear When Testing Payload and Sag

We mentioned this before in the payload and sag section, but you should always have your full range of equipment on whenever you take these measurements. All the little things you put on while riding will add up and have an impact on your bike. Save yourself the trouble of realizing you haven't set up your bike the way it needs to be, and gear up!