Put a spring in your step: Why you should get a pro suspension set up
Feel like making a dramatic change to your bike’s performance, something that’ll affect every aspect of your riding? Forget fancy carbon-clad exhausts – pound for pound suspension upgrades make the biggest difference.
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Whether your bike is brand new or a 20-year-old hack, a touring machine or naked, there’s always something that can be done to the suspension to either improve it or make it work better for you.
After 47,931 miles, my 2010 Triumph Sprint ST 1050 was feeling a bit baggy, so I decided to take it to suspension specialists MCT in Stowmarket, Suffolk to see what could be done to restore its ride and hopefully unleash its full potential.
Before he gets stuck in, MCT’s chief technician Darren Wnukoski explains what’s wrong with my Sprint’s current setup.
"The problem with the front end is that the OE forks are over-damped and under-sprung. The result is that when you accelerate over a succession of bumps the suspension simply won’t recover, it will pack down to the stiffest part of the stroke and keep getting stiffer.
"The springs are way too soft and 'dual rate', that is to say they have both a soft and firm section, but that doesn’t work very well on our roads. The bottom bit is basically mush and you end up with much firmer changes in a very short part of the stroke.
"The forks themselves are over-damped on the rebound side, so when the suspension compresses the rebound damping holds the front end down and that issue is compounded by a spring that’s not strong enough to push it back up."
Then he turned his attention to the rear shock and declared that after nearly 48,000 miles it had simply worn out. "It wasn’t particularly good to start with," says Darren. "I wouldn’t be surprised if it was causing the back wheel to leave the ground and was chucking you out of your seat. OE shocks are very low-cost items and it’s where manufacturers make some of the biggest savings."
Darren’s diagnosis matches my experience perfectly. The thing with riding the same bike day in day out is that you very quickly learn to live with its shortcomings and tend not to notice as certain aspects get progressively worse.
The next step is to find out what I want from my bike. I do a lot of distance work but I’m not averse to a bit of fun, so I’m looking for a setup at the sporty end of touring.
"The hardest part of the job is being objective," he says. "There’s no point setting it up as a GP bike if that’s not what it’s being used for. Every setup is different and everything is variable, so you need to listen to people and then react to what they want from their bike."
In the case of my Sprint’s forks, MCT get to work changing the dual-rate spring to a much stiffer linear item. "We use a stiffer spring to get it higher in its stroke and modify the rebound damping so that when it gets nearer to the top end the suspension is still working," explains Darren.
"At the rear we’ve fitted a Nitron R1 shock which will handle our roads so much better and has the benefit of a bespoke build. The spring rate and damping is factory set for the individual rider so all we have to do is fine tune it to match what we’ve done with the front forks."
As I take it for test ride around the bumpy back roads of Suffolk, I’m gobsmacked at how much difference it’s made. The bike stays far more composed under braking and barely seems to dive when I hit the stoppers - it takes a lot more effort to get the ABS to kick in, too. One of my biggest bugbears was losing all vision through a bend at night because the headlight would dip that low as I’d scrub speed off, so that too should be cured.
Through long undulating bends I’m no longer clinging on like a monkey at a pig rodeo and can hold a line while making fine adjustments to the throttle - the level of confidence it exudes is something I’d never thought this bike was capable of and is on a par with, if not better than, new machines costing three times as much. Gear changes are much smoother, as is low-speed control.
To say my that Sprint has been transformed would be no exaggeration and it’s a shame to think that so many sell their bikes without ever knowing how good they are. If you’re considering trading your bike in, why not just upgrade the suspension and put the fun back into riding?