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Suspension 101: Basic suspension tuning terminology explained

Get familiar with the inner workings of your suspension to get a better understanding of this important system.

Motorcycle Suspension Tuning

Motorcycle suspension systems are essential for maintaining traction and stability on both roads and trails. They play a crucial role in keeping the bike firmly planted on the ground, ensuring a smooth and comfortable ride. These suspension systems are responsible for absorbing impacts, maintaining control, and preventing the bike from tipping over. 

Higher-end motorcycles often come equipped with advanced suspension components that offer a wide range of adjustability. These adjustable suspension systems allow riders to fine-tune their bikes' handling characteristics to match their preferences, riding style, and specific riding conditions. The ability to adjust the suspension ensures optimal performance and enhances the overall riding experience by maximizing comfort and control.

Adjusting motorcycle suspension can indeed be a complex task, and it is generally recommended to seek the expertise of professionals for optimal results. However, that doesn't mean that enthusiasts cannot grasp some fundamental concepts. It is valuable for riders to gain a basic understanding of suspension tuning to improve their overall knowledge and appreciation of their motorcycle's performance. That said, let’s take a look at a few common terminologies in the world of suspension tuning, so you can have a better understanding of how it works.


Motorcycle Suspension System

Preload in motorcycle suspension refers to adjusting the amount of compression on the front forks or rear shock absorbers before the bike is loaded or ridden. It is used to optimize the suspension's performance based on the rider's weight, riding style, and road conditions. Preload affects the initial position of the suspension, determining how much it compresses or sags under the weight of the rider and bike.

In a typical motorcycle suspension system, the preload adjustment is done by turning a threaded collar or using a specialized tool to increase or decrease the tension on a spring. By increasing the preload, the spring is compressed, making it stiffer and reducing the amount of sag. This is useful when carrying heavier loads or when riding aggressively on uneven terrain. Conversely, decreasing the preload increases sag and makes the suspension more compliant, providing a smoother ride on smoother roads or when the rider is lighter. The goal is to find the right balance between sag and stiffness to ensure optimal traction, stability, and control while riding.

Compression damping

Motorcycle Suspension System

Adjustable compression in motorcycle suspension allows riders to fine-tune the damping characteristics of their suspension system. Compression damping controls the rate at which the suspension compresses when subjected to an impact or when the rider applies the brakes. It helps manage the speed of the suspension's movement, preventing it from bottoming out too quickly or rebounding too rapidly.

In a typical adjustable compression system, there are settings or adjustments that can be made to control the flow of hydraulic fluid through the suspension's damping circuits. By increasing the compression damping, the flow of fluid is restricted, resulting in a slower compression of the suspension. This is beneficial when riding over rough terrain or during aggressive riding, as it helps prevent the suspension from bottoming out and provides better stability and control. On the other hand, decreasing the compression damping allows for a faster compression, making the suspension more responsive and sensitive to smaller bumps and imperfections in the road. 

Rebound damping

Motorcycle Suspension System

Rebound damping adjustment in motorcycle suspension allows riders to fine-tune the rate at which the suspension rebounds or extends back to its original position after being compressed. It controls the speed at which the suspension returns to its normal state, ensuring that it doesn't rebound too quickly or too slowly. Rebound damping plays a crucial role in maintaining stability, control, and traction.

In a typical rebound damping system, there are settings or adjustments that control the flow of hydraulic fluid as it returns from the compressed state. Increasing the rebound damping restricts the flow of fluid, slowing down the extension of the suspension and preventing it from bouncing back too rapidly. This setting is beneficial in scenarios where the road surface is uneven or when the rider encounters larger bumps, as it helps maintain tire contact with the ground, improves traction, and enhances overall stability. Conversely, decreasing the rebound damping allows for a faster extension of the suspension, making it more responsive to smaller bumps or when a more comfortable ride is desired.


Motorcycle Suspension System

Suspension sag refers to the amount of compression or sag experienced by the suspension when the rider's weight is applied to the motorcycle. It is the initial displacement of the suspension under the static load of the rider and bike, measured as the difference between the fully extended and compressed positions. Sag is an essential parameter to adjust in motorcycle suspension because it directly affects the bike's handling, traction, and stability. The ideal sag setting varies depending on factors such as the rider's weight, riding style, and bike geometry, but in general, a proper sag setup ensures that the suspension operates within its optimal range, allowing the tires to maintain consistent contact with the ground and providing balanced support and control for the rider.


Motorcycle Suspension System

In motorcycle suspension, "bottom-out" refers to the condition where the suspension compresses fully and reaches the end of its travel. When the suspension bottoms out, it means that it has compressed to its maximum extent and can no longer absorb any more impact or compression forces. This can occur when the bike encounters a large bump, jump, or aggressive braking, causing the suspension to compress completely and potentially causing the tire to lose contact with the ground momentarily. Bottoming out can result in a harsh impact, reduced control, and compromised traction, and could mean that your suspension is not adjusted properly, or that you’re simply riding too aggresively. 


Motorcycle Suspension System

In motorcycle suspension, "top-out" refers to the condition where the suspension extends fully and reaches the end of its rebound stroke. When the suspension tops out, it means that it has extended to its maximum extent and can no longer extend any further. This can occur when the suspension rebounds rapidly after being compressed, causing it to extend fully and potentially causing the rider to feel a sudden upward jolt or a loss of control momentarily. Top-out can occur when the compression damping is set too low, allowing the suspension to rebound too quickly. It is important to properly adjust the rebound damping to prevent top-out and ensure that the suspension returns to its normal state in a controlled manner, providing stability and maintaining tire contact with the ground.

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