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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Brake - Part 3

To wrap up this series on Spring maintenance I'll look at springs today. And shocks.

When I was in college and sometimes dabbled in alternate realities the one thing that always amazed me was that "Gravity never misses." Throw a ball in the air a hundred times and it will come down a hundred times. Sure, if I could have thrown it hard enough it would have escaped earth's gravity well but it was all I could do at such times to just make it to the kitchen to satisfy my munchies.

The point is that from the moment your bike was built gravity has been at work to make it sag like an old lady's tits. The forks suffer the most because most of them have no pre-load adjustment. Whether you are 5'3" and 100 pounds or 6'4" and 240 pounds you get the same springs. The lightweight rider will get a harsh ride because they don't have enough weight to cause the springs to flex. The heavyweight rider will suffer a mushy ride for the opposite reason. Using lighter or heavier fork oil will compensate but only slightly.

For most bikes you can buy after-market springs to match your weight and riding ability for around $60-80. After a few years of gravity fighting with a general purpose set you will be amazed at what a difference the right springs can make in your ride. Want a quick check to see if you need them? Head down a slight grade at a moderate speed and hit the front brakes hard. Does the whole front end dive like a whale with Ahab on its tail? You need new springs!

If the front end gets no respect the rear suspension is the ugly stepchild of the bike. There is usually nothing to do except adjust the preload and most people get that wrong. When I was younger, and less wise, I assumed that cranking up the preload gave me better handling. All my buddies said so. Which only meant that all my buddies were ignorant and I was dumb for listening to them. Rule: Leave your preload as low as possible to prevent bottoming out. Do not confuse spring rate with dampening!
New shocks are the next best thing you can do to a bike with some miles on it. Factory shocks, just like factory fork springs, are set for the least common denominator. If you are the type who has never met a cheeseburger you didn't like you can crank up the preload to compensate but that will only hasten their demise in the end. If the back end has that oingo-boingo feeling the shocks have given their all and it's time for replacement.

Shocks are expensive. No doubt about it. Go to your dealer and ask about them and they will suddenly show you pictures of the new yacht they are thinking of buying. This is probably the main reason 30 year old bikes have 30 year old shocks. Starting thinking about specialty shocks like Works Performance or Ohlins and you will quickly get a nose bleed from the elevated heights you will be traveling in. Are they worth it? Lots of people think so and if you are a racer they are definitely worth it.

However, there is also Hagon shocks, made in England, that are 90% as good at less than half the price. In fact, they are better than most stock shocks and cheaper as well. What makes them even better is the US distributor, Dave Quinn. If you call you will probably speak to Dave himself. If you say that you need shocks for a 1989 Honda NX250 he will tell you "That's nice" and then ask you how much you weigh, how do you ride, and other factors that will determine what he sells you.

Dave makes up each order individually. Which shock body, combined with which spring rate, will match your specific needs. Got a mono-shock? He's got all the latest models. Want remote adjustments? He can put together any setup you want. For a vintage restoration he can match chrome springs and covers, or go all black for custom, or any combination. No extra charge.

I've used Dave and Hagon for several of my bikes and always been happy. Both with the performance of the shocks and the service from Dave. And he supports the biker community. Every summer the CT Brit Bike Assn. has a big show and swap meet where they raffle off a restored Triumph, BSA, or Norton. The club members do all the work and every year the bike has a brand new pair of Hagon shocks donated by Dave.

He also sells the fork springs so he can help you at both ends. Give him a call! You don't want to be hanging like that bag lady down the street do you? 203-393-2651