Unfinished Business 9 – Risa’s Suspension Upgrade

I Needed Help

So I have been riding Risa around for a few months. However, she was never just right suspension wise. I know I have old, hard, squared off tires and that suspension that needed servicing. However, I was thinking that I might be able to get away with just doing one of them.

I finally decided that I might just be able to get away with getting the suspension serviced. If I changed the tires and it turns out that the suspension was the one that needed the work done, then the wear and tear of the new tires will continue while I put off the suspension work. Pinching pennies has its drawbacks.

Bitubo Distributor is Uncontactable?

As you know, the rear shock was an unknown Bitubo item. So naturally, I decided to call up the local distributor to enquire about the charges and work needed to be done. Well, guess what? No matter how many times I called over different days, no one picked up the telephone. This was not a good sign.

Bike Lab -Joshua

So I googled around and up popped a shop that I have passed by many times before – Bikelab along Serangoon Road. I have heard people sent their bikes there for suspension work and gave them a ring. I chatted with Joshua who was a one man operation and understood that he only does suspension work. This gave me more confidence and I arranged a date to pop down and visit.

The operation was in a typical shop house. The main shop area had 2 bike lifts and the middle section was his “office” where he does the work.

He recognized the Bitubo rear shock on Risa and said that he gave it away many years ago to an acquaintance. He said that due to the thick shaft (18mm) and smaller oil volume, the rear shock wasn’t ideal for my bike. He showed me the stock K4 shock and said that it was a better shock than the one I had as the set up allowed more oil. He suggested that I use the stock shock and re-valve it instead. It would be cheaper and the results would be better. The Bitubo was leaking and though an overhaul would improve it, the effect would probably not last very long and I would be back in about a year.

I thought that the front needed only a clean and change of oil, but he said that the fork’s stock valving does not allow oil to flow as freely as it should. While the overhaul would help, again, he said that the fork would not be compliant enough and would “kick back” at the rider close to the bottom of the stroke. He said that the internals needed to be changed and suggested Traxxion Dynamic’s internals. Ouch….

So I have a problem. And its $$$ related.

While I initially thought that a service was all that Risa needed, now the work involved required big bucks. He would still be happy to do only the servicing if I only wanted to do that but he was quite sure that I would not be too happy with the result.

After further discussion, I asked him to go ahead with his suggestion. I really do want a good handling and comfortable (for a GSXR) bike. So I left Risa in his care and went home. However, later I messaged Joshua again asking if the overhauled and re-valved stock shock was comparable to a brand new shock. Does it make sense for me to go down this route instead of splashing out for a new shock?

He suggested this option as he was trying to save me some money. However, he would look around his shop as he remembered that he had a used Penske 8987 shock somewhere. In the end, we decided on the used Penske 8987 which was overhauled, re-valved and re-sprung. I gave him my weight and also told him that I am not using Risa as an out and out sportsbike, but as a light weight, sports tourer. However, I do want good cornering characteristics from her.

Work in Progress

When the work commenced, Joshua was regularly sending me updates and photos of the work done. The forks were done first before progressing to the rear shock. I really appreciate it as he sent photos, texts and continued our discussion through out the work. in addition to the work already mentioned, we also changed the linkage bearings / bushes for new ones.

Results!

On the day of collection, I took note of the settings and also asked Joshua about the oil brand and grade used for shock and the forks as well as the oil height for the fork for future servicing.

Front Forks:
Spring Rate: forgot to ask!
Air gap: 110mm
Oil used: Maxxis 7W
Note: Screw in the rebound adjuster all the way in before screwing in the top cap onto lock nut

Rear Shock:
Penske 8987
Spring Rate: forgot to ask again…
Oil used: Maxxis 5W

The ride back was eye opening… Firstly, the bike felt more comfortable, the bumps on the bike were better absorbed and the bike felt a bit more planted. However, Risa still didn’t want to turn quickly enough which was probably due to the squared off tires. We discussed changing for new tires at his shop, but he could not get a reasonable price for the ones that I wanted, and he suggested that I changed them elsewhere as they would be cheaper.

Later, I changed for a set of Michelin Pilot Road 5 and the ride quality was much improved. I realise then how bad the old set of tires were. Maybe if I had changed tires instead of doing something with the suspension, it might have solved the problem?

I am still tweaking the settings from “out of the box”. The base line settings were already very good and its only one or two clicks from there. I was tweaking and trying to find setting that I like but already the bike is eager to turn and lean into corners.

I also dropped the handlebars from the highest position to the “2nd notch” position. This was because while the high handlebars gave better comfort, they made the front less planted. During braking to a stop, I could feel that the front was “wandering” or “twitchy”. Dropping the handles by 1 notch made the front more planted with more feel.

After all this fettling, I kind of realised why I seem to end up setting the suspension on the harder/stiffer side of things. I think it has to do with my riding style. I realised that I tend to tip the bike in quickly or throw her into turns instead of turning in smoothly. I guess it might be a bad habit and because of this I prefer a stiffer set up for better feel and quick leaning. However, the downside is on marginally bumpier roads or if I were to rid a bit faster, the stiff set up can be tiring. Still, now Risa is really nice in the corners and with new tires, she’s is showing what she can really do. What I have to do is to soften it enough so that normal riding is comfortable and at the same time I can accept her cornering character at those settings.

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