Q: How much difference does good suspension make?
A: If you have an old sports bike with suspension that has not been freshened up for years (many hours riding), it will be dangerous to push hard and go fast. The front will dive quickly when you brake, transfering all the weight of you and the motorcycle to the front tyre…. and the rear suspension instead of controlling instability will exaggerate it, making it very difficult to save a ‘High-side’ for example.
If your sports bike is relatively new, the suspension will be good enough to ride to quite a reasonable level…. but at the end of the day standard suspension is built to a price, and is a compromise to be usable on the street for a wide range of weights and abilities of riders, with and without pillions. So as you can imagine, it is not very likely that this same suspension will be just right for you when you start riding at a higher level.
What do I do to my track bikes? I get a fork kit (cheaper than complete forks) and rear shock. I have always used Ohlins. I order it up for my model bike and my weight. All I need do then is play with (test) front fork position in the triple clamps (height), front fork preload, rear ride height and rear preload. I do this until I find the right balance for the bike, the tyres, my riding position and style, which does not take long.
I don’t muck about with the clickers because Ohlins have literally hundreds of riders on their products so a huge pool of information. They have already done the hard work by getting the damping “in the ballpark” (in a good usable area). I believe the clicker settings are close where Ohlins recommend them. I only use them for the final bit of tuning. If you are playing with the clickers and the bike does not feel right, you are more than likely trying to mask another bigger setup problem.
A quick and rough guide to setting up the balance of your bike:
If the weight is too much to the rear
Positive: The bike will stop well (you can pull hard on the front brake before it lifts the rear tyre off the ground) and you will be able to use the brakes hard at a bit of a lean angle without the front pushing. All this is good for overtaking other riders on the brakes. The rear tyre has more weight on it and this normally makes it more predictable on the throttle.
Negative: Bike will not turn enough on any given lean angle. You may find yourself staying on the brakes just to get it to turn toward the apex. You will have to slow to much to make sure you get to the apex’s. Also you will spend to much time at full lean in the corner.. waiting for it to turn. Then you will come to the exit of the turn still leaning over to much when its time to exit on the gas, which is dangerous.
If the weight is too much to the front.
Positive: The bike will turn well at any given lean angel making it easy to make the apex’s. It will be quick to turn in the mid turn allowing you to stand the bike up and drive off the exit.
Negative: The bike will be difficult to stop, lifting the rear at a lower front brake pressure, bottoming the front forks, pushing the front tyre when braking at part lean and maybe even at full lean, closed throttle with no brake. Also when leaned over the rear tyre may let go more unpredictably when you initially open the throttle before weight is transfered to the rear.
The right bike balance for you is when you find the best compromise between the two of these feelings.