Sorry for lateness of this report—I wish something like this had been available when I was thinking about suspension after 22,000 miles.
In Spring 2016, I decided to do a complete suspension upgrade in preparation for a long ride from Seattle to the Arctic Circle on my 2012 650 V-Strom (via British Columbia, Skagway, Yukon Territory, Dawson, Top of the World Highway, Chicken, Denali Park and the Dalton Highway). Was a such fantastic adventure we are hoping to go again in Fall. 4,000 miles with 1,000 off-pavement; 2-up; full Givi top and side bags; Continental TKC70 tires. Below are notes immediately after installation and then after the long ride to Arctic Circle with wife on back.
First, commendations to Blair Layton at SV Racing Parts. He was phenomenally helpful, as noted by many other Strommers on this site. Thanks also to my friend Wayne for helping with the forks.
Racetech Gold Valve cartridge emulators
5w fork oil
- Everything works. Yeah!
- No apparent oil leakage.
- Worrisome to find substantial rust in the left fork.
- Fork dive on braking dramatically improved. About 75% less on light breaking and 50% less on heavy breaking.
- Road compliance improved about 40%. Not as much as I had hoped. I definitely should have drilled bigger bypass holes as recommended by RaceTech rather than the instructions Blair sent.
- Definitely not mushy, despite the lower weight oil.
I had read many times that improving fork function makes the front tire feel more “planted.” I pretty much dismissed this thinking I don’t often ride hard enough to notice such subtlety. Well, I now know what they mean. The front clearly felt more stable, connected to the road and predictable—“planted” spontaneously came to mind after only a couple of blocks.
The improved fork action made the poor rear shock function very, very obvious.
After Arctic Circle trip:
The Gold Valves were an excellent upgrade—better compliance, less bounce, less braking dive, much better feeling of “planted” and clearly more comfortable 2-up on a long ride. Initially, thought a bit too much road vibration through the handlebars, so drained 30 cc from each side to add about an inch of air. Definitely decreased road vibration, but at about 70 mph the front end started weaving side to side—not good! When Lara flew to Skagway to meet me (unsurprisingly, she preferred to skip the 3-day, 1,600-mile hard push needed so we would have enough time for all the sites we wanted to see), I had her bring 30 cc of fork fluid to cut in half the air I had added. However, with her extra weight on back, the weave disappeared. Still planned on adding back the 15 cc each fork, but will be easier when home with the proper tools. Will likely also take the forks full apart again to drill bigger holes to match the Gold Valves flow size. Probably smart to replace the Teflon seals at the same time. (Update, after replacing the Continentals with my regular Michelin Pilot Road 4s, the high-speed weave disappeared. And the forks are good enough that I haven’t bothered to take the time to drill bigger bypass holes.)
Elka Stage 4 shock with external reservoir
Installing the Elka shock was much easier than the fork upgrade, but still took several hours. Found installation of the external reservoir a bit tricky and hard to set up in a way that did not interfere with passenger foot pegs.
Initial impression was extreme disappointment. The sag taking the bike off the stand was a mere 1/8 inch. Sitting on it only sank another 1/8 inch and felt like a board. Fully loaded with Lara and bags the sag was only ¾ inch of the 6.9 inches available. Riding around, every bump felt like a wallop in the butt. Seemed obvious to me that either the spring was way too strong or there was something wrong with the shock dampening.
Called Blair to discuss the problem. He was surprised as they used their standard spring formula. We determined that Elka installed a 650 pound/inch shock, as Blair specified. Stock, which everyone says is under sprung, is 450. He supplied, at his own expense, a 525 pound replacement spring (Lara and I are not big—280 pounds together). With my home garage tools, I simply could not swap out the springs. Fortunately, a nearby auto repair show run by a couple of bikers took sympathy on me and did the spring replacement.
After Arctic Circle trip:
The improvement was even better than I had hoped for. During the long ride with Lara, I experimented with the slow and fast compression settings and was quite surprised by how big an impact they made. I had experimented before with the stock shocks and had not noticed much effect. Was able to dial it in perfectly for the bike’s weight and “quality” of the severely damaged Alaska roads. Basically set it up to use the whole 6.9 inches of travel and rarely bottom out. Learned a lot about suspension now that twisting the dials made a difference. Also, decided didn't need to spend the extra $$ on the separate reservoir. In fact, I think this gets more dirt into the adjustment threads as much more exposed.
Suspension now as good as the 2014 and older BMW R1200RTs that we have rented several times for our international motorcycle tours. Doubt as good as the latest electronic suspensions, but now very good. The improvement was so obvious that Lara commented several time during our ride how much more comfortable the bike is for her now. Also of interest, much less “monkey” butt. Had been thinking about getting a new seat, but now not needed. In the past, after around 300 miles I was moving around on the seat trying to relieve pressure spots. Now, 500 miles with only moderate discomfort and less need to move about. Quite interesting how big a role suspension transmitting road bumps plays in seat comfort.
While expensive, this was an excellent investment. Now have a bike that will easily and comfortably tour two-up at 70+, take the twistees with as much lean angle as I dare and able to traverse gravel, sand and mud roads that would be difficult to impossible for a road bike—and average 55 mpg. The V-Strom—with suspension upgrade—is an outstanding do everything bike.