1. A steering damper is one of the first performance hardware accessories many riders install on their sportbikes. The radical rake and trail steering geometry numbers of today's machinery provide for quick handling, but can also make steering a bit twitchy. Hard acceleration over bumpy pavement can result in the dreaded tank-slapper-tire deflection causing the handlebar to whip back and forth violently. A steering damper helps cancel out many of the forces responsible for these problems, giving added stability to a bike's handling.
Although many sportbikes already have a boss welded onto the frame spar to enable fitment of a steering damper, older machines do not. Installation on many earlier bikes requires drilling the frame spar in order to bolt on a mounting bracket.
The inset photo shows the two-piece mounting clamp for the fork tube, along with an Allen wrench for tightening the clamp bolts. This eases installation compared with a one-piece unit, which requires dropping the fork tube to slide the clamp over its top. Install the clamp onto the fork tube (main photo), but do not tighten it securely; leave it just loose enough so that its position can be easily adjusted.
2. Adjust the steering damper to its "lightest" setting, so that it slides with as little resistance as possible. Mount it onto the clamp leaving it loose enough to swivel freely. Turn the handlebar full lock to the left, and slide the damper body up its shaft, toward the clamp, until there is about 1_8 inch of travel left. Check to ensure that there is no interference with bodywork or various brackets, as well as your knee, when sitting on the motorcycle.
3. Take note of where the damper's rear mount lines up to the bike's frame, then turn the handlebar full lock to the right. Slide the damper body back along the shaft until the rear mount is in the same area when the bar was full lock to the left. BE CERTAIN THAT THE FORK CLAMP HAS NOT PIVOTED. Note how the damper shaft is contacting the fork tube with the bar turned to the right in this photo; this is due to the fork tube clamp being positioned too far forward. Any binding like this must be avoided. Remember that the height of the clamp on the fork tube can be adjusted as well as pivoting the clamp. Try to maintain a line of movement perpendicular to the steering head angle, so the damper works parallel to the mounting brackets, with little or no angle to the damper mounting points.
4. If possible, have another person hold the damper body while you turn the bar slowly from lock to lock. Experiment with the fork tube clamp and frame mounting positions, until you find a spot where the travel remaining on each end of the damper shaft is fairly even when the bar is turned from lock to lock. Try to make sure that the steering radius is limited by the steering stops on the frame when the forks are turned full-lock to each side, not by the steering damper travel. If the damper bottoms out on both sides, a damper with a longer throw is necessary. Bottoming out will shorten a steering damper's life considerably.
5. Mark the approximate spot on the frame where the rear damper mount is to be installed. Attach the rear mount onto the steering damper, and set it against the frame spar at your mark. Check once again to ensure that the damper travels in a line nearly parallel with the mounting brackets, so that there is no binding on either end. Most steering dampers use swiveling heim ball-joints on each end to allow play in the mounting angle, but minimizing this angle reduces the chance of the damper binding. Check for bodywork interference. Then, depending on the type of rear frame mount supplied, mark an outline of the mount for reference.
6. Mark the approximate spot on the frame where the rear damper mount is to be installed. Attach the rear mount onto the steering damper, and set it against the frame spar at your mark. Check once again to ensure that the damper travels in a line nearly parallel with the mounting brackets, so that there is no binding on either end. Most steering dampers use swiveling heim ball-joints on each end to allow play in the mounting angle, but minimizing this angle reduces the chance of the damper binding. Check for bodywork interference. Then, depending on the type of rear frame mount supplied, mark an outline of the mount for reference.
7. Carefully drill the marked points on the frame, keeping the drill speed moderately high. Oiling the bit while drilling helps minimize the buildup of material on the bit. Be careful not to use too much pressure on the drill during this step. The frame material is somewhat thin, and the drill bit can break as it exits the other side. Make sure that the drilling is as perpendicular to the frame spar as possible, to avoid ovaling the drilled holes.
8. Using either a manual or pneumatic rivet gun, position the steering damper mount on the frame, and rivet it into place. If you're using a manual rivet gun, it will take some effort to install the rivets, since the setting pin (the pin that fastens the rivet in place by crushing the rivet's aluminum body from the inside) is made of steel, and the necessary torque to "pop" the rivet requires a bit of pressure. A pneumatic rivet gun (pictured) eases the task greatly. After installing the first rivet, check to make sure the mount lines up with the holes correctly by test-inserting the remaining rivets. If possible, avoid having to modify the other holes since it tends to weaken the damper mount considerably.
9. Bolt everything together, then check the steering damper clearance again by turning the bar lock to lock. Again, make sure there is a minimum 1_8 inch travel remaining at each end of full lock. Adjustment can be made at the fork tube clamp by swiveling it in either direction. A little patience and experimentation may be necessary to get the positioning just right.
If you have enough clearance in front of the fork tubes next to the fairing, you can mount the steering damper in a reverse fashion (pictured) with the proper bracketry. This style of positioning offers better crash damage protection than frame spar-style mounting.
10. The only special tool required for installing a steering damper is a rivet gun. The manual-style rivet gun (top center) is available at any hardware store. The pneumatic gun (top right) can be obtained from most tool supply companies, although you'll obviously need a compressed air source to operate it. A variable-speed drill and a sharp centerpunch are a must to ensure accurate and smooth drilling into the metal. Open-end wrenches usually work best here, since space limits the use of ratchets and sockets for tightening components. A fine-tip felt pen is also needed to mark the frame for drilling.
This article originally appeared in the June 1998 issue of Sport Rider. For more Hands On, how-to and technical articles, check out the Tech page.