Every activity has its own language. Learning a new skill sometimes feels as if it requires scaling a linguistic learning curve that makes surmounting Mt. Everest seem like a day hike. To the uninitiated--not that any Sport Rider reader could be accused of this--the language of motorcyclists can seem just as daunting. So, to make sure we're all standing on top of the same hill, peruse the terminology below to help speed yourself along to suspension enlightenment.
Bottoming (also called bottoming out)--when a suspension component reaches the end of its travel under compression. Bottoming is the opposite of topping out. Cartridge Fork--a sophisticated type of fork that forces oil through bending shims mounted to the face of damping pistons contained within the fork body. The primary advantage of cartridge forks is they are less progressive than damping rod forks. The shims allow damping control at very low suspension speeds while high speeds deflect the shims more--causing less high-speed damping than fixed orifice damping rods. The resulting ride is firmer with less dive under braking while simultaneously lessening the amount of force square-edged bumps transfer to the chassis.
Compression Damping--controls the initial "bump stroke" of the suspension. As the wheel is forced upward by the bump, the compression circuit controls the speed at which the suspension compresses, helping to keep the spring from allowing an excessive amount of travel or bottoming of the suspension. Damping--viscous friction caused by forcing a fluid through some type of restriction. Damping force is determined by the speed of the fluid movement, not the distance of suspension travel.
Damping Rod Fork--a simple type of fork that utilizes a tube with holes in it to create compression and rebound damping, delivering an extremely progressive damping curve. The faster the wheel moves vertically, the more oil that is shoved through the holes. Typically, damping rod forks have very little low-speed damping and a great deal of high-speed damping. The ride is characterized by excessive fork dive under braking and hydraulic lock when encountering square-edged bumps. Any change to the damping rod system, such as changing the size of the holes or altering the oil viscosity, affects the entire speed range.
Fork Oil Level--the level of oil within the fork as measured when fully compressed without the spring installed. It is used in tuning the amount of air contained inside the fork. Since compressing air makes it act as a spring, raising the oil level leaves less room for air, resulting in a rising rate throughout the fork's travel. Reducing the oil level reduces the force at the bottom, giving a more linear rate.
These are the good old days!...
These are the good old days! Adjusting the fork preload is as easy as opening the bike's tool kit.
Free Sag--the amount the bike settles under its own weight. Both streetbikes and race bikes require 0 to 5mm of free sag on the rear. The bike should not top out hard.
High-Speed Damping--damping to control fast vertical movements of suspension components caused by road characteristics such as square-edged bumps. High-Speed damping is independent of motorcycle speed.
Low-Speed Damping--damping to control slow vertical suspension movements such as those caused by ripples in pavement. (This is also independent of motorcycle speed.)
The fork rebound adjuster,...
The fork rebound adjuster, like all the damping controls, screws in for firmer and out for softer.
Packing--a phenomenon caused by excessive rebound damping. When a series of bumps, such as ripples, are encountered the suspension does not rebound completely between bumps and compresses (packs) further down on each successive bump. This can drastically change steering geometry if packing occurs on only one end of the motorcycle.
Preload--the distance a spring is compressed from its free length as it's installed with the suspension fully extended. Preload Adjuster--a method of adjusting suspension components' preload externally. These can be ramped or threaded.
Preload Spacer--material used to adjust a fork's preload internally. Typically, thin-walled aluminum or PVC tubing is used.
The compression damping adjuster...
The compression damping adjuster usually resides on the lower portion of the fork.
Rake--the steering neck angle (not the fork angle) relative to vertical, which varies with changes in ride height. For example, the rake angle decreases when the front end compresses or is lowered. Changes in tire diameter can also influence rake by altering the ride height.
Rebound Damping--controls the extension of the fork or shock after it compresses over a bump--hence the term "rebound."
Ride Height--suspension adjustments (raising or lowering the fork or lengthening or shortening the shock) to alter the chassis attitude of the motorcycle.
Shock preload can be altered...
Shock preload can be altered with a spanner wrench or with the time honored hammer and punch.
Sag--the amount the front or rear of the bike compresses between fully topped out and fully loaded with a rider (and all of his riding gear) on board in the riding position. Sag can also affect steering geometry. Extra sag on the front end will decrease the effective steering head angle, quickening steering, while too little front sag will slow steering. However, too much front sag combined with too little rear sag could make the bike unstable. How to set your sag
Spring--a mechanical device, usually in the form of a coil, that stores energy. When compressed, more energy is stored. Springs are position sensitive, caring only how much they have been compressed, not how quickly (as with damping).
Suspension Fluid--used inside a shock absorber to create damping when forced through orifices or valving. The fluid is also used for lubrication and should be incompressible.
Contrary to the fork's controls,...
Contrary to the fork's controls, rear rebound damping is changed from the bottom of the fork.
Topping Out--occurs when the suspension extends to its limit. A shock with a spring of the proper rate mounted should have just enough force to top out without a rider on board.
Trail--the horizontal distance between the front end's point of rotation (i.e. where a line drawn through the steering head would intersect the ground) and the contact patch of the tire. Since trail is dependent on rake, it is a variable dimension that changes proportionally with the variation of rake during suspension action. For example, trail drops off dramatically when the bike reaches full dive under braking, giving a rider more leverage to initiate steering inputs.
Triple Clamp Offset--the distance from the center of the fork tubes to the steering stem center. The greater the offset, the smaller the trail dimension.
Change the shock's compression...
Change the shock's compression damping on the reservoir.
Unsprung Weight--the weight of every part of the motorcycle that is between the road and suspension (i.e. wheels, brakes, suspension components below the springs, etc.).
Valving--the mechanical hardware that creates damping. Valving is a combination of check valves, holes, ports, shims, springs, etc.