Dark Art of Motorcycle Suspension - An introduction

Posted by Kai Sarasch on

Motorcycle suspension plays a crucial role in providing a comfortable and safe ride. Understanding the different suspension terms and settings can significantly improve your riding experience, especially on sportbikes. In this article, we will discuss various suspension terms, such as rebound, compression, and preload, and explain their effects on your motorcycle's handling. We will also delve into the symptoms of poor suspension settings and provide a breakdown of each setting, including the causes of tank slappers or headshake.  Please note that there are many other variables at play, such as tire pressure, Oil Weight and Spring Rate.  This is intended to be an introduction and we will introduce other articles for more detail.

Suspension Terms Explained

  1. Rebound Damping: Rebound damping controls the speed at which the suspension returns to its normal position after being compressed. This setting helps maintain the tire's contact with the road, ensuring a smoother ride and better handling.

  2. Compression Damping: Compression damping is the process of controlling the speed at which the suspension compresses when it encounters a bump or a load. Proper compression damping allows the suspension to absorb impacts effectively and maintain the motorcycle's stability.

  3. Preload: Preload refers to the initial force applied to the suspension springs before the motorcycle bears any weight. Adjusting preload affects the suspension's sag, which is the amount the suspension compresses under the weight of the rider and the bike. Proper sag ensures optimal handling and prevents bottoming out during aggressive riding.

  4. Sag: Sag is the amount of suspension travel used when the motorcycle is under load, such as when the rider is seated on the bike. It plays a crucial role in determining the motorcycle's geometry and handling characteristics. There are two types of sag: rider sag and static sag.

  5. Rider Sag: Rider sag, also known as loaded sag or race sag, refers to the amount the suspension compresses under the combined weight of the motorcycle and the rider. Measuring and adjusting rider sag is essential for optimizing the suspension's performance and ensuring proper weight distribution.

  6. Static Sag: Static sag, or free sag, is the amount the suspension compresses under the weight of the motorcycle alone, without the rider. This measurement helps determine if the suspension springs are appropriate for the bike's weight and ensures that the suspension is working within its optimal range of travel.


Suspension Settings Chart

Setting Too Much Too Little
Front Rebound Damping Harsh over bumps, reduced traction, reduced cornering stability, Oversteer, Wheel Tuck Bouncy/Floaty front wheel, poor stability in corners, increased risk of headshake, Understeer
Rear Rebound Damping Reduced traction, excessive wheel hop, instability during acceleration, Understeer, Excessive heat generated causing fade Excessive squat, poor stability in corners, instability & headshake during acceleration, Feels floaty
Front Compression Harsh ride, Bouncy Front over bumps, Pattering mid corner Excessive dive, poor stability in corners, reduced braking performance, increased risk of headshake, causes rear to unload
Rear Compression Harsh ride, reduced traction, instability during acceleration, Rear Wheel slide under Acceleration Excessive squat, poor stability in corner exits, instability during acceleration, increased risk of headshake especially accelerating over bumps
Front Preload Incorrect sag, poor handling, reduced ground clearance Incorrect sag, poor handling
Rear Preload Incorrect sag, poor handling, reduced ground clearance, instability during acceleration Incorrect sag, poor handling,  instability during acceleration


Understanding and adjusting your sportbike's suspension settings can significantly improve your motorcycle's handling and performance. Familiarize yourself with the different suspension terms and their effects on your motorcycle, and experiment with adjustments to find the optimal settings for your riding style and conditions. Proper suspension setup will not only enhance your riding experience but also ensure a safer and more enjoyable ride. Remember that finding the right suspension settings may require trial and error, so be patient and make incremental changes as needed.  It is best to change only one setting at a time and get a feel for what that does, before making other changes.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.