VFR Custom Suspension Review

April, 2007


In the previous article I wrote about the modifications I had done to the forks on my 1993 VFR750. After enjoying the benefits of that, it became hard to resist doing something about the rear shock. The front was feeling supple and responsive after the revisions, while the stock shock with over 70,000 km was feeling kind of wooden.


I stupidly just missed a chance at a used Ohlins on Ebay, and after trolling fruitlessly for another one for a few months, I gave up and returned to Cycle Improvements in Waterloo to pursue a rebuild of the stock shock. The stock VFR shock really is rebuildable, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary.

There are two routes to go when rebuilding a stock shock. The basic approach covers disassembly, cleaning, reassembly with fresh oil and repressurization with nitrogen. The cost is $149, plus seals, bushings, and other parts as needed, such as a Schrader valve for the nitrogen refill if one was not already present. (Labour for removal and reinstallation of the shock on the bike is extra and varies from bike to bike. And for the relatively low cost of seals, it probably makes sense to install new ones while the shock is apart rather than trusting the old ones.)

Probably any bike with some significant mileage would benefit from a basic rebuild, but, as with my forks, I went the deluxe route which includes the basic rebuild plus "revalving" the shock with a custom-tuned MX-Tech assembly replacing the stock internals. This option is $289 (plus seals, etc., and not counting removal/reinstallation of the shock on the bike). The damping characteristics of the shock are tuned to suit the customer's preference and riding style, making the shock not merely as good as new, but better than new. This approach might never get you all the potential benefits of a top-shelf aftermarket unit from Ohlins, Penske, Works Performance, and so on, but it's also quite a bit less expensive, and it seemed to me to be a good compromise to obtain improved performance at an affordable price. And that price includes Cycle Improvements' assurance that if the performance of the shock is unsatisfactory due to the tuning being off the mark, they'll redo it at no charge.

Any proper suspension set-up should include the right spring. In the case of my bike, there was some concern about whether the stock spring would be appropriate. Its published rate looked like it would be too stiff for someone as light as me. However, after the work was done, we were able to get the proper amounts of unladen sag and rider sag within a sensible adjustment range, and the bike felt fine, so we stayed with the stock spring.

One interesting observation that emerged was that the rebound adjuster on the stock shock was actually quite effective in that it provided a meaningful range of adjustment. Many stock shocks apparently do not.

So, how does it work? My first ride of the season, and the first with the rebuilt shock, was the infamous Dragon's Tail at Deal's Gap in North Carolina. The shock was done just in time for this trip, and as a matter of fact, a morning-of-departure visit to Cycle Improvements netted a final dialling in of the sag setting. The Dragon is a seriously intense road to ride! We also rode the Cherohala Skyway which has more open sweepers. Both were a real treat. After a six month winter layoff it was hard to feel confident in a back-to-back comparison sort of way about before and after details of suspension behaviour. Also the roads there are very smooth so the shock doesn't get a big workout from bumps. I will say that the bike handled very well though, inspiring confidence to shake the winter rust off my riding skills fairly quickly.

Upon return to these northern climes and the crummy bumpy roads around here, it quickly became apparent that the reworked shock, like the reworked fork, was both more supple over the rough stuff and more composed. Bumps that I used to brace myself for, the sort of thing that used to give me a whack in the rear, were handled quite capably by the revalved shock. A definite improvement!

With fresh suspenders front and back, my 1993 VFR is feeling better than ever.

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