The Race Tech Piggyback shock (shown in standard length) pictured next to the stock Harley unit really illustrates the difference in construction, spring type, and the extra oil capacity. On the Race Tech shock, the threaded collar on the top of the spring (red arrow) adjusts the ride height while the small screw on the remote (blue arrow) is the compression adjustment. The rebound adjustments are accomplished via the large aluminum knob at the bottom of the shock (yellow arrow).
The Race Tech Piggyback shock (shown in standard length) pictured next to the stock H
When it comes to suspension upgrades, Harley owners have never really been at the forefront of modern technology. Many riders just assume that a bad ride is part of the Harley experience. Ask most Harley riders about improvements and it seems the main concern is lowering the bike and if that discussion turns to the technical side, with terms like compression, rebound, pre-load, and sag, you will usually get a blank stare.
Now along comes the XR1200, with the best suspension ever fitted to a Harley and the best handling as well. The upside-down Showa forks are a step in the right direction as is the beefy cast aluminum swingarm. Unfortunately shortcuts were still taken to keep costs down; the Showa fork has dampening in only one fork leg with no adjustments and the rear shocks are real kidney beaters. It's a shame that a bike with so much potential is saddled with such shortcomings in the suspension department. Something had to be done.
We turned to Race Tech in Corona, California, to see what we could come up with.
Here's a comparison of Race Tech's standard-length Piggyback version and the 2-inch-longer Remote version. The longer version changes the geometry of the bike and alters the frontend geometry.
Here's a comparison of Race Tech's standard-length Piggyback version and the 2-inch-l
Race Tech was started by Paul Thede more than 25 years ago to service the suspension needs of racers in SoCal. Paul has a background in Mechanical Engineering and is a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast, so combining these passions was a logical business direction for him. From those humble beginnings, Race Tech grew to include all aspects of the motorcycle market as well as snowmobile, ATV, and even dirt racing cars. On top of that Paul has taught suspension seminars to shops and racers since 1994, and you will find the Race Tech support trucks at major races everywhere. We decided to sit down with the Race Tech suspension gurus and see what could be done to improve the XR.
The biggest complaint with the stock suspension is the rear shocks. The standard models are too stiffly sprung and under-damped for either aggressive riding or a comfortable ride. Harley-Davidson offers a performance suspension kit that includes a set of Showa reservoir-style shocks that are an improvement but they don't have any optional spring rates and they won't work with H-D's Sport Saddlebags. In Europe there are a couple of race series for the XR (and one now in 2010 in the US), and the first thing most racers do is replace the rear shocks with race-quality adjustable units and 2-inch risers that raise the rear of the bike. What the riser does is change the frontend rake as well as load the front tire differently for quicker turn in and a better frontend feel. After discussing this with the Race Tech guys, we came to the conclusion that a longer shock would be a better solution than the riser blocks. It would be easier to build in more height adjustability (instead of a fixed 2 inches) and more wheel travel would be available, which is always a good thing on the mean streets of the real world (versus the smoothness of the race track).
Race Tech made up custom brackets to mount the remote reservoirs under the rear seat area so we could keep the H-D saddlebags when we wanted them.
Race Tech made up custom brackets to mount the remote reservoirs under the rear seat
The dampening resistance in shocks is controlled by oil being forced through a piston with small holes in it. On higher-end shocks there will be a stack of very thin shims in varying thicknesses and diameters that further control the oil flow and can be changed to dial-in a race shock. Compression dampening is the resistance when the suspension is compressed; when your bike hits a bump for instance. Most stock suspensions have very little compression dampening, relying on the spring to resist this movement. Rebound dampening is the resistance when the suspension is extended, either from the wheel dropping into a hole or the return forces of the spring after hitting a bump. The stock Harley shocks are what is known as an emulsion shock where the oil in the shock is not separated from the air (or nitrogen gas) that allows for movement of the shocks piston. This allows the oil and air to mix, creating bubbles that can greatly affect the performance of the shock through what is known as fade. The stock shocks also do not offer any adjustability in the dampening; you get what the engineer (or accounting department) decided was good enough.