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.
You can see how tight the shocks are to the sport bags and why the Piggyback-style shock won't fit but the remotes work perfectly.
You can see how tight the shocks are to the sport bags and why the Piggyback-style sh
Race Tech's basic G3-S shocks feature a 36mm body with a larger shaft diameter for increased strength. These shocks use an IFP (Internal Floating Piston) design that separates the oil from the nitrogen gas. This keeps a constant pressure on the oil so that bubbles can't foam, creating the dreaded fade. The other benefit of a floating piston design is that when you hit a sharp or large bump, the gas above the piston will slightly compress allowing the floating piston to move, softening the initial hit allowing the shock to react faster to the bump. Race Tech offers these shocks in three versions. The base is the Standard G3-S ($699.99) with no adjustability. However, this shock can also be upgraded with rebound and ride-height adjustments for an additional cost. Next, is the G3-S with Remote Reservoir ($1,099.99); then there is the G3-S with Piggyback Reservoir ($1,349.99). Both the Remote Reservoir and Piggyback versions come standard with compression adjusters, and can also be upgraded with rebound and ride-height adjusters for an additional cost. The reservoir versions help to keep the oil cool so the suspension performance doesn't fade with heat. This is a distinct advantage for those that really like to push their bikes in the canyons or head out for a day at the track. The Piggyback version doesn't fit with the Sport Saddlebags, so Race Tech also offers the Remote Reservoir versions with the reservoir removed from the shock body and placed separately on the bike with a braided steel hose connecting them. The techs found that they mounted under the tail section of the XR allowing full suspension travel and installation of the bags as well. We decided to use the Remote Reservoir versions so we could occasionally run the sport bags and for those track days. We threw all the options at them (rebound and ride-height) for a total of $1,249. These shocks are made in standard length or a 50mm-longer version for the increased height that the riser blocks offer with the added benefit of more wheel travel with less components and they can be adjusted for varying ride height for those that feel 2 inches is too much. All the Race Tech shocks are built-to-order with custom spring rates and valving packages.
Race Tech's Gold Valve kit is an inexpensive way to add some improvement to your frontend. The kit helps improve rebound and compression
Race Tech's Gold Valve kit is an inexpensive way to add some improvement to your fron
Here are the inner-workings of the stock forks. As you can see, the top one has a damping rod while the lower only has a spring.
Here are the inner-workings of the stock forks. As you can see, the top one has a dam
Race Tech's 25mm G2-R kit replaces the stock inner pieces with its adjustable damper cartridges, one for each leg (only one is shown).
Race Tech's 25mm G2-R kit replaces the stock inner pieces with its adjustable damper
The fork upgrade includes these new upper fork caps that allow for the compression and rebound adjustments.
The fork upgrade includes these new upper fork caps that allow for the compression an
With the new shocks, the shortcomings of the front suspension became painfully obvious. The rear worked so much better that the frontend could not keep up and was upsetting the balance of the chassis. As mentioned before, the front forks on the XR only have a dampening system in one leg. This means that all the work is done by one side creating more heat and less ability to control the spring action. The entry-level solution from Race Tech is its famous Gold Valve kit. This is a replacement piston kit for the stock fork dampening cartridge that improves both the compression and rebound dampening of the standard components. The kit comes with a new piston and valve shims along with a chart that explains the different setups so you can set it up for your weight and riding style. At $179.99, this is a very cost-effective improvement that will satisfy many riders. Race Tech also offers custom springs for $109.95 for the pair. The only downside to this is the one fork leg is still doing all the work, and while it is much improved, there was still room for more. The next step is to install Race Tech's 25mm G2-R cartridge kit. The stock single cartridge is 20mm and Race Tech upgrades that to 25mm cartridges in both fork legs. These cartridges feature rebound and compression adjustability, and come with fork caps that provide preload adjustment. It becomes pretty involved to install the cartridge kits, requiring special tools to work on the forks and some machine work since the right fork lower wasn't designed to mount a cartridge. However, Race Tech can do the labor and machine work and set up the spring rate and valving to suit the rider and riding style and can generally turn them around in about a week. Race Tech will also walk you through setting up your new suspension and explain things like sag and valving adjustments. Race Tech also includes a unique-to-the-industry 90-day set-up warranty. Don't like the way your shocks or forks are set up? Race Tech will re-valve them for free within the first 90 days.
The adjuster is in the center of the new fork cap.
After all the parts were installed and settings made, it was time for a ride. The first thing we noticed was a taller seat height that made the bike look more aggressive, and when we sat on it, we noticed the frontend felt lighter to turn. As soon as we started to ride, the frontend felt totally different. Stock, the bike is quite lazy when it comes time to turn and takes a fair amount of effort to steer, especially at slow speeds. Right away the bike felt much crisper, like it actually wanted to turn into a corner. We were worried that it might be twitchy at speed or in big sweepers but it was really just as stable as before. After playing in the canyons for a while, creating a big grin from how much fun the bike was and surprised looks from a few sport bike riders when a Harley passed them in a corner, it was time to hit the freeway and head home. Anyone who has ever ridden SoCal freeways knows that there are many sharp-edged bumps and nasty grooves on the roads. With the stock suspension, these bumps sent a shock straight up our spine that makes riding a real pain. That all disappeared with the Race Tech setup; in fact we were really surprised as to how much more compliant the suspension is over these types of bumps. Overall the Race Tech suspension makeover completely changed the bike-for the better. It feels like a different bike altogether and makes riding it more enjoyable, whether flying down racer road or just commuting to work, it might just be the most fun bike we have ever owned. Oh, and for all you non Sporty owners , don;t worry, Race Tech has Supsension uprade options for many other H-D models as well.