Öhlins Motorcycle Shock Absorbers Review

Review by Mike Miller

[This Öhlins Motorcycle Shock Absorbers Review was originally published in the December 2007 issue of Rider magazine]

Whether it occurs on two wheels or four, one’s first experience with really good shock absorbers is an epiphany. When they far surpass the damping performance and build quality of original equipment, really good shocks provide a riding experience most just don’t realize is possible, probably like a date with Katie Holmes. Ever wonder about that time Tom Cruise danced on the couch on national television? Try a set of Öhlins motorcycle shocks. It’s the closest you’ll get.

Our introduction to them came on a test ride of the new BMW R1200S, Öhlins-equipped as a factory option. The R1200S is a modern caf… racer looking for caf…s to race between, a bike that by appearance alone promises to beat the crap out of a middle-aged body. But the upgraded one doesn’t, thanks to the spectacular Öhlins shocks. It was only a matter of time before a set of Öhlins shocks found their way onto my 2002 BMW R1150R, set up for long-distance touring.

Öhlins was founded in 1976. Then as now, its primary focus is on racing shocks, but the 200-employee shop in Upplands Väsby, Sweden, also creates a large number of street applications. Not yet dumbed-down by globalization, unsurpassed quality is the name of the game at Öhlins…and we pay for it.

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The R1150R has BMW hard cases and touring windscreen, a GIVI rear box, even an engine bar with Cibie fog lights–a poor man’s touring Beemer. Problem was, the poor man couldn’t take the factory shocks anymore. They were fine around town and for short highway jaunts. But ratchet up the speed or delve into a twisty mountain road with undulating surfaces interspersed with washboard sections, and the factory dampers would overheat and give up after about 15 minutes of spirited riding–especially carrying a touring load. Despite BMW’s wonderfully adept Telelever and Paralever front and rear suspension, the motorcycle just moved around too much.

We ordered a set of Öhlins shock assemblies for the front and rear, respectively. The front unit for the R1150R (Öhlins BM050, suggested list price $719.93, street price $583.05) is a monotube high-pressure gas shock with an internal reservoir in the main body, adjustable rebound damping and adjustable length. The rear unit (Öhlins BM049, suggested list price $793.80, street price $645.95) is also a high-pressure monotube with an internal reservoir, but with a hose-mounted hydraulic spring preload adjuster. Installation was completed by BMW Motorrad Technician Jeff Frisch at Max BMW Motorcycles in Troy, New York. Öhlins base settings were dialed in, and turned out to be perfect.

Öhlins Motorcycle Shock Absorber, rear
Öhlins Motorcycle Shock Absorber, rear

Most performance mods bring incremental improvements; the Öhlins shocks were a giant increment. Blasting out of Troy and into Vermont on Route 9, the mighty twin Beemer immediately shed its residual heritage as a German troop transport, assuming some R1200S DNA.

We purposely apexed on the wrong line through the worst parts of the road in an effort to gauge the difference and see how much the suspension could be flummoxed. The result was like riding a completely different motorcycle. The decked-out Beemer scoffed in the general direction of washboard pavement even in the middle of a transition. Flickability has improved markedly, although mainly when the motorcycle is relieved of touring loads. Even ride quality has improved over previously jarring frost heaves on Northeast interstate highways. Unlike the OE Showa shocks, the Öhlins shocks just never give up.

For more information see your dealer or contact Öhlins USA Inc., 703-C Old Spartanburg Road, Hendersonville, North Carolina 28792; (828) 692-4525; www.ohlins.com

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