A lot of things wear out on a motorcycle. Oil gets old, tires need changing, and the longer you keep a bike the more things need replacing. Like suspension units, which generally involve springs and damping devices. Despite the minor miracles of modern metallurgy, springs do get a little less springy over time. And hydraulic damper assemblies, which serve to control the mechanical action of the springs, sometimes spring leaks.
I’m usually pretty happy with the stock suspension units on any motorcycle I buy—otherwise I would not have bought the beast. Go-fast types love to spend lots of money upgrading their fork and shocks to help them get around a corner faster, but I’m a touring rider and can live with what the bike offers. My 2002 Honda ST1100 had 57,000 miles on the odometer and I knew replacements were in order, but I was lagging. The gradual decline was mildly apparent, but not terribly troubling…until one day I was going down a back road and noticed a distinct change in the rear end. Nothing drastic, it had just gone really soft and cushy. Which is what happens when the damping unit hemorrhages its fluid.
My Honda dealer would cheerfully supply me with Honda’s official replacement parts, but I thought to call up Progressive Suspension, an aftermarket company that has been springing the motorcycle world for 30 years. Might as well do the fork, as well. Figuring that my mechanic of many years standing, Jack, could do a better job than yours truly, I gave him the ST and the box from PS with the shock and fork springs.
The 465 high-pressure nitrogen-gas shock absorber has been around for a while and has received good reviews. The company is not about to give away its secrets, but I presume the components are top quality. The old shock had five-way spring preload, whereas the new one uses threaded ring-and-locknut preload adjustment, sometimes called infinite. Progressive people asked me what the usual weight on the bike would be, I said 250 pounds, and they set the spring at that level. The threaded system makes it more time-consuming to change the preload, but once it is set, all is well. And 99 percent of my ST miles are solo.
The stock shock’s rebound damping had four positions, the new PS has five—and I have set this on three. Adjustment is done with a 1/4-inch hex wrench, which is included. The damper is rebuildable should it wear or a leak ever occur. Jack said there was absolutely no problem with installing the shock; it went on like it was a Honda item.
Installing the progressively wound fork springs required a little more work on Jack’s part. There were no problems, just that the fork needed to come off. The right leg holds a cartridge damper, which was in good order. For the left leg, PS had included a small spacer, making up for the difference in length due to the cartridge. Jack recommended new fork seals, as the legs were already apart—sensible advice.
All done! Riding the newly sprung ST is like I am on a new bike! Now for the next 50,000 miles. The cost of the shock was $495.95, the springs, $92.95. For those, like me, who do not wish to do the job themselves, the labor ran 2.5 hour’s-worth.
For more information, see your dealer, visit progressivesuspension.com or call (714) 523-3220.
(This Gearlab item was published in the January 2013 issue of Rider magazine.)