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Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

  1. #1
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride


    Speaking in entirely general terms, I've been under the impression that improving fork performance usually impacts handling of a motorcycle most, while improving rear shock performance usually helps most with ride. Am I rite? Or head up ass?

    I recently bought an 800 lbs gorilla of a machine; a Harley FLHP Road King police. I knew the suspension was meh going in and held back some $ to fix it. What's interesting is it sucks differently than I expected it to. I expected it to ride nice, but handle like ass. Basically like grandmas' Buick. Floaty. Vague. Lots of brake dive. Wallow in the corners. Oddly it doesn't do all of that. Well, it dives, but not really horrible like. Instead it carves kind of well for 800 lbs of 'murican steel. Far better than I expected.

    What it does do is ride pretty poorly. Mind you I barely have 150 miles on it and have not played with the air-over-oil rear suspension setup much. But so far my opinion is that the ride sucks! Bumps are transmitted directly to my back. Pot holes are sketchy.

    So here I go ready to upgrade the rear shocks. Word has it the air-over-oil system sucked the day it was born. Word has it the shocks leak and lose pressure over time. Almost universally hated.

    But wait! I know a guy with a 2014 FLHR. Same-same as mine except civilian version. He threw some money at his forks but has kept the rear stock. He installed a "premium" fork kit HD sells that turns one fork into a cartridge setup that handles rebound then beefs up the other for compression only.. something like that. I think he got up-rated springs in the deal too. He paid his dealer to do the whole thing as they warranteed it all under his extended plan. Reviews on this kit are mixed. The ~$350 ask suggests it isn't exactly top-shelf components. Yet, I rode his machine yesterday and sure 'nuf it handles the pot holes way mo' bettah.

    FLHR buddy's telling me to ignore the shocks and drop some $ on the forks first. Keep an eye on the shock air pressures and it'll "be fine".

    Have I got it all wrong?

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    Lifer Kurlon's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    I wonder how much of what you noticed is based on proper spring rates front and rear vs actual improvements in damping/valving?

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    Lifer
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    In my limited experience, you can feel a stiff front or back for ride quality. But a stiff front doesn't hurt as much and is felt more in the bars where the rear tends to feel more like the bike itself. Too stiff or soft on either end can affect the way it turns. Diving is obviously front end problem.

    Are these air-over-oil shocks like the old school 80's stuff with a schrader valve on the body? If so, I'd bet that's supposed to be set based on your weight, riding style, preference etc. A default value, with a max-min range. Try tuning it. If all the air leaked out, it probably rides low and harsh. If someone over-inflated it so they wouldn't have to top off often, or for touring with two-up, it's also going to be harsh but high. Also, make sure you're checking air pressure properly. If it's supposed to be done with the tire off the ground, that's an easy one for someone to screw up.

    Possible the Police model had 100lb of gear hanging off the rear in duty-config so they put a stiffer spring in?

    " Instead it carves kind of well for 800 lbs of 'murican steel. Far better than I expected." If you've got anything wrong, I'd bet it's thinking you need to buy aftermarket gear when the problem isn't that complex. It's just stiff in the rear but otherwise good by your expectations? Again limited experience, but I feel like people are too eager to buy whatever fancy XYZ widget when what they had was good enough and needed to be set up properly.

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    Last edited by aldend123; 04-25-18 at 03:17 PM.
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    Soul Rider Paul_E_D's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    In the end, you will throw money at both ends. Edit: and I usually do the front first. Once those are good, the rear feels like shit.

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    Last edited by Paul_E_D; 04-25-18 at 03:44 PM.
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Noooooooooo!!!!!!

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    Super Moderator OreoGaborio's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    Am I rite? Or head up ass?
    Do we get a third choice?

    Not necessarily "right", but also not necessarily "head up ass", either..

    You could kinda argue that front end suspension adjustments can easily make a more NOTICEABLE difference in handling and has a LITTLE less impact on comfort than the rear shock, but both ends work as a system and each has an effect on all aspects of overall performance.

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    Last edited by OreoGaborio; 04-25-18 at 07:36 PM.
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    Senior Member myzx6's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    I’ve only road 1 air over Harley, 03 electraglide, I thought the ride was very good for what it is. You wouldn’t know you were hitting anything less then a speed bump, even watching the tires go over it. Front end dive was excessively excessive but felt surprisingly nimble and stable, till squeezing the brake lever.

    So I would start with the air pressure first, does yours have air shocks in the front too? A popular upgrade for street and road glides is adding factory rear ultra shocks because they have an extra 1in of travel if I remember right, not sure if it applies to the road king, especially a po-po model but may be worth checking into. If adjusting air pressure doesn’t make enough of a difference.

    Just had an after thought, have you checked tire pressure, 5lbs makes a huge difference in the way my softail rides but as usual ymmv

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by Kurlon View Post
    I wonder how much of what you noticed is based on proper spring rates front and rear vs actual improvements in damping/valving?
    That's another thing. I expect spring rates to make way less of a difference on this beast. On my KTM I outweigh the machine. On this thing I'm like a pimple on a fly on an ass-hair. Also HD's target demographic isn't exactly on the light side. Nobody seems to have info on what the stock rates are. But I can't believe they are that far off the reservation. Not like the Suzuki 650 twins I've been running lately.

    Also no data on what the delta in spring rates is between stock and the "premium" HD kit.

    I'd be really interested to find out what the stock rates are. The HD kit is pretty reasonably priced. You can score it from the wholesale 'net dealers $275. That's less than RT emulators and springs. I wonder if that kit reuses the stock springs and they are good 'nuf for most? I just cannot believe that HD isn't charging more for that kit. Every thing else in their catalog is ridiculously marked up. Is it 'cause they cut corners and reuse stock parts?!

    Quote Originally Posted by aldend123 View Post
    Are these air-over-oil shocks like the old school 80's stuff with a schrader valve on the body?
    In the 80's I was still watching the Muppet Show.
    But yeah, with a shrader valve and some cheap looking little lines interconnecting the two shocks. Not much to it. The only "preload" adjustment you have is to add/remove air pressure.

    I haven't read or played with it. Right now it's set at like 14psi. Which I think is in the middle-ish. I did ask around and I think that's a bit low for me. I'll try boosting it. I want to find out what the min/max specs are first though. Gotta find and read that part of the book. I need to ask FLHR bud again. Pretty sure I heard him mention 20 or 25 psi. Which seems like a lot more.

    Tires are right. I won't tell you what a pain in the ass it is to check the rear tire pressure on this thing. Rear is supposed to be at 40psi! Although I'm pretty sure my bud with the FLHR has his set the same.

    Quote Originally Posted by aldend123 View Post
    Possible the Police model had 100lb of gear hanging off the rear in duty-config so they put a stiffer spring in?
    Pretty sure not. Just looked and the shock assemblies have the same p/n civy=>cop.

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul_E_D View Post
    In the end, you will throw money at both ends.
    Yep. Always do. And as I say, I planned for it. Goal is to keep this thing in the stable long enough that we'll get our moneys worth out of the upgrades. I'm also ready to buy once, cry once on this one.
    I noticed Kates advertises Ohlins for this app..

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by myzx6 View Post
    I’ve only road 1 air over Harley, 03 electraglide, I thought the ride was very good for what it is. You wouldn’t know you were hitting anything less then a speed bump, even watching the tires go over it. Front end dive was excessively excessive but felt surprisingly nimble and stable, till squeezing the brake lever.
    Weird. I'm feeling almost the opposite. Front end dive is manageable. I have the linked ABS system as well, which I'm love/hate with to some degree. It is linked until under some speed, then unlinks automagically. Makes for some strange brake feel. But at speed I can clamp the front and it dives just enough to get the front to tip in nicely.

    It goes to hell when you hit a pothole. Or one of the speed bumps at work. Those go right to your back. Even with the solo cop tractor seat, which has it's own spring and damper. It shakes the whole bike too.

    Someone on ADV rider put it this way: Its like there is just too much unsprung weight and a hard step impact overwhelms the dampers. <= This I buy.

    I guess one 'trick' is to just pour thicker oil in.

    I wonder if I'm bottoming something. I know the rear travel is pathetic; like 2".

    Quote Originally Posted by myzx6 View Post
    So I would start with the air pressure first, does yours have air shocks in the front too? A popular upgrade for street and road glides is adding factory rear ultra shocks because they have an extra 1in of travel if I remember right, not sure if it applies to the road king, especially a po-po model but may be worth checking into. If adjusting air pressure doesn’t make enough of a difference.
    Best I can tell there are 2 FL platform touring shock lines; "standard" and "low". Low being 1" lower at both ends. Some list the standard as 13" eye-to-eye. Others list it as 12". And then the pre-14's were different and now the '17+ is different again. Although they sell '17+ setup for '14+ in the accessories catalog. Or some such. I've lost track honestly. Moral I'm reaching for is that I think the RK is on the 'standard' shocks. The lower baggers like the Street Glide and maybe Road Glide are on the low sets.

    No win for me there, I think.

    I will say I can't imagine lowering this thing 1". I want as much clearance as I can get out of this pig!

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    Lifer jasnmar's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    That's another thing. I expect spring rates to make way less of a difference on this beast.
    No. Just because the bike weighs a bazillion pounds that doesn't mean that you shouldn't use all of the suspension travel. I say this because I ride a bike that weights like 12 more pounds.


    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    On my KTM I outweigh the machine. On this thing I'm like a pimple on a fly on an ass-hair. Also HD's target demographic isn't exactly on the light side.
    I doubt the demographic is all that different from the GL demographic (maybe a bit, but there's certainly some overlap). I know that you're aware of the problems with the new GL.

    The previous version, as sold, wasn't any better and had a number of issues.

    Manufacturers will lose significant sales when someone puts there ass on the bike in the showroom and it doesn't feel soft.
    Manufacturers will lose insignificant sales to those who want a good suspension that meets their actual riding needs.

    Feel on the showroom floor isn't the same as riding. The marketing departments know this and require things from engineering related to this.

    Quote Originally Posted by nhbubba View Post
    Nobody seems to have info on what the stock rates are. But I can't believe they are that far off the reservation. Not like the Suzuki 650 twins I've been running lately.

    Also no data on what the delta in spring rates is between stock and the "premium" HD kit.

    I'd be really interested to find out what the stock rates are. The HD kit is pretty reasonably priced. You can score it from the wholesale 'net dealers $275. That's less than RT emulators and springs. I wonder if that kit reuses the stock springs and they are good 'nuf for most? I just cannot believe that HD isn't charging more for that kit. Every thing else in their catalog is ridiculously marked up. Is it 'cause they cut corners and reuse stock parts?!
    Last discussion I had with the techs at racetech was that "factory rates" were meaningless. If you want to know a springs rate put it in a compressor where you can measure pressure and distance. Other than that there was no way to know if a spring was "in spec" or not. All of the "factory specs" were about as useful as a football bat as far as they were concerned.

    Much like you, I've tried to rationalize shit related to vagueness and ride. It doesn't prove out in my experience. An example...

    Many GL riders complain about a decel wobble in the front. Somewhere, between 50 and 30 as you aren't on the gas, if you take your hands off the bars the front wheel "might" oscillate. It won't oscillate to an out of control point (or maybe we won't let it) but it will shutter. Putting your hand on the bar is enough to dampen the shutter, but if your hands aren't on the bars it will shutter. After paying attention to this for a significant amount of time and experimenting with this at the same place in the road, thing I've discovered is the biggest influence on this shutter has nothing to do with the front suspension. The biggest influence on the decel wobble is rear tier wear. People have spent tons of time chasing this rabbit. Replacing wheel bearings, steering head bearings, triples, front tires, fork internals, everything.

    In my experience, and that of others, the biggest impact on front decel wobble is to replace the rear tire. It's not logical, but experiments indicate that it is true. I really expect that the front end wobble is adding a vagueness to feel, but I'm guessing.

    If I were you, I'd start by just replacing the springamathings. Call up the guys at racetech and tell them all the things. Start with just buying springamathings. Internals / shocks may come, but from what I can tell the rear shocks aren't a 6 hour project to get to. The front forks are pretty standard forks. If replacing the spingamathings doesn't solve your problem, the only delta is labor and you work cheap.

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by jasnmar View Post
    Last discussion I had with the techs at racetech was that "factory rates" were meaningless. If you want to know a springs rate put it in a compressor where you can measure pressure and distance. Other than that there was no way to know if a spring was "in spec" or not. All of the "factory specs" were about as useful as a football bat as far as they were concerned.
    Interesting. You're saying factory springs are of such low quality that they are rarely anywhere near spec? I could see that.

    Measuring rates would require tearing the forks (and front end) apart. Ain't nobody got time-or patience-for that.

    I have this expectation that since this was a cop bike and/or because of the asking price it was built to some higher spec than most of the crap I'm used to buying. That is probably naive.

    Quote Originally Posted by jasnmar View Post
    If I were you, I'd start by just replacing the springamathings. Call up the guys at racetech and tell them all the things. Start with just buying springamathings. Internals / shocks may come, but from what I can tell the rear shocks aren't a 6 hour project to get to. The front forks are pretty standard forks. If replacing the spingamathings doesn't solve your problem, the only delta is labor and you work cheap.
    Meh. If I'm going to pull the forks off this land-yacht I am sure as hell going to drill out the damper rods and drop in $120 worth of emulators while I'm at it. Unfortunately the front end on this thing is encased in covers and trim bits. Not insurmountable though. Just annoying enough to only want to do it sparingly.

    Rear is a different story; four quarter turns and the bags pop off. Bam, there's the rear shocks.



    I think I'm either going to buy the HD kit or RT emulators & springs.. then pump up the rear and try to live with it for a while. Basically what the FLHR owner at work advised.

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    Old and Slow Sheppo's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    lower the air pressure. I run about 9lbs and only go to 14/15lbs with a passenger. Get a small hand pump and go for a ride. Tailor it to what you feel is optimum and ride with that for a bit.
    They carve and handle OK for a gorilla. TIRES are huge!!! I will only run METTZLER ME 888 Marathon. You can run the ME 880 but you sacrifice mileage, but they stick like glue. The factory Dunlops are bricks and you need to remember that the target rider is not one that tosses the bike around but rides straight in a pack.

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    Lifer Imbeek's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    The plan for me has always been forks first, with emulators. Money is an issue so maybe I should consider doing it myself too. No way a simple spring rate change is gonna fix those harsh ass dinosaurs, IMO. It’s the ride that is horrible, not the cornering performance; they don’t wallow or bounce or mess up the geometry while cornering, they just feel like horrible over bumps of all sizes

    I run way less pressure in the shocks, like Sheppo...around 8 or 9 psi, and they aren’t screaming for upgrade nearly as much as the forks.

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    Your Father csmutty's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    When sheppo brought up air pressure I thought he was talking tires...

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by Sheppo View Post
    lower the air pressure. I run about 9lbs and only go to 14/15lbs with a passenger. Get a small hand pump and go for a ride. Tailor it to what you feel is optimum and ride with that for a bit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Imbeek View Post
    I run way less pressure in the shocks, like Sheppo...around 8 or 9 psi, and they arenít screaming for upgrade nearly as much as the forks.
    Hmm.. okay. I'll try reducing the air pressure right away.

    FLHR guy is telling me the HD branded mini hand pump or similar is a must for adjusting these. Says you just can't get the accuracy you need out of my bicycle pump + tire gauge. This makes no sense to me! Seems to me the important part is using the same gauge and being consistent with the pressures, just like tires. You guys feel the same?

    Quote Originally Posted by Imbeek View Post
    No way a simple spring rate change is gonna fix those harsh ass dinosaurs, IMO. Itís the ride that is horrible, not the cornering performance; they donít wallow or bounce or mess up the geometry while cornering, they just feel like horrible over bumps of all sizes
    I agree entirely. Nice to hear some confirmation of it from someone else.
    As I say, I totally expected the opposite; floaty buick ride.


    Quote Originally Posted by Sheppo View Post
    TIRES are huge!!! I will only run METTZLER ME 888 Marathon. You can run the ME 880 but you sacrifice mileage, but they stick like glue. The factory Dunlops are bricks and you need to remember that the target rider is not one that tosses the bike around but rides straight in a pack.
    Good tip.

    I have the HD branded tires. I gather these are Dunlops? This reminds me I need to look at the date code and see how I feel about that. Bike had all of 4700 miles on it when I bought it and it's a '14... Your tax dollars being used at max efficiency! I'm guessing the tires are original and 4+ years old now. That said, they stick. I have no complaints about handling yet. This thing has definitely slowed my pace. But then that was a goal.

    I'll wear these out and then try the Metzlers out.

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by csmutty View Post
    When sheppo brought up air pressure I thought he was talking tires...
    Rear pressure spec for the bike is FOURTY PSI! ... Book says 825lbs curb weight. ... GVWR is like 1300 or something.

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    Super Adventurer SRTie4k's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    40psi is not unusual on a big bike.

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    Soul Rider Paul_E_D's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    It's a '14?! I thought we were talking about a bike from the 70s! LOL. Oy, they really held back on the updates.

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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul_E_D View Post
    It's a '14?! I thought we were talking about a bike from the 70s! LOL. Oy, they really held back on the updates.
    Interesting you'd pick at that. I was just remarking to someone the other day how refreshingly quaint this thing is.. It has fuel-injection, ABS, linked brakes, enough accessory power to cook you breakfast, comfort and weather protection in spades... yet isn't a god-damned space shuttle! When you get right down to it this is just a motorcycle. That tickles my pickle in a really satisfying way. Add the style, which I realize is polarizing, but I just love. None of the bull-shit extras forced by the likes of KTM, BMW, Ducati.. This thing is CAN bus, just like they are. But the accessory circuit is a simple 12VDC line behind a standard 4-pin relay. It speaks to me with its simplicity. All the tech I wanted, none of the extra bullshit. I kind of dig it!

    A few subtle tweaks. Add some accessory plugs for my inner geek; USB plugs for the GPS and phone, RAM ball mounts for holding that crap. Upgrade the suspension to be just a smidge less stone-aged. And I'll go for a bat-wing fairing before long for even better highway wind protection. Then she'll be one hell of a mile muncher and daily rider.

    At that point I may even turn into your average HD buyer and start making-gasp-cosmetic changes! I already plan on sending half the chrome shit out for black PC. May take a swing at some DIY vinyl wrap some cold-ass day one of these winters.



    I can't help it, I think that looks coooooool! Something strange happens to you when you turn 40..

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by SRTie4k View Post
    40psi is not unusual on a big bike.
    I think I've grown too used to putting not more than 27-ish into dinkly little race tires.
    Not looking forward to swapping these tires. I bet the carcasses are stiff!

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    Soul Rider Paul_E_D's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    That's a nice looking bike. The only pics I saw of it before made it look vintage. Then your description of the boingers seemed vintage too. No offense meant. Old tech worked just fine.

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    Lifer Rosco61's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    They are stiff as hell. i can break the bead with the No Mar Junior on the front tire only. The rear i could not budge. Sent that one out off the bike of course.
    Also I have the service manuals if you need some Inflammation on your Road Bling.

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  24. #24
    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosco61 View Post
    Also I have the service manuals if you need some Inflammation on your Road Bling.
    I found a set on fleabay already. I only really wanted the service manual. But I found a set that included the electrical diagnostics manual as well and figured why not. They are huge, incredibly detailed manuals. I'm impressed. Nothing like the books I've had on the Japanese bikes.
    The one thing I'm missing is the add-on manuals for the police versions. I don't think I care though. I found the police wiring diagrams on the Harley service site and printed those out, stuffed them in the electrical diag book. Close enough.

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    Burns retinas nhbubba's Avatar
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    Re: Forks vs shocks; handling vs ride

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul_E_D View Post
    That's a nice looking bike. The only pics I saw of it before made it look vintage. Then your description of the boingers seemed vintage too. No offense meant. Old tech worked just fine.
    That's a google images grab of a 17 or 18 Street Glide Special, not my bike. Just offering it as an example of what a few cosmetic deltas do to these things. Pretty stunning the diversity they've leveraged from this FL platform.

    Mine is the Road King, which is much more vintage/retro. Lots more chrome. Also about 30% less on the retail ask!
    When my father bought his FLHS back when you paid more for chrome. Now you pay more for black paint. What's old is new.

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