OK, a very, very simple starting guide:
There are 3 circuits to a top shelf shock which you can with great ease adjust. High Speed Compression, Low Speed Compression and Rebound.
High Speed Compression: This has NOTHING to do with the speed of the bike, it has to do with the speed of the shock movement. A ripple in the pavement, a sharp edge bump, these are "high speed" compressions. The shock has to move VERY rapidly to react.
Low Speed Compression: Again, nothing to do with the speed of the bike. A long, up and down hilly road where as you reach the bottom of the hill the suspension compresses. The suspension is constantly compressing (albeit slowly which is why it is called "low speed") as you get to the bottom of the hill.
Rebound: The part of a shock that once one of the two above actions has taken place, controls the "unwind" of the shock (spring) so you do not shoot up in the air and hit low flying aircraft. Also related to the "top of the hill" part of the ride.
There, some of you have just learned something new, which means you can now go have a beer, the day is a success! At least that is my theory...
So, how do you learn how to manage these?
Read, ride, write, think and practice...
What do you need? Your bike, your brain, your butt and a notebook with something to write with.
We know that as Americans we want everything spoon fed to us, 30 seconds or less to get see the headline, get the story and have complete resolution. Sorry, this takes a bit more...
There are thousands of discussions on suspension, and you have started by reading this one, so you are on your way. Just don't stop, and if something seems interesting, read it, try it, make your own opinion. Just be careful of website forums, the number of posts you have does not make you an authority on anything except having too much free time for web surfing...!
This is where YOU
are going to start learning to form your own
First, the legal stuff: No where, no how, no matter what DO NOT DO ANYTHING that breaks any laws, or puts you or your machine in danger. This is not a race, this is not about testing the "limits". Ride within your ability, ride safely and obey all laws. If you feel uncomfortable with any aspect of these tests, do not do them...
First, find a favorite stretch of road, one with conditions that meet your test needs. Let's start basic; find a long hilly road, lots of gentle ups and downs where you can feel the tops and bottoms effecting the bike. Then we need a second road with lots of "stutter" bumps or such, harsh pavements which will give us some testing of the high speed compression settings.
Set all your suspension settings in the "middle".
Pick a correct speed, and ride the stretch of road a few times. Get a feel for it, take notice of how the bike is acting, how the suspension is responding. After a few runs up and down the same stretch of road, at the SAME speed and conditions each time, pull over in a safe spot.
down EXACTLY what the suspension settings were, and your thoughts... ALL of them. Don't worry, nobody is spell checking, nobody else is going to read this, nobody is going to critique your thoughts. And forget high tech suspension words, you are not talking to a tuner, you are writing notes to yourself.
So be expressive, try to put all you are feeling in your butt, sensing with your brain, everything you can relate as to how you "feel" the suspension is acting, feeling, doing. There are NO WRONG ANSWERS!
Then pick ONE
circuit (high, low, rebound) and move it all the way to the lowest setting.
Repeat the above exercise. Same road, SAME speed, same conditions.
Pick the next page in your notebook, put in the EXACT suspension settings, and then all your thoughts and feelings.
Now, put that damping circuit all the way to the other direction. If you were "off", make it full on. Or vice-versa...
Again, SAME road, SAME speed, SAME conditions until you have an opinion. No variables allowed except the change you made to the circuit.
BIG NOTE!!! Do not re-read your last notes and then write. Forget everything from the previous test and just try to feel what the change you have made has done to the bike. Write what you notice and feel, and again do not shorten up your thoughts. The more the better, you will need all you can re-read for later.
I will guess you are getting the idea now of what is next...
All back to the middle, another damping circuit, another set of tests.
Write, write, write!!!
OK, now you have a bunch of pages for that road. Guess what?
Repeat on the "other" road, same tests, same note taking.
I know, what a pain in the butt. Wow, having to spend an afternoon riding your motorcycle in the name of science!!! The torture, the absolute torture of it all!!!
If you have done this correctly, you are going to end up with a notebook containing many 1/2 pages of thoughts on each of the damping circuits and how you "felt" they effected the ride on each of the roads.
Now for the fun part.
End of the day, everything is done, grab a beer or nice glass of red wine and sit your butt in your favorite easy chair.
And start re-reading your notes.
At first, it will seem like a jumbled mess of thoughts. If you have done it correctly, it should. (If you cheated and re-read your last notes before writing new thoughts, then you will find that your writings try to tie everything together. That makes things tougher, so hopefully you did not do this. If you did, then you probably have to re-do your tests and notes.)
But what you will find very quickly is that after reading, then re-reading, a pattern starts to emerge of "which part" is doing "what"... Yes, this is all very raw data, and the results are very "extreme", but you will start to discover exactly what it is that each of these circuits is doing.
Find a pattern, and think
about it. "Well, if high does this, and low does that on my road, then setting high at "X" and low at "Y" should do "Z" to the bike".
Write this down on a new page.
Then read some more. And think some more. And come up with more scenario's, what you believe each combination will do if your thoughts are correct.
Write each of them down in separate spaces across pages. You are not trying to find "answers", you are trying to confirm that you understand what the circuits are doing. So make up combinations that may be useless, but which you believe will result in a particular outcome.
Next chance you have (no, not after killing a 12 pack or the entire wine cellar!) go out to the same roads, same conditions, same speed and PRACTICE
your settings to see if you are correct. Test your guesses, see if what you thought was going to happen, actually did happen. If not, write down what DID happen, and move on to the next settings you are trying. If yes, write down what did happen and move on to your next test. But you have to write, there is no way on Earth you are ever going to remember all the possible scenario's and combinations.
(Now you know what our little notebooks from the 'ol days and laptops in modern times contain!!!)
Back to the easy chair... (Brutal trying to learn suspension, huh?)
What most of you are going to find quite quickly is that your "guesses" stop being wrong very quickly, and what you think is going to happen, DOES HAPPEN!!!
Wow!!! You are now a suspension tuner!!!
Well, not really. But you do now understand what all those little knobs are, what they do, and all you have to do is PRACTICE your settings until you have a few that meet your needs.
What do you think all those practice laps in racing are all about? It is just looking at their notes, putting in settings and then working them to what is out there. A bit of overkill for all us mere mortals, but really it is nothing more then what we have just described above.
Seriously, it is really this basic. You are not trying to tune for World Superbike, you are trying to get the machine to ride the way YOU want it to ride in "general" situations. Mountians, city, curvy, straight, etc...
So instead of "max on - max off", you can now start fine tuning the knobs until you reach a combination that is what you like for "smooth hilly roads with easy turns", as compared to "crappy road, straight" or "smooth and flat"... 12 clicks here, 17 clicks there, 22 on this and you have "that" result.
And once you have these, you put the 4 or 5 combinations on a card that you stick on your bike, and anytime you change riding styles you look at your card, dial in your settings, and 90 seconds later you are exactly where you want to be...
Best of all, it is what YOU want, what YOU like, for how YOU ride.
Isn't that what motorcycles are all about...?