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FJ Suspension Ugrade and Comments (Long)


retrorocketeer

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How’s she riding?”
 
“The ride is very nice. Immediate and obviously noticeable improvement. No longer harsh. You don't feel every bump or imperfection in the road. The forks are compliant and absorb the road surface. Traction is noticeable. The front end feels planted. A very good value for the money and compliments my high dollar shock for almost a quarter the price. Kudos.”
 
Above is the recent email I sent to Matt of Forks by Matt. This is long, but it’s the back story setting up my FJ-09.
 
I swear I could feel every imperfection in the road with the stock valving. It was full on annoying. It doesn't help that I have my Tiger 1050 to compare the FJ to, or maybe it does help. My Tiger soaks up everything and is a sweet ride, fast or slow. To be fair, I customized my Tiger's fork damping and springs, and installed an Elka shock.
 
The FJ was purchased primarily for my wife (that helped the purchase). I "graduated" her from a 2008 Versys 650 to the FJ. The FJ of course offers ABS and traction control and power levels, but it also has a lower seat height, even in the tall setting. I ride the FJ too, and of course the 40+ extra ponies influenced the purchase.
 
The first mod we agreed we had to make was the seat. Stock seat, particularly in the low position was punishing. The Seat Concepts kit fixed that to our satisfaction. Having the seat no longer an issue made it even more evident the suspension needed attention. I get ergos close before I focus on handling and suspension. (Bad ergos can cause more handling problems than actually exist with the bike itself. Seat height adjustments have actually taken over a second off my lap times in track bike builds.)
 
I don't fear suspension work. I've done enough fork and shock services and mods, I know my way around valving. The 650 Versys has a very similar set up to the FJ. Both have cheap junk under damped shocks with rebound adjustment that's barely adequate. (I could tell that even on my FJ test ride.) Both have one fork with active damping in one leg and rebound adjustment on that one leg. Both have overly harsh compression damping, though the FJ is even more so. The rebound on the Versys fork was actually pretty good. I had a look at the compression damping, literally changed 3 shims and nailed the fork compression damping. With little external mod, an R1 shock will mount into a Versys and when set up internally, will give you effective 3 way external damping adjustments. I had Cannon Racecraft wind me a spring. I experimented with valving combinations to adapt the R1 shock to the Versys. Work was close to starting from scratch because an R1 has shock linkage and a Versys has no linkage. I opened up that R1 shock at least 7 times to tweak valving. My end result received numerous comments and congrats on how I made a bike as inexpensive as a Versys ride so well for less than $300.00 in parts and supplies.
 
Why then did I not just tackle the FJ my own darn self? You would think success would breed motivation. Time isn't always available, and my motivation to work on the bike tuning suspension rather than get to business riding it just wasn't there this go around. Frankly, for me its easy to burn out working on suspension because I get tired of mess and clean up. There's no such thing as a clean suspension project. There's always an oil mess, small or large.
 
Adjusting spring preload on the FJ's stock shock is a real pain. With the hydraulic adjuster on my Tiger's Elka, I can just count pre-determined clicks depending on what load I'm carrying and be adjusted in seconds. My wife wanted the FJ to be that easy, and she said she wanted the ride to be as smooth as my Tiger. That was my ticket to buy a shock. An FJ forum post mentioned Elka was no longer making motorcycle shocks (or gradually pulling out of the market segment) so even though I didn't verify Elka myself, I decided to go with a Nitron. I opted for an R3 with the HPA. Overkill for most users, but with my knowledge and experience, I like having the extra damper adjusters. The Nitron shock was an excellent purchase.
 
I was tempted to go with some Traxxion or Andreani cartridges, but after surfing the comments and posts about Forks by Matt I was drawn to Matt's fork solutions. Aside from all the positive comments he received, a couple other details attracted me to his solution. He doesn’t trash other products. He gives his opinion, but I never saw him criticizing other products, talking them down while trying to talk his up. That to me show’s tact and the confidence he has in his own product. He stays active on the forums he markets to. He answers questions and comments and does so in a way that with my back ground I can tell he knows what he is doing.
 
With my racing experience, I am drawn to the specialist. You can order a drop in part from a dealer or supplier, but when you have a specialist who’s cordial, accessible, and willing to talk, that’s unique. Granted, I ordered a Nitron shock from Nitron, and didn’t talk to a specialist, but I’m confident in that product. With Matt, not only can I talk forks, but I know I could also talk about the shock. Shocks are more of a bolt on and few ever see the inside and have less questions. Forks are within the realm of many and having a go to person is worth money.
 
So, with all that said, how about those forks. I opted to activate my dead leg and wanted external adjusters. What I got from Forks by Matt: 2 assembled fork cartridges, 2 compression adjustment bolts, and a rebound adjustable fork cap to match the right leg. The stock fork springs suit the weight range my wife and I operate in. (I’m 180 geared up.) If you’ve ever done any fork work, this job is easier than changing fork seals. The cartridges came assembled. Swap the parts, bleed the cartridge, install on bike, go ride. No more feeling every single irregularity in the road. What An Improvement. Traction is so improved. You feel real grip in the front end because the tire is actually touching the road most of the time now. No more smacking, jarring, chattery feeling in the handlebars. For a quarter the price of my shock, the forks really compliment the shock. The FJ now rides so smoothly. The forks are compliant. You’d be surprised how getting rid of fork “noise” makes it easier to hold a smoother throttle as well.
 
There is no better ride and performance deal on the market right now. Matt’s fork solution is the best value. Excellent job on the FJ fork valving Matt.
 
Some people have posted asking is the FJ suspension really that bad? Yes. It is. Sure, the FJ is built to a budget. To me, that’s all the more reason to customize and improve it. I like to make stuff better. Obviously, Matt has demonstrated the forks can be improved for a smoking deal. You don’t have to spend over $1000 on a shock either. ANY aftermarket rebuildable shock would be an improvement. You might be able to get forks AND a shock done for under a grand if you can do your own labor.
 
You only know ride quality can be better after you’ve experienced the improvements or been on a properly set up bike. My experiences and line of work have positioned me to experience A LOT of different bikes. The stock suspension sucks, but people can live with stuff that sucks. You can stick your head in the sand and deny that the ride improvements are that real or so much better, and that’s fine, I’m not going to argue with anybody. For me, my riding time is too short and valuable to be on poor suspension. Suspension is traction and traction is confidence. Suspension is also tied to braking efficiency and tire life remember. Why don’t I just buy a better bike to begin with? The leap to the next bike is bigger than the cost of the improvements in the suspension. The FJ may be budget, but in power to weight ratio and geometry, its as good as or better than much of the competition. I’ve ridden the S1000XR and Multistrada. Believe me, they aren’t perfect either. Both have flaws. Like I said, I also enjoy making stuff better. I enjoy building race and track bikes as much as I enjoy riding them.
 
A huge misconception is that you need to be a racer or ultra good rider (insert popular GP star) to appreciate or need good suspension. False. Even a novice rider can tell the difference, they just don’t recognize what they are feeling. All they know is for some reason they feel better or more confident on one bike or the other. The new, novice, or ignorant rider just doesn’t understand why. I’ve demonstrated this on the street and on the track with two VFRs. I messed with/adjusted spring loads and damping adjusters. Sometimes faking, sometimes for real. While experienced riders could tell me more specific sensations, even inexperienced/ignorant riders could say something felt better or worse.
 
Anyway, consider it. Flame me or comment as you like.
 
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Agree 110%! I found the stock suspension harsh, non-compliant, a scary jackhammer & actually dangerous. I went with a Penske (no hydraulic preload, but the Penske is easy to adjust), and did the cheap fork mods I've discussed here before; though I'm sure Matt's fork kit is definitely better.. at least the front wheel now follows the road. Amazes me people will throw money at Farkles and ignore one of the two serious known issues of the FJ that keeps it from being a truly great motorcycle (the other being a ECU re-flash).600K+ miles on bikes, ex-small time racer, know that suspension is the #1 priority for a great motorcycle. The VFR750 that Mary had been riding and I just sold had different forks, gold valves, Ohlin's custom valved rear shock. It was fast on the road or on trackdays, because of the sorted suspension; people were amazed at what it could do with only 95 HP & 525 lbs. weight.Ignorance is bliss, as you said flame on....
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You could probably ask for pistons and valving if you wanted to tackle taking the cartridge apart, but that's work and requires some specialty tools as well. If you've never messed with shims and pistons, you want to order his cartridges.
 
What he sends you is swap and drop. You don't totally disassemble the fork as if you were changing oil seals. If you had to take it into a dealer, you'd say, "Here are my forks. Put in these cartidges and don't worry about my seals. Since I'm not having you change seals, don't go charging me as much either, thank you very much."
 
If you sent your forks to Matt, you'd be sending your money to a nice bloke and feeling good about supporting an enthusiast.  (Don't get me wrong, I totally encourage taking care of your local dealer as well, if they've earned it.)
 
 
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So this is a drop in Yamaha cartridge revalved by Matt?
Compression/rebound adjustable with no need to send him my forks?
Correct on both counts. I've recently adopted the automotive "core-charge" sales model (nee alternators, batteries, etc.) whereby I send fully built and drop-in ready parts and when you return the OE cartridges, I refund you the "core charge".  
If you are inclined to do your own work, have a local shop that you're happy to engage, or don't want to be subjected to variable downtime and the shipping of forks back and forth, I think it will be an attractive option. And to be honest, it's easier on me too and increases my throughput since my time is limited and subject to the demands of my day job.
 
If your oil seals are due for replacing I can include All-Balls (made in Taiwan) for $12/set and recently got a fistful of SKF (oil+dust) most of which are in that god-awful green.
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bruceintucson
 
You should totally do one of Matt's kits.  Oil doesn't last.  Your viscosity will break down under the harsh stock valving and you'll be refreshing just to keep what change you had.  The nice thing about Matt is he maximizes piston flow and manipulates damping with the shims.  This allows you to use 5wt oil.  Low viscosity oil doesn't break down as fast.  You get longer use out of your oil and maximum damping characteristics for longer.
 
Did you ever go to Pridmore's CLASS at Portland International Raceway and/or Seattle Raceway in Kent, WA back in the late 90's early 2000's?  Being an old VFR fan (that means pre-VTEC), I have a weird tendency to remember tricked out VFRs.  I remember a lady being incredibly proud of her 94-98 gen. tricked out VFR.
 
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bruceintucson 
You should totally do one of Matt's kits.  Oil doesn't last.  Your viscosity will break down under the harsh stock valving and you'll be refreshing just to keep what change you had.  The nice thing about Matt is he maximizes piston flow and manipulates damping with the shims.  This allows you to use 5wt oil.  Low viscosity oil doesn't break down as fast.  You get longer use out of your oil and maximum damping characteristics for longer.
 
Did you ever go to Pridmore's CLASS at Portland International Raceway and/or Seattle Raceway in Kent, WA back in the late 90's early 2000's?  Being an old VFR fan (that means pre-VTEC), I have a weird tendency to remember tricked out VFRs.  I remember a lady being incredibly proud of her 94-98 gen. tricked out VFR.

Well actually my cheap fix for the forks is to drain 220cc's from the right fork & replace it with 2.5wt. Then add 15cc to each fork to reduce the dive. As mentioned front now tracks the road (2.5 wt. reduces overly-aggressive compression valving), & doesn't dive too much under braking. This is my wife's bike; if I owned it I'd definitely do the forks. Oh and raise the forks 5mm in the triple's to put more weight on the front end. Rebound only has to be increased 2 clicks to make up for the lighter oil. :-)Did several Reg & Jason schools along with Code's schools. But the farthest North I got was Laguna Seca. BTW, FJ-09's come stock with 5wt, unlike the FZ's that are 10wt. 
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@bruceintucson and @pattonme I've seen several people mentioning raising the forks in the triple tree. Won't that reduce rake and trail increasing turn in speed but decreasing stability?
 
Or am I thinking about this incorrectly and raising the forks on the triple tree has no effect on rake and trail?

'15 FJ-09 w/ lots of extras...

Fayetteville, GA, USA

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Yes it does @duhs10 and depending on load-out (weight bias) this can lead to a more flighty front end. There have been threads on here about instability that were by in large solved by fixing the fork damping, and not moving the forks about. Though the other half swears by their $400+ damper purchase. If you want to spend coin on the damper that's your business.
 
If your forks are sorted then moving them 5mm is no big deal. 10mm is probably still within margins. Beyond that you need to test in small increments. A lot of people never set sag to begin with and since the FJ has handy luggage options they pile on extra weight which makes the situation worse.
 
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@bruceintucson and @pattonme I've seen several people mentioning raising the forks in the triple tree. Won't that reduce rake and trail increasing turn in speed but decreasing stability?  
Or am I thinking about this incorrectly and raising the forks on the triple tree has no effect on rake and trail?
 
 
Raised my forks about 5 mm. Always felt the FJ was slow to turn. This helped. @javashot1 has ridden my bike back to back with his and noticed the difference immediately. No instability in corners when you and I rode in NC, and no instability straight line up to the speed governor with or without bags.
 
Raised forks obviously don't solve the FJ's suspension problems, but it is a free fix to the bike's slow turn in. I previously rode a WR250X, and it obviously had better steering in tight corners than our bikes.
 
Suspension will be on my radar probably next winter when the bike has more miles, and I can fit $1000 into the motorcycle budget. I keep following the Forks by Matt threads because it looks like he may have an optimal solution.
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