I finally bit the bullet and replaced the Bandit’s rear suspension.
After much consultation with a local tuning shop, I was advised that a Nitron Sport shock would suit my needs best, the higher spec gear only apparently noticeable if I suddenly started doing continuous track days. They took measurements of my weights, as well as those of my pillion and luggage, and I estimated that 80% of my riding would be me, solo with the top box. The rest would be split amongst a completely bare bike and fully-loaded two-up riding. This information, I was told, would allow Nitron to build me a unit that worked well for almost all of my riding, and perfectly for my most common setup.
So…were they right?
My tuning shop would have installed the unit – along with the optional hydraulic preload adjuster – for me, but I had reasons for doing the work myself. Suzuki owners have always advised me that the firm is notoriously stingy with grease in the swingarm pivots and suspension linkages, and despite my regular cleaning and corrosion protection I could see that some deep-cleaning of the parts would be required. I doubt that my garage would have done much more than run a rag over the linkages, and I needed to know that everything was ship-shape.
So, after ordering the shock (and the delivery of my excellent new impact wrench – brilliant tool!) I removed the rear wheel, swingarm and shock, along with all associated linkages. I removed the chain, sprockets, brake disk and carriers from the rear wheel, and thoroughly cleaned everything. No motorcycle wheel has ever been that thoroughly scrubbed, polished and waxed.
All the bolts, linkages and the swingarm itself were cleaned with WD40, then scouring pads and finally sandpaper to remove all oxidisation and ensure that I didn’t mis-thread anything on reassembly. I was pleased to find that actual permanent wear was very minimal, and that all the bearings were in good shape. The old shock really was in a sorry state; I couldn’t budge the preload adjuster, and despite the clever rear fender on the Bandit, it had clearly not weathered well. Finally, I packed all the bearings with fresh grease, leaving everything ready for when the shock arrived.
I should take this opportunity to note that Suzuki had made some very odd choices when building the bike. Their decision on where to locate the nut for the long bolts that held the suspension linkages together meant that some bolts were an absolute nightmare to remove. The official workshop manual suggested that I should remove the tank, airbox and throttle bodies to access the top bolt on the shock absorber, just because they’d fitted the bolt in such a way that there was almost no space to remove it. On reassembly I fitted it backwards instead, making it much easier. It’s always possible that I’m being stupid – that there’s some incredibly complex and esoteric reason why this bolt must be assembled this way – but I doubt it. Odds are it was easier this way in the factory, and the official service schedule does not consider replacement or indeed any service of the suspension components to be something an owner would ever do. But then, all manufacturers are guilty of this.
The new shock is a lovely piece of bespoke engineering – no cheap mass-produced, that’s-close-enough-for-the-average-user construction here. Nitron had clearly done their measurements, and fitting the item was a breeze, although having an assistant on hand to help hold the swingarm in place during assembly was extremely helpful. Fitting the remote preload adjuster was a little trickier, as all the usual mount points (passenger footpegs) were already doing double-duty as part of the luggage rack, so some creative thinking was required.
One slight concern was that because of all the grease I’d used to stave off future corrosion and protect the bearing, I was unable to either use threadlock (which wouldn’t stick), nor use a torque wrench to tighten anything. With grease on the threads, the torque wrench would find less resistance for a given tightness, resulting in me over-tightening everything. In the end I did it all by hand, and checked it after the first few runs to make sure nothing was working loose. So far…so good.
Now, with my new £500 piece of kit installed, was it worth it? In a word, yes – and not always in ways I’d expected. I’m still fiddling with the damping and preload to find the optimal settings for my riding, but the overall impression I get is that I am riding on really good smooth tarmac, even when not. I can feel the vibrations of the imperfections just enough, without the bike feeling bouncy or unsteady, and potholes and speedbumps are absorbed equally well – comfortable and sporty; the best of both worlds.
What I wasn’t expecting was the other benefits. The bike changes speed and gear much more smoothly now, presumably from less lash in the shock. I never used to be able to quickshift when accelerating; the Bandit always required the clutch for smooth changes. But with the bike no longer bucking and lurching as I come off the power during shifts, even my occasional passenger has noticed the difference.
Being able to set the preload correctly has also made a big difference. In the past, even if there was no luggage on the bike, just taking it off the centre stand would send the rear diving to the ground before equalizing. If the unit had luggage as well, I sometimes worried it would bottom out while doing this and make me drop the bike. It would also be very noticeable when a passenger climbed about, the extra weight pitching the bike upwards and changing the rake/trail, and therefore the handling. Not anymore. With the correct preload and damping, the bike drops to the ground just like a brand new sportsbike, and I don’t have to adjust my wing mirrors every time I carry a passenger.
I’m still exploring my new bike – and it really is like a new bike – to find out exactly which settings work best, but even though it’s cold and miserable out I’m enjoying my Bandit all over again. In fact, I’m a little worried that I won’t be able to enjoy a standard bike with standard shocks ever again…