Paul Smith, Senior Editor at Adventure Motorcycle Magazine (ADVMoto) recently installed a set of Touratech Suspension on his oil-cooled BMW R1200GS Adventure. Featured below is Paul’s review, which originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of ADVMoto.
Considering the punishment adventure bikes receive, it’s astonishing there hasn’t been more attention given to one of their weakest links—suspension. The sheer mechanical stress- es a typical adventurized motorcycle is subject to virtually guarantee suspension failure at some point. There are also the dangerous riding conditions created by under-built mushy shocks or springs. Even models supposedly constructed for adventuring typically suffer from under-engineering in this area. Looking over manufacturers’ specifications one often finds mind-numbingly obvious conflicts such as “maximum luggage capacity of 15 lbs.”
Subsequently, there’s a bustling suspension upgrade/re-placement aftermarket. However, many, if not most, of these products tend to be more suited for racing than the demands of overlanding. So aside from improving the general feel and handling of the ride, the stress requirements of adventure motorcycling are seldom addressed. There are three fundamental differences separating bikes that have been adventurized for overlanding from their breth- ren. They must be able to handle incredibly long distances, widely varying road and off-road conditions, and overloading.
Although the suspension issue has been avoided, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, Touratech entered the fray with “The world’s first suspension purpose-built for adventure touring motorcycles with luggage.” Yeah! Since then, several of the higher profile riders, including Helge Pedersen, have been off in the field trying unsuccessfully to prove Touratech wrong. And, last spring, Touratech-USA’s General Manager, Paul Guillien, also asked ADVMoto to give their new product a taste. Knowing that the majority of the testers were already pounding their bikes in off-road conditions, we opted for a slightly different tack of taking an overloaded big GS Adventure on a long-haul tour around the U.S. and Canada.
Touratech’s suspension variations:
Touratech offers four varieties of suspension: Explore, Explore HP, Expedition and Extreme. As these names imply, each variation is increasingly better suited to more intense demands and conditions. Likewise, costs reflect each level. In order to make purchasing decisions easier, Touratech requests completion of a rider profile, then designs an ideal suspension kit to suit that style. This may involve several emails and/or phone calls, as each order is specifically customized to the rider, ensuring it’s done right by removing the guesswork or inexperience from the equation. It’s clear that customer service is paramount, and there’s a surprising amount of friendly follow-up after the bike has been modified and the rider has had a chance to acclimate to the new feel. Suspension upgrades such as this is are expensive decisions for most of us, and the extra effort on Touratech’s part adds a lot of value to their already outstanding product.
In my case, the guys came back with a rather intuitive solution. Although I have the big Adventure model, I favor riding long distances with very little off-roading. It was also deter- mined that lowering the bike would better suit my riding style. So, a set “Explore” front and “Explore HP” rear (the BMW R1200GSA has front and rear shocks) were tuned accordingly and shipped. And, with the expertise of our friends at BMW Ventura, installation was completed in about two hours. Installation was straightforward, and I reckon it’s doable by anyone with moderate wrenching skills. Watching master mechanic Kyle Satterlee almost made it look easy. Meanwhile, I kept my hands clean for “photography” (you understand) while he did the dirty work. As this was Kyle’s first Touratech Suspension retrofit, he was obviously interested in taking the GS for a test spin, and afterwards commented on how plush the ride felt.
However, it turned out there was an unforeseen downside to lowering the big GS. It messes up the kick stand and center stand clearances, requiring either modifying the stands or purchasing shorter replacements. Both still work, but it requires a little extra heaving to get the machine up on the center stand, or finding slope when deploying the side stand.
On the road:
Immediately following the upgrade, I took the Beemer on a 12,000-mile romp around the U.S. and Canada, camping most of the way. Late spring/early summer, along with the route I chose, turned out to provide widely varying weather and road conditions. High winds battered the bike, especially across the tornado-infested Oklahoma region, while other areas were a mixture of extreme heat or cold, with about 4,000 miles of torrential rain tossed in for good measure. 95% of the trip was on paved roads of some kind, with about 5% on gravel and/or dirt. But, with the exception of certain stretches through the center of the U.S., I stayed off the freeways, preferring the smaller highways and backroads, which racked up the miles and provided lots of variation for the new suspension system. Surprise potholes, road debris, lots of dodging around bad drivers, road kill and the occasional live variety also tested the suspension’s handling in extreme braking conditions.
The original stock rear monoshock was particularly prone to mushiness and swaying on high-speed curves—not so with the Touratech upgrade. Because we had lowered the bike, the steering geometry and especially the cornering were radically improved. I know there are many “height challenged” GS riders who would benefit from having their bikes lowered. But even though I’m rather tall, I still found that the more aggressive handling characteristics of the lowered front end, combined with the radically improved suspen- sion, made the long hours in the saddle a lot less fatiguing. Indeed, the road feel improvement is particularly obvious, not subtle at all.
After about 6,000 miles of break-in, all I had to do was give the suspension’s settings a mild tweak. At the time of the ride, I weighed around 180 lbs., and was carrying approxi- mately 200 lbs. of gear (plus up to nine gallons of fuel). The setup has remained anything but mushy, and as I write this 18,000 miles later, the suspension retains its new feel. One of the big surprises to the upgrade was how well the bike now carves through long, sweeping bends. Intentionally overloading the ol’ mule barely makes it feel different. Other than the rearward weight itself, there are no notable suspension-related issues. Essentially, Touratech’s concept of “overbuilding” should conform to just about anything a rider can throw at it. And, keep in mind, I’ve been riding with the relatively “tame” version of their new line. Based on these experiences I reckon that their “Extreme” shocks would be impossible to kill, even under the craziest off- road conditions.
To sum this up, your bike’s stock suspension is likely to need addressing. If it’s sagging under the weight of luggage and other gear, is mushy or pogo sticking, just get it fixed. If you’re in the market for an upgrade or replacement, you simply cannot go wrong with Touratech’s offerings. We’ve yet to hear of a single failure, and I cannot imagine what a rider would have to do to cause a failure. What’s more, the shocks are fully field serviceable and rebuildable… this is a job done the right way, no compromises.
Click HERE to see the complete line of Touratech Suspension.