1986 BMW R80
RIDE THE LIGHTNING
Wow, another transformation!” I’m tearing through twisty, bumpy backroads like never before and I’m loving it. This is yet another beginning of a beautiful friendship. I’ve significantly changed this ’86 R80 again with new, top-notch suspension all round, and the difference is again like night and day.
The bike’s previous setup never suited its new, sprightlier life as a cafe racer. The YSS shock fitted by the previous owner was well suited to the bike’s two-up touring role, but for a significantly lighter – and now more powerful – solo machine ridden with greater enthusiasm, I was simply asking too much.
Jacking up the rear for a menacing, head-down-bum-up stance hadn’t helped ride compliance either, with the limited rear travel sending nasty shock waves right up my spine. Many a sphincter-clenching moment was encountered, let me tell you.
Up front, meanwhile, there was still ample room for improvement to achieve a more controlled ride despite adding progressive HyperPro fork springs. Time for change.
BLUE TEAM, MOVE IN
Research begins and all roads lead to Wilbers. I know the German suspension brand makes top-quality stuff, but I’ll quietly admit my choice is also a cosmetic one – the blue rear spring beautifully complements the bike’s subtle colour scheme. Of course, I could get any spring powdercoated blue, but life’s too short to ride shit bikes.
One of the many privileges of working at Motorcycle Trader is accessible experts and, in this case, a certain IoM TT racer suggests I contact Izzy Dafni from Suspensions R Us (www.SuspensionsRus.com.au) in Upper Pakenham, in Melbourne’s outer east.
A former road racer, Izzy has more than 20 years of suspension experience with dirt, road and track bikes and has looked after racers of all levels and disciplines including MT’s own Cam Donald. What’s good enough for Cam is surfeit for me. We discuss what I’m after and Izzy is onto it. He records my weight and how I plan to ride it to select the most appropriate parts for the right setup. Fast forward two weeks and a 631-series Wilbers ‘BlackLine’ monoshock with a remote reservoir and blue spring configured to my weight arrives from the Fatherland. Time to get it in.
The interesting route to Suspensions R Us takes in sections of Melbourne’s popular playground for motorcyclists with twisty, challenging forest roads, minimal traffic and plenty of bumps. In my case, it also confirms the urgency for a good suspension setup.
The roomy workshop is on a large, private property dotted with stables and show jumping obstacles. The workshop is spotless, the equipment is immaculate and the shelves hold hundreds of springs and various parts are perfectly aligned, like an aisle of a good supermarket.
We discuss the plan: fit the monoshock, pull apart the front end and lower the fork with 27mm internal spacers for a flush finish up top.
Izzy assesses what he’s working with by compressing the forks. “Oh wow,” he says worryingly. I leave it with him and tell it like it is: an unfinished project.
I receive regular phone calls and email updates but I’ll never forget Izzy’s words when he candidly says: “Chris, it’s probably the worst-handling bike I’ve ever ridden.” Ouch! He picks up my tatters by assuring me everything will be alright. Can’t wait to ride the result then.
Not before long the job’s complete and I head back to collect the bike and embark on the maiden voyage. It looks awesome and Izzy’s put a lot of work into it.
The progressive HyperPro springs have been replaced with Wilbers items, which offer a different progression rate. These need less preload and provide more feel and a better ride.
“The rate of progression is a lot more refined, a lot closer together,” Izzy explains of the Wilbers kit. “It’s not as aggressive and progressive as some of the other companys’ and leans more towards a linear spring as used on a proper race bike.” Where the HyperPro springs are around 50 per cent linear, the Wilbers are more like 70 per cent and the difference is obvious during a side-by-side comparison.
The internal valves have been modified for more effective damping characteristics while the rebound has been tweaked to run much lighter oil. The damper rods have also been modified internally with larger ports to allow greater oil flow and therefore allow the valves to better do their job. It was previously too restrictive, apparently.
“We’ve changed the spring characteristics by running less preload with firmer springs to handle the bumps a lot better and give you a much smoother ride,” Izzy says.
He demonstrates the fork’s new characteristics by compressing it again. “Before it was like a pogo stick, now there’s a lot more control,” he says. “When it comes up, it stays there.”
There are still some small gains to be made including slightly faster rebound, but it’s another three-hour job to pull everything apart again. Another time.
“The transformation is unreal. But the problem you have with older forks like these is you can get the best feel while you’re bleeding them and testing different oil viscosities, but you never get the exact feel until you fit them to the bike. You can get it to about 90 per cent there whereas with modern, adjustable forks that last 10 per cent can be simply adjusted externally.
“Going from zero to 90 per cent improvement is a massive jump,” Izzy says.
“I’m really happy with the way the forks came up. A lot of machining has gone into it. I really like the look of the fork tops; they came up better than I expected.”
Out back, the monoshock features a remote reservoir with 22 clicks of both high- and low-speed compression damping adjustment. The reservoir is strapped to the rear sub-frame with hose clamps, which is a good-enough temporary solution until I get around to replacing that spindly sub-frame and make a bracket to mount the reservoir.
The tight, bumpy roads in the surrounding area quickly highlight any weakness in a bike’s handling – it’s the perfect place to set up a motorcycle suspension shop. Needless to say, in its previous tune, the BMW was far from confidence-inspiring.
“I found myself hanging off it and having great fun whereas before, I was nervous as hell, and I don’t get nervous easily,” enthuses Izzy. “Now I can say, ‘Yep, I can take this to Phillip Island, cut some laps and have some fun,’ and that’s always my aim. So I’m very, very happy with the end result.”
RESTORING OR TRICKING UP A BMW?