During the 2012 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally we stumbled upon Öhlins USA’s booth and stopped by for a chat. We have wanted to get the skinny for some time now on what the performance suspension manufacturer had to offer for the touring cruiser market. After speaking with Öhlins Marketing Manager Peter Jones, he explained the Swedish-based company’s recent push to deliver great suspension products for Harley models across the board, especially the heavy FLH/FLT models.
Öhlins USA 159 series shocks ($909) measure 13 inches tall and are made for ’98-13 Harley-Davidson FLH/FLT models. The HD 159 is stamped with the Öhlins S36DR1L designation. S=Single Tube, 36=36mm piston diameter, D=Gas Type with internal reservoir, R1=Adjustable rebound damping, and L=Adjustable length. Not only does the HD 159 offer an internal piston for impeccable damping, it also features pre-load, ride-height, and rebound adjustability. For FLH models Ohlins offers four different spring rates to accommodate the svelte rider to the pleasantly plump couple. And before installation the shocks can be setup accordingly.
We documented the installation on a 2011 Electra Glide so we could gain a better understanding of the different levels of adjustment the HD 159 shocks offer riders for fine-tuning their rear suspension.
01 The HD 159 (S36DR1L) shocks are a thing of engineered beauty. There’s just something about their aesthetic that makes you want to put them on your ride. Plus, the three levels of adjustment are an added bonus that some other aftermarket shock manufacturers fail to address.
02 To get started the saddlebags were removed and then the Electra Glide was lifted with a motorcycle jack in order to get the rear wheel off the ground and the stock shocks exposed.
03 He then removed the air lines from the stock shock canisters, which will not be reused.
04 A scissor lift was placed under the frame to hold the swingarm up while removing the stock shocks and installing the new shocks. Two bolts for each shock hold the units in place. Both bolts were removed and the stock shocks were taken off and sacrificed to the motorcycle gods.
05 Using the stock shock bolts (A), the Öhlins tech installed one of its included sleeves (B), and included spacers (C) through the HD 159 shock eyelet on top and bottom.
06 The 13-inch HD 159 shocks look right at home on the Electra Glide. Once both shocks were installed it was time for the good stuff: setting the static sag (see sidebar).
07 The bike owner was asked to sit on the bike so the Öhlins techs could make adjustments to the static sag, which a rider can fine-tune based on his preferred riding style.
08 Using an Öhlins wrench to adjust the static sag on the HD 159, the rider was asked his weight, how he rides his bike (two-up or solo) and some other criteria. This specific rider mostly cruises two-up and his wife likes a little extra cushion when doing the weekend trips. Because of these parameters, the Öhlins techs were able to hook the pair up. After setting the sag, installation was complete. The rider can easily fine-tune the suspension height and preload for an even more tailored ride.
Breaking It Down
Courtesy of Öhlins
The HD 159 shock offers three adjustments: preload, length, and damping.
Prior to installing a set of Öhlins shocks onto any motorcycle, rider weight and use must first be determined because the shock needs to have the correct spring rate. Many riders don’t realize that the proper spring rate is critical and even a highly adjustable shock cannot make up for the wrong spring. Riders are questioned about their weight, whether or not they usually ride with a passenger, with full bags, if they enjoy grinding their footpegs on curvy roads, if a slow cruise down a long highway is their riding style, and so forth.
After the proper-rate spring has been installed on the shocks, the shocks are bolted up to the bike, and then a static sag measurement is taken. This is done by suspending the rear tire off the ground and measuring the distance from a point near the bike’s rear axle to a point above on the rear fender. The rider is then asked to sit on the bike, or the rider and passenger if that is the most common load when riding the bike, and the distance between those same two points is measured again. The difference between the static and loaded measurements is the sag, which is best to be at around one-third of the total shock travel, which is about 1 inch to 1-1/4 inches for the FLH. Sag can be altered by rotating the adjustor nut that holds the spring in place on the threaded body of the shock. One rotation alters sag by about 1/16 inch.
The Öhlins HD 159 shocks have length adjustability, which is accomplished by loosening the blue locknut near the bottom of the shock, then turning the metal colored nut. Be sure not to over-tighten either of these aluminum nuts. Shock length can be altered by plus or minus 1/8 inch, assisting riders who prefer slightly lowered or raised seat heights, and those desiring altered geometry to affect the steering feel. The shock’s damping can easily and quickly be adjusted by rotating the black knob near the shock’s bottom. Turning it inward stiffens, or slows, the damping, while turning it outward speeds up, or softens, the damping. If the motorcycle easily bottoms out or seems to do two strokes over one bump, turning the knob in will slow the motion down and help fix those issues, while if the motorcycle feels too harsh and moves little over bumps, turning the knob out to a softer setting should provide the cure. The damper knob can also be used as a quick adjustment when adding or deleting a passenger, to better control the given weight. Damping adjustment can also be used to make a bike softer for long-distance expressway riding, or stiffer for more spirited canyon riding.