Written by Bill Dragoo | Photos by Susan Dragoo and Jenny Vigil. Posted in Tech-n-Tips
The bigger question is how much should will you, or better yet, should you even lower your bike at all? Regardless of skill, sooner or later every cyclist has to stamp to avoid a fall. Riders with shorter inseams are at a disadvantage when this situation occurs, especially on sloping or uneven terrain. For these cyclists, Woody Witte has created a “convertible” bicycle in his T7GS. This article is not intended to cover all the nuances of suspension setup and modification, but hopefully it will provide ideas for those who might otherwise be hesitant to ride off-road because the bikes are just too big. .
Log on to any dual sport or adventure riding forum and sooner or later the question will arise. “Should I lower my bike? The answers range from “Never. Engineers know what works best”, to “You absolutely must set up your bike so that both feet are planted firmly on the ground.
Lowering a motorcycle can be done in several ways, some better than others. Most adventure and mixed-sport manufacturers offer a low saddle option, and some even offer lowered suspension and/or frames to accommodate shorter riders. However, if you’re lowering a bike for off-road riding, it’s trickier than doing the same for a street-only machine.
The “Engineers know best” argument for suspension and seat height has a lot of merit. I have been a resident of this camp for most of my career as an internationally certified dirt bike instructor, and Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) instructor, by nature I am a bit of a purist. I figured it was best to leave things as God, or in our case, the people who make motorcycles, intended. In fact, exercise three of our DART The program is called “Dispelling the myth that the bike is too big”. In this exercise, we practice methods to help keep the bike upright, in the “cone of balance” (that area of left and right motion beyond which the bike becomes too heavy to stand), not never having more than one foot on the ground at any given time. The premise is that a tripod is never drunk where a four-legged table is unstable on uneven ground. Most students quickly learn their limits and can recognize when the bike is about to exceed them. With this knowledge and the ability to anticipate that frightening point of no return, less muscle is needed to prevent falls. Even so, for some riders, the fear of dropping the bike demands more contact with the ground. In this case, a lower bike is the obvious answer.
The idea of keeping both feet on the ground is planted early for many riders in the first exercises of MSF training. These sessions begin with students waddling in a long duck walk until they manage to find a balance. Then and only then do they raise their feet to the ankles. At this stage of learning, this is not necessarily bad practice. Confidence greases the skids of learning and dropping the bike definitely throws ice water in the face of confidence. This quest for confidence is in tension in the face of the irregularities of leaving the road. Suspension travel and ground clearance are two of the most obvious issues associated with a lowered motorcycle. Traversing logs, ledges, even uphill terrain can be disconcerting when the engine or footpegs are at full throttle, especially for a less experienced rider who hasn’t learned the art of lifting the front wheel to get over. the obstacles.
Lowering a bike’s suspension changes the riding dynamics, especially if done incorrectly. For example, if you simply slide the fork tubes into the triple clamps, you lower the front end but also change the rake and trail of the bike. Rake is the angle of the fork forward from the top mounting points; trail is the measurement between the imaginary point where an extended fork would contact the ground and the point directly under the axle. Reducing either or both makes the steering quicker and makes the bike tend to turn with less effort. Increasing rake or drag adds steering effort and slows handling while adding straight-line stability. To compensate for these changes, riders sometimes soften the rear shock preload to compensate, but this causes the suspension to lower more easily. Softening the spring preload also slows the rebound action of the shock unless damping is reduced accordingly. When this happens, the available payload is also reduced.
Lowering the links is another method of reducing ride height in the rear, but the corresponding changes in leverage on the shock can create their own problems. Replacing the stock shock or internal shock modifications can alleviate these issues to some extent. They do, however, help to lessen the effect of lowering the front end.
Lowering both ends evenly will slightly reduce drag without affecting the rake; this decreases the nervous sensation induced by the process. Motorcycle designers are always looking for that sweet combination of angles to create a machine that handles the widest range of situations well. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to minimize the negative effects of lowering a bike while retaining many of the benefits of the factory geometry? A hunt for this holy grail is often filled with big expenses and disappointments. Fortunately, there are those like Woody who paved the way for us.
Most riders have had that moment when they wished they could just push a button and the bike would transform into a different kind of machine. At the start of my riding career, I wanted a Triumph 650 Bonneville when I was away from home on my Honda CL 70. Later, while driving my Harley-Davidson Dyna Sport on a rough and rocky road, I yearn for my proven experience Honda XL250. With the Pan America adventure bike, Harley-Davidson actually attempted to bridge that gap by including the Adaptive ride height option. This system that adjusts on the fly, lowering the bike when approaching a stop. But is paying more than $25,000 our only choice?
Woody Witte is a true genius in the motorcycle wheel industry. He has also spent his life helping athletes with disabilities compete in a world where they otherwise couldn’t function by designing and manufacturing special accommodations for para-Olympians and even quadriplegics. Woody’s latest creation is a machine he calls his Yamaha T7GS. Here, Woody applies his expertise in building custom wheels and addresses the need for an inferior version of Yamahais the popular middleweight. His theory is that if a 19-inch front and 17-inch rear setup works for BMWThe flagship of adventure and many other big-bore dual-sport machines, it will also help shorter riders while minimizing typical issues caused by more aggressive lowering methods. Reducing wheel size adds a side benefit by increasing braking efficiency and acceleration, as the smaller diameters have less leverage on the brakes and drivetrain.
At the heart of his Yamaha T7GS “Convertible” are its super strong, Superlaced and artistically designed custom wheels. The wheels alone pull about an inch off the factory 34.4-inch ride height. With its wheels, the bike is almost equally lowered front and rear before the suspension is ever touched. The “convertible” aspect of its creation begins with simply sliding the forks up into the triple clamps, an action it balances with its adjustable lowering links for the rear. The overall effect is a machine that sits over two inches lower but can be converted back to stock or mid-position with ease. Intermediate tuning is accomplished by using its wheels alone and the high position on its lowering links and keeping the forks in their original location. In the lowered configuration, the normally tall and lanky Tenere becomes a drifting Tasmanian Devil on gravel roads and it’s a joy to ride. If desired, the suspension can also be internally modified to match riding style, speed and skill. Touratechfor its part, offers a 35mm front suspension lowering kit to modify the inside of the forks.
Click HERE to learn more about “Tenere 700 Touratech Shock and Fork Spring Install”
The prototype bike used for our test was equipped with a Black Dog protection shield, Black Dog footrest and luggage rack. The incredibly strong skid plate mitigates the risk of engine damage caused by rock impacts on the lowered chassis and the oversized footpegs have the effect of adding power steering to an already nimble machine. Woody’s T7 GS Convertible prototype also came with the head pipe routed closer to the frame and a lightweight muffler, further reducing the bike’s weight.
As cyclists become more adept, they tend to go faster and engage in more difficult terrain. the T7GS Convertible adapts. Woody’s lowering links can be used in the low or stock position by moving a bolt. The strength, looks, and lower ride height aided by its 19/17-inch wheels increase the sheer joy factor of this spirited machine, but if desired, they can be swapped out for the stock 21/ 18 in minutes.
Woody took the guesswork out of lowering a bike and replaced it with a system that just works. We can’t press a button to change the Tenere 700 GS Convertible but it’s damn close.
Resources: WoodysWheelWorks.com | BlackDogCW.com | Touratech-USA.com
bill drago is a BMW Motorrad Certified Off-Road Instructor and owner of DART(Dragoo Adventure Rider Training) in Norman, Oklahoma. All brands are welcome. BillDragoo.com