Suspension and Chassis Upgrades to the V-Max Project Bike

Hitting stride

Cruiser tones up the V-Max with upgrades to the suspension and chassis.Evans Brasfield

This article was originally published in the February 2002 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

We’ve often said that when you change a bike from stock form you enter into a world of give and take. While a stock bike’s design has inherent compromises, the manufacturers usually focus on all-around rideability. As customizers, we generally make changes based on style or improving just a single area of the motorcycle’s performance. Often—but not always—those modifications come at the expense of another area of performance. Sometimes, though, you can continue your alterations and dial out the issues you created.

When we had Kosman graft billet rims to the stock hubs, we were looking to mount some of the sticky Michelin Pilot Sports available for today's sport bikes. Also, by fitting a smaller diameter front wheel, we hoped to quicken the V-Max's steering a bit by decreasing the rake and lowering the rotating mass. We were successful on both counts. Maybe even too successful.

honeycombed carbon fiber core
The honeycombed carbon fiber core of the brace creates an extremely rigid but light component. And this is the only actual carbon fiber on our V-Max, despite the carbon “look” bodywork.Evans Brasfield

The V-Max has never been known for its handling prowess. Increasing the tires’ grip increased the loads placed on the chassis. We tried upping the air pressure in the fork which has the same effect as bumping up the preload. Unfortunately, once we got the front set up for spirited riding, the ride became harsh in anything but commando mode. The rear suffered from similar symptoms. Setting the rebound damping at position four to dial out some of the boinginess did help though. Finally, in sweeping corners the frame failed to keep the wheels in line when tracking over irregularities in the pavement’s surface. The rougher the road, the more the flex was apparent.

Playing Doctor

For our suspension upgrades, we slipped on a pair of Progressive Suspension 440 shocks. The $495 shocks are stock length, helping to maintain original ride height in the rear. Thanks to the V-Max's center stand, all that was required to swap out the shocks was a half hour, a 14mm wrench, a 10mm socket, and a dab of grease. While the 440s don't offer any damping adjustment, preload is adjustable without any tools. Just turn the top collar on the shock clockwise to increase the preload. We found one turn from full soft offered correct sag for Max and our rider.

Installing this bracket
Installing this bracket requires a little dexterity. The scraped knuckles are worth it though.Evans Brasfield

Adding a set of Progressive Suspension’s progressive rate springs ($75) is messier and a slightly more time-consuming activity. The beauty of progressively wound springs is that the initial movement is relatively soft, but as the suspension compresses deeper into its range of travel, the tighter wound portion takes over, firming up the spring and helping to prevent bottoming.

The last addition we made for our initial suspension upgrades was a Carbon Honeycomb Sub-frame kit manufactured in Japan by Active (makers of some very cool sport bike parts) and imported into the U.S. by T.A.W. Vehicle Concepts, Inc. The moment we stumbled on these $425 carbon-fiber frame braces, we had to order them. We’ve seen some nifty billet braces (Active makes one of those, too) and all manner of creations people have bolted to V-Maxes to stiffen things up, but these were by far the trickest.

Progressive spring
The Progressive spring (left) is noticeably tighter wound with a heavier gauge steel than the stocker.Evans Brasfield

Installation required some dexterity. The brackets that mount to the frame’s backbones must slip under wiring and hoses before they can be rotated into the proper position to align with the brace. All of the hardware is sturdy, and the subframes mounted with only a minimum of jimmying. The only problem encountered was some cracking and flaking of the clearcoat over the carbon fiber where two of the bolts tightened down. We’ve contacted T.A.W. and were assured that the chips are cosmetic. The life of the brace should be unaffected.

The Proving Ground

Performance testing is one of the pleasures of this job. Out in the local canyon, our Max didn’t suffer from the old bob-and-weave as before. Instead, the ride was firm without being overly harsh. The fork still tended to hydraulically lock over large, sharp-edged bumps, but that is more a function of damping-rod forks than the spring. Sweeping corners still caused the bike to wobble a bit. However, the frame was much more rigid with the frame brace installed. The wobble had been transformed from confidence-zapping to hardly noticeable. Also, the chassis no longer felt like it was winding up like a spring when it hit compression bumps in sweepers.

440 shock
Progressive Suspension’s 440 shock offers preload adjustability with your bare hands. We found the damping characteristics to be an improvement.Evans Brasfield

Finally, our project V-Max is coming into its own. From here we’ll move into performance mods which are certain to take this rocket ship into another world.