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Motorcycle Steering Damper
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Motorcycle Steering Damper

This article will explain the motorcycle steering damper. This part is mispronounced and misunderstood. It's not a dampener. It's a damper. This is a safety device used primarily on sportbikes and sport touring bikes.

What is a motorcycle steering damper?

A steering damper is a device attached to the forks and the motorcycle frame. The purpose is to control unwanted movement of the forks from side to side. The damper provides a resistance force to slow down the forks from turning left or right. The steering damper might be electric or hydraulic. The damper is easily adjustable by the rider even on the fly. The rider adjusts the forks resistance to turning left or right by adjusting dials and feeling clicks.

Why do I need a damper?

If you are a stunter, you need one to stabilize the front end when you are doing a stoppie or when you want the forks to be hard to turn. The touring rider wants a damper to make the bike hold a straight line better on the highway. The rider will become less fatigued on those long freeway rides.

The sportbike rider wants a steering damper to prevent a "tank slapper" number one. The rider may want more stability when negotiating fast corners. The damper will slow down the steering and provide heavy resistance to turning in quickly. It is advised to adjust the damper a few "clicks" at a time. If the damper is adjusted full hard, you may not be able to turn the bike at all!

The sportbike rider also likes a damper when the front wheel may be in the air during hard acceleration either in a straight line or when exiting a corner and the front wheel is dancing off the tarmac.. The damper will prevent the forks from wiggling from side to side when the front wheel is off the ground

What types of dampers are there?

There is the rotary or friction type, the hydraulic piston type and the electronic damper. The rotary type is used by stunters and many touring riders. It is highly adjustable with dials and levers to adjust damping force.

The hydraulic piston damper is used more by road racers and drag racers. It's lighter and can be more compact. It's usually more expensive. There are a many sportbikes equipped with these hydraulic piston dampers from the factory.

The electronic dampers are usually provided by the individual sportbike manufacturer and are model specific. There are Honda sportbikes equipped with electronic dampers. These can be very compact.

OEM Dampers:

Sportbikes designed to be track ready are usually equipped with a steering damper. I have experience with the Ohlins dampers installed on Kawis as OEM equipment and some older Ducatis. There is an issue with these Ohlins hydraulic piston dampers on the Kawasakis.

These Ohlins dampers are dumbed down versions of the aftermarket Ohlins steering damper. The valving is modified so that the damping force can only be adjusted so far. The resistance to steering input can only be lightly controlled on these OEM Kawasaki/Ohlins dampers. These Kawi dampers can be easily re-valved at a cost of about $100.

The Ohlins dampers on the Ducati have the full strength valving. When this damper is adjusted to full hard, the bars cannot be turned at all. Having the full adjustment capabilities is a real asset when cornering hard at the track. Just a firm push on the bar will cause the bike to arc around the turn. Course the Ducati is the best turning sportbike ever produced in many expert's opinion.

Aftermarket Damper Brands:

We just talked about the Ohlins brand. Ohlins is the macdaddy of steering dampers as well as high end motorcycle forks and shocks. Ohlins is based in Sweden.

GPR dampers are very popular with stunters and sportbike riders in general. The GPR brand is the rotary type. The company provides excellent customer service. The dampers can be sent back to the factory for service at a very low cost. GPR dampers are available in many colors too.

Another rotary damper is made by Scotts. This damper is at the top of the rotary damper pecking order. It's actually engineered by Ohlins. It's gold in color with contrasting black knobs and levers. It's the most expensive of the rotary dampers too. Big surprise, right? There's a photo of a Scotts steering damper in the corner. The damper is mounted to a Kawisaki ZX14. You can see the mounting brackets that come in the kit. The retail on this damper is right at $500.

Hiper-pro makes an excellent piston type damper. Pitbull makes an excellent rotary damper. If I were in the market for a damper, I'd buy an Ohlins or a Scottts personally. Go online and do your research. Make an informed decision. Pick your online vendor carefully too. The best price isn't always the best place to buy.

Can I install my new damper myself?

Yes you can my friend. You need some metric tools and a few hours at most. Read the installation instructions. Then read them again. It helps if you have a factory service manual for your bike. You have one, right? They can usually be downloaded from sportbike forums in PDF form. You could buy the actual paperback service manual for your bike. It might cost you as much as a hundred bucks. Just download the PDF.

How do I adjust my Damper?

There is a knurled silver dial that rotates clockwise and counterclockwise on the Ohlins damper. Every little rotation results in a click stop. There maybe 18 clicks of adjustment for a hydraulic piston damper. The Scotts rotary damper has 2 dials for adjustment. There is high speed adjustment and low speed adjustment. These are click stops too I believe. I've never used a Scotts personally so I'm not positive about the click stops.

It is wise to make small adjustments at a time no matter which type od damper you have purchased. A little bit can sometimes make a large difference in steering resistance. If you adjust too much at one time, the steering may become so stiff that you can hardly move the bars.

How much does a damper Cost?

You maybe able to find the GPR damper online for $350.00. This is probably the lowest price you will find for a new sportbike steering damper. Used dampers are available on ebay and on sportbike forums. You be the judge. The Ohlins damper with the brackets to fit your bike is going to be in the $600.00 range. Look around online. Buy from a reputable vendor. If it costs a little more, it's worth it if there aren't any problems with back-orders and shipping.

Conclusion:

I hope you learned a little bit about steering dampers. This is a specialty item. Not every sportbike rider can afford one or actually needs one. I got my Ohlins/Kawi damper re-valved at dankyleracing. I have it adjusted pretty hard. I like the hard resistance to turning and the stability I get when cornering. Enjoy your new damper.


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