#SheRides – Make Your Little Bike Feel Like a Big Bike: Upgrade Your Forks!
The thoughts and opinions of a woman who's always on the go...riding two wheels!
I’ll just come out and say it: Being a woman motorcycle rider has its downsides. What I’m about to say is simply a generalization—it obviously does not apply to all female riders. From my experience, I find that women prefer bikes that have a low seat height and are light—especially when first starting out to ride. This seems like an obvious statement, as the reasons for this are common sense…but you’d be surprised.
Since the majority of women prefer shorter, lighter bikes, they most often choose a small bike (in regards to horsepower/cc’s) as their first bike, or for that matter, as their one and only for the rest of their riding days. If it’s the latter, that’s totally cool as little bikes can certainly be just as much fun as big bikes, so there’s no reason to go big unless you personally want to.
Unfortunately, if you pick up a small bike you usually have to deal with inadequate suspension. Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem and the easiest way is to get some front-end feel on your bike by picking up a set of good quality fork cartridges.
Despite having crappy forks, little bikes can be fun. They can be even more fun once they get that fork upgrade!
Why do you want ample front-end feel? You want this if you primarily take your moto out for joy rides. When you go into a corner, you want to feel more confident that you’ll make it. The best way of being more confident in those corners is by ensuring that the bike provides you feedback, which all starts with a good set of forks. So what is a good set of forks? In my opinion, ones that are adjustable.
As I've gained confidence on the race track and have started pushing my limits, I've begun to out grow the limited performance of my 250's stock front-end. Simply put, I got to the point where every time I went hot into a corner I felt as if the front wheel was going to wash-out underneath me. As a beginning rider you may not know exactly what feeling from your front wheel means, but what you do probably feel, is a lack of overall confidence. And making just a small investment in your front suspension will go a long was toward making you a more confident rider.
All right! So now that I convinced you that you need to change out those makeshift forks, let me tell you what I’ve done. Since I own and race a Kawasaki Ninja 250, I decided to go with the Andreani Group for cartridges, which cost me around $470. This price may seem a bit high, but it's actually pretty reasonable compared to other options out in the market that can often run you at least $1000.
Additionally, the installation is pretty damn easy, especially when you have a kick ass boyfriend to help teach you when you eagerly wanted to learn how to do it. Even if you don’t have anyone to teach you or guide you along the way, it’s really simple and quick to install. Any moto gal who regularly slings a wrench is absolutely up to the task.
Time to Get a Little Messy
Below I will provide a step-by-step guide on how to change out your fork cartridges for a Ninja 250. I want to emphasize that even though I’m installing the Andreani’s, these steps can be applied for the majority of any other fork cartridge brands out there. That being said, there may be some differences to these steps depending on what bike you’re installing these on. Okay, so let’s go started:
1. Dissemble the bike: take fairings and front wheel off; loosen bolts and take forks off. (Note: If you don’t know how to do this step, back away from your bike and hire someone else to do your forks.)
2. Take fork cap off by compressing and removing the snap ring; drain all the fork oil.
3. Remove the cartridge-retaining bolt from the fork lower.
4. Remove dust seal and snap ring.
5. Slide hammer the inner fork tube out. (This can be a workout so get in shape!)
6. Remove slider bushings.
7. Then remove reducer bushing by using a lathe (we happened to have one just lying around).
(Note: You can also use an angle grinder; however, using a lathe makes your cut more precise. Using a lathe also allows you to see if your fork tube is bent, which one of mine just so happened to be. You can also go to a machine shop and have them do it for a few bucks.)
8. Install new bushings on tube and put back into the fork lower. (old bushings pictured.)
9. Get bushing squarely seated in the hole, then put in washer and oil seal. Put dust seal back on. (Note: Having the proper tool for this makes it way easier; however, we did not have it on hand. We had to improvise.)
10. Clean everything before reassembling! Junk can also get in the valving and cause premature wear, so clean, clean, clean! Also a good tip: Rebound is on the right and compression goes on the left—make sure to grab the proper insert.
PJ1 isn't kidding when they call this product "Super Cleaner."
11. Remove top cap, springs and spacers from the cartridge. Then put the cartridge goes back into the tube. Screw in bottom leg bolt and tighten to factory spec.
12. Pour in new oil.
13. Bleed the air out of the valving by taking insert and moving it up and down. Another tip: If you put the fork cap loosely on, you will minimize the amount of oil that can spill everywhere.
14. Once air is all out, fill with more oil, and then set the height (the height information is supplied with the fork kit) without the spring. Take a fork oil level tool to do this. Keep drawing the oil out until it draws air.
15. Put spring back with printed number facing up.
16. Install the fork cap. Make sure to follow the instructions provided by Andreani in regards to how to set the adjusters.
17. Once the fork cap is screwed on, tighten it and bring the tube all the way up. Put the wire ring on and you're done. Now you can go have big bike fun on your little bike!
READ MORE: Dr. Moto: Demystifying the Dyno | RideApart
Easy right? Please feel free to leave a question in the comments section below if you have any questions in regards to the Andreani Group fork cartridges, or if you have general fork-related questions.