The future of suspension is unfolding right in front of our eyes. In a few short years, screwdrivers and shock-preload spanners will be a distant memory. For many current BMW and Ducati owners, they already are.
But what if you don’t like the performance of your factory-issued electronic suspension or the range of its adjustments? Or what if you want electronic adjustability and your bike didn’t come equipped with such a system? High-performance Swedish suspension company Öhlins, who not only co-developed Ducati’s electro-units for the Multistrada, has now released its Mechatronic aftermarket upgrade for the ESA-equipped BMW R1200GS; a kit for the Kawasaki ZX-10R is in the works.
Mechatronic has been in development for years. Back in 2007, Noriyuki Haga won Race 2 at Donington Park’s World Superbike event aboard a factory Yamaha YZF-R1 outfitted with an early prototype of Öhlins’ system. Aftermarket electronic suspension was banned from WSBK beginning in 2008.
The TTX-based, BM670 ESA replacement kit for the GS includes a pair of EC (electronically controlled) shocks, ECU, wiring harness and all other necessary pieces. One detail that is different from the ESA’s electro-hydraulic preload actuation is that the Öhlins front damper needs manual adjustment; easy access to the unit and cost savings were deciding factors.
Biggest benefit to the system is the use of twin-tube TTX shocks, which segregates compression and rebound damping into different circuits. A pair of tubes resides one inside the other, with the piston inside the innermost tube. The design allows fluid to be controlled on the up and down strokes without allowing rebound adjustments to affect compression and vice versa.
Serviceability is another plus, as customers have the possibility to change spring rates and also rebuild units.
Functions on the Öhlins system are selected in the same manner as BMW’s ESA and use standard dash screen icons. Rear preload is set by selecting solo rider, rider with luggage or pillion rider, while damping is selected from Comfort, Normalor Sport in street mode or Soft, Normalor Hard in soft- or hard-terrain Enduro modes. A unique feature is a Smart-EC function that automatically increases or reduces damping with speed when Comfort is selected. The ECU also allows future updates to be uploaded for improved damping curves as Öhlins gains more knowledge. Plans to create a rider interface that would allow the bike owner to alter values—similar to what is possible on a Dynojet or Bazazz Performance fuel-injection computer—are under development, too.
We had the opportunity to ride an otherwise-stock Öhlins-equipped GS back-to-back with a standard model on a wide variety of roads, including smooth twisties, freeway and a super-rough, paved dual-sport road with large, jumplike waterbars. Most impressive was the enhanced front-end feedback and total lack of wallowing that we had encountered on the standard GS. Another improvement is that the bike no longer squatted under acceleration. Steering felt considerably more precise, while heavy braking no longer caused front-end grip to feel vague.
On rough sections of pavement in Enduro mode, the Öhlins suspension’s preload could be set stiff to reduce bottoming without adversely affecting small-bump compliance.
On the freeway, we selected Comfort/solo rider and found the damping stiffer than stock, allowing sharp bumps to be more pronounced. We felt, however, that the slightly harsher ride was a fair tradeoff for the dramatically improved overall performance.
At $3279, the BMW GS Öhlins kit doesn’t come cheaply, but compared to BMW’s stock dampers, it seems like a bargain. According to Irv Seaver Motorcycles in Orange, California, replacing the stock ESA shocks on a GS would cost around $3800 (plus labor) if damaged, as the units aren’t serviceable. Next in the lineup will be a kit for the long-travel R1200GS Adventure, followed by the aforementioned ZX-10R.
Details about the TTX36 Mk II EC shock for the 10R are few, but we do know that it will communicate with the stock ECU and utilize on-bike sensors. It will be semi-active in the sense that it will continuously react to rider input and also alter how it responds based on selected power and TC settings, then adjust rebound and compression damping accordingly.
Öhlins has our attention, and if the ZX-10R shock improves the already outstanding performance of that bike like it transformed the GS, we predict that it’s only a matter of time before clickers are a thing of the past on sportbikes and high-end motorcycles.