Contributed Tech Stuff - Shocks
(You can get a smoother ride too!)

Contributed by F. Robert Falbo

Disclaimer: Information and ideas contained in this section are solely those of the contributor(s) and not those of Harley-Davidson®, Harley-Davidson® of Uica, H.O.G.®, or the Erie Canal H.O.G.® Chapter.

Shocks are often the last thing on many biker's minds. Sure, the real performance orientated bikers put them on their list of modifications to do as they tweek their bikes, but the average rider is usually satisfied with what comes installed from the Factory. That's too bad, because Harley has a record of installing shocks that tend to be middle of the road in performance - that's what most reviewers have said. It's difficult to near impossible to choose a shock that's right for everyone, let alone even most people, so Harley tried to make the best compromise for the average rider. That's why there's such a huge market for replacement shocks for Harleys.

Harley just went to a completely new frame for their Softails, which replaces both their Dyna line and previous Softail line. With the new frame comes a new rear suspension design that uses a mono-shock under thde seat. Reviewers have said that this new design finally corrects many of their complaints about the old Softail & Dyna chassis & suspension.

The Softail Breakout

I bought my first Softail in 2013 - an FXSB "Breakout®". It's Harley's second attempt at a chopper-style bike (The first being their "Rocker®"). I loved the look. Finally a bike that didn't look like a hold-over from the second World War! While I had a lot to do to customise it to where I wanted it, one thing that bothered me was the rear suspension (spelled shocks). The Softail line had moved the shocks from vertically mounted on the outside, as in the Dyna line, to horizontally mounted inside the frame along the bottom of the bike - out of sight. Two shocks, side by side. They were not adjustable, and riding over concrete abutments on a road like route 69 nearly threw me out of the seat at times. Something had to be done.

(Click to view larger images.)

That something presented itself during my research into better shocks. I subscribe to a forum about Softails, and people were raving about a "Shotgun" Shock. It's an air shock that is adjustable on-the-fly. They were having a sale to forum members, so I purchased a pair - or rather I should say I purchased one. Rather than 2 shocks, it came as a single unit with what looked like 2 shocks connected together, plus a small air pump, and 2 switches with assorted wiring and tubing. I removed the OEM shocks and installed the Shotgun Shock. The small air pump mounted under the transmission, and the wiring & tubing connected. The switches were another matter. They were supposed to be mounted on the horn bracked, but the Breakout had the coil mounted in that position and a "meep, meep" horn mounted between the front downtubes. I temporarily mounted the switches by the seat, and eventually ended up mounting them on the left handlebar in a switch box Harley sells to add extra switches. I couldn't believe the difference an air shock made in the ride! It absorbed bumps that would have given me a compressed spine with the old shocks. The two switches allowed me to adjust for softness and rebound on-the-fly, and if I want to pretend I have a low-boy I can let the air out when I park it and lower the rear fender down to it's stops - then raise it back up to ride when I get back on. I wouldn't have any other shock on that bike.

The Street Glide Special

(Click to view
larger image)

For their Touring line, they've kept the same frame for now, but added "adjustable" rear shocks, or rather I should say an adjustable shock, period. When I purchased my '17 Street Glide Special, the ability to adjust the shocks was something I noted since I'd had to replace the rear shocks on my Softail. Right away I noticed that it came adjusted way too stiff for me so I tried adjusting it according to what the manual said, but no matter what I did, it was still too stiff. Too many times I was being jarred by our NYS roads. It was time to take a closer look at that adjustable shock. I couldn't believe what I saw - only the left shock was adjustable! I'd presumed that the two shocks were connected somehow, and adjusting the left shock adjusted both, but no - the right shock was unadjustable. (see picture)

Anyone that's worked on cars can tell you that when you replace shocks, you replace them in pairs so that their performance is matched from one side of the car to the other. Well, the same is true of Motorcycles - you want the shocks's performance matched between the left and right sides. I'm not a Harley engineer, so I don't know the reasoning behind their one-shock adjustment idea - maybe because the shocks are so close together - but let's just say that it didn't work for me. No matter how I adjusted it, the ride was uncomfortable for 'my' 190 pound old chassis.

Revo-A shock Rebound Adj. Spring Rate
(Click to view larger images.)

I decided to replace the Factory rear suspension (shock/spring) with a suspension where both could be adjusted. My first choice was air shocks from Shotgun Shocks, but their new Bagger shocks were a year backlogged. My second choice was Olins, but they weren't made in the US and weren't adjustable. My third choice was Legend Revo-A shocks. They were made for my bike, made in the USA, and adjustable for both rate and rebound, so I ordered a pair. After I installed them I tried adjusting them to what I thought would be best for me, but had poor results until a call to Legend Tech Support enlightened me as to what I was doing wrong. With proper instruction I was finally able to adjust them for a comfortable ride, and now I'm much happier.

Now that Harley has redesigned the Softail frame there's speculation that they'll redesign the Touring frame around the same idea. Only Harley knows for sure.

The Nitty Gritty

Manufacturer Model Part Number Price Application
Shotgun Shocks Softail frame Specify your Softail $1400.00 '89 & up Softails - depends on year & options
Legend Suspensions 13" Revo-A 1310-0959 $924.95 2017 SG,SGS,RG,RGS

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