Dean Baker's review of Race Tech’s Motorcycle Suspension Bible by Paul Thede.

            It’s been a while since I was last assigned to do a book report.  I think it was “Beowulf”, for Freshman English during my formative years at Berkeley.  So, I considered myself a little out of practice when Clay Walley asked me to review Race Tech’s Motorcycle Suspension Bible by Paul Thede.  The book had been sent to Clay by the publisher asking that it be reviewed and discussed in the Club’s newsletter or on the website.  Clay passed it along to me and asked for a report.  I hope you find it useful.

            Most motorcyclists who know the difference between a shock and a fork tube have heard of Race Tech, and many know that Paul Thede is the man behind the company.  He revolutionized motorcycle suspension with his Gold Valves, and has been at the forefront of suspension research and development.  He has passed along his knowledge to countless motorcyclists and suspension tuners through books, videos and classroom courses.   The man knows his business.

            Suspension is an interesting facet of motorcycling.  There are some riders who don’t give it a second thought, blindly accepting that their ride came from the factory perfectly set up for their own individual style.  Others, dissatisfied by the way their bike handles, have a nagging feeling that they should spend a little cash on upgrading their suspenders, but can’t bring themselves to spend money on something nobody’s going to see.  Besides, that new titanium muffler will give them four more horsepower on the top end, and looks a lot better than a set of springs, right?  Then there’s the rider that spends the money for a bike with fully adjustable suspension, but is reluctant to twist the first knob, screw, bolt or whatever to set up that suspension because he just doesn’t know where to begin.  Suspension tuning, like engine tuning, is sometimes considered a dark art understood only by a gifted few.   Besides, all that stuff only matters on “finely tuned race bikes”, right?

            Not anymore.  Race Tech and similar companies have made aftermarket suspension parts for virtually any motorcycle. These parts allow even a casual wrench-turner to make profound improvements in his favorite ride.  For most riders the problem is not the availability of the parts. It’s knowing where to start and having a plan of action to reach the goal.  That’s why a book like Race Tech’s Motorcycle Suspension Bible should be the first “suspension upgrade” you buy.  In order to improve your suspension, you must first know how it works.  Thede spends the first third of the book on suspension theory.  Starting with the basics, Thede goes on to devote chapters to springs, damping, friction and geometry.  The text is supplemented with exceptional illustrations and graphs.  The next several pages are concerned with troubleshooting common problems, recommended changes, and how to test those changes to evaluate the results.  It is clear that suspension tuning is a journey of adjusting, testing, and readjusting.  Thede has a saying, “The best you’ve ridden is the best you know”.   Of course it makes perfect sense, but in suspension work it is a golden rule.  Methodical adjustment and experimentation is the key to success.

The last half of the book is devoted primarily to the practical side of the equation.  Aided by excellent photographs, Thede demonstrates the disassembly and rebuilding of any forks or shocks found on modern motorcycles.  The step by step instructions are prefaced with a description of skill level required, estimated time, and necessary tools.

There are several excellent books on suspension work available on the market.  Kevin Cameron’s Sportbike Performance Handbook and Andrew Trevitt’s Sportbike Suspension Tuning come to mind as exceptional guides on the subject, and without reservation I add Mr. Thede’s book to that short list.  However, while I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Mr. Thede’s book to anyone interested in motorcycle suspension, I would consider it to be a “graduate level” textbook on the subject.  There’s no question Thede knows more about this subject than most mortals, and it is clear that he wants to pass along his knowledge through a pleasant writing style, highly detailed illustrations and graphs.  But be forewarned, while comprehending and applying what he has to say will pay big dividends to any rider, like other “Bibles” it requires a commitment from the reader to fully appreciate the knowledge within. 

Paperback, 256 pages.  List price $34.99, available from Amazon for about $23.

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