Wilbers Shocks on R1200ST - REVIEW
Well, as many of you know, I started upgrading my suspension after the rear shock failed at ~18,000 miles. My first hint of trouble was that every time I set sag for a trip with luggage, I had to dial in more and more rebound damping to the point that I had dialed all there was to dial and the bike pogoed in my driveway by just sitting on it hard.***REAR SHOCK***
So I began research for a new rear shock. My choices were Ohlins, Wilbers and Hyperpro. Unfortunately I had never heard of anyone putting Hyperpros on a R1200ST and they werent clear on fitment from the online resources I could find so I quickly narrowed it down to Ohlins and Wilbers. MY goal was not to get the best shock, per se, but rather to get the least problematic. I wanted tried and true fitment with enough adjustability to handle preload properly and adjust damping on the bike. I called Ted at Ted Porter's BMW in the bay area (SF) and had a nearly hour long conversation about all the options for both Ohlins and Wilbers.
In the end, higher quality fit and finish, cheaper options and customized approach decided me. I went with Ted despite having to pay state sales tax, becasue he put in the effort and I am a big fan of voting with my dollars. I ordered a rear shock with a spring 5 lbs over stock for my 200+ lbs of meat and equipment, along with a hydraulic remote preload adjuster.INSTALATION
Installing a rear spring/shock on an R1200ST is quite simple: take off the exhaust, rear wheel and seat, support the swing arm, loosen all fasteners and swap out. The only tricky part about the installation was that the sleeve in the bottom shock mounting eye had moved slightly so that the shock could not be initially installed. A quick squeeze from a pair of channel locks quickly rectified the situation and I was done.
Unfortunately as soon as I sat on the bike I realized that the remote preload adjuster had not been thought out well. With preload cranked all the way out, the hydraulic preload adjuster handle stuck out at exactly the wrong angle to hit my ankle. Now, I could find a reasonably comfortable position if I kept my toes and forward part of my foot hanging off the peg, but if I rode on the peg with the ball of my foot, the handle repeatedly hit my ankle while riding - not good. In fact this was nearly a deal killer and I seriously considered sending it back. I think it's clear that the R1200ST application was hastily designed and not much effort has been taken by Wilbers to improve upon the initial design.
So I had my riding buddy check it out and he, being somewhat more handy than I, offered to make a modified bracket to move the mounting location up and in by an inch or two. Some sawing, drilling, sanding, painting and clear coat later the piece was done. This did the trick for my size 11(us) clod-hoppers. PERFORMANCE
The rear shock did what was expected of it. Firm, yet not harsh, kept the rear planted, especially over uneven ground, and has plenty of damping adjustment. The factory setting for preload is not so hot, requiring 2/3 of the remote preloader's adjustability to properly set sag for just me and my gear despite the fact that I gave them accurate weights and that it is apparently not recommended to always keep the hydraulic preloader under load for fear of seals eventually leaking. There are several documented cases of this on this forum in the last few months. Ted's response to this is to send the shock back to him and he will change the position of the remote preloader so that it is not under continuous load for one-up riding.
Unfortunately, I can *not* adjust the preload for two-up riding, and I can barely get the sag set properly for solo touring with the two side bags only partially filled (using city lids - only 15-18lbs each). Even to get close, I had to have the suspect hydraulic preloader set to maximum; something Ted says not to do if at all possible. This says to me that Wilbers' factory setting for the R1200ST is woefully off. I think it's probable that they just checked fitment and then guessed at weights and never went back to see if their applicaiton chart was correct. Expect the preload to be incorrect if ordering this shock for the ST.***FRONT SHOCK***
After a few months with the new rear shock and a renewed appreciation for the handling of my bike along with increased confidence in its handling, I started riding the bike more aggressively. The front felt mushy with the stock shock, and I could tell that I was at its limits considering the vague road feel and the improper sag. Having saved my Xmas fund, my B-day fund and my Valentine's fund, I had finally amassed enough ducats to spring for the front shock to match the rear. I called Ted and ordered the front shock without the remote preload adjuster on his recommendation. The quoted time was 2-4 weeks, but from the date of order to my front door was actually closer to 7 weeks. INSTALLATION
The front shock is a bit more complicated to install than the rear. Before I got the Wilbers I removed the old shock. I put the bike on the center stand, tilted the back until the rear tire was on the ground, and put a block of wood under the engine. All the plastic must be removed, and the gas tank as well. This was the first time I had removed the gas tank on the ST so it was quite educational. Don't forget to dismount the charcoal canister on the right of the tank! While a bit time consuming, there was no serious drama and the bike disassembled as per the Haynes manual I was working with.
Getting the old shock out seemed to be easy too: remove the lower bolt, remove the top nut, and... um... it won't come out. There is no room to drop the shock down enough to get the top stud of the shock to clear the upper frame. So after reading a bit here on the forums, I decided to try taking off the alternator cover. That provided enough clearance to remove the original shock by dropping it between the alternator belt and the wishbone of the telelever. I spent a nervous few days waiting on my Wilbers, hoping it would fit in as the stock shock came out.
Whew! It fit. I have been given to understand that the Ohlins front shock uses a larger diameter spring that will *not* fit between the wishbone and the alternator. In this case you would need to remove the front wheel and allow the front suspension to drop significantly further to allow you to install the shock from the side, tilted in above the wishbone.
The next problem I encountered was that the top stud of the Wilbers had no hex socket machined in! The manual I have specifies a torque setting for that nut, so I really wanted to make sure I torqued it to proper setting. Phil has pictures of his front Wilbers shock having the hex socket, so this is a manufacturing change (I assume to save money) that seems like a tremendous oversight considering the premium nature of the product.
Unfortunately when I tried, I got only half the torque on it and the shock body began spinning. There are no flat spots, and vise-gripping the top of the stud only resulted in chewing the crap out of the top 4-5 threads. Using my ghetto mechanic skills, I hack sawed a slot in the top of the stud and tapped in a trusty craftsman flat head. With my strong neighbor holding the screwdriver in place with a 90deg vise grip, I began to torque down the nut. I barely got a quarter turn and the tip of the screwdriver twisted up!!! Ouch.
So I put in a call to Ted to find out how they do it at the shop. The following day he returned my call and said they just run the nut down with a deep well impact socket and call it good when it stops spinning. He never noticed when Wilbers changed the stud to not have the hex socket in it. After consulting with some guys on the board, I decided to call it "tight enough".PERFORMANCE
Unfortunately, since I have no remote preload adjuster and I bunged up the stud, I cannot set preload without disassembling the bike (although Phil says a screwdriver and hammer might get up in there, I don't trust my banging skills). Sag was as follows:
32mm static sag (29%)
45mm dynamic sag (41%)
Now according to Ted, the Wilbers engineers at his training in Germany said they want 25-30% static sag with 10mm more dynamic. He specifically said that he was taught *not* to look at the front dynamic sag as a percentage, but rather as 10mm more than the static sag. He said this is to insure proper spring rate, although I admit I don't understand why the % method I have always used isn't appropriate here. FWIW. Again, Wilbers is not setting these up with enough preload from the factory, just like the rear shock.
While I clearly need to bump the preload up a bit (I am using nearly all the front travel, and bottoming out over severe bumps), the bike handles like a dream. Because my front spring is somewhat stiffer than stock, the ride was taut but not jouncy. The bike settled into heavy lean angles with no drama and tracked turns smoothly. Road feedback was night and day better than the stock shock/spring. Freeway expansion joints were slightly more noticeable, but there was no pogoing and the ride, while firm, was not harsh.
I expected (based on the factory lack of preload) the front to be somewhat mushy and lack feel. I admit I was wrong. My riding buddy said "Your suspension is better than mine" - referring to his FZ6 with custom springs and heavier fork oil. My own seat of the pants comparison of his sport-standard compared to the ST was that the ST tracked better, did not dance around over pavement imperfections and delivered comparable road feel which I did not think was possible with a telelever front end.
Despite my misgivings, it was very fun to ride. I had my doubts that the front shock would make much difference since I had always heard itís the rear shock that makes the most difference, but I have orange peel coming off my BT-016's all the way to the edge from really getting into the corners. It's safe to say this has been a confidence booster.***CONCLUSION***
Clearly the Wilbers represents an upgrade over stock. The improved road feel from the front shock was worth the price of entry alone. However, the "custom" aspect of waiting for 7 weeks to get a shock from Germany set up specifically for you seems strictly a marketing gimmick to paper over long order times and lack of local supply. Ohlins will give you a spring for your weight, but makes no attempt at choosing your preload for you. Wilbers gives you an appropriate spring, but their lack of accuracy on preload is both annoying and shows a lack of interest in quality control. Both of my shocks, several other reviews I have read, and Ted all agree that they do not put enough preload for the specified weight. This would only be mildly annoying if you have a remote preload adjuster. But since the hydraulic adjuster is of dubious durability, the lack of correct preload from the factory is downright irritating.
One of the reasons I went with Wilbers over Ohlins in the first place was to get a more custom fit that I would not have to fuss with much. Add on to this the unusable location for the rear shock remote adjuster and I get the feeling that Wilbers was just mailing it in on the R1200ST application. While I have managed (with a lot of help) to get the bracket fixed, and the top nut of the front shock on to my satisfaction, my goal of having a tried-and-true installation was certainly not met. Expect to futz with these shocks a bit.
Would I go Wilbers again? I don't know. While the intangibles of build quality seem to lean Wilbers, the fitment issues and lack of attention to detail combined with the apparently fragile rear hydraulic preloader make me want to try Ohlins instead. Also, replacement shocks, especially if on a trip, would be far easier to get from Ohlins with their larger American dealer network.
Regardless of Wilbers versus Ohlins, The enhanced road feel and traction are a serious upgrade that I admit I was doubtful I would be able to tell. Having springs appropriate to my weight (205lbs with gear) and easily adjustable damping makes dialing in mountain roads a breeze. My confidence level in this bike and with my riding is at an all time high.PROS
* Enhanced road feel, especially from the front shock
* Firm but not harsh ride
* Easily adjustable damping both front and rear
* Easily adjustable preload for rear
* Cool blue (or black) spring color
* Competitive price, especially with optionsCONS
* Long order time
* Lack of local supply
* Custom is not custom
* Front shock stud not torquable
* Weak seals on rear hydraulic remote preload adjuster
* Asinine mounting location for rear remote adjusterGRADE
Quality = B
Performance = A
Price = B+
Looks = A
Installation = COverall Grade: B+