Coming to terms with Showa’s SFF

SFF = Separate Function Fork. One of the biggest reasons why the tag of being a ‘versatile machine’ actually makes sense for the Versys.

The stock set up: It’s true that Kawasaki has got the suspension setting spot on for the Versys 650 in India. When I went out for my first few rides, I was thrilled about how planted and supple it felt on the good and bad roads. My confidence in the suspension grew so much that I stopped caring about small pot holes and sometimes even the smaller speed breakers. The true joy of long-travel suspension and an insane stock set up. This is easily what makes Versys a special experience.  

Service time: When I gave my motorcycle for its second service (6000km), there were some issues as to whether Kawasaki or KTM should do it and finally KTM service center did it. I was 100% sure that it was the first time the mechanic was servicing a Versy 650 but wasn’t left with much choice. I had to ride to Bengaluru that weekend. Plus, what can one really mess up if it’s just about washing and topping up the lubricants?

Versys 650 2nd Service.jpg

Apparently, it can be messed up. For some reason, the mechanic had adjusted with the front and rear suspension. (God knows for what reason as it’s not a part of the service requirements). He didn’t bother to let me know. During my ride to Bengaluru something started to feel off-color.

The not so comfortable ride: It was my second ride to Bengaluru and this one seemed to hurt my shoulders and the bike wasn’t taking the bad roads too well. In fact, it was reminding me of how I felt when I was riding my R15 on the same roads a few years ago (except, that these seats were really comfortable).   On my way back, it became very obvious to me that something was wrong with the suspension. Dammit! It just killed the joy of that entire trip. Only reprieve being this beautiful picture my friend took when I was there.


Understanding the adjustable suspension: It became very apparent that I had to fix the suspension. That meant asking someone for help or trying to fix it by myself. I decided to go to Louis (the only guy at Hyderabad KTM service I trust these days) and we started going through the service manual together to figure out how to get it back to stock set up that I loved so much. What we immediately identified was that the fork spring preload  & rebound damper (tension) were set to the hardest.

After hunting around the service manual, we put it back to stock setting. It felt much better but it was still nowhere close to how it felt when I first rode it. Emotions that followed were disappointment, frustration, and finally helplessness. What seemed to be the biggest comfort had become my biggest grudge. With every passing day, the resentment kept increasing.

What I didn’t realize at that time was that I didn’t read the instructions as carefully as I should have. The rebound count is from fully clockwise position but the preload was actually from fully counterclockwise position. In my frustration or maybe excitement in getting it fixed, I counted both from clockwise position. Stupid me!

Still the same bad feeling: No amount of reading or asking around got me there. The only good thing that came out of it was that I was forced to work on the suspension even if I didn’t want to. I tried again and again but no progress whatsoever. Some days, the bike was jumping off every speed breaker and other days, it didn’t even respond to them. Sadly, the feeling of riding an exotic bike wasn’t there anymore.

A friend indeed: All this continued until a dear friend from US gave me surprise visit and was kind enough to teach me how to adjust suspensions. The same friend who once took me to Moto Guild, the place where he fixes and rebuilds his own motorcycles.

Moto Guild San Francisco.jpg

2 hours later, my friend confirmed that the suspension is closest to it’s base setting. The most amazing thing was that he was able to set it up for my weight and riding style even without riding the motorcycle. He even guessed it was a little stiff and I should play with it after every ride until I feel the suspension it just about perfect.

Riding after the manual set up:  Two weeks and several 5-10km rides and a couple of long rides later, it is almost close to the best set up it’s been and I don’t even know how many clicks/rotations in or out it was at. However, on my next long trip (about 300km), I realized that both the front and rear where just too stiff and I was still continuing to wear out faster than usual. I had learned how preload and dampening worked and what turning left or right really did to the motorcycle. But, I still wan’t getting to the same feeling as the stock no matter how many times I tried.

A day full of researching: One fine day, after reading as many articles as I could about Versys 650 suspensions including a stunning post called “The science & black magic of suspension setup“, I decided it was time to play around and this time start from the stock set up all over again.

Eureka: Then just like that, the Eureka moment. As I read the stock set up on the service manual again,  I realized the clockwise and counterclockwise blunder I had done. By now, with the number of settings I had tried, I was a pro at turning in or out. I did exactly what the manual said:

Rebound: 2 1/2 turns out from the fully clockwise position.

Preload: 6 1/2 turns in from the fully counterclockwise position.

Rear preload: 1 click from fully counterclockwise position


3000km later: I finally felt light headed and cheerful on my most recent trip. So much for an adjustable suspension. So much for well trained mechanics. So much for owning an expensive motorcycle and not having peace of mind. Sigh!