On a recent fly and ride I had the chance to ride a completely stock 2012 Road King for a few hundred miles through the Blue Mountains of Australia. During this most enjoyable ride I thought about the pieces of a bike that could be changed, should be changed and absolutely need to be changed. After taking a few overzealous corners and failing to recover, as I’m accustomed, it was clear that suspension is the one thing that can make or break a great ride.
I’m used to riding bikes (over the past few years) with a number of “light” customizations done.
- Pipes -D & D Fat Cat, Bassani 2:1 or Yaffe 2:1
- Breathers and tuners -Big Sucker, PM etc
- Bars – Carlini or Yaffe apes (beach bars on one bike)
- Wheels – Ride Right (worst-made wheels known to mankind) or a few others that have held up better such as Renegade or RC Components
- Seats – Normally by La Perra, Corbin, Performance Machine or Mustang
- Motor work – Cams – Woods 777 on one bike and an upgraded 120R on another.
- Suspension – almost always Progressive 944 in rear and monotube up front
Each part provides an element of enjoyment to the rider. Pipes look good, offer a slight performance increase and can make a bike really fit the sound profile.
Breathers are a no-brainer once a pipe is done but may not be a great stand-alone change.
Bars add a tremendous comfort, as stock bars can be rough for some riders. Unfortunately when you change the bars, most people need to change cables, controls, grips and mirrors to go with their new bars.
Wheels are really a cosmetic change that will impact the riding style but not normally in a game-changingly positive way.
Seats – A lousy seat can make long rides miserable. I rode my LaPera on an iron butt and a total of 3,500 miles last Memorial Day Weekend. After the ride the thought of sitting on any chair void of an icepack was a dreaded task. The seat turns heads (for better or worse) but isn’t made for such an intensive riding experience. The stock seat is not perfect and looks bulky but is flat enough where the rider can move around without being stuck in one spot.
Motorwork will undoubtedly add a bunch of power but this can become a pricey endeavor. If you’re short on funds, should you only change the cams (if that’s the extent of your bankroll) or should you wait and do the heads at the same time? How much performance will come from one isolated improvement? Depending on your skillset, it could be major performance upgrade but if you have to take the bike to a garage, the labor may be more than you have in your budget.
Suspension – Around the challenging corners of the Blue Mountains I could feel the bike dip and stay down a little longer than any rider would like. Granted, these baggers are not sport bikes but they should instill a little more confidence when taking an S Turn or scraping the floorboard on a switchback.
The most unnerving element of the stock ride is braking. When you hit a hard stop, the front dives and stays down until the rider plants his feet firmly. Progressive monotube front shocks help keep the bike flat during aggressive braking allowing a rider to move seamlessly into a heavy acceleration through a coming corner.
It seems the fundamental question is form versus function. Should the first $500 spent on your bike help it look better, sound better or perform better? If you choose performance it’s a matter of preference between the pipe, motorwork or suspension. Based on this week’s ride with a completely stock bagger, our choice is definitely to upgrade the suspension first. For the lowest price option we recommend a middle of the road rear suspension and save the extra money for the monotube up front.
Let us know – how would you drop your first $500 if that’s all the money you had to spend on upgrading your bike? email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.