The difference between stock and the Factory Connection modified forks and shock? Amazing.

One of the things that have always mystified us is when riders opt to start bolting on horsepower goodies onto their bikes, before really getting their suspension dialed in. What good is a faster, but potentially less-than-stellar-handling bike? That’s not a plan with an upside for health, success, or fun.

Obviously making sure that you have your rear suspension sag set dialed is the first step, and you should check your owner’s manual for the proper specs. But if you’re outside the roughly 140-165 pound range that say, a stock RM-Z 250 is sprung for, or the 160-185 pound range that the yellow 450s are aimed at, getting sorted out with the proper spring rates is probably a good idea.

On the Suzuki RM-Z250 that GuyB has been riding lately, it became readily apparent that the stock springs weren’t up to the task. Both the front and rear ends would blow through the stroke quickly over anything bigger than, say, a stutter bump. No, we’re not chalking it up to the quality of the stock suspension. It was more due to his six-foot height and…well, let’s just say waistline.

To get the bike better suited for his dimensions, we hooked up with the guys at Factory Connection, to see what they could do for a 215-pounder vet rider.

Checking in at their second location in Corona, CA (they’d outgrown the office space that they’d launched their West Coast headquarters in a while back), they quizzed us about the rider’s weight, skill level (being honest will get you a better result), and the type of riding that the bike would see. For those of you who live too far to drive it over yourself, you can call ahead and Factory Connection can send you a set of boxes to ship your suspension in.

Kevin Windham has been using Factory Connection modified components against factory gear with good success.

A few short days later, we got a call to come pick up the finished goods, and after picking them up, we scooted home clutching a very comprehensive Factory Connection pamphlet with setup tips in our hot little hands, to reinstall the hopped-up parts. The pamphlet also included the starting settings, as well as recommended sag.

So what all did they do? For starters, the forks were revalved and serviced ($180), and they also got a fluid replacement ($23.95). New fork springs (.47kg versus the stock .44kg rate) were dropped in, and they also swapped out the fork seals ($18.00). To finish it off, they also added a set of their Factory Connection oil lock collars ($49.95), which add bottoming resistance for more aggressive and (ahem) heavier riders. They also allow for a lower oil level, which reduces potential harshness.

In the rear, the drill was much the same. There was a shock revalve/service ($180), and fluid and nitrogen replacement ($15.95). They also swapped out the stock 5.4kg shock spring, and replaced it with a bright yellow Factory Connection 5.7kg unit. They also replaced the stock oil seal ($25.95).

Pulling it off the stand, it was apparent that everything was a little firmer than before, as the bike didn’t collapse like a swayback horse. Step one accomplished. The next step was to check out the Factory Connection guide that came with the bike, and set the sag to their 108mm spec, and get some riding in.

Over the course of the next month or so, it was ridden on everything from fast desert trails, to washboard fire roads, sand dunes, and local tracks. The amount of adjustments done to it were minimal, and everything was much firmer, but still plenty smooth, controlled, and without the former bad habits.

But maybe the best way to describe just how well it worked was when GuyB had a conversation with another media guy at a Grand Prix event. “Both of them were on Suzuki RM-Z 250s, and racing together in the same class. After the race they were bench racing and the other guy shook his head and mentioned, “How about those downhills? There were a few times when I thought I was going to die.” When asked what he’d done to his suspension, not too surprisingly he noted that it was bone-stock.

It may be hard to see here, but there's nothing stealthy about the bright yellow Factory Connection shock spring.

As for GuyB, he mentioned, “During that event I never approached anything remotely close to that feeling. Yeah, I’ll ‘fess up and let you know that he was faster, and he finished ahead of me on the day. But I also felt nothing but smooth, controlled suspension action, had no wide-eyed scary moments.”

So is a $700-plus price tag for the springs, revalve and service worthwhile? There’s no doubt that money’s tight, and everyone is looking for value for their hard-earned bucks. There’s also no doubt that the combination of the springs and suspension tuning together made for a bigger change than if you’d gone for a revalve and service only. We were extremely pleased with the improvement in suspension performance. The difference in the bike from stock to its finished state was remarkable.

But we can also say without a doubt that we’d spend the money on suspension upgrades first, rather than something like a pipe, cam, or other engine hop-up pieces.

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