Opening my own shop - Help me understand Suspension

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3/23/2022 9:15 PM

I've always loved wrenching on bikes, mostly self taught with the help of YouTube and taking lots of pictures! Recently graduated an online motorcycle technician course but that's just book knowledge, no hands on unfortunately.

I've done 2 and 4 stroke top and bottom end rebuilds but I've never done suspension. Usually I ship it off or use a local shop. I'm curious who here does their own suspension? How hard was it to learn? Do you recommend a training seminar as a must like Race Tech offers?

What specialty tools are needed and where do you start with gaining base settings? Where do you purchase your shims etc.

Any and all info would be greatly welcomed!

Thanks, Kyle

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It aint nothing but a little bit of this and a little bit of Braaaap!!!

3/23/2022 10:42 PM
Edited Date/Time: 3/23/2022 10:44 PM

I’m probably the last person that should give advice on this, but all of my “tuning knowledge” is all trial and error. I’ve done enough stack changes to my valving to sort of understand what affects what, but I’ve also been chasing settings on my ktm for the last 3 years atleast. Countless shim changes and still not quite happy, but I do understand the changes I need to make to go in the right direction. And that’s just one type of fork/shock on that model. I couldn’t imagine learning how to tune multiple bikes for multiple terrains by trial and error, so I’d recommend the racetech classes.

I order most shims from SDI, and kyb shims from technical touch. The specialty tools aren’t all that expensive, I service friends suspension and just buy the tools I need as I go.

Remember the liability involved with doing other riders suspension. Triple check any snap rings and make sure they are completely seated, and maybe even use a paint marker or tamper seal on every bolt/nut immediately after torquing. Things can get very ugly with even a single snap ring or nut not being torqued/seated properly.

The reason I started doing my own suspension is because I’ve gone through more suspension tuners than a lot of people (in a pretty short amount of time) and something always went wrong. Whether it was being charged for parts that weren’t replaced, or mismatched shims in my forks.

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3/24/2022 1:47 AM

The Race Tech Suspension Bible is really good for covering all the basics, and it does go into a decent level of technicality as well. Covers most of the suspension types over the last 20/30 years, as well as the tooling required for working on them.
It's probably more aimed at the weekend warrior mechanic than the aspiring pro but I'd still recommend it as a great place to start. It's been enough for me to go from never touching my suspension, to being able to disassemble forks, change springs, seals etc confidently.

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@russ_69

3/24/2022 5:23 AM

Best advice is if you plan on offering suspension services you better know what you are doing first. So many backyard or even shop guys claiming they are qualified and wrecking peoples shit. Even our local big suspension guy who is an authorized shop for many brands does garbage work, messes up peoples kit and blames them for the issues. My buddy who does stuff for himself and friends does better work and has better gear than most of the actual so called suspension guys. He’s straight up honest and admits he’s no qualified tech and would never claim to be. When he works on peoples gear he lets them know that straight up. He’s messed some parts up and learned from that.
So if you are gonna charge people money and advertise as a business know what you are doing or the word will get out and you will tank.
Good luck.

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3/24/2022 7:57 AM

All great advice everyone, the last thing I'd want to do is screw up someone's bike, or worse yet their health due to improper installation.

Like mentioned above I take LOTS of video and pics to make sure everything goes back together the same way it came apart until Ive done something enough times it feels like second nature. I'm anal about doing things the right way or not doing it at all, that being said, you have to start somewhere and I'm eager to learn.

I'm confident that given the time and opportunity I can produce great results as I'm extremely prideful in my worksmanship. I won't make any money at first due to the attention to detail (pics,videos, notes, zip lock baggies) and overall time it will take but money isn't the goal. I just want to support myself doing what I love and that's wrenching.

I'll get the Race Tech suspension bible ordered today! I've had some really bad experiences with some tuners and hate that feeling you get when you spend $$$ and get the run around, communication is the biggest issue I see and I aim to fix that issue.

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It aint nothing but a little bit of this and a little bit of Braaaap!!!

3/24/2022 8:28 AM
Edited Date/Time: 3/24/2022 8:32 AM

Tuning suspension and basic rebuild services are 2 completely different areas of expertise.

Rebuild services (fluid, seals, bushings, spring rate changes, etc.) is fairly easy to learn and will be a huge money maker for you because it's quick and easy work. Race Tech bible, OEM service manuals, and YouTube tutorials will take you all the way. Tearing down a 4 stroke engine is significantly more complex than rebuilding a set of forks or shock.

Offering tuning & custom valving is a whole other beast. There's so much to learn & it can take years to get really good at it. I would suggest starting with just rebuild services. I believe if you are affiliated with a company like Race Tech as a certified service center, you buy parts (gold valves, shims, springs, seals, bushings, etc) from them, and then they provide you technical details on shim stack setups, spring rates, etc. So essentially you are paying for their technical expertise and knowledge....you just have to follow their instruction on installing their recommended parts & shims for each scenario. You will get to buy parts at dealer pricing, so you can make a little bit on part margins, but the rest of the profit will obviously come from your labor rates.

Tool wise, you are going to need a nitrogen tank setup for charging shocks, various size fork seal drivers, seal protectors, cartridge holders, cap wrenches, and maybe a few other specialty tools here and there. Browse around on WP, Showa, KYB, PitPosse, MotioPro websites for suspension specialty tools to get an idea. I would highly recommend investing in a shock vacuum bleeder. It's a serious investment up front, but hands down the best way to fully bleed out a shock. I would recommend having 2 nice stainless steel work benches, with a drain basin, dedicate to just suspension jobs. Use 1 bench for strictly for dirty teardowns and cleaning, the other is a "clean" bench for re-assembly only.

For quick turn around times, you are going to want to stock common size bushing kits, seals, springs, an array of suspension fluid, etc. so that you don't have to order parts for every set of forks/shock that comes in the door. You can easily rebuild a set of forks and a shock in ~2 hours if you have everything on hand. So if you have parts on hand, you can get that customer in and out as soon as your schedule allows. Customer don't want to wait 1 week for a suspension rebuild just because you are unwilling burden the financial commitment of carrying common stock parts and have to order parts every single time a set is torn down on the bench. make sense?

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3/24/2022 8:31 AM

Servicing suspension and tuning suspension are quite different skills IMO. A skilled and competent mechanic with the correct setup and tools can do the service work.

Tuning can take years to learn, and can be a little black art. I think your best bet to stsrt would be to become a race tech dealer or service center and you use their settings.

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3/24/2022 7:19 PM

Go to school. Invest in your brain. Network with other tuners. Pay for knowledge on the front end, you will benefit down the road.

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Livin' the dream, two wheels at a time!

3/26/2022 12:19 AM

Lots of info in the Thumpertalk suspension forum. Installing a set of Gold Valves will give you a basic idea on tuning.

The tools, while not expensive for one bike, will be expensive for multiple bikes/brands. You're going to need seal/bushing installers, all the different cap wrenches, internal tools, shock tools and a nitrogen setup.

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04 KX125
94 KX250SM
75 Z1-900

3/26/2022 5:54 PM

I would learn as much as you can, a seminar would be beneficial, go out and get as much knowledge as you can, get the proper tools, and make sure you know your capabilities, I lpersonally like to just stick to service work, rebuilds, spring changes, fluid changes, I personally don’t have enough time to test and experiment with different valving settings to offer customers, I also feel that it is a lot of liability to take on and also the fact not every rider is going to be happy, suspension is a very specific thing, I make sure when I work on customers parts it’s quality work and honest pricing, be honest and transparent with customers, do what you can know with your skill set and improve as time comes.

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3/28/2022 4:33 PM

I would suggest working for a big shop for a while. You dont go from youtube researcher to expert without having a mentor and a good 5-10 years of experience. You start messing up peoples stuff you wont be in business for long. A bad reputation and burning money doing rework is no good.

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3/29/2022 12:54 PM

Stick with servicing & rebuilds. Revalves will eat your time and do little for your pocketbook. My suspension guy would get more done by orders of magnitude if he didn't have to talk with people all day. Trying to do too much will kill your business........

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3/31/2022 3:25 PM

As many of you have eluded to, I plan on starting out by just doing rebuilds and servicing suspension. Thanks for all the input, truly appreciated.

What size nitrogen tank would you recommend to get started with? I plan on trying to get my foot in the door with my local club which is primarily enduro riders with a little moto but not sure how many guys will need my services. The entire group is probably 50 riders or so. It's 60 miles round trip to get the nitrogen refilled so I want to minimize trips to town but dont want to get more than I need either.

Getting this setup for $185 to begin with.Photo

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It aint nothing but a little bit of this and a little bit of Braaaap!!!

3/31/2022 5:27 PM

I bought a small bottle (20 cu ft, i think) for about $100 filled and it'll do hundreds of fills. The nitro chamber in a resi doesn't take much to fill. Check out schmidtys suspension for regulators & vice jaws....he was cheaper than most.

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3/31/2022 6:04 PM

PC wrote:

I bought a small bottle (20 cu ft, i think) for about $100 filled and it'll do hundreds of fills. The nitro chamber in a resi ...more

I spoke with Evan at Schmidtys just a couple of days ago, seems like a knowledgeable guy that wasn't rushing me to get off the phone, answered all my questions and was really helpful. Seems like dirtbikes isn't their main source of focus but he still works with them on occasion.

I'm looking for a suspension company that can offer training, and technical advice for a franchise fee. I've tried numerous times to deal with RT dealers and even an old pro racer in the northeast I used to work for that has his own shop now and they seem to busy to want to help me out and I understand that.

RT says they offer training every November for around $1700 which would likely be really helpful but if I can get in with a different company sooner than that I may pull the trigger. I'm eager to get going and my experience with RT has been a bit rocky.

TBT racing may be something I look into, Travis has put up some very insightful videos on YouTube and appears to have a monthly program for people like me that want to work on suspension!



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It aint nothing but a little bit of this and a little bit of Braaaap!!!

4/2/2022 1:05 AM

stangkag wrote:

I spoke with Evan at Schmidtys just a couple of days ago, seems like a knowledgeable guy that wasn't rushing me to get off the ...more

I hope you can chase your dream and build a career. A few things, beyond the suspension bible, utilize the Race Tech site. I was talking with a factory mechanic today that does some side work and he was amazed at the step by step instruction guides on the RT site. It's a great way to get an understanding of what is involved before ever doing the work.

There is no franchise fee with Race Tech. Once you have a Gold Valve Kit as a DIY guy, Dealer, Center, or a customer sending your stuff in; we don't charge to give you the setting to make it work. The seminars do touch on how to properly build suspension, but they also explain how it works and the why and how for you to be a tuner. I will say, the seminars cover A LOT, so the more you know ahead of time, the more you'll be able to retain about new stuff that you didn't know yet. So dig in and learn as much as you can before.

Not to sound too much like a company person, but Race Tech does also offer Tech Support in order to answer your questions as you go through the learning and installation process.

I'm not sure what TBT offers for training, but Travis has been around a long time and is always one of my favorite people to see when I visit the office out west.

If I can help, don't hesitate to drop me an email to chris@racetech.com. I work with all of our US/Canada RT Centers and have learned a lot about building a suspension business and what works/doesn't.

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