We reported late last month that Italian suspension manufacturer Marzocchi was set to be shut down by parent company Tenneco. Production at the company has apparently already ceased and all remaining inventory is being drawn down. Thankfully however, Tenneco is actively canvassing buyers for the business.
Last week a town meeting was held in Zola Predosa (home to Marzocchi) which was attended by the mayor, representatives of Tennco and Marzocchi as well as trade union officials to see if the business which was established in 1949 can be salvaged. There it was announced that Tenneco had received some interest in third parties buying Marzocchi but wouldn’t elaborate further.
Trade union officials also requested that production be restarted to ensure continuous supply to the motorcycle industry. Marzocchi currently supplies suspension components for almost the entire MV Agusta range, as well as bikes from Ducati (including the Hypermotard SP and Diavel), plus a number of bikes from Bimoto and BMW – including the just released BMW 1200 R. They’ve previously supplied the likes of KTM, Husqvarna and others too which will cause potential problems down the road with servicing and repairs should they shut down permanently.
It is not clear whether these issues only relate to the motorcycle side of Marzocchi’s business as all mountain bike forks have been produced in Taiwain since 2008 – the same year that Tenneco bought the company.
As previously mentioned, potential saviors may include Mercedes AMG with its connections to MV Agusta, or the Volkswagen Group with its ownership of Ducati -either of which may be interested in integrating suspension development directly as KTM and Honda both do.
Ever since the motorcycle was invented, engineers have struggled with the ideal suspension arrangement. Unlike four wheeled vehicles where thee suspension is virtually always situated in the vertical plane, motorcycle suspension has to deal with lean angles when cornering plus huge forces pushing forward under braking, make it far less effective for its purpose.
One way to try and overcome this has been center-hub steering arrangements, but this creates issues of its own. Ducati however may have come up with a way to keep the feedback provided by the traditional fork arrangement while overcoming lateral forces when cornering.
Ducati has filed a patent which shows a traditional motorcycle wheel and fork arrangement but with three annular shock-absorbing elements made of what they describe as an elastically yielding material capable of absorbing the lateral stresses under cornering. These ‘mini’ shock absorbers could be made of rubber, polymer or a hybrid material with a honeycomb structure to absorb these forces.
These shock absorbers would act to absorb stresses that act on the wheel (and thus on the forks and frame of the bike) when leaning over in a corner. Thus, any irregularity in the round surface is potentially not transferred to your hands, avoiding or at least reducing the phenomenon of “chattering” all so common when riding on below average road surfaces. According to Ducati, this improves the rideability of a bike and hence its safety.
The patent application even goes on to state that such shock absorbers could even be installed on the rear wheel too.
It’s an interesting invention and actually comes across as one of those “why didn’t anyone think of that earlier?” ideas. Of course, it remains to be seen whether such an idea would actually work in the real world but according to Ducati, implementation of the idea would actually be relatively cheap and easy to install. Perhaps we’ll see mini shock-absorbers in the not too distance future.
Following on from the bad news about EBR’s sudden closure, news from Italy seems to all but confirm that Marzocchi has ceased production of its suspension components and will be running down stock and ceasing all operations within a few months. This will have a large impact on a number of motorcycle companies.
Marzocchi currently supplies suspension to virtually the entire MV Agusta range, a number of Ducati motorcycles including the Hypermotard SP and Diavel, plus a number of bikes from Bimoto and BMW – including the just released BMW 1200 R. They’ve previously supplied the likes of KTM, Husqvarna and others too which will cause potential problems down the road with servicing and repairs.
While there’s no firm support for Marzocchi at the moment, the fact that a number of brands rely on them means there is potential for a savior still. Mercedes AMG with its connections to MV Agusta, or the Volkswagen Group with its ownership of Ducati are two likely contenders.
The supposed reason for Marzocchi’s demise is the high costs involved in developing the next-generation of suspension. In the last few years, electronic semi-active suspension has become the new benchmark in higher end motorcycles which will no doubt trickle down to cheaper bikes as the years roll on. That seems a long bow to draw as Marzocchi already produces both semi-active forks and suspension and therefore the majority of the initial capital expense has been spent.
Secondly, Tenneco (Marzocchi’s parent company) owns Monroe, a well established suspension brand in the car industry who already offer a sophisticated electronic suspension system and one would assume any current or future R&D costs would be spread across said companies. So perhaps Tenneco’s decision is less to do with wanting to get out of the suspension business and more related to the cost of doing business in Italy and the heavily unionized workers at the Bologna factory.
One of the best ways to improve the handling of your bike is to adjust the rear preload settings of your suspension. And with most bikes, it’s something you can change using the tools that come with your toolkit. It’s a free upgrade! And while you can adjust your rear preload settings through trial and error, the best way to change your rear preload is to properly understand it, take some measurements and then test.
Just to clear up any confusion – adjusting rear preload in no way either stiffens or softens your rear suspension. It also does not change your spring rate. All it does is change up or down the initial position of the suspension, either when you’re sitting on it your bike or not – these terms are known as Rider Sag and Static Sag.
When you sit on your bike, you’ll note that the suspension compresses a bit. This is what you want to happen, but depending on your weight it may compress too little or too much. Ideally, you want the majority of the suspension travel to be available for actually riding – not supporting your weight. This is why it’s necessary to adjust rear preload as bike manufacturers obviously set their sag amounts on what they deem is an average person’s weight.
So how do you correctly set your rear preload? We need to take three measurements. For all three measurements you need to measure from the center of the rear axle (marked with a yellow circle below) and a fixed point above the axle. I’ve placed a mark on the pillion grab rail, marked below with a blue circle.
Our first measurement we take is to see what the fully unloaded, or unweighted length of the rear suspension is. This measurement only ever needs to be taken once, even after you change the preload settings.
To measure it correctly, there can’t be any weight on the rear wheel. If you have a center stand the you’re in luck. If not, you’ll need to improvise. You can’t use a paddock stand as weight will still be going through the rear swingarm where the paddock stand attaches to. In the picture above, I chocked the front wheel and used a car jack under the bike with some styrofoam to prevent any scratches. If you’ve got some strong friends, they could hold the rear of the bike up while you perform the measurement.
Our next measurement gives us the normal suspension length, or the length of the suspension under the bike’s own weight. Place the bike back down like you’re parking it but try to have it as upright as possible (i.e. not leaning on its side using the kickstand).
The final measurement we take will provide us with the fully loaded length of the rear suspension. This is the length of the rear suspension when you sit on the bike. To be as accurate as possible, it’s best to put on all your riding gear and sit on the bike just as if you were on the road. You’ll need some help here, as you won’t be able to make the measurement while sitting on the bike and also to help balance the bike while it’s off the kickstand. Make sure your feet are on the pegs and not the ground to get an accurate measurement.
Now, let’s use those measurements and convert them to our Rider Sag and Static Sag figures.
Rider Sag = A – C
Rider Sag is how much the bike ‘drops’ when you sit on it. The ideal figure for Rider Sag is between 30mm and 40mm. Some prefer to be as close to 30mm as possible, but for general street riding and the occasional track day, around 35mm should be fine.
If your Rider Sag is above 40mm then it means your rear preload is too soft and conversely, below 30mm means it’s too hard.
Static Sag = A – B
Static Sag is how much the bike’s own weight acts on the rear suspension. The ideal range here is between 5mm and 10mm. If your static sag figure is more than 10mm it means your springs are too soft whereas a figure less than 5mm means your springs are too hard for you.
Once you have your figures you’ll then know if you need to dial in more rear preload or less of it. Each bike will be different when it comes to preload settings so consult your owners manual. Cheaper bikes offer limited settings which makes it harder to get the preload accurate.
As mentioned before adjusting rear preload does not change the stiffness or softness of your springs. So you may very well find that even if you get the Rider Sag in the sweet spot of 35mm, your Static Sag may still be outside the ideal range. Try your best to ensure you have a bit of static sag, otherwise your suspension can top out. Therefore, you may need to increase the Rider Sag to 40mm just to get the Static Sag up to 5mm, or any other number of combinations.
Once you made the adjustments, take the bike for a ride. Don’t go on the smoothest piece of bitumen you can find as that doesn’t let the suspension go through its range. Hit the twisties and see how it feels. If you’re not happy with it, adjust it again and measure B and C and see how that goes.