Sunday, April 10, 2016

YSS: World Class Suspension for Adventure Riders review

The YSS suspension fitted to the Yamaha had covered almost 40,000 km in just one year. Hard kilometres too, just have a look at our photos and video in the posts about Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China and India for instance. Hardly normal roads, some of them weren't roads at all! I have written before, that I was slightly jealous of Mike's superb suspension under those conditions, setup for him in The Netherlands by YSS Europe... but that was a lie... I was very jealous :-) At the time I had simply assumed it was logical that his bike would be better on the rough stuff as it is after all a dual-sport... but we learned later that it was rather more than that...

The first direct comparison we had was with a very trick setup DR650, which had a KTM690 front end and WP rear shock fitted which are worth more than the whole bike, and setup for him by a suspension specialist. To my surprise I could see, riding behind them, that the Yamaha outperformed the KTM DR650... It handled both the rough and the smoother stuff better. Wow, we hadn't expected that, after all KTM suspension is good and this one was setup by a German specialist too. Later we travelled through India together with a BMW 1200GSA complete with the top of the range ESA suspension package... and the YSS suspension outperformed that too! That really surprised us. The BMW wasn't bad at all but still the XT had the edge on smoothness without becoming wallowy like the GSA did... When Mike found a hump in the road and the XT became seriously airborne, he was bracing himself for a hard landing. He rides a heavily loaded bike after all which was very high in the air... yet the YSS suspension took it all in its stride, didn't bottom out but landed with the smoothness of a motocross bike. The GSA followed suit and ran over the same jump, became airborne as well and then just slammed on the road sending a massive jolt through the rider. The GSA suspension handled it well considering what happened, but the YSS did it even better. To be honest, that really surprised us. Like many others I'm sure, we had simply assumed the GSA suspension was the best there is for an adventure bike, the benchmark so to speak... now we know there is something even better.

Testing the performance of the YSS shock absorber from the Yamaha
after 40,000 gruelling kilometres: it was like new!
As we were in Thailand, where YSS comes from, we wanted to visit the factory and meet the people that make YSS to what it is. We also booked the Yamaha in for a suspension service. The service was my idea and born out of a comment I had read from another traveller with Hyperpro suspension, which had developed a leaking seal. Hyperpro's reply was that the seal is a wear part which should be replaced every 20,000 km... With almost 40,000 km on the YSS, through very harsh and dusty conditions, it looked fine and didn't leak but as we wanted to see where they were made anyway, it seemed silly not to have it checked over. Better safe than sorry... As it turned out the YSS factory also has a fully equipped tech centre where they custom build shock absorbers for whatever bike you bring, be it a 1953 Velocette, the new Honda Africa Twin or anything in between. 

That's how many components make up one YSS shock absorber...
The Yamaha shock was taken out and put on the test bench... and despite the hard use showed a performance graph which was perfect! Both spring and damper were like new. Remember the 'roads' it had been on, roads which have demolished quite a few shock absorbers with other travellers, and the distance covered. In the past Ikon had openly stated that 25,000 km is about what you can expect from their shock absorber under normal conditions, Hyperpro states theirs needs to be stripped every 20,000 to replace the seal... so if the YSS had shown some signs of fatigue then it would have still been very good. But apart from being covered in mud and dust on the outside it showed no signs of wear at all, not even on the test bench. In theory it needed no work whatsoever and could have been put back in straight away. But they decided to strip it anyway and inspect every component... all 163 of them... for the slightest signs of wear... and found nothing wrong. The oil inside the damper was clear, which is also a good indicator that everything is well. They simply put it back together again and refitted it! 

As we were also given a factory tour, we could see first hand why the XT suspension works so well: the attention to detail is frightening. They test, check and double check everything here! It looks more like a lab than a production plant. Even the material hardness of the alloy housings is being tested! Every shock is assembled meticulously in a dust free environment. Every step of the process checked and measured and at the end of the small production line, where they only produce motorcycle shock absorbers, there is always the test bench where each and every shock absorber produced is tested before it's being dispatched. To ensure the highest quality YSS does not make OEM suspension for any motorcycle manufacturer. That's a deliberate choice as they don't want to find themselves in a position where they have to build shock absorbers to a price. They believe in quality, not quantity. Their warranty is 2 years and unlimited km. 

I've already written that we have been very fortunate to have found YSS. The Yamaha OEM suspension was quite good and had never given us any reason to look for something else. Yet when it was worn out and replaced with YSS, it transformed the XT... We had no idea the Yamaha suspension could be that much improved upon. In a way YSS is more exclusive than quite a few other top spec brands as they deliberately stay out of OEM production. Every shock absorber they make is setup perfectly for the particular bike it's going to be fitted to. I wondered how this works in practice... and thus asked :-)

For larger bikes YSS has their European headquarters, setup by a well known suspension specialists who used to travel the world setting up the suspension for motocross world champions. YSS Europe does the development of each shock absorber and uses a former motocross world champion as a test rider. They don't get one from the shelf and adapt it to the bike, as technically speaking there are non on the shelf. Instead there are over 5,000 components to choose from to make a unique shock for each bike. When the suspension setup is perfect, all the data is logged into the YSS computer system and becomes available to all YSS suspension specialists world wide. The YSS shock absorber you buy in the USA is thus developed in Europe from components made in Thailand.

... meanwhile, we were being interviewed...!

But it gets better than that. Mike's shocks and forks for instance are unique to his bike, his weight and his luggage. They don't simply re-adjust the pre-load or the damping, of which there are over 60 settings, to suit him. Instead they make a shock which is perfect for him with all the adjustments on zero, he thus still has all 60 settings to play with when the circumstances change. We've seen, and experienced, how well it works. We've also seen no wear whatsoever after 40,000 gruelling kilometres. Having seen the dedication YSS and the European headquarters put into this, we are not surprised... but I'm still surprised how it transformed the Yamaha and how well it handles broken roads. But our luck wasn't over yet. YSS was proud to see Mike riding around the world on their suspension... but one look at the Bonneville suspension had them frowning... and rightfully so! More on which in a future post!

Ready for another trip around the world!


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