Monday, December 22, 2014

Bike Alert coming to the rescue… again! YSS review

Below you can read our on-going evaluation of our YSS suspension, or you can go straight to the YSS website by clicking on the YSS logo on the left. 
Right from the beginning we were impressed with the standard Yamaha XT660R suspension. Compared to both the Tiger 800 and the 650GS, both of which we tested as well and both of which are more expensive, the XT has the better package when going off-road. The damping isn’t adjustable but it clearly worked well. Riding through New Zealand, Canada, Alaska, USA and Mexico we never touched it as it worked fine. In Belize came the first signs of the suspension being past their sell-by date though. The fork seals blew, which could have been just the seals, but I suspected and underlying problem. Opening up the forks showed signs of wear which had caused the seals to leak. At the same time we suspected the rear shock had lost some of its damping and/or spring tension too. It didn’t leak and we decided to just up the pre-load from 3 to 4 and see what would happen.

Nearing the end of the European part of our trip it became clear that the XT’s suspension was definitely worn out. After 70,000 km the rear shock had had enough and even on its highest pre-load setting, the bike wallowed over the road like a drunken sailor. There was hardly any damping left. The front was only marginally better. The fork springs needed a spacer to bring the XT back to the level it was before but we also still had that cupping of the front tyre problem, which I suspected was a suspension issue as well. We needed some expert help to sort this out as setting suspension up properly is an art. Previous experiences with Yamaha being unhelpful made us look elsewhere for a solution. Jim from Bike Alert once again came to the rescue.

The internals of a YSS shock,
the knurled knob at the
bottom is the damping
By right if we would make a post dedicated to the people and companies that make it possible for a Yamaha XT660R to go around the world… then Bike Alert in the UK would certainly be number one. Our first contact with Bike Alert was when both Yamaha USA and Canada showed no interest in sorting out sprockets for us, while Lilli from Bike Alert USA did. Not only that, their sprockets and chains sold under the brand name JT proved to be better than the originals fitted by Yamaha. They lasted longer and needed less frequent adjustments. Bike Alert also supplied us with air and oil filters, filters that work better than the originals.

During our visit to them when we were in the UK, I had seen that they also sell YSS suspension. Jim had tried them on his own Yamaha and was impressed. So we contacted him, explained the problem and… heard nothing! Unusual, I thought, Jim’s a nice guy and he always replies. What we didn’t know is what was going on behind the scenes… Jim had contacted YSS headquarters and explained the problem. YSS headquarters subsequently contacted YSS Europe requesting that they would sort out the XT suspension front and rear!

The first time we knew that something was happening, was when my father send me an e-mail asking if we had broken down or somewhere as a guy had called him about a new shock absorber, wanting to know the weight Mike has on his XT! As YSS shocks are custom built, we contacted YSS Europe for the best plan of attack. Harrie suggested we'd pay them a visit with the XT fully loaded, so that he could see the bike and take it from there.

Harrie doing his magic, building a
new shock absorber for the TX
Photo showing the new shock mounted
and the access slot cut in the air box,
to access the top shock absorber bolt.
An aluminium access panel is mounted
on the outside, sealed with a gasket.
Getting the rear shock out of an XT660R is a hard job. The airfilter box is literally built around it. What a great idea! To be able to undo the top bolt of the shock means removing the airbox… which holds the battery, the computer and most of the electrical components. If that isn’t bad enough, the mufflers, rear light, mudguard and in our case panniers and pannier racks have to be removed as well. Imagine breaking a shock along the way…! Something needed to be changed here as custom building a shock would mean doing the whole job twice at least. Granddad, in his wisdom, had bought a small Dremel look-alike rotary tool from Lidl, complete with a bunch of cutters and grinders! Great! I cut two slots in the airbox, so that we could access the bolt and made easily removable covers for them. It took me the best part of two days to make it but shock removal was now a 20 minute job. I highly recommend anyone with an XT to cut those slots in their air box, make a proper cover for them and of course seal the covers properly too.

YSS has been making shock absorbers for over 30 years. They are TüV approved and have achieved a bunch of quality approvals like the ISO and ABE in Germany. YSS has just one aim: World Class Suspension! YSS Europe is operated by a father and son team with experience in off-road racing dating back at least 30 years as well. Harrie has worked as a shock expert for international race teams and didn’t even look at the original Yamaha shock but started from scratch building a new one to his own spec. 

To be able to do that they have a fully equipped workshop and an unbelievable amount of stock. Harrie built a new shock and Mike and I installed it… and were chuffed to bits! We thought the standard XT shock was pretty good but this was something else. What an improvement! We were about to put the plastics around the XT shock together again but Harrie had other ideas. He wasn’t happy with the way the suspension worked… I thought he was pulling our leg, but wasn’t. It had never worked as good as it did now. We removed the shock again and Harrie took everything apart. He changed the spring, the damping and the oil; then measured everything again and built a shock that was even better than the first one. Everything was spot-on, including the pre-load he had set it on. No need for any final adjustment. Having said that, the adjustment options are endless. The pre-load works via a fine threaded large nut. Much finer adjustments are possible compared to the standard shock and also easier to do. Unlike the original, the damping is also adjustable on the YSS. 

The XT forks being rebuilt. They may seem the same on the outside, but internally are totally different to the originals.
The forks were next. Again, they didn’t look at the original but started from scratch. What we ended up with were new progressive YSS springs, totally reworked damping, different weight oil and level and proper quality new seals. Harrie checked it all after we put the front end together and was happy, and so were we! Riding away from Promax, Mike couldn’t believe the difference. The standard suspension may have seemed fine when new, and like I wrote above is pretty good compared to the competition, but this is something else. Riding behind him, I could see that the difference in handling is amazing. The suspension just soaks up the bumps and yet it handles better at higher speeds too. Not only is the suspension superb, the bike also steers much lighter and more precise. Hopefully it’s also better in side winds now, because that has always been an XT worry. We haven’t been able to test that yet at the time of writing. We rode the 200 km home, in freezing conditions. Mike doesn’t like cold weather but was gleaming from ear to ear.

Of course YSS Europe did a great job. They know how to built proper suspension, period! But don’t forget that without the top quality YSS suspension components it wouldn’t have been possible to do so. Mike is so happy with the totally transformed XT that he went out at night to make a couple of trick photographs of his new bright red shock absorber, one of which you can see here on the right. He used small hand-held LED lights and a very long exposure time, with the camera on a tripod. Last but not least, we wish to give a big thank you to both YSS and to Jim from Bike Alert for making this possible! Not only have they sorted the suspension problem, they have also totally transformed the handling of the bike. Bike Alert is the YSS distributor in the UK and the USA and can be found at

We also wrote a a long term test report, where you can find what we think of the YSS suspension after 12,000 km, which can be found here.