Suspension Disaster

A V65 Magna story by Tony Donisi

After being very happy with my 1984 V65 Magna for about 2 years and 50,000 miles, I decided that I wanted better handling, so I decided to start modifying the suspension. I installed a set of Progressive Suspension springs in the front, and shocks in the back. This improved the handling immensely, especially with radial tires. It felt more like a performance motorcycle in the corners than a cruiser. I had a handlebar mounted fairing, a Rifle sport. At one time I had hit a curb, which bent up my front fork just a little. I had them straightened, but I got it into my head that the triple clamp was bent. I had a junk V65 hanging around for parts, which I purchased for $100, it was in rough shape. I wanted to chrome a lot of parts, and still have a set of original everything, so I chrome plated the front fork legs from the junker to put them on the good one. Not only did I do that, but I used the fork tubes from the junker, without first checking to see if they were straight. They were badly pitted, which should have given me an Idea of their condition, but I ignored that. Then, as if that wasn't stupid enough, without checking either for straightness, I just assumed that the triple clamp off the good motorcycle was bent from hitting the curb, while the one from the junker was straight!. I didn't check either one! So, I took everything apart and reassembled it to specification. I like to think that I am mechanically inclined, I guess I'm just prone to fits of stupidity. I put 10W oil in the front forks to begin with, at the stock level, and cut the spacer to the length specified by Progressive Suspension. The motorcycle rode fine (although it really shouldn't have, I guess) for a while. At this point let me describe the handling of the V65 Magna, stock, and with the non-junk suspension modifications. At high speed the drive shaft can be felt a little when taking a good left corner. The PS suspension modifications and the radial tires helped this out a lot, almost to the point of non-existence. With the handlebar mount front fairing, the motorcycle had a characteristic weave at about 135 - 140 mph (at the track, of course). I assume, and have yet to verify that, removing the fairing, or using some sort of a frame mounted fairing will relieve this. The characteristic weave is a warning -- do not go any faster! I've had that warning many times and have always modified my speed accordingly (slowed down). Now back to the suspension story, keeping in mind all of the above "junk" modifications. After these modifications, I mounted some used hard luggage, in preparation for a trip to Colorado. I like to mount everything at least two weeks before a major trip in order to get a feel with the added accessories. I felt the suspension was still a little stiff, so I cut down the front spring preload spacer by about 1/4". I rode with this for another week, with bags, and felt it was still too stiff. I then put 5W oil in the forks instead of the 10W. One week before the Colorado trip I was on the highway, and started to go about 85mph. It isn't that fast, speed limit 65, open road, super highway, keeping up with and away from traffic. On the Magna, right up to this one last modification, I've been a lot faster without even realizing I'm speeding. Anyway, at about 85mph, there was that familiar 135mph weave. This was very strange, occurring at this low speed. When I went to slow down, the weave did not stop, as it did many times at 135mph, it got worse! It ultimately became uncontrollable, and it fell at about 80mph. I jumped away from it, and both the motorcycle and I slid for about 500 feet on the pavement, the motorcycle leading the way. Of course I have full leathers, zip together jacket and pants, and kevlar-leather boots & gloves. I am usually very good about wearing them, I rarely ever ride without them. They did me no good this time, however, since they were in the sidebags. I was wearing a full face helmet. I didn't have to since it's not mandatory in New Hampshire (Hooray for NH!). I'm glad I was, because the top layers of fiberglass material right by my face were scraped down pretty far. If I was wearing a regular helmet, or none, half of my face would be gone. I slid pretty evenly, and scraped up my arms pretty bad, that's about all that happened. It could have been a lot worse. If I was using my brain at the time and wore my full leathers, like I usually always do, I wouldn't even have been scratched. When I finally came to a stop, there was a crowd of cars, women crying, kids screaming, and motorcycle parts everywhere. I have to admit I looked in pretty rough shape, but I was still able to get to the motorcycle, stand it up (with a little help), start it, and ride it to the exit before one of the people gave me a ride to the hospital. As I was falling, I noticed one thing. As the motorcycle was going down, the fork brace had separated from the forks. The four bolts were still attached, but the middle section was completely separated. This led me to my observation on the fork brace, since I had plenty of time to think while I was sliding. I have to add a thank you here, to the people who were so nice to stop & help. Also, one of the guys who helped performed an act of bravery that made the motorcycle wipeout pale in comparison. I had lost one of my sneakers during the wipeout, and as I thought about it, standing there on the right hand shoulder, it came flying by in the left hand lane, pummeled by a car. This brave soul ran across three lanes of busy highway traffic, and successfully retrieved my mangled sneaker . . . and successfully made it back. All this before my very eyes. He and his wife and extremely scared kids also drove me to the hospital. I was too shocked at the time to get their phone number. I wanted to call him and thank him the next day, when my body felt well enough to think straight, and there wasn't blood gushing out of the majority of my bodily limbs. To summarize, I will give my personal formula for V65 suspension disaster. I do not mean to imply that any individual one of these would cause any problems whatsoever. In reading in plenty of MC mags and talking to quite a few mechanics in the past 6 months, they all agree that the front end has to be severely messed up to cause any type of uncontrollable situation. In most cases they say that the motorcycle gives plenty of warning, and usually you just slow down and the problem will subside.

Formula for front end disaster
A showroom condition V65 MagnaA 140lb rider

3. A triple clamp that might have been bent

4. Front forks that probably were bent

5. Performance shocks, front & rear

6. Performance tires

7. Cut down the spacers by 1/4" from recommended

8. Use 5W fork oil

9. Attach hard luggage

10. Use stock fork brace

11. Handlebar mount fairing

12. Travel at speeds in excess of 85mph
Add the following variables, throw in a heap of stupidity, and you have the perfect formula for disaster. Please do not try this at home.
This all Happened in July '95. I still think that the V65 Magna is one of the best production motorcycle made. It is still my number one choice. I have since purchased another, a 1986 to replace the 1984. >From the above experience, I learned a lot. I guess I will always pay more attention to the front end from now on, but here is what I did to make sure this does not happen again.
1. I have put PS Shocks and springs on the 1986.
2. While the front forks were off I checked them for straightness, but they were OK. I thought they would be, since the motorcycle was a 1 owner, mint condition, with 13,000 mi when I bought it. From the above, I learned never to assume again.
3. 15W fork Oil. I may go down to 10W in the future, but I will never again use 5W.
4. Modified fork brace. After the wipeout, I examined the fork brace. Being a thin piece of cast aluminum, it had broken right at the casting marks, which also look like high stress points. I had a solid piece of 3/8" T6061 aircraft aluminum machined to fit right under the stock fork brace. This is almost invisible to the eye, and gives me piece of mind that it will provide superior bracing for the front end.
5. Care in choosing or riding at speeds with a handlebar fairing. Does anyone know of any decent frame fairings for the Magna?
The above might be overkill on a motorcycle that is in good shape, but at the speeds I ride at they are cheap insurance. I like to ride with a fairing, and have added one. I also lowered the motorcycle by about 1", using recommendations from PS. This was accomplished by lowering the front forks by about 2" and the rear shocks about .75". I took the it to the track in mid April and it did fine. I had it up to 125mph with no difficulties. (no fairing) I was afraid at first to bring it up that high, but as I accelerated, it seemed that the motorcycle actually got more stable, and was hugging the road even better than at moderate speeds.