July 28th, 2012
The stock shocks on the Sportster are lacking when it comes to riding with a passenger. There is a simple upgrade that can be done for a relatively small amount of cash that will make all the difference in the world.
My 2008 1200 Roadster handled bumps in the road just fine while riding solo. The problem was when adding a passenger, the shocks tended to bottom out over rough road conditions. This is really evident when the passenger yells “ouch” at every railroad crossing. The thinly-padded stock pillion seat combined with a hard bump was definitely not comfortable for a passenger.
Since Road King shocks are the same length as the Sportster shocks, I decided to give them a try. I called the local Harley Davidson dealership to see if they had a set of take-offs they were willing to part with at a reasonable price.
A take-off part is one that was exchanged for a new one and kept by the shop to sell later on. These are usually sold fairly cheap since the shop gets them for free when they exchange the part and they only have to store them until someone comes looking for one.
I was lucky enough that someone had ordered upgraded shocks when they bought a brand new Road King. The dealership had a brand new pair of 13 inch OEM Road King shocks sitting on their shelf. Normally, these would retail for $368 for the pair, but they sold them to me for $150.
Road King shocks are set up to be adjustable by filling them with air somewhere between 0 to 50 pounds, depending on the total weight of the motorcycle and passengers. Since the air connections were not included with the shocks, I was initially concerned that I would have to cobble together some type of air system.
It turned out my worries were unfounded. Since the weight of the Sportster is quite a bit less than that of the Road King, I could run the shocks with no added air with a passenger and could not get them to bottom out. Heavier riders and passengers might have to attach an air system and put a few pounds in if they do the upgrade.
The shocks mounted easily without any modifications. I did one side at a time and had a helper sit on the seat to compress the suspension a bit when threading the top bolts in. The rubber boot pushed the belt guard over toward the rear pulley slightly on the right side, but I still had about 3/16 inch of clearance between the guard and pulley once the shocks were installed.
As a final step, I torqued all four shock bolts to 50 foot pounds as stated in the service manual.
The ride is a bit stiffer than with using the stock shocks, especially when riding solo. The improvement when riding 2-up is nothing less than phenomenal.