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BABailey's Project Photo Pages

Duke's Bike Lowering Project


Lowering the rear of a bike is as simple as changing the shocks. handle it just like any other shock change, except that the shocks you are going to install are shorter than the ones you take off, that is the entire how-to for dropping the rear end. Use the same instructions for pretty much any shock change, even if you want to go taller.

I would like to start with a disclaimer: "This is a simple re-telling of how the narrator lowered his wife's motorcycle, and is presented here only for it's face value. It is not encouragement to try this yourself, nor is it instruction from a certified source. In fact, the narrator warns that he may well be insane, so any of this that you attempt to repeat is entirely your own fault."

This project started out as a way of helping my wife cope with the distance from the seat to the ground. While most folks I have mentioned this project to have retorted with "You should have bought a bike that was lower to start with!", that is not the practical solution it sounds like.

There has been a tradition in cruisers the past few years to go with a lower, longer look. While that works out fine for anyone 5'10" and over (and best for those 6' or over), it simply does not work for my wife: this insipid drive to move the seat further and further back and the controls further and further forward means that if she can reach the ground, she can't reach the controls.

We found her bike quite by accident. We were coming home from a trip to look at a 2002 Magna (the pefect "I want more power" upgrade from here Virago 750; getting away from that V2 stepped the horses up nicely). We were on a stretch of road near the house that we have travelled a hundred times, but this time there was brand new bike dealer tucked up into the trees. And out front of his building was a 1998 Vulcan 1500 A with 998 miles on it! We liked to killed ourselves jerking backwards into the parking lot.

My wife sat on it, and immediately knew that this was the bike for her. In two years of looking, this was the first one she had tried that everything "fit." Well, actually, it was the second. She was quite comfy reaching the controls on my Valk as well, but did not want to have to wrestle that much bulk to go for a ride.

That is, everything fit but the ground. But I had lowered bikes before, and knew that was no obstacle. She rode it around a bit, and we took it home. At first, she did not want it lowered, as she loved the tall and lean look of the bike. But after riding it for a few months (and having two dead-stop drops from being unable to reach the pavement as it sloped away from her), she decided that she would like to have the ground a bit closer.

I decided to lower her bike, but also decided that I would take pics of the job (many, many pics, as I was using disposable cameras, and I had no idea how many would come out. As it turned out, precious few. Though I did learn not to flash photo chrome!) and share them about for anyone else who might want a bigger bike, but found themselves limited in choice by their inseam.

The first set of pics is the lowering of the rear end, which is acheived simply by swapping the shocks for shorter ones. Please ignore the obviously inappropriate stack of bricks and lumber that are _not_ a proper bike jack. My jack was on loan at the time, and I was impatient to start once I had the shocks in my hands.

First, get the rear (or the whole thing, if that is an option) off the ground. It helps to have a lovely assistant to help keep the bike balanced. (sorry for the quality of the pics, but they are all I have.)

Strive at all times to work with a lovely assistant;
prefferably one with good upper body strength

If possible, tie the bike down as if it were being transported once you have it raised off the ground. This will help to stabilize it (DO NOT DEPEND ON THIS EXCLUSIVELY! We don't want anyone getting hurt. Common sense and man power go a long way toward keeping you safe!)

Make sure that the rear of the bike is well off the ground so that there is no load on the shocks. They are much easier to remove this way

Look closely at the shocks. At the top and the bottom, you will see the fasteners that hold them in place. On most bikes, this will be a nut secured to a mounting post. While I have never run across a bike with shocks held on by bolts going through the shock mounts, I have been told that they do exist. If your bike uses bolts, simply loosen them, but do not remove them yet.

If your shocks are mounted on posts and secured by nuts, then go ahead and remove all four nuts (two on each shock). decide which shock to remove, and go ahead and pull it off. You may have to wriggle and pry it a bit to get it off; don't be scared to use a little bit of force. BE CAREFUL NOT TO UPSET THE BALANCE OF THE BIKE!. If need be, get your Lovely Assistant involved in stabilizng the bike or removing the shock while you stabilize it.

The factory shocks with the fastening nut removed.
On looking back, I should have removed the bags for clarity.

With only one shock removed, the wieght of the rear wheel and swingarm are suspended from the other shock. This makes it a bit easier to go directly to the next step after swapping the shocks. More on that in a minute.

The Duchess's bike is one of those G%$D!@#$d V-twins. In my own experience, it does not matter _what_ you want to do to a V-twin, the stinkin' staggered dual exhaust pipes will be in the way, period. To help combat this, I decided to remove the low-side shock (no exhaust) first.

After removing the shock, gather all the spacers that were included with your shocks. If you used aftermarket shocks (I used Progressives; my personal favorites), there should be a slew of them. If you used factory shocks or made-for shocks, then you may not have any. Size each and every spacer to the mounting post until you find the one that most exactly fits.

Only once in my life have I run into a situation where there was no perfect fit. A quick trip to my FLBS solved that problem; he ordered me up a set of assorted spacers, and two days later I had them in my hands.

It is important to get the best possible fit, so that there is minimal slop in the suspension. The mounting post is _not_ something you want to get chafed up over the years.

Fit the spacers to the mounting posts for the shocks. Sometimes you get lucky and do not need any, but never plan on this. Make sure you have a good fit with minimal slop.

Once you have removed the first shock and selected your spacers, go ahead and hang the shock from the top mount. It _may_ reach the lower mount as well (as it is fully extended with no load on it), but it is not likely. If it does reach the lower mount, go ahead and attatch it there as well. Put the required rubber bushings and washers in place as per the instructions packed with your shocks. Start the nuts on the posts, but do not tighten them yet-- you want to be able to freely swing the shock, should it be neccessary in the next step.

Go ahead and select the spacer that best fits the shock mounting posts. They are garaunteed to fit the shock, as they are sold as a set.

Once the spacers are in place, install the shock. Yes, these pics are of the high-side (which I did last), but the low-side photos did not turn out. Rest assured, it was exactly the same procedure.

My Lovely Assistant's bike was a bit of a challenge, in that we were dropping the shock length a bit better than two inches, and it had the traditional V-twin "hey, here's an idea: let's put the exhaust in the way of everything!" staggered pipes.

What I had to do for her bike was to install the upper end of the new low-side shock and remove the upper end of the factory high-side shock. While this is pretty much the standard shock replacement practice, it is easier if you don't have staggered pipes in the way. If the exhaust does not prevent you from removing the lower mount of the high-side factory shock, remove it instead of the upper.

That way, gravity will help you to keep the factory shock out of the way as you work the swingarm.

Before unattatching the second shock, go ahead and find a suitable prybar. The longer and stronger, the better. Go ahead and insert it under the rear wheel. Make sure that it is postitioned well enough that it will not roll out from under the wheel, and that it is long enough that you can comfortably reach and operate it one handed. Note my own high-tech solution:

This is a highly-specialized tool used to move earth, lift motorcycle tires, and to prop up listing DOT workers. As you can see, another use of the Lovely Assistant is taking well-focused pictures while your hands are full.

After placing the prybar (remember that at this point you should have the top end of the new shock installed on the side you are working on), support the rear wheel while you remove the remaining factory shock. If possible, have your Lovely Assistant remove the remaining shock while you support the rear wheel with your prybar.

As soon as you remove the second shock, the weight of the wheel is on the prybar. Carefully (and with any sense you will have someone help to steady the bike) raise the wheel with the prybar and line up the new shock to the mounting posts. Secure the shock, but don't worry about tightening the nut right now.

!!! CAUTION !!! : I have seen a number of folks over the years skip the prybar and try to use the bike jack to position the swingarm. The problem with this is twofold:

First, most bike jacks move sideways as they lower the bike. The rear wheel dragging sideways as the bike comes down can pull it off the jack in a hurry!

Second, most bike jacks drop the bike quickly! Even lowering the bike in increments can get the wieght of it rocking a good bit. If you opt to use this method (and I warn you strongly against doing it) use EXTREME care in balancing the bike. It will rock far more this way than it ever could with a prybar.

Move over to the other side of the bike and install the new shock. You may find in necessary to manipulate the wheel a bit to line it up perfectly.

NOTE to owners of bikes with STAGGERED DUAL EXHAUST: Generally, you will not be able to remove the entire shock, as the exhaust itself will eclipse the lower mount for the shock. If you remove only the top mount from this shock and raise the wheel and swingarm, you can gain access to the nut without removing your chrome snakes. If you are dropping the shock size far enough-- and depending on just how high your exhaust is-- you may be able to completely change the shock on the other side, minimzing the amount of time you have to support the wieght of the rear wheel.


This project originally began as a direct result of the motorcycle industry's blatant ignoring of any rider under 5'10. The current trend in bikes seems to be to stretch them out as far as possible, ensuring that anyone under 5'10 can't comfortably reach all the controls.

My wife fits this category, and we spent many, many months trying to find a nice highway bike for her that she could comfortably ride. We found one-- a 1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500A with under 3000 miles on it. The evidence (things left in the saddlebags) indicate that the original owner was also a woman (or a man looking to get his butt whipped in this part of the country), so right away my wife had a connection to this bike.

The Duchess aboard her new ride. Though it is not her dream bike, the lowering is a good step towards it. Note the chrome cover over the horn (just behind and below the air intake).
Thanks to MilleniumRebel for the great idea!

Everything fit; she did not have to reach for any of the controls, including the foot pegs. She could ride this bike for hours without cramping or straining. But this bike posed a different set of problems. While she had absolutely no trouble reaching the controls, the ground was a bit further away than she was comfortable reaching. After a couple of dead-stop drops, I decided that as her husband, it was my duty to raise the ground up to meet her bike. (I really ended up just lowering the bike, but don't tell her that; she seemed pretty impressed.)

The first step in doing any custom work is planning. I took a bit of time to figure out how to lower the bike, and how low to go. My wife was adamant that she did not want a tail-dragger or high-riser look, so I knew right away that whatever I did to one end had to be perfectly re-created on the other end. While it would "close in" the look of the bike (make it look beefier and bring the front wheel in a tiny bit), it would not greatly affect the overall style of her ride. I decided that 2 to three inches would be ideal, and aimed for about 2 and a half inches. While it doesn't sound like much, ask anyone who has done something like this just what a big difference it actually makes.

The simplest way to lower the rear of a swing-arm type bike (and many soft tails, but not all of them) is to perform a simple shock swap. I decided immediately that I would go that route myself. The front end still left a few choices. I toyed with the idea of simply sliding the fork tubes up in the triple trees, like I had done a few times when I was a kid, but decided against it for a number of reasons:
1) My wife would hate it.
2) The design of the handlebars would only let me get about an inch and a quarter if I went that way
3) My wife would hate it.
4) It does nothing to limit wheel travel. If I managed to slide the forks up three inches, a good hard full-compression type bump would smash the fender into the radiator.
5) Most importantly, my wife would really, really hate it.

Then I toyed with the notion of cutting the fork springs. Briefly. I know that hundreds of people do this, but I don't like it. For one, the springs are only shorter; their rate and preload are completely unchanged. In English, this means that forks are going to jump around and smash to a bottom out a lot faster than ordinary, because they will be expecting to be stopped by an amount of compression that is no longer there. There is also the slim chance of a mis-cut of re-tempering the springs so that they do not operate identically. This is my wife's sled I am working on here, and I am just not going to take the chance with a hack job.

Well, that leaves new fork springs; a fork lowering kit, to be precise. I like the kits for a couple of reasons. First, the springs are wound with preloads and rates commensurate to their lenghts, so while the ride is going to be firmer (the suspension has to do the same dampening job in a shorter run), it is not necessarily going to be harder or softer, and the bottoming out problem is taken care of in all but the most extreme bumps. Further, they also control wheel travel in keeping with their shorter length, so wheel wander and porpoising are now a non-issue.

So armed with a plan, I headed off to gather all my components. This is a vital step. You have to find a source that gives great advice, reasonable prices, and most importantly, is a pleasure to deal with. This is my own recommendation if you live anywhere near coastal Georgia:

Liberty Cycle in Hinesville, GA. Same location for twenty years that I know of, and probably more that I don't. Greatest bunch of folks ever, and a great place to get accessories, used bikes, and grape soda. Oh, as you can see in the sign, they are also a Polaris dealer and service center.

My flash failed horribly here, but we didn't know it at the time. The shadowy figure on the right is Kenneth, owner, head sales guy, and cheif mechanic of the greatest Friendly Local Bike Shop ever. They can be reached at (912)368-4441 ..... Sorry about the pic, Ken!

With the help of these great folks, and an impressive array of supply catalogues, I decided on a set of Progressive rear shocks and a Progressive fork spring set. The shocks were 2 inches shorter, and the fork kit was designed to drop the front 2 and a half inches. Owing to the angles of the shocks and the forks, I actually managed to get three inches lower at each end.

Okay, we picked out what we wanted, got the order pushed through, and stayed to yak for way too long. It is that kind of place, and the folks are great. Yes, I said that already, but I just can't stress it enough. Even as the city grows and moves out to them, they remain an island of friendly, laidback natives with enough time for everybody.

Skip ahead to the next weekend, and a trip back to pick up our goodies. As with the shocks, I went with Progressive springs as well. Just in case anyone needs to know, the Vulcan EN1500a was evidently not the most popular bike to customize, and precious few catalogues listed anything for it. Tapping Kenneth's knowledge and experience, we went with a kit for the 1500c. Seems they are identical, except for a few trim pieces. And oddly, they were listed all over the place....

So know I have the stuff. It's time to get the Vulcan up on the lift and ready for some surgery.

Here she is, up on the jack and waiting for her surgery. I haven't done any real modifying to anything in a couple of years (beyond auxiliary lighting), and am anxious to get started. Sorry for the lighting and the quality of the pics, but as I said, I am using disposables. I took about three hundred pics, and precious few are usable.

I am anxious to get started, but not so anxious as to ignore safety. Both my own, and that of the bike.

The jack should fit firmly under the bike, and be as centered as possible. On most bikes, there are tiny little places on the frame or bottom of the engine. In this case, both methods are used.

If you look closely, you can see one of the jacking tabs at the corner of the frame. Keep in mind that while this area is designed to support the weight of the bike, it is not necessarily going to be perfectly balanced, especially if you have a lot of bolt-ons like luggage and such.

The ubiquitous pile of bricks. Until I actually started creating this little documentary, I did not realize just how many of these things I have just lying around....
Here, they are used to support the rear of the bike. As mentioned above, the bike is not always balanced just because it is on a jack. This one, like most big cruisers, is extremely tail-heavy. This problem is only going to be exacerbated when the front end comes off.

Now it is time to begin. Before I could even think about going to the forks, I had to do a few other things first. Obviously, the wheel and all its little buddies have got to come off. A quick inspection shows what to take off, and in what order.

The first thing to go is the brake calipers. They bolt to the fork tube, and so will be in the way. Besides, the wheel won't clear them if I try to remove it with them in place. Two Allen-head bolts are all that hold them on. You can do this job (and probably the whole project, if you are lucky) with just Allen wrenches, but I have found power tools to be far more efficient. An impact wrench (for those of you like myself-- not blessed with an air compressor, an electric impact is relatively inexpensive, particularly if you are not choosy about brand. Mine came from the local Harbor Freight store, and cost under 40 bucks on sale.

This pic did not come out really well, but I felt obliged to include it, as I have seen a couple of people not think about this until it was too late-- they were trying to deal with it with their hands full of fender and wheel. This is the brake line, where it passes through the bracket that keeps it out of the wheel. While I prefer to remove it before I remove the caliper, in this case I could not. So, one hand holding the caliper, I worked it free. NEVER let the caliper hang by the hose. When you get the caliper unfastened, remove it and tie it out of the way. I used a bit of string and secured it to the frame (though the pic of that was truly a lost cause).

I removed the low end of the speedo cable next, though I am afraid that none of the pics of that job are worth looking at. This is a simple procedure; essentially just unscrew the cable housing from the mechanism at the axle. lift it off the mechanism gently, as you want to be sure that the actual cable (the "insert" piece that looks like a wire with a square end on it) to come out straight. If you bend it, you will have a nasty time trying to get back together. Fortunately, they are pretty tough; just pay attention to what you are doing. Again, tie it up out of the way. Oh, and try not to pull the insert. You don't want to remove it from the speedometer end, either.

Next up was the wheel itself. There are several different methods of mounting the front wheel, and they seem to come and go in popularity based on the years and style of bikes. However, they all have one thing in common: they are all mounted with a solid axle bolt that passes from one side to the other.

On this bike, the threaded end of the bolt was secured with a simple nut. The impact wrench spun it off in a hurry. The other end of the axle did not have a bolt head, but instead had a hole through it. I pushed a large Allen wrench through the hole to serve as a "hook" of sorts and, supporting the front wheel, wiggled and pulled until it slid out.

Be warned that on most bikes, the speedometer mechanism is going to drop off the axle when you start to slide the axle out.

The impact wrench makes short work of the axle nut.

An Allen wrench makes a handy gaffing hook to pull the axle out with. Don't have terror-filled visions of bearings falling out; it doesn't happen. They are sealed bearings, and are pressed into the wheel. Look closely between the fork leg and the wheel. This little metal "collar" (the thing that looks like a spacer) is in fact the mechanical "reader" of the speedometer. The cable hooks to the top of it, behind the fork. Make sure you have removed the cable before you start, as it will get in your way as well as dangle around. If it dangles and swings, there is a chance that the inner cable will tug out of the speedometer, rendering it inoperable. It is an easy fix, but it is best to avoid complications.

The only thing left is the fender. This fender mounts to a pair of brackets, which in turn mount to the forks. I got a lucky break on this job, as a quick look underneath the fender shows I have plenty of clearance to remove the fender brackets and all. Four bolts I don't have to take loose! Yes!

Just these four bolts, and the real work can begin!

A close-up of the bolts that I reffered to in the previous picture.

----- MORE TO COME -----

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