Ohlins HD 150 Shocks Tested on Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic
Despite their redoubtable success, Ohlins suspension has become ubiquitous only in the sport-bike segment of the motorcycle market; broadening its range to entice the Harley-Davidson aficionado makes eminent sense.
Ohlins’ new line of Harley shocks comes in several spec levels, and we went with the mid-range HD 159 units—single-tube, 13-inch gas-pressurized shocks with an internal oil reservoir. Not having the remote reservoir keeps things simple, and they bolted straight on to our 2006 Electra Glide Ultra Classic.
Incidentally, they are not gold-finished. This makes sense, as Harley owners can be quite persnickety about the presentation of their mount, and an unapproved color would not be welcome. In the case of the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic, the bags hide the shocks.
The 159s are adjustable for length, and the rebound damping is changed using the knurled knob at the bottom of the shock. There is no compression damping adjustment, however, on this particular class of bike that might be overkill; the machine is simply too heavy to need adjustable compression damping.
Carefully crafted, the 159s exude Ohlins quality, and are available to fit model years from 1990 onwards. Ohlins requested our weight and typical riding type and conditions, and set the shocks accordingly. I stuck with those factory settings.
To establish a baseline, I pumped the stock rear shocks’ pressure to 30 psi—an excellent compromise setting for a full dresser with passenger. We then took the bike on a ride over a variety of pavement quality and corners. The stock bike handles okay, although the rear damping is obviously weak.
In fast corners — around 55 mph— any kind of single bump would set off a wallow that would then travel to the front end of the bike. It isn’t awful, though it could certainly do with improvement. Likewise, on a more consistently bumpy road the stock rear suspension was clearly over-whelmed, making the bike harder to control and more uncomfortable for the passenger.
Fitting the Ohlins 159s was a breeze. Holding the bike upright with a Condor Pit-Stop wheel chock, I used a jack at the rear to prevent the wheel from collapsing into the fender when the shocks came off. I changed one shock at a time to minimize risk; it was just the four bolts and removing the stock air lines.
The change was immediately apparent to both rider and passenger. The relatively plush ride was still there, yet the damping was so changed. Riding the same route, the rear was much more controlled. The back end would clearly get hit pretty hard over the larger bumps, yet the superior damping leveled the chassis out immediately. This translated to less weaving at the front, and the improved composure of the bike made us feel secure and, ultimately, more comfortable.
Sweeping corners are improved, as well. The stock shocks allow a weave to start, and it is impossible to stop it; all you can do is work around it. However, the Ohlins 159s controlled the rear well and the weave was greatly reduced. All is not perfect, as the stock Harley forks and relatively unsophisticated chassis in 2006 still have handling flaws, of course; upgrades to the forks and a chassis stabilizer link are next on the list.
Overall, the Ohlins 159 shocks are a noticeable improvement over stock. The plushness of the ride was not reduced, while the improved damping control made a huge difference in our safety. It makes touring on a big H-D much more pleasant, comfortable and less fatiguing.
This story is featured in the July/August 2013 issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine — available on newsstands and good bookstores everywhere. The issue is also available free to readers on Apple Newsstand (for iOS devices) and Google Play (Android). To subscribe to the print edition, please visit our Subscriber Services page.