Praise the Lowered: How to Lower a Telescopic Front End
Sometimes riding high just doesn’t feel cool. Sometimes a motorcycle just needs to be slammed down. Now, a motorcycle that is all the way down on the ground may have air suspension so that it can be raised up, but the old-fashioned technique of having low suspension all the time is still very prevalent on the custom motorcycle scene. Almost all motorcycles made to look like older choppers and low-riders have some sort of lowered front end. Springer front ends are a whole other animal. To lower a springer front end, some more fabrication might be needed. To lower a traditional telescopic front end, on the other hand, is actually not that hard. But mechanic beware: don’t attempt this modification until you do your homework.
The first step of any process like this is taking things apart. The wheel, front brake(s), calipers, front fender, fairings and/or nacelle all have to be removed. To do all of this, the motorcycle must be lifted in the front to allow the wheel to come off the ground. Remove the axle nut and axle and remove the front wheel. Once everything is removed, access to the front end tubes is easy. Most front ends have axle caps that also have to be removed. A drain plug will either be located inside, underneath the axle tubes or on the outside of the tubes to drain the front end fluid. Remove all of the fluid.
Most telescopic front ends are held in place with triple tree clamps. These usually have a stem that will run down the neck of the frame and two slotted holes to clamp onto the front end tubes. The clamp itself is not usually modified in the lowering process, but when the whole front end is apart, this can be easier to accomplish. The top of the tube will have caps that will be removed and the tubes are usually held into the triple clamps with pinch bolts that will also be removed.
Make sure to keep everything that has come out of the tubes in the same order, so that they can be reinstalled in the reverse order. Once the cap is removed, a seal should come out as well as a spacer with a large spring located underneath. The tube can be compressed to remove the spring. A large hex-key will have to be inserted through the tube with a very long extension. The size of this key depends on the manufacturer of the front end. A similarly large hex-key will also be used on the bottom of the tube, up through the axle cap space. This one can be held with a breaker bar in a vice.
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Once the lower bolt is removed, the two halves of the front end tube will come apart. The dust cap located on the lower half of the tube can be pried off; sometimes it is held in place with a retainer ring. Once everything is apart, the dampener rod will be exposed.
To lower the front end, make a spacer on the dampener rod. On a stock front end, there is no spacer, just a small spring. The amount of drop to the front end is determined by how big this spacer is. A 2″ drop requires a 2″ space. The spacer should be made by a machinist on a lathe out of quality steel. Don’t just shove any old piece of tube in there.
Apply assembly lube to the entire component and reinstall a new dust seal. The pieces should all go back together the same way they came apart. The two large hex-keys will be used again to reassemble the bottom and top of the tube.
The spacer that came out of the top of the tube will have to be shortened the same amount that you had added to the dampener rod. The spring goes back in the top, along with the shortened spacer. The tube is placed back into the triple clamp and is filled with new fluid. The top cap can be tightened back on and one side is done. The other side is done the exact same way.
Once the front end is back together, the wheel and axle can be reinstalled. The brakes, calipers, and caliper brackets can all be reinstalled. The front fender, fairing or nacelle, can also be put back on and the project is finished. The motorcycle should be lower in the front, but still have acceptable suspension travel. That’s all there is to it!
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