There’s virtually no limit to the extent that you can modify a motorcycle. This, of course, includes its performance and if it’s better handling you want there are 2 sure-fire ways to achieve it. One way is to fit a set of performance tyres. The other is to upgrade the suspension.
Since I’m obsessed with tweaking my Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe, and because I’d already installed better tyres, I decided it was time to have a play with the bike’s suspension. For this project, I was particularly interested in swapping out the rear shock since I felt the standard unit was the weakest link in the setup. While out riding the Zed I’ve experienced the occasional harsh jolt up the spine and it’s a sensation I can do without. So I started hunting for a new mono-shock.
Ducatista will wax lyrical that Ohlins offer the best motorcycle suspension around, but those who aren’t blinded by brand hype know there are plenty of other exceptional brands out there. One such brand that has always appealed to me is the UK manufacturer Nitron Suspension.
After a quick search online, I discovered that Nitron sold suspension to suit the Zed. To learn more I downloaded their latest motorcycle suspension catalogue. After serendipitously discovering an image of the Kawasaki Z1-R at the back of the catalogue built in collaboration with the Japanese tuner Bull Dock my mind was made up.
Who is Nitron Suspension?
Sine 1998 Nitron Suspension have been designing, developing and manufacturing suspension from their Oxfordshire HQ in the United Kingdom. Under the guidance of company founder and CEO Guy Evans, they produce performance suspension components for both street and race applications. Today along with an extensive motorcycle suspension catalogue Nitron offer a comprehensive range (4000+ parts) for all manner of automotive applications. The Nitron team of staff is made up of experienced engineers, many of whom have personal racing experience and they apply their own learnings on the track to the products they design.
Nitron develops its products using the latest 3D CAD modelling techniques, state-of-the-art Dynomometers and 5-Axis CNC machines. Their products are machined from billet aluminium, charged using Nitron gas, and are built entirely by hand. All of Nitron’s products are also entirely serviceable which means customers can enjoy a lifetime of use from their products.
“Nitron aim to provide the highest quality motorcycle suspension through a combination of innovation, uncompromising quality and attention to detail.” – Nitron Suspension
Along with a dedicated focus on producing high-performance suspension, Nitron pays special attention to the design and appearance of its products. Nitron suspension is recognisable by the brand’s striking trademark blue colour which is applied to their product’s springs. They do however offer black variations for customers wanting something more subdued.
Choosing the right motorcycle suspension
Most of the top suspension manufacturers offer customers a range of different options designed to suit different applications. Niton Suspension is no different. For the Kawasaki Z900RS Cafe, I had the choice of 3 different shocks. These included the NTR R1, the company’s best selling street riding solution, the NTR R2, a premium shock for track-days and spirited road riding and the top of the range NTR R3 designed specifically for riders seeking the highest level of adjustability and performance. I opted for the middle of the range NTR R2.
The Nitron NTR R2 is a monoshock spring that utilises a remote reservoir that allows quick tool-free adjustment. The R2 in the shock’s name relates to the number of types of adjustments that can be performed on the unit. In this case, it allows spring preload adjustment (using an included tool) and compression and rebound damping using the remote reservoir.
When purchasing a model-specific shock it may also come with a bracket for mounting the reservoir in a predefined location. In the case of the Z900RS, the included bracket allows the reservoir to be mounted off the pillion footrest mount.
The Nitron Suspension Ordering Process
I ordered my Z900RS Nitron shock from their Australian distributor Suspension R Us. Suspension R US is the biggest importer of suspension in Australia and offer a wide range of brands including Nitron. After contacting them I discussed my needs with managing director Izzy Dafni. He agreed that the NTR R2 was the right application for my riding needs. Izzy himself is a race veteran who has supported local and national racers for some 20 years and has a wealth of suspension knowledge.
After settling on the Nitron NTR R2 I provided some basic information about myself and my riding. This included my weight in full riding gear, my riding practices (street vs track) and how often I carried a pillion. Izzy then used this information to pre-tune my shock before it was shipped. This removes any need for having to try and find the appropriate setting yourself.
When the Nitron NTR R2 shock arrived I was blown away by the quality of the unit. All of the individual components are finished to exacting standards. Sitting beside the stock Kawasaki shock made the OEM item look positively cheap. The NTR R2 also weighs 500 grams less than the stock shock despite the addition of the remote reservoir and any weight saving is always welcome.
Installing the Nitron NTR R2 rear shock
With a bit of common sense, the right tools and an attention to detail you can safely perform most modifications or basic servicing tasks on your motorcycle yourself. If, however, you don’t feel comfortable with modifying your motorcycle take it to a reputable workshop. I like to do these things myself. So without a minute’s hesitation, I jumped straight into the installation of the NTR R2.
The most challenging task of this particular modification is that you need the rear wheel off the ground and the swingarm must be free to move. This means no paddock stands. If you have a centre stand it shouldn’t be an issue. If you don’t you’ll need a lift stand that can support the weight of your bike. For the purpose of this install, I made my own stand that sat beneath the sump of the engine. I also secured the front wheel so there was no chance of the bike moving while I worked on it.
With the wheel up you can undo the 2 bolts holding the mono-shock in place. It’s a bit of a tight squeeze getting to the bolt at the top of the shock so you’ll need an extension on your socket wrench. To remove the top bolt you’ll also need to lift the rear wheel to take pressure off the bolt. This will take the pressure off the shaft of the bolt so it can be pulled out. Once that is done the rear wheel will drop and you can remove the lower bolt. I also removed the right side passenger peg bracket since this is where the remote reservoir bracket was to be moiunted.
Fitting the Nitron NTR R2 was simply a matter of bolting it in where the stock shock previously sat. The only thing to consider during this step is how the hose for the remote reservoir should be routed. Nitron uses a specially designed Bi-Axis fitting on the hose. This enables 360 degrees of movement where the hose attaches to the body of the shock. This ingenious design makes working with the cable very easy.
Once your Nitron NTR R2 is sitting in place you can torque both bolts to the factory settings. You then attach the remote reservoir to the included mounting bracket and fasten the bracket between the passenger footpeg bracket and the frame. Lower the bike down and push down on the seat a few times to check that it performing properly and that the cable is not being pinched by anything.
Lastly double-check everything is fastened correctly and you’re good to go. It is also a good idea to check the bolts again after your first ride just to make sure everything is still sitting as it should.
How it rides – Nitron NTR R2 Verdict
I’d love to tell you that the difference between the stock Z900RS rear shock and the NTR R2 is so vast it’s like comparing apples to oranges, but I can’t. If I was a track day junkie perhaps the differences would be more obvious, but in reality, I’m more of a street rider. So for me, while there is an obvious improvement, it hasn’t transformed the bike into something entirely different. This is because the stock mono-shock that Kawasaki used on the Z900RS isn’t all that bad. But in saying that it’s the subtle improvements that made this project and the expense worthwhile.
Gone are the occasional harsh jolts in the rear. Now when I pass over a particularly bumpy section of road the front end is where I feel the most bumps. The rear also feels very well planted in corners which makes me feel like a better rider. As for adjusting the shock, I haven’t played with it yet. The current settings that Suspension R Us applied are indeed ideal for me. The only time I foresee myself messing with it would be if I was carrying a pillion or a bunch of camping gear on a long trip, but until then I’m more than happy with how it’s set.
Along with the benefits the NTR R2 has added to my Zed it also looks great. The Nitron blue compliments the grey scheme of my bike and it gets a lot of comments. One day it’s likely I will fork out the extra dollars for a Nitron front end upgrade too, but for now, my spine will bask in the silky smoothness of my new rear shock.