Wilbers make an excellent suspension upgrade that is uniquely compatible with the BMW ESA system so you don’t lose any function or end up with add on switchgear to give you electronic adjustment. The Wilbers units have bright orange springs and look quite discreet on the bike!
In the UK Wilbers units are fitted by Revs Racing based in Birmingham. According to John Gaskell of Revs there are three reasons that BMW Owners fit the Wilbers ESA (1) To replace a failed unit (2) To lower the suspension and (3) To improve performance. Brian Garforth, Bob Mack and I (Steve Moxey) have the Wilbers ESA installed it seemed a good time to summarise what we have learnt about the Wilbers ESA for club members who may wish to improve their suspension.
To get your ESA units converted to Wilbers ESA there is quite a bit of work to be done, as the original unit is dismantled and reassembled with the new suspension . If you are going to wait it will take Revs Racing a full day or you can remove the suspension and drop it off at Revs and then collect it later. See the video to see what is involved:
(1) Replacing a Failed BMW ESA Shock
Bob Mack had the rear shock go on his R1200GSA 2008 at about 12,00 miles but outside warranty. A new BMW ESA shock costs about £1,500, which is rather pricey! The Wilbers unit costs £600 fitted per shocks (including all that work you saw in the video!) and Bob decided this was the best option despite an offer of help from NOG. Note the original BMW shock on Bob’s bike was a cheap Ohlins, the Ohlins replacement is very expensive and does not work well with the BMW software apparently.
Bob’s unit is at the standard height and Bob found it to be a very effective replacement, the increased range of damping from comfort to sport is much more noticeable than on the standard unit. Other shocks might have worked as well but would not have the integration with the BMW ESA.
(2) Lowering the Suspension Height
A lot of people would like to lowering the height of their motorcycles and this is a popular option with new BMWs. John Gaskell at Revs was very scathing about some cheap and cheerful conversions that are available which just modify the existing rear suspension unit if you have paid a couple of hundred pounds you probably own one of these! To replace two suspension units will cost you £1,200 for the Wilbers ESA.
Since every Wilbers unit is custom made you could in principle have any height reduction you wanted, although 35mm and 65mm seem to be popular reductions. You will also need to have the side stand shortened and fit the replacement BMW centre stand or you will find it very difficult to lift the bike on to the centre stand!
Brian Garforth had a 35mm reduction for his GS to make the bike more manageable and to make it easier for Lillian to get on and off the bike, here is Brian’s report:
“I can remember the ride home after I had the Wilbers fitted it was a revelation! Lillian on the back, suspension set to 2-up and I was at least 10 mph faster everywhere, the bike just went round corners, full stop and Lillian had a grin on her face from ear to ear! Feet securely on the ground, every start and stop was without any chance of drama and remains so. With the 35mm suspension lowering, I no longer need to push the bike out of parking spaces before getting on or ask Lillian to push, the joy of having both feet on the ground with good purchase. My 5’ 3” pillion can now leap to her seated position with the ease and grace of a gazelle!! (in my dreams).
After 14 months the initial wow factor has subsided a little but the benefits remain. All suspension is a compromise, and I think we have it about right as most of our use of the GS is 2-up. I reach the limit with the bike fully loaded, for example on the club’s 2013 Spain trip, when I put the ESA in “sport” to firm up the rear suspension to prevent bottoming over speed humps but we were heavy and certainly heavier on the return trip. Would I fit Wilbers suspension again? yes in a heartbeat. Would I take ESA as an option? On balance no, if I was to buy another GS I would take the standard spec suspension and then fit the non-ESA Wilbers suspension with the 35mm height reduction.”
(3) Improving Suspension Performance
I was the last of the three owners to fit the Wilbers ESA. My motivation was not replacement or lowering I just wanted better suspension on my 2012 R1200GSA. Although my bike is quite new I had already covered 18,000 miles mostly two up and fully loaded on a long trip around the USA. With the extra weight I certainly found the standard suspension was struggling to keep things under control which was a limitation on tight mountain roads or over uneven ground.
I had my Wilbers ESA units made to match the normal load of the motorcycle which meant weight the rider and passenger in riding kit and all of the luggage my suspension was built for 80% two-up use.
I immediately noticed the effect of the Wilbers ESA, the ride was very smooth on the way back from Birmingham and one short trip two up was also very good. I particularly like having custom built suspension which is setup for our intended use.
Based on our collective experience and different requirements we think the Wilbers ESA suspension is a useful upgrade, whether required for replacement or to improve performance. The lowering option may also be useful for some owners.
Revs Racing and John Gaskell are hoping to have a small stand at the BMW National AGM which the Oxford Section are hosting on April 26th 2014.