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Smoothin’ out da bumps ’n’ bottom-outs

By “LoDown” Dan Parker

‘Caddies’ Gold Valve Cartridge Emulator Kit and High Performance Fork Springs

Race Tech


You know how it goes. You buy a Harley and you start making changes—often before the bike even rolls out of the dealership. We want our rides to be sexy and reflect our individual style, and so we set out to replace some of the stock items so our motorcycle looks and sounds more to our liking. Many owners go beyond that and work to improve their bike’s handling characteristics, changing features like the brakes or suspension. It’s a “pretty is as pretty does” approach. And, for most of us, the whole thing is an ongoing process that lasts the life of the machine.

As part of that ongoing process we once again turned our attention to the 2004 Harley-Davidson FLHT Electra Glide waiting patiently in the garage. An unofficial long-term Thunder Press bagger test sled, the “Geezer Glide” has already seen her share of changes, from adding a sound system to upgrading the engine to 95 inches.

Admittedly, when it came to making more alterations, our first notion this past winter was to give the old girl a snappy new paint job and make her glow a bit. But with the odometer on the verge of logging its second 50,000-mile lap, we knew that attending to items like front fork maintenance was high on the unglamorous-but-must-do list. Then we had a brainstorm: Let’s pelt two birds with one stone and do the necessary front fork maintenance, while also improving the Glide’s handling. Brilliant.

We didn’t have to spend much time scratching our heads in search of just how to accomplish our goal. Past research recalled that Race Tech, a Southern California company in business since the mid-1980s and dedicated to making all types of motorcycles perform better, had just what we were looking for: A kit containing the “Caddies” Gold Valve Cartridge Emulator and High Performance Fork Springs.

Making it better
You don’t have to be a mechanical engineer to understand exactly how contemporary front fork suspension systems work, but it certainly helps. Put simply, there are two basic types of fork suspension, the damping rod and the cartridge system, and of the two, the cartridge system is generally considered to be the more sophisticated and better performing and is the setup found today’s high-performance sport bikes. The light-bulb-over-the-head moment came for Paul Thede, the main man at Race Tech, when he developed an emulator valve that makes a conventional damping rod work like a cartridge-type system. Another Race Tech innovation, the Gold Valve, makes cartridge systems work even better. It turns out we were to have the best of both.

If we were a bit confused about what bits we needed to bolster the bike’s front suspension, we weren’t so for long. The Race Tech website has an excellent “Product Finder” feature that makes it simple to locate the kit we needed by bike brand, model and year. It turns out that the “Caddies” designation is meant to set aside Race Tech products intended for Harley-Davidson models. Other useful web site features include a dealer/installer locator and an array of special tools for sale.

DIY? Maybe, maybe not
While an excellent set of installation instructions is provided by Race Tech, those same guides state up front that doing the job right will likely require special tools like a spring compressor or fork seal driver not found in most home tool boxes. And a quick reading of the instructions reveals that a correct install will include making a number of precise measurements before cutting and drilling some components. Options include using the dealer/installer locator on the Race Tech website, arranging for the factory to do the work, or finding a skilled mechanic at a local independent shop or factory dealership.

Since we are not among those who consider it a badge of courage to disassemble and then reassemble our bike while blindfolded, we opted to head over to Mongo Werks in Thornton, California, and turn the task of installing our Race Tech front suspension kit over to Harley-certified mechanic Pat “Mongo” Kelly, who promptly got to “werk.” What he did with the kit components, in essence, was to modify the left fork leg to mimic or “emulate” a cartridge-type system. He then installed the Race Tech Gold Valve to improve the right fork’s stock cartridge assembly. Both sides were upgraded with high performance springs, which, among other things, are much less prone to compaction over time.

And, while this is not a step-by-step install story, we will pass along some tips from Mongo. While the fork is disassembled, consider, as he did, replacing the interior fork leg and slider bushings (there are four and three of them showed some wear). So, too, for the fork seals, especially if they have been in operation for long time, as ours were. Other items worth changing are the small rubber washers under the fork caps. Oh, and carefully follow the instructions, and the adage “measure twice, cut/drill once.” But if you do get in trouble, Race Tech does maintains technical support hotline.

After Mongo had the Geezer Glide’s front end buttoned back up, we hit the local pavement—everything from winding country back roads to slabs of Interstate—for a rolling test. We went out of our way to take on some known trouble spots on the open road as well as maneuver over parking lot speed bumps. We also paid attention to things like fork dive and rebound at stops.

Mongo, who has a motorcycle racing background, reported an immediately noticeable improvement in the front end’s ability to smooth out the numerous small- and medium-sized bumps in the roads. Fork dive at braking was reduced as well. We, too, found an overall smoother ride and the improved front-end feedback we mentioned earlier. Even at low-speed obstacles like speed bumps, the Glide’s front-end wallow was diminished.

Best of all, the combination of a smoother ride and better feel inspired more cornering confidence. In the final judgment, we are giving two thumbs up for the Race Tech ‘Caddies’ Gold Valve Cartridge Emulator and High Performance Fork Springs Kit. Keep in mind that Race Tech also provides upgraded rear suspension components. For the full line, check out the company website.

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