First, let’s establish what Yamaha has in the mighty little TW200. Aside from the iconic fat tires, it has that signature low-seat height of 31.1-inches strapped to a 196cc single-cylinder engine, complete with turn signals and a license plate! All relatively unchanged since the introduction in 1987! We discuss some of these differences between the two generations of TW’s in the blog post “YAMAHA TW200’S FOR SALE – NEW OR USED, WHICH WILL YOU CHOOSE?”
Yes, Yamaha TW200 is a 50-state street legal dual sport motorcycle that sits in a class of its own. It’s simple in design and “unassuming” to most. The Yamaha TW200 is simple, cheap and simply-reliable! Yamaha ticked off these three boxes and have not un-ticked those boxes, nor have they changed that formula for the TW200 since it’s the introduction in 1987.
History & Lineage of components?
I ended that headline with a “?” question mark as the following is just my theory. The Yamaha TW200 suspension is comprised of your most basic non-cartridge suspension most likely leftover from a late-night “parts bin raid” back in 1985-6, the years prior to the TW200 introduction to consumers. The “parts bin raid” was most likely production parts from the Yamaha DT-Series of motorcycles produced in the late 1960’s into the 70’s. The suspension components were already proven reliable and possibly noteworthy at that time, but relics today. Relics then too as the DT-1 evolved into the YZ-Series of motorcycles. But, if our TW200 suspension descended from the DT-1, let us look into the history of the DT-1.
The 1968 Yamaha DT-1’s design started with a “clean slate” for Yamaha. The DT1 did not borrow any major components from street machines in Yamaha’s line-up. Remember, dirt bikes or dual-sport bikes did not exist in Yamaha’s line prior! Although other “high pipe” machines like the Yamaha Big Bear Scrambler and Honda CL72 had been available, it can be argued the DT-1 is the first real dual-sport bike out of Japan. The 1968 Yamaha DT-1 was a 250cc single-cylinder, two-stroke engine that made strides be lighter than their road-going motorcycles. The DT-1 was designed with high ground clearance in comparison as well, capable of both trail riding and making miles on the street.
Side note: Yamaha went on to work with Don Jones (father to motocross pioneers Gary and DeWayne), who was instrumental in the development of motocross bikes throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1971 the Jones clan rebuilt the Yamaha DT-1 and RT-1 into competitive race bikes which eventually became the basis for the YZ line. Thus, the left-over “short travel” suspension from previously bikes could have made for the perfect late-night parts bin raid! Give this story a read about the legendary Yamaha DT-1! https://www.motorcyclistonline.com/1968-yamaha-dt-1-trail-250-enduro-two-strokes-roots/
I bring up the Jones family as I was privileged to have met DeWayne Jones (1950-2016) before his passing and got to visit his home-garage-shop! You can visit all of the photos I shot from his garage on my Flickr page: DeWayne Jones Performance Suspension
ENTER TCS POWERSPORTS
30-years later, a small group of friends recently purchased Yamaha TW200 and found themselves crossing paths with Todd Davis of TCS Powersports who has his own pedigree in both suspension and motorcycle race preparation. I was introduced to Todd Davis of TCS Powersports by my buddy Jason of Pedal Bike Shop, located in Riverside, California, very near TCS Powersports.
Yes, Jason’s Pedals Bike Shop is a bicycle & R/C Hobby shop, but he is into so much more than just bikes and R/C’s! He is into motos, 4X4-Overlanding, camping and all those things that go with outdoors! Through all of our crazy conversations, we talked about what would be my next moto I would buy and I clearly stated, “I WILL OWN A YAMAHA TW200 NEXT!” I think it was within two weeks, he actually purchased his TW200 first and days later, he found mine for me!
We both went over to meet up with Todd of TCS Powersports as Jason had some suspension work performed by Todd previously on another moto. The following week, Jason’s TW200 was in Todd’s shop for suspension makeover! The following week, my Yamaha TW200 went to TCS Powersports to undergo a full deep tissue suspension message as well!
With the peaked interest of this newly formed mini dual sport club, the Yamaha TDUB Club, Todd was rather shocked of the bike of our choice, especially knowing that we are not first-time riders, owning various dual-sport bikes. Yet we came to him to talk Yamaha TW200 suspension modification questions, “Can we make them better without redesigning the whole suspension, spending more money than the cost of the bike?” Davis was curious about our “TDUB” endeavors and was up for the challenge of going back to the old-school of suspension. Todd is also known for some of his vintage motorcycle restoration projects as well, thus he is very familiar with these non-cartridge relics.
The Yamaha TW200 has been in production since 1987. The photo above shows all of the suspension components laid out after Todd of TCS Powersports, disassembled the front forks and rear shock. My example is a 2016 version with very little, if any, suspension evolution. Luckily, Todd is very familiar with this type of “old school” suspension and had some ideas on what to do for TW200’s and what we wanted for our mini dual-sport motorcycles.
The front forks will be the largest portion of Todd’s focus as it dictates so much of the bike handling characteristics. It is the leading portion of the bike! But before we get into every technical detail, why are we even concerned with the TW200 suspension?
Simply, we want a safer bike through better suspension control, first and foremost. If we are able to conquer these attributes, we too should be able to gain some performance enhancements as well. Truth be told, we personally are looking for the performance characteristics over safety and better control, but Todd enlightened us those are attributes are that lead us to the greater fun factor of a more progressive suspension. It’s a “both-and” as suspension modification is good for both beginner riders and progressively experienced riders.
Through all of this, we also hoped to learn more about this “Death Wing” Bridgestone TW31 Trail Wing front tire “wash out” issue. While it’s an easy fix by simply replacing the front tire, call us a little hard-headed or maybe we like the technical challenge, as riding the “Death Wing” keeps our skills sharp!
But aside from our personal choices, is it the “bad” tire or is it the “soft” suspension? Can it be a combination of both? Currently, prior to suspension modification, we are running the front tire pressure at 12-16psi (mostly 14psi) for our Southern California dual sport conditions. If we know we will be making a big commute to the dirt, we will pop it back up to 18-22psi and air down once on dirt. Maybe with Todd’s super-tuned riding experience, he can shed more light on what is happening as he will be riding our bikes before and after. We are eager to learn as much as we can!
The front suspension of the Yamaha TW200 is radically under sprung and under damped causing the bike to excessively bottom out and is excessively unstable.
The TW200 has a massive 6″ or 152.4-mm’s of travel in stock configuration! With the bike sitting under its own weight (Free Sag), the bike loses 30mm or 1.1″ of that travel, thus losing roughly 20% of the travel – WITHOUT RIDER WEIGHT!
We want to increase the spring rate to raise the bike to aid in ride height, decrease dive and minimize bottoming out. This will aid in increasing control. We’re also modifying the stock dampening rods to increase dampening compression and rebound damping.
• If we go too soft, the bike’s front end will want to tuck and dive under. Bike feels like this already!
• If we go too stiff on the springs, it pushes or washes out. Or is that from the Trail Wing front tire? Hehehe
The goal for TCS Powersports is to find the happy medium that will actually aid in the bikes control characteristics, while progressing ride height, control the dive through progressive dampening and decrease the bottoming out. This is a tall order from a scant 6-inches! And to “stack-the-deck” more, all of this is desired to be achieved on a budget by TW200 owners who are seaking better characteristics without spending monies of a factory race program! We don’t want to price you into a new motorcycle, but a new bike purchase would only need suspension modification as well, in our opinion.
Just as an FYI side note, any-all motos can use suspension modification as the factory get’s you 50-80% in range, but its that last 20% or so that makes the fine-tuned dialed custom just for you. Every bike in our collective stables have received suspension modification; XR100, KLX140, 250RallyR, EXC350 XR400, FE450 all the way to the heavy KLR650 and 950ADV. All these bikes have benefited from custom suspension modifications. Thus, our TW200’s will be going to the TCS Powersports for full fork and shock body suspension messaging!
TCS’s single biggest “first thing” will be changing fork springs! But which rate and at what length? This is where Todd is the suspension mastermind! Through his years of experience backed with his computer-aided digital spreadsheets (everyone has to do some type of paperwork!) Todd can preview several spring analysis charts that Davis systematically runs characteristic curves; showing us three separate spring rates, all at different lengths to achieve the same characteristics…
But due to the length of the 6” travel of the fork, we only have one option suitable for our needs. We are not going to supercross! Depending on desired characteristics and personal taste, Todd can fine-tune at a much higher level than stock. Changing track conditions, suspension changes can and are being made by the top pros! OK, that just blew us right out of the water! We just want better than stock “progressively average” with way more “grin factor!”
It’s a good thing Todd rides what he preaches, thus he knows what we are looking for even though we can not tell him exactly what it is we are looking for!
He takes our simply goofy input descriptions and translates them into numbers and then orders different sets of springs to test with. He said he has a good idea on which spring setup he wants us to go with, but also wants to guinea pig us on a couple of spring-sets, for both our education and continued research to put into his analytics. He’s not had any TW200’s coming through his suspension mod request until we came through his doors, but due to the similarity of the old school Yamaha’s that are being vintage-raced, he has a good base of where our TW200’s should be.
With TCS modifying the TW200 suspension, we are getting a half-inch back at static ride height (free sag)! While that does not sound like a lot, remember, we are dealing with a total of SIX INCHES OF TRAVEL!
Todd said the typical starting point or “golden rule” is to start at a 30% suspension sag for the rear suspension. On initial testing, the stock spring is good for riders weighing 170-210-lbs. Rear shock on my 2016 Yamaha TW200 is non-externally adjustable, so Todd will disassemble and modify the valving to suit rider preference and ability.
Here Todd has created a pilot hole.
With the pilot hole, he will tap the shock body to insert a special screw that houses a sealable bladder.
Think of it like the valve on a basketball, just extremely high-pressure!
OVERALL RIDING IMPRESSION
February of 2018: My TW200 hits the ground with the freshly built TCS Powersports messaged suspension! It’s now March of 2020 and I can simply say, this is the single best modification I have done to my TW200. Could have I gone without it. Yes, but it would not have been as fun to ride and could have put me into some serious situations with the factory super-soft suspension. Everything is a sliding scale of cost and benefits and I place this one way up there! Skidplate, ergo’s and suspension in that order!
The TCS Powersports modified TW200 suspension simply allows me to ride the moto the way I want to ride it and gives me the confidence to do so! Also, because the rear brake is a drum-type brake, squeaking at the moment of engagement, I only use it maybe 5-10% of the time, *using the front brake. What does this have to do with the suspension? What happens when you grab the front brake? IT DIVES! DIVER DOWN! With the TCS suspension, “the dive” is way less, making both the bike and handling WAY MORE PREDICTABLE!
CONTACT TCS POWERSPORTS
Website: TCS Powersports http://www.tcspowersports.com/
*using the front brake.
How To – Use Your Front Brake Properly by Brake Magazine
Brake Magazine is an entirely online Adventure Motorcycle publication that tests and reviews bikes, aftermarket parts, kit and then brings you honest and informative reviews, touched with a little bit of cool riding along the way.