Ohlins HD 159 Shock for Harley Tourers Review

Bryan Harley | September 6, 2012
Ohlins at Sturgis!
The Ohlins flag was flying over Black Hills Harley-Davidson at the recent Sturgis Rally.
Ohlins rep Peter Jones runs down the features of the HD159 to us.
Ohlins rep Peter Jones runs down the features of the HD159 to us.

Go to just about any biker rally in America and the motorcycle you’ll see more than any other is Harley-Davidson’s Ultra Classic Electra Glide. And though Ohlins may be a Swedish-based company, the high performance suspension maker recognized the window of opportunity this presents when it created its latest shock for Harley’s luxo-tourer, the HD 159 rear shock that fits FLH/FLT models from 1998 – 2012.

Ohlins HD159 is a single tube shock with a 36mm gas-type dividing piston sitting in an internal reservoir that also offers pre-load adjustability. At 13-inches long, it is factory length for all FLH/FLT models except for the Street Glide. It has a claimed three-inch stroke and though officially it only adjusts for rebound, compression is affected as a result, too. The ring nut at the top of the shock is adjusted by a small wrench that Ohlins provides when you purchase the shock so no spanner wrench is required to dial in preload while the knob at the bottom is hand adjustable and sets the amount of rebound.

During our recent trip to the 2012 Sturgis Rally, we met up with Ohlins rep Peter Jones who had a 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide shod in HD159 shocks prepped and ready for us to ride. Jones had already broken the units in with a ride out to Sturgis from North Carolina. Since we didn’t do the install, we asked him about the installation process which he said takes about only 15 minutes. The most important thing to remember is to take the weight off the rear of the bike. A couple of fasteners hold the stock Harley saddlebags in place, but with a quick twist the bags come right off and then it’s primarily a process of removing four bolts in order to install the direct replacement HD159s. Each shock comes with two spacers and one sleeve because the eye of the HD 159 is larger than the stock Harley bolt. If an Ohlins tech is installing the shocks, they will match the spring rate to the rider by first measuring sag with the rear tire off the ground. Then they’ll put the rider back on the bike to measure sag again, a process that needs to be repeated should you be tackling the installation yourself.

Before our ride, we adjusted the HD159s to compensate for the approximately 50-pound difference between me and Jones, who weighs a soaking wet 175 pounds by my estimation. After a quick click on the preload to adjust for our svelte 225-pound rider and a couple of clicks in on the rebound we were off to rumble through

Ohlins HD159 shock
The Ohlins HD159 shocks are rebound and preload adjustable. Easy to access, once they’re dialed in they provide great feel with the road and stability when cornering.

the Black Hills on roads that varied from fast freeway miles to tight curves, the perfect combination for testing Harley’s “King of the Road.”

Our first stint was freeway miles where the initial settings felt firm but comfortable. Once we got into the curvy stuff, though, steering wasn’t as sharp as we like it and the back end of the Harley Ultra Classic squatted a bit making us feel more on top of the road than connected to it.

Fortunately, it only took a quick stop and a few minutes to remedy the situation. Pulling to the safety of a parking lot, we popped the saddlebags off and went three clicks out on the rebound. The dial twists easily by hand and each click is deliberate and discernible.

Back on the road, the HD159-shod Harley now had more movement and the direct relationship to the road we covet returned. The vagueness of the initial settings was gone and our confidence leaning into curves increased. Cruising along at highway speeds, there is a noticeable improvement as the Ohlins units smooth out uneven road surfaces more than the stock Harley shocks. The big Harley tourer now felt firmly planted when banked over, too, no small feat for a bike that pushes the scales at about 900 pounds.

We kicked off Sturgis 2012 with a ride over to the Crazy Horse Memorial while testing a set of Ohlins rear shocks on a 2009 Ultra Classic.
We kicked off Sturgis 2012 with a ride over to the Crazy Horse Memorial while testing a set of Ohlins rear shocks on a 2009 Ultra Classic.

With it dialed in to our personal preference, the smoothness of the ride provided by Ohlins HD159 shocks was impressive. Before long the up-spec rear made us want for a comparable unit on the front of the bike, too.

Riding an Ultra Classic decked out in Ohlins HD159 shocks will spoil you. There is a marked improvement in the ability to feel what the road is doing beneath you and stability in turns improves compared to the stock Harley shock, which isn’t bad to begin with. At $909, it is an investment, but if you put on the miles like most Ultra Classic riders do, it’s worth the upgrade. The installation process is quick and straightforward and the ease of adjusting the Ohlins HD159 shocks roadside is appreciated. Now if only they made a fork to match.

Bryan Harley

Cruiser Editor |Articles | Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it’s chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to ‘Merican, he rides ‘em all.