In 1982 I picked up my first motorcycle magazine. It it, it had a write up about the GS550es (Which was one bad MUTHER...). In it was some cool GP bike write up stuff. I looked at all the pics from top to bottom. I analyzed what the brakes must be like as well as the trick suspension which featured ONE shock. WOW!!! As I continued to follow all this cool stuff, I noticed in the late 80's and early 90's trick looking inverted forks. Most notable where the badass looking gold Ohlins forks. I then deduced that those trick gold forks must hold all the secrets to top speed and low lap times. IT HAD TO BE IT. I also thought that I would never ever know what it was like to ride on that stuff. Man, that would be bitchin' if I could get a chance to just inspect those up close.
Fast forward almost 20 years and I find myself as owner of RPS, servicing Ohlins forks regularly. One part of me says, "WOW!" while the other part of me is "business as usual". Good situation regardless. I spent some time tuning on an R7 in 2000 and got some experience, but not anything noteworthy. Last year I started tuning on Ryan Burke's ex-AMA FX bike with full Superbike forks. I was able to diagnose some critical problems and really help Ryan get back on the winning track. In hindsight, I have to say the most difficult part for me to work on Ohlins forks was to spend the approximately $1500.00 in tooling it takes to work on the variety of Ohlins fork products (R/T and the variety of SB forks).
The first thing you notice about the Ohlins forks is that the actual forks really are no different from any Japanese OEM KYB inverted fork. This design features only an outer bushing. The inner bushing is eliminated and the outer fork tube is treated so that actual fork leg slides directly against the outer fork tube on the upper part of the leg. It works well. The second thing you notice is that Ohlins forks have 25mm cartridges. This is where a lot of speculation begins. Tuners have argued that 25mm cartridge forks are more tunable since they pass more oil, the theory is that you have more finite tuning. I will honestly tell you that I do not know if this true. I make this statement as first hand experience with 20mm cartridges have worked exceptionally well and turned lap times that would equal almost any 25mm cartridge fork. Since most AMA teams use 25mm cartridges in their superbike forks, there is no real "apples to apples" comparison that can be effectively made. The third thing you notice on Ohlins forks is how well crafted the cartridge and piston holder fits together. It is a incredibly slick package. So far, you have notice that everything is really COOL. The next thing in line is also the first disappointment. This disappointment comes from the actual piston itself. Now, this is a relative statement in that the piston itself is actually VERY NICE, but not on par with an upgrade/aftermarket kit. The actual design reminds you of a Honda/Showa design that has restrictive ports for damping and doesn't flow well. Closer examination though provides proof that the piston has more than enough volume capability through the ports to work effectively. It just doesn't look cool. The final item you notice is the rebound needle. This is VERY important as the Ohlins has to have the most beautifully crafted rebound needle (stock) of any fork I have ever put together. It is extremely well tapered and provides no abruptness in the design that would create a state of non-linear performance. Overall, the Ohlins forks still make you go "WOW!" vs. a Japanese OEM.
So the question is, "Are R/T or SB forks really worth it?" In my opinion if the motorcycle did not come with them and you are not chasing an AMA superbike crown then the answer is, "NO." Now, if you motorcycle is your hobby/money pit and you really want to have something special, then the answer is most definitely yes. They work great and are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship. It is also true that a Set of Showa forks probably work as well as the Ohlins. Despite this final statement, there is nothing cooler than having a set of Ohlins forks on your motorcycle.