13 March 2017

Just possibly the longest product test ever in the history of bike journalism.

John "West" Rooth writes about his extended test of a Fournales suspension system. 

Back in 1993 Karen and I spent our honeymoon on my '84 Softail, riding down to Victoria, doing a lap of Tasmania and working our way up and down the east coast mountains home. One of the best months of my life combining the beauty of Tasmania, the freedom of riding and buckets of, err, well if I want to stay married I'd better leave it at that...

Three teenagers later I gave her an Indian Scout for our 20th anniversary and shared time in the shed has ignited her two wheeled passion once more. So we took the same bike - admittedly four crankpins and five front ends later - and rode south once again. Ruby was running perfectly until the Fournales collapsed an hour down the road.

It wasn't that noticeable on the motorway, just the odd tap in the bum when you hit a ripple. But south of Ballina the taps turned to spine tingling bangs. It was her choice to keep going though. The last thing she wanted was to cut the ride short and head home.

On Tuesday I rang my old mate Bertrand 'The Frog' Cadart, personal friend of Jean-Pierre Fournales. Bert knows how beautiful Tassie is too - he moved there and became mayor of Bicheno on the east coast. More about that later.

"Are you sure you 'ave poomped them up correctly?" he said. "Don't worry about ze small ejaculation of green oil, zis is to be eckspected."

"Dunno about small Bert, it was more like Shrek blew his load when I disconnected the pump. No mate, they're stuffed."

" 'ang on, I will check ze records." A filing cabinet banged and there was a bit of paper shuffling. "John, those shock abzorbaas, they are the same units I supplied you for trial when you were at Two Wheelz?"

"Yes mate, pumped 'em up a few times but they're the same ones."

"That was in 1986. They were amongst the first batch of ten Softail abzorbaas Jean-Pierre ever built. That is twenty seven years ago my friend, 'ow many kilometeerz 'ave you done since then?"

Now Ruby's done a few miles. According to the shelf of dead speedos it's something like 700,000 plus. I've welded the frame back up twice before getting it totally re-fabricated during the last rebuild. There's a couple of spare gearboxes worth of cogs, a few front ends, a stack of wheels and piles of sprockets and discs I've been keeping to turn into sculpture one day. That's the obvious stuff, there's also half a container full of other bits. And a whole spare '84 I bought from my brother...

Just possibly this 'Fournales test' is the longest product test ever in the history of bike journalism. Bert and I laughed about it and I agreed with him, they should be sent back to France so Jean-Pierre can put them in the museum at his factory, along with a letter explaining how long and how well they've served.

There's two milk crates full of other Softail shockies here including the original pair and all the other after market units supplied for testing along the way. Some lasted around the block, some a few months but in every instance I'd plucked them and put the Fournales back on eventually because, well, there just wasn't any comparison in terms of comfort and control.

Then I remembered. Nicko's '84 ran Fournales too. I tipped it on it's side, plucked them and put them on Ruby. Four nipples and some 'poomping' later and they're as good as new. Better than new. Softails were never any good until they copped the Frog solution.

So I rang Bert to tell him.

"Nickoz bike?" More shuffling. "I supplied 'im with abzorbaas in 1991. I stayed at 'is place in Sydney when we fitted them. Therre was a 'angover involved..."

Beauty, almost new then. I can't remember the last time I raved about Fournales suspension on these pages but somehow I don't think you've heard the last of them either.

Good product? You bet mate. Absolutely the best!