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Brilliant Biking Inventions – FVQ Shock Absorbers

We may well know now what we think the acronym FVQ means for Honda’s much-maligned rear shock absorber, but you may be surprised to find it actually stands for ‘Full Variable Quality.’

It seems that – like many other advances of the 1970s and 1980s, such as air-assisted forks, anti-dive and radial tyres – the FVQ shock was some sort of dawn of a new era of suspension and handling compliance. Thing was, back in the 1970s even if suspension was adjustable the chances were you couldn’t feel it. That wasn’t supposed to be the case with FVQ shocks.

Honda’s Fully Adjustable FVQ (Full Variable Quality) shocks were, by the late 1970s, the most adjustable shocks then available on the road-going superbikes of the day: This range of shocks were developed for Honda’s machines of the time, including CB750F, CB900F (DOHC models), GL1000 Gold Wing, CX500 Maggots, CB250 and 400N SuperDreams as well as the mighty CBX1000 six….

The FVQ shock comprised of a unit with an adjuster wheel on the top of each unit. This gave three settings for rebound damping, while a spanner could adjust spring preload. To add to this adjustment, the rider could also use a small lever which would change between two settings of compression.

All of this sounded like a big leap forward for the time – and it was: until they didn’t work. ‘Fade Very Quickly’ exclaimed some wag, on how these shock absorbers would work to a point, before they were worked a little too hard and they just seemed to ‘go off.’ What was more worrying to owners of these amazing new Hondas was that – sometimes – the fade would appear with only a few thousand miles on the clocks. Not good!

Rumour was at the time that some owners would head back to their dealer quite often and order the salesman out on their bike to ‘see for themselves’ as to what had happened to their bikes well within the warranty period. Some owners would change shocks every two years as a matter of course, many within warranty.

No matter what was done to improve the shocks themselves the replacement acronym ‘Fade Very Quickly’ FVQ would stay lodged in the bike-buying public’s mind: the corresponding sales of aftermarket shock absorbers would rise as a result…

Of course, the twin-shock system would soon be replaced by the monoshock from the 1980s and today it’s easy to be critical of – what was for the time – an advanced piece of kit. Today in rebuilds and restoration the anal anoraks amongst us want to remove those aftermarket shocks for FVQ items. Yes, this is the ultimate in irony. Swap better aftermarket shocks for original ones of dubious quality and performance…

Experts opine that – while the adjusters may have moved on the FVQ shocks – they didn’t really offer much in the way of real adjustment. Whether this is due to the suspension technology of the time or the fact that Honda didn’t want us numpties dialling in ‘bad handling’ and then crashing, is anyone’s guess.

Whatever the truth, the FVQ shock absorbers will be ingrained in the memory of us classic bikers with a smile and (sometimes) a wobble and a shudder!