The Fork Design That Time Forgot, But Roger Loved


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Jan 26, 2014

Although Husvarna didn’t spec leading link forks in the 1960s, there were GP riders who preferred them.

During the 1960s and early ’70s, many motorcycles came with leading link forks, often called Earles forks. Unlike the typical telescopic fork, leading links had the uncanny ability to climb over bumps and obstacles by folding their shock absorber-suspended front link up and back with the force of the bump. Greeves, DKW, Sachs and even BMW were big supporters of leading link forks. Leading links eventually fell out of favor and were replaced by telescopic forks, but they had their defenders.
One of the prettiest bike ever made, the 1964 Dot also had the nicest looking leading forks.

Leading links were lighter than telescopic forks, although they looked heavier. They had the ability to climb over obstacles without the fork tubes bending backwards. They had minimal stiction because of the leverage of the arm. If they had a flaw, it was that some early leading link forks would stiffen and rise up under hard braking, but this problem was easily solved by making the front brake float. If your bike didn’t come with leading links, you could buy aftermarket version from Swenco or Van Tech. A young Jody Weisel started out racing a leading link equipped Sachs 125 in the late 1960s and when he switched to Hodaka 100s and 125s, he didn’t like their 30mm telescopic forks, so he ran aftermarket Swenco forks. Roger DeCoster believed in the talents of suspension designer Valentino Rossi and actually raced a full GP season on a works Suzuki equipped with Ribi Quadrilateral forks. Rich Thorwaldson was a factory Suzuki racer whose post-race career centered around building swingarms for 1970-80 motocross bikes. Rich was a former desert racer, who believed that leading links could be updated to work on modern bikes. His 1979 Thorks were very good.

Here is a quick look at some of the leading link forks used in the early days of motocross

The late Dave Bickers on a Greeves.

This is a close-up look at a 1967 Greeves Challenger leading link fork. You might also noticed the cast aluminum downtube.

Jody Weisel’s Hodaka Super Rat used Swenco linking link forks. The shocks, front and rear, are Curnutts. The Swenco leading links used a cast aluminum lower link and chromoly steel tubes that fit in the stock triple clamps.

The German-built Sachs/DKW 125 was one of the first popular purpose-built 125 motocross bikes sold in America. It originally came with leading link forks, but most riders opted for the optional telescopics when they were made available.

Even to this day sidecar motocross bikes use leading leading link forks to handle the mass of two men and a big engine. This is Jody on his way to second overall in the California Championship on a Yamaha 650 powered Wasp. Check out the size of the rear tire.

The late Rich Thorwaldson’s forks, called Thorks (for Thor forks), were four pounds lighter than the 36mm telescopic forks of the day. The Thorks used two S&W Stroker II shocks and featured 11 inches of travel. Thorks retailed for $375 without shocks or $475 with shocks. Noite the floating front brake that stopped the fork from rising under braking.

MXA test rider Pete Maly wringing out a set of Thorks at Saddleback Park.

Roger DeCoster was a true believer in leading link-style forks. Roger teamed up with Italian suspension designer Valentino Ribi (right) to equip his works Suzuki with Ribi Quadrilateral forks. The Ribi forks used Ohlins shocks.

When Roger left Team Suzuki to race for Honda, he convinced Honda to buy the rights to Valentino Ribi’s designer. Honda made several CNC-machined aluminum prototypes (including on this twin-cylinder RC125), but shelved the idea because of its complexity and cost.

This Tier Motorsports front suspension isn’t technically a leading link design, not the least of which because it requires center-hub steering, but it does show lots of creativity more