Scotts vs Ohlins Steering Damper Comparison

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Steering dampers are like four strokes use to be… the thought of trying one gets under your skin and until you’ve actually tried one, there’s a strange kind of curiosity you have about them until you do. You might even find yourself speculating on the potential improvement to your ability to ride faster based the acquisition of said steering damper. We say go ahead, let your imagination run wild!

There is no doubt the addition of a steering damper will change your world… forever. Imagine riding without suspension. Would you do it? Probably not for very long if you did. So why would you ride without suspension for your steering ? Which is what a steering damper is, a suspension for your steering. Honda realized the benefit of a steering damper, the HPSD, and started fitting them as OEM equipment on the 450’s in ’08. Both the 450’s and 250’s have them for ’09. The HPSD enabled Honda to keep the great cornering and steering they are famous for and maintain straight line stability. Seems like a no brainer!

Now that we have your attention. We would like to introduce you to two of the major players when it comes to steering dampers, Ohlins and Scotts. Each has its own approach to solving the problem of unwanted wheel deflection. Both offer sub mount models, meaning they mount under the bar. We chose to test sub mount units because above the bar mounting seems hazardous since you have no pad covering the device. Can you say Taddy Blazusiak?

damper_insideBoth the Ohlins and Scotts damper operate on the same basic principle, sweeping an arm through a bath of oil which forces the oil through a small opening. Each has a dial to adjust the size of this opening allowing the user to customize the level of damping to his or her liking. See photo to the left showing inside the Scotts unit

There are two circuits of damping to control: deflection “away from center” and “return to center”. Both units offer adjustment for each circuit but they differ slightly in the way they approach tuning. The Scotts unit gives you a great big knob for making “away from center” adjustments which allows you to easily make changes while riding. For “return to center” adjustment they provide a large screw that you adjust with a flat blade screwdriver before going out. You then put a plastic cap on and forget about it while riding. If you want to change the amount of force required to bring the wheel back to center you have to stop and you better have a screwdriver with you or you are out of luck.

The Ohlins unit has small knobs with what amounts to a block across the center to grip when making adjustments. They provide a functional, usable dial for both “away from center” and “return to center” adjustment. These are very small and difficult to use when riding. But as we found with both units, out once you find the setting you are comfortable with, you rarely mess with the adjustments.

damper_ohlins_installedBoth dampers change the way the bar feels in your hands and a rider needs to get used to this feeling. Here’s is where they start to go in different directions. The Scotts steering damper tries to address this by allowing you to adjust how far the unit actively functions when deflected “away from center”. A small screw on the side of the unit has indents at 12 o’clock, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock that translate to 10 degree increments starting at 34, 44, 54 and finally full – 78 degrees. When adjusted to 34 degrees the bike with the Scotts unit felt super stable while on the ground and when in the air, after hitting a jump, felt like it didn’t have a damper installed. For MX this felt the most natural to us. Without this feature the bike didn’t feel as nimble in the air. See the screw in this photo. Ohlins doesn’t give this feature.

Another defining difference between the two is the way in which the damping units are installed. The Ohlins has a super low profile. The bottom of the unit actually touches the top triple clamp and utilizes the steering stem for mounting. A 19mm hex bolt with threads inside fits to the steering stem. Check the photo on this page. When installing the Ohlins unit you are required to remove top headset race and install the bike specific, replacement race that comes with the Ohlins damper. It is very neat and compact but will likely require a trip to your local mechanic to be sure it’s done properly. A special headset press is required, Park Tools has them if you are feeling adventurous. It’s not too difficult, it just can’t be done correctly without the proper tool.

damper_scotts_installedInstallation of the Scotts unit requires far less disassembly however, you have to use taller handlebar mounts to provide the clearance needed to fit the sub mount version of the Scotts damper. Our friends at Billet Racing Products make bar mounts that are designed to work with the Scotts unit for a complete range of bike models. They set us up with ours and the black, billet parts look sic next the gold damping unit.

In addition to the taller bar mounts you may want to consider a low rise bar because the taller mounts raise your existing bar height by about 25 mm. For many riders this will be a good thing. For the sake of keeping the bike consistent during the evaluation we opted to replace the bar. The guys at BRP say a KX low rise bar will get you right back to where you started as far as the height goes.

We opted to call our pal Brad Cameron at Renthal and ask him what he thought. He suggested we use a Twinwall Bar with a McGrath bend. OK sounds good! The black bar with the black BRP bar mounts and the gold Scotts steering damper made the top of the RMZ look super trick. The good thing is the bling was serving a purpose beyond looking great.

damper_scotts_screwWhile testing, it took some time to get used to the effort required to make the bike turn so we left the damping wide open on both the Scotts damper and the Ohlins unit. After getting used to the “feel” we then slowly dialed in the damping one click at a time. As an experiment we dialed in the damping all the way on both circuits. That was a laugh, the bar hardly turned! Perfect for the Bonneville Salt Flats but not so good for what we are doing. Most of the riding we do is tight woods or MX so a little damping goes a long way. We never found the “away from center” dial being turned in more than 8 clicks. If you are a desert rider, tapped out in 5th you might find a need for more damping. We left the “return to center” dial open on both units. It made the bike feel completely dead if we didn’t.

Going with the Scotts system will cost you $519.95 for the BRP SUB DS-SUB KIT B. Add another $107.99 for the bar and you are at $627.94 . If you go with the Ohlins unit you are looking at $717.00 plus installation or the cost of the headset press from Park Tools.

In conclusion, both the damping units are well worth the money. They provide stability and improve the handling characteristics of the bike they are installed on. You do have to adapt to them. They feel weird at first. But once you try one you will not want to ride without ever again.