Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Anaheim, CA, USA
@lhendrik has done a good job of explaining the features. He wrote what I would have written. Perhaps I can help explain the "experience".
PRELOAD (one-up, luggage, two-up):
Stop the motorcycle, put it in neutral, but leave the engine running. While still straddling the bike, plant both feet on the ground to take your body's weight off the seat. Press and hold the ESA button until it starts flashing for pre-load (one-up, luggage, two-up). While the preload is flashing, press the ESA button quickly to make a change. Wait a few seconds, and the preload adjustment will begin. You should feel the bike raise and lower itself slightly between your legs. Always wait until the adjustment stops before you put your weight on the seat or ride away. Don't be tempted to adjust preload at a red light. It may turn green while the preload setting is still changing.
DAMPING (Sport, Normal, Comfort):
Try riding at freeway speeds on a highway that isn't perfectly smooth. I do NOT mean off-roading, gravel, potholes, or any kind of really rough road. I mean a mostly smooth road with a little texture, such as the expansion seams in concrete, for example. You should be able to feel the texture of the road through your body and through the handlebars.
Sport - This is a very "tight" feel. You will notice every little grain of sand and tiny crack in the road in your body and through the handlebars. Try swerving around objects on the road as you approach them. Steering changes should feel very "tight" and responsive.
Normal - Something in-between Sport and Comfort. In my opinion, closer to Comfort.
Comfort - This is a much smoother feel. All the grains of sand and tiny cracks in the road seem to disappear. You don't feel them at all, and the larger cracks are not as jarring as they would be in "Sport" mode. Try swerving around objects on the road as you approach them. Notice how the steering feels more sluggish and less responsive, especially when compared with Sport mode.
If I were to use autos as a comparison: I would say that Sport feels like a tight sports car - not a luxury car, but a real sports car. (I wonder whether Porsches feel like that?) To me, Comfort mode feels more like a Buick. Obviously motorcycles are not cars, and my K1200GT still handles very well even in Comfort mode. It handles even better in Sport mode.
In general, I use Sport mode in the twisties and those times when I want the absolute best handling. I use Normal mode for local riding and for when I am not really paying attention or simply don't care. I use Comfort mode for those long rides on the Interstate.
Don't be afraid to experiment, and don't be afraid to throw away the labels and find the settings that best fits your personal style, needs, and comfort.
Finally, the preload and damper settings do not matter that much. If you cannot tell the difference, then they do not matter at all. The differences are subtle. I frequently find myself riding along, and then I suddenly realize that the bike has the "wrong" ESA settings. It happens to me often. For example, the bike could be loaded up with heavy luggage, and I've already crossed California and Arizona. I may be in the middle of New Mexico when I realize that the preload setting is still "one-up" instead of "luggage". So what. Nothing broke. I am not going to pull over and stop for two minutes on the Interstate just to change the preload setting. Next time I remember it, I may change it. I may not. One-up is slightly lower than the other damper settings, which makes it easier to plant my feet and balance the heavily loaded bike at stops. The truth is that I enjoy riding so much that I may not be thinking about the ESA settings.
Last edited by XMagnaRider; Apr 17th, 2017 at 10:03 am.