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Get The Most From Your Front End Tuning Efforts

Stillwell Performance

So you have spent the better part of the summer spinning clickers, tweaking spring rates and testing, testing testing on your forks. They are super important, as that’s the first thing that moves when you hit an obstacle.


Here’s what to do to ensure you have your front-end setup just as perfect as you can:


• Make sure your front end stays aligned. Here’s a great story to illustrate my point: Last week a group of us were riding the Colorado Trail, a rocky, root infested fast trail. I was tuning a bike and had removed the stabilizer to get a better feel for the front end. After jumping off a small ledge at speed I landed on a loose rock and swapped out hard. The bike flipped sideways twice and landed in a heap.


When we picked the bike up I was amazed to find the front wheel still pointed straight, no bent bars, etc. But after riding it the next few miles I found the forks to be very harsh and deflecting. Before the crash I had been stoked about how well the front end felt. I stopped, put the bike up on a stump and loosened up the front end, including the axle pinch bolts, AND the lower triple clamps. I rode the bike slowly a few feet, then grabbed the front brake HARD to reset the front end. This movement allows the forks to self-align and corrects any tweaks. Do this a few times, and then tighten everything back down. I know it is hard to put the perfect torque on the lower clamps in the field, so get a feel for the tightness of those bolts in the shop in case you need to do this on the trail. You will be amazed by the difference in how the suspension feels after correcting this. The new bikes all have very good forks, but bound up forks transmit a very harsh feel. You can mis-diagnose this and spend a bunch of time running clickers in and out chasing the best setup. Go back to the basics first-if it felt good before and now it doesn’t, what changed? In my case it was a 4th gear pinned highside, lol! If only I could reset my whole back as easily as the forks!


• Check your steering stem torque-this adjustment can make the front end feel loose, or hard to turn depending on how tight/loose the steering stem nut is. Put the bike on a stand, and first loosen both the upper and lower triple clamp bolts. Get a good torque wrench and first loosen, then tighten the steering stem bolt. We usually go with the manufacturer’s torque spec. Make sure you do not over tighten this bolt, if you do you will feel each roller bearing in the steering stem, almost like a “detent” type of feel. Make sure your steering stem bearing are in good shape and greased up as well.


• Run consistent tire pressure. When you tune your front suspension the tire acts as another tuning factor. Find a good pressure/tire combination that works for you and stick with it. The less variables the better!


• How old is that front tire? You will find that as your front tire wears, the sidewall flexes more. This can lead the bike to roll the tire in hard cornering. Practice the same turn over and over again while really trying to feel what the front tire is doing.


• Really basic things like your spokes can alter the feel of the front end. Make sure they are tight, especially if you have a new bike-keep after the spokes, as they tend to loosen frequently.


• If you run bib mousses-these will make the front have a bit more of a dead feel too it. A tube creates more rebound action as it acts like a basketball-bounce it and it comes back. Remember to adjust accordingly for this.


• Coatings like DLC will create a faster rebound in the forks-if your bike has this coating make sure you allow for this in your tuning.


• Lastly, make sure your sag is set correctly. A few millimeters difference in rear end sag can have a drastic effect on the way the front end works. As always, start with your baseline and make changes in small increments.


Have fun, and Keep It Pinned!


Alan Stilwell


About Alan & Stillwell Performance

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