Small details can mean the difference between a bike that is so so versus a stellar performer.
So let’s assume you have been out to the track or trail and have come up with some good settings through your testing. (For more info on how to start testing you can refer to an earlier article by Stillwell Performance on Thumper Talk entitled “Tuning Your Suspension-Where To Start?”).
Once you establish good, baseline settings you can start digging into the smaller details. As always, your testing should be done in a controlled environment and at a speed less than your best Bubba Stewart impersonation. The adjustments listed below can DRASTICALLY alter the feel of your bike, so take it easy at first!
There are several things you should pay attention to:
• Your sag setting can drastically alter how the bike feels. On current model bikes like YZ-F’s, CRF’s and SX-F’s for example the chassis balance is critical to turning, rear wheel hookup and overall feel of the bike. 2-3mm here can mean the difference between a plush ride and a hacky feeling. Learn how to correctly set your sag (and make sure your buddy reading the sag scale has his glasses on, lol!).
• Look at your tire pressures. On the front, for example a tire that is too hard can cause deflection and a harsh ride. Last week we were testing in the Colorado Mountains and one of the riders was complaining about his bike bouncing off of rocks. Nothing had changed from the previous day when he was quite happy with his settings-except he had adjusted tire pressure. When we checked the pressure it was at 20 PSI, up from 12 the day before! Turns out he was in a hurry and misread the gauge. That increase turned his perfect front end into a skitter-scatter ride. Too little pressure and you can experience front end push or tuck. Find a pressure that works for you and make sure it stays consistent. We run 12-13 PSI in the front when testing. NOTE: Check it during the day, Colorado is cold in the AM and hot in the PM many days-you can see pressure build up during this time!
• Note where your rear axle is adjusted. Running the axle far forward will make the wheelbase shorter, can make turning sharper and can also make the bike want to wheelie easier on uphill climbs. With the axle far back you will notice an increase in stability at speed and sometimes a bit slower turning. Also-if you are using the axle or axle blocks as a starting measuring point for your sag calculation this measurement will change when you adjust the axle!
• Where your forks ride in the top triple clamp is important. Flush with the top means a bit more stability, and possibly less sharpness in turning. Moving the tubes up in the clamps can increase how sharp the bike turns but can also create headshake at speed. There is no right or wrong here, and each bike can be different. I would suggest trying them flush, then pulled up in the clamps 3-4mm. Ride the same terrain and compare.
• Like the above tip, some bikes have triple clamps that can be moved forward or backwards to either pull the head angle back or push it away. In general, less offset means sharper turning and more offset helps with stability. This is not an absolute so test it out if your bike has this option. The 2010 KTM SX/XC models for example went from an adjustable 18/20 offset clamp to a fixed 22mm clamp. It not only made the bike more stable (which you would expect) it also made it turn better. Weird but true. Test, test, and test some more to see what feels best to you.
• Look at smaller things like the position of your bars-some guys feel better with them back, some forward. The key here is how much weight do you transfer to the front end and what effect does that have on the bike? One of our sponsored riders, Ex World and GNCC Champ Shane Watts runs a very neutral bar position. One of our other pro riders, ISDE Junior Trophy Team rider Ian Blythe wants his bar setup further back as he feels he can transfer more weight to the front tire in turns, increasing traction and feel. Try some different bar positions and see what feels best for you.
• Bleed the air from your forks. I drove from Denver (5200ft.) to Pitkin, CO (9100 ft.) with a new 2011 KTM last week to test. When we had set up the forks in Denver we bled the air. In the first 10 miles of testing the forks were feeling hard. Popped the bleeder screws and I’ll bet 15 PSI of air came out of each leg! Presto, instant plushness.
Just like that last point above; don’t overlook the small stuff if you really want to make your suspension the best it can be.
Take your time and have fun!
Keep It Pinned,