By Bones Bacon
What kind of rider are you? Do you have the perfect riding style? Riding position? Are you fast and aggressive or slow and smooth? Do you get on the brakes hard or easy? Do you abuse your clutch? Are you a revver or short shifter? These might sound like funny suspension questions,but think about it and be honest with with your answers. Understanding who you really are could be the key to setting up of your bike’s suspension.
Let’s start with the most common questions to ask yourself, and the ones where you need to be the most honest. How fast are you? What is your skill level? Are you a Pro, Intermediate or Novice? Are you a young up-and-coming kid or older but wiser vet racer? Why do these question matter so much? First, younger, more aggressive Intermediate to Pro riders always require stiffer suspension settings. The more they get used to the stiffer settings, the more confidence they build, and the faster they are able to go—which then requires even stiffer settings. Slower, older, Vet-type riders (the ones that usually have more fun riding and a real job to go back to on a Monday) aren’t going to slam into jump faces as hard or launch huge jumps with the devil-may-care abandon of the 16-year-old, but they still want to feel comfortable on their bikes, which usually will require plusher and softer settings.
“ARE YOU A YOUNG UP-AND-COMING KID OR OLDER BUT WISER VET RACER? WHY DO THESE QUESTION MATTER SO MUCH?”
Start assessing who you are by looking in the mirror. Are you short or tall? Shorter riders like Ricky Carmichael and Blake Baggett require a calmer shock setting and a little more sag than taller riders like Dean Wilson, who can get away with less sag and a more active shock setting because their body and legs act as extra suspension.
Do you ride forward on the bike, neutral or hang off the back? Working with James Stewart, probably the rider with most extreme case of riding over the front of the bike, required a firmer front end with a delicate balance between compression, rebound and ride height. It was always a challenge to keep the front stiff enough, but still get it to settle into corners. This ride-forward style has distinct advantages, but in James’ case was not very forgiving at times. One small mistake and you are going over the bars in a hurry. On the opposite end of the spectrum. If you hang off the back of the bike like Ryan Villopoto, you will need a firmer shock setting, especially if you like to rail the outside of corners and steer from the rear wheel. For this riding style, you want the front to ride a little higher.
Let’s talk style. Are you an aggressive and precise rider like Tyler Bowers? Or, are you aggressive, but super technical like a Ben Townley? Both are aggressive on the bike, but both are very different people. Even though Bowers is heavier and taller, his smooth and precise style doesn’t require an overly stiff setting. Noor does the technical style of the smaller but equally aggressive Townley.
Have you ever considered the role that your brakes, clutch, and shift lever play in suspension setup? Do you love to grab a hand full of front brake on the entrance of turns? If so, your forks will dive down steeply and you will need them to be stiffer than a rider who brakes more progressively. What about the rear brake? Applying the rear brake ties up the back of the bike and doesn’t let the rear shock do its job. Sadly, there is no clicker adjustment that will compensate for using too much rear brake. Are you a clutch abuser? If you are, remember that slipping the clutch excessively doesn’t allow all the power to go to the ground. And with max power comes max traction. Getting the rear wheel hooked up makes the bike feel planted, which allow the suspension to follow the terrain better than when using the clutch as a power modulator. Finally, if you over-rev your bike, you will be changing the rear wheel dynamics as the power tails off at high rpm, or heaven forbid the rev limiter kicks in just as you hit successive bumps. Shifting at peak is a learned skill, but if you want your suspension to soak up the bumps, learn how to short shift just before peak.
Is there such a thing as a perfect way to ride a bike? I used to think that Stefan Everts was as near perfect as any rider could get. But, truth be told, Ricky Carmichael had the polar opposite style from Stefan and he won a lot of races. However, unless you are in the formative years of your riding career, your style is already set in stone—and it would take an Act of Congress to change a rider’s basic approach to racing. It’s probably too late to change your riding habits, both good and bad, once you’ve established a pattern. What can you do? Think about how you ride, understand the effects of your personal technique and then address your unique approach to racing with the proper suspension adjustments. Work with what you’ve got.