BARE BONES: WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST RACE TO TUNE FOR?
By Bones Bacon
People always ask me which is tougher to set suspension up for—Supercross, motocross or offroad? The answer may surprise you. On the surface, a Supercross track is really gnarly. When hitting a set of whoops wide open in fourth gear, the smallest mistake can end in disaster. If you drop the front end in the whoops, it’s going to hurt. When you over-jump a 75-foot triple, you are going to hit the ground hard. Supercross setup has to be stiff enough to absorb the big hits but supple enough that the bike will still corner well. Setting the suspension up for obstacles like these may seem like the toughest job for a suspension tuner.
But, in truth, Supercross suspension setup is easier than most other forms of racing. Supercross, with its 50-second lap times, is the easiest to watch because every obstacle is right in front of me. I can see what the bike is doing. I can put a stopwatch on it to tell if the rider is going faster or slower. I can go back and watch video of where the rider is having trouble. Then, all I have to do is balance out the contradiction between stiff and soft, and the bike is in the ballpark.
“SETTING SUSPENSION UP FOR MOTOCROSS IS MORE CHALLENGING THAN FOR SUPERCROSS. THE MAIN REASON IS THAT IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS, THE TRACKS WERE MOSTLY NATURAL. NO MORE!”
In outdoor motocross, the lap times are longer, but if I walk around the track, it is still easy to see what the bike is doing. I can keep track of lap times to judge whether any of my changes have made a difference. Setting suspension up for motocross is more challenging than for Supercross. The main reason is that in the good old days, the tracks were mostly natural. No more! The outdoor tracks have changed with the times. Today, a motocross track is a combination of natural and man-made obstacles. It’s a blend of some of the good old days with a lot of big jumps, tabletops and gnarly sections borrowed from Supercross. Worse yet, the speeds are much higher outdoors than on a Supercross track, yet some of the obstacles are the same. Modern outdoor motocross asks the suspension to deal with normal motocross stuff, like acceleration and braking bumps, along with massive jumps and big whoops that are hit at speeds almost twice that of Supercross. Motocross suspension must be stiff enough to handle the mega stuff yet still be able to soak up all the ups and downs that a Supercross track doesn’t have. This makes selecting the best motocross setup more challenging than in Supercross.
Now, you might think that desert racing is the easiest to set a bike up for. It’s simple. First, keep it plush to soak up all the chop, ruts and rocks, and second, don’t worry about the big jumps because there aren’t too many of those. It would be simple if that were all there was to it, but you forget that the speeds are way higher in desert racing, sometimes close to 100 mph. At these high speeds, that nice, soft, plush suspension will bottom so hard that it will knock the fillings out of your teeth. Additionally, what makes this type of racing tougher for a suspension tuner is that he can’t always watch the bike. When I tested with Danny Hamel, Larry Roeseler or Destry Abbott, they would get on the bike and I wouldn’t see them for another 20 minutes or more. I couldn’t put a stopwatch on them. I couldn’t watch the bike in the sand wash. All I had to go on was what they told me.
I believe that GNCC and WORCS-type races are the toughest challenge for a suspension tuner. Why? Because these races blend the challenges of a desert race with outdoor motocross and a dash of Supercross.
Thus, in my opinion, while Supercross may seem like the hardest type of racing to set a bike up for, it is in fact the easiest. The life of a suspension tuner is made all that more difficult when you throw in high speeds, unknown conditions, word-of-mouth input and the changing face of motorcycle racing.
Jim “Bones” Bacon has tuned the suspension of the biggest names in motocross, including Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto and Adam Cianciarulo. If you have a suspension question, send it to [email protected].