BARE BONES: “I AM AN EXPERT (OR I USED TO BE)”
By Bones Bacon
From time to time I get suspension in at the shop to set up for an Expert or Pro rider, and even though we try to get all the information necessary to set it up, sometimes egos get in the way.
It normally starts after I send the Pro his suspension back. I get a phone call with the guy on the other end saying that the suspension feels a little stiff—and then the real story slowly begins to emerge. Based on the information he sent about his ability, weight, speed and tracks, I tell him that the setup should be close to perfect for his description.
“Well, I used to be a Pro,” he says from the other end of the line.
“How long ago was that?” I ask, trying to get a more accurate picture of where I should head with his valving.
“Oh, I am a little older now, but I still love riding bikes. I don’t push it as hard as I used to, or fly off the big jumps like when I was trying to make the big time. I think that I need my suspension to be softer than what you set it up for.”
Time catches up with everyone. Even at the highest level, there is a difference in suspension setup between a top-five AMA National rider and the National riders who are finishing in 15th place. So, imagine the difference for a rider who was a Pro back in the day and is now 10 years older and 15 pounds heavier. All of these riders love riding. They may have the same desires as the other guy, but the speed differential is immense between a front-runner Pro, decent mid-pack Pro and a Pro from 2008. The faster you ride and the more confidence you have, the stiffer you need your suspension set up. Even in the Amateur ranks, there is a big difference in setup between riders who are getting ready to turn Pro and riders who may need a couple more years under their belts before that happens. They may still ride the same class, but they require different suspension setups.
“RIDERS ALWAYS ASK TO HAVE THEIR SUSPENSION SET UP FOR SUPERCROSS. AS SOON AS THEY TAKE IT OUT TO RIDE, HOWEVER, THEY CALL
ME IN FULL PANIC MODE.”
For some reason, riders always ask to have their suspension set up for Supercross. As soon as they take it out to ride, however, they call me in full panic mode. They say that I must have made a mistake because the forks don’t move, even over the biggest jumps on their local track—and they are getting hammered when hitting all the bumps.
So, I ask, “When you said you wanted it for Supercross, did you really mean for a motocross track with Supercross-style obstacles? Or, did you mean real Supercross, as in Anaheim Stadium? Because there is a big difference.”
“Well,” he replies. “I have a Supercross track in my backyard that I built with my uncle’s skid-steer. It’s got some really big jumps on it.”
Real Supercross or arenacross suspension is so stiff that it won’t absorb the braking bumps or acceleration bumps that an outdoor motocross track has. It is deliberately valved to not move around a lot when blitzing massive whoops and slamming into steep-faced jumps. If you ever sat on a bike with real Supercross suspension, you would think something was wrong with it. It won’t move when you sit on it, when you push on it or when you get two friends to pull it down. It is too stiff for the average rider, typical track or what might pass for Supercross obstacles on your local track. It may seem wrong to you, but anything less stiff would be a disaster on a real Supercross track.
The moral of this story is not to lie to the man building your suspension. If you were a Pro back in 1990, don’t leave the time frame out of the work order. If you are not going to race a real Supercross, don’t ask to get your suspension set up for Supercross. Don’t ask to have your suspension set up for a Pro motocross rider if you’re not going to race Pro motocross. If you’re getting older and still love riding bikes, don’t be ashamed to admit your age. Being honest about your actual skill level, type of riding, age, weight, type of tracks and anything else you can think of will help you get a suspension setting that is tailored specifically to you and help ensure you stay safe and have fun riding.