BARE BONES: SETTING UP YOUR SUSPENSION FOR MUD
“It’s going to rain this weekend.” The Weather Channel says there is a 90-percent chance, so there is no way around it. If you live in SoCal, you don’t have to worry; they will cancel the race. But, in most parts of the country, they still race, rain or shine. Whatever the case may be, we’ve all had to deal with mud from time to time. Let me tell you a few tips I’ve learned over the years to make both you and your bike happier when the world gets wet.
If the track you’re racing at is a hard-pack track, and the track owner knew it was going to rain, he probably packed the dirt as much as he could so the rain would run off instead of soaking in. In this case, you’re better off praying that it just keeps raining. That way you’re just dealing with muddy water and nothing will stick to your bike to weigh it down. As in any mud situation, tire choice is critical. Your speeds will be slower. You may find yourself using more of the outside lines to keep your momentum up, and you will avoid the tight inside lines with the deep ruts. For these rainy conditions you may not need to change your bike setup very much. If you do nothing else, slide your forks down to raise the front of the bike for more stability, and try to ride as loose and effortless as you can. Avoid the death grip and stand as much as possible. Even though you are riding on wet dirt, approach it just as you would sand.
The real struggle begins when the rain stops and the dirt starts to get very sticky. The mud sticking to the bike and rider could easily weigh over 50 pounds. Your bike’s race sag could go from a nice 102mm to 150mm, which would make the bike understeer on flat corner exits, dive and tuck on entering steep corners, bottom out everywhere and generally feel like a two-wheeled
Sherman tank. The tricky part is to anticipate this before the gate drops. It’s smart to watch the bikes coming off the track in the motos before yours. If they are covered with mud, you need to make an educated guess as to how much tighter to go on the shock spring preload and how much stiffer to go on the forks. Increasing spring rates (or air pressures) may not be a bad idea, especially if you were borderline on spring rates to begin with and you have the time.
If you’re racing at a sand track, the bad weather will not be as much of an issue. Sand will usually not stick to the bike like muddy dirt. Plus, sand soaks up water and drains quicker than dirt. As a rule of thumb, wet sand doesn’t require many changes from your normal sand setup.
“THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE YOU ABOUT RACING IN THE MUD IS TO ENJOY IT. IT IS WHAT IT IS, SO GET YOUR MIND WRAPPED
AROUND THAT AND ACCEPT IT.”
Here’s the bad news. Riding in the mud will age your bike very quickly. Mud, muddy water and wet sand are abrasive. They will ruin everything—from your plastic to your graphics to your frame to your rims. And worse yet, if muddy water gets through your air filter, the grit will eat your piston and rings. Also, riding in mud or sand tends to make your engine run hotter. When you mix in clogged radiators, you run a good chance of blowing your engine up. As a suspension guy, I am especially sensitive to the damage that mud causes to the forks, shock and shock linkage. On our AMA National race bikes, we go to great lengths to keep the mud away from these areas, but it always finds a way in. When this happens, the mud gets packed up in every crevice. If we don’t take it completely apart, clean, service and replace the seals and bushings, that mud will take its toll on the shock shaft and fork tubes, costing a lot more money down the road.
The best advice I can give you about racing in the mud is to enjoy it. It is what it is, so get your mind wrapped around that and accept it. If you don’t go with the flow, you will find yourself fighting the bike, falling down and being miserable. Riding loose and having fun is better than any bike setup I could recommend.
One of the best examples of this advice that I have ever witnessed was at the infamous 1991 Hangtown National. We were helping Doug Henry on his DGY Yamaha, and it rained and rained and rained. Because it rained so hard for so long, no mud was sticking to the bike, so we made no suspension changes. The track went from puddle to pond to lake to ocean. It had the makings of a miserable day. But not for Doug Henry. He had a positive attitude and went out and had fun. And, he won his first-ever AMA National that day