BARE BONES: SOMETIMES YOUR BAD SUSPENSION ISN’T REALLY THE SUSPENSION
Sitting around a roaring fire in my backyard this morning, I reflected on the previous day I had just spent at the World Vet Championship at Glen Helen. The day had been filled with riders from all across the planet, every one of them having a fun day racing at the historic track. One by one riders would bring their bikes up to the Pro Circuit truck to ask for help with basic problems that were preventing them from being comfortable on the track.
Ron Lechien was parked next to us with a very nice-looking KX450F that former Pro Terry Fowler had just finished preparing for him. He wanted us to check the sag, since he had just got his suspension back from being serviced by us. This all sounded good; he had thought of all the things you should do before a big race, until he sat on the bike and we went, “Wow!” The sag numbers revealed that the spring rate wasn’t even close. It’s true that Ron is getting older and time is catching up with him a bit, but I admire any former National Champion who still enjoys racing enough to put himself on the starting line. But, Ron had forgotten one little piece of information when he sent me his suspension—he failed to mention that he had gained 25 pounds since the last time we did his forks and shock. It would have been an easy fix, if we had known, but we didn’t have that stiff a spring in our support truck.
“THE NEXT RIDER UP TO THE TRUCK LOOKING FOR HELP WAS A REAL NICE GUY FROM SWEDEN, OR AT LEAST IT SOUNDED LIKE HE WAS FROM SWEDEN AND WAS RIDING A 450 HUSKY.”
The next rider up to the truck looking for help was a real nice guy from Sweden, or at least it sounded like he was from Sweden, and he was riding a 450 Husky. He said the front end was feeling a little nervous, and the front fork was too stiff coming down the big hills. I threw his bike up on the stand, and the first thing I noticed was that when I let go of the bike, the handlebars bars fell to the stop and bounced back. His steering-head bearings were too loose, and that was what was causing the twitchy feeling. As for being too stiff on the downhills, this was a classic case of too soft feeling too stiff. We tightened his steering head and stiffened his front forks so that they wouldn’t dive down to the stiff part of the stroke
The next bike under the tent came with a rider who said that the front end felt light and the bike rode high in the corners. His race sag measured perfectly on the shock, so we moved to the front forks to crack the air-bleed screws on the coil-spring forks he had. As soon as the screw reached the last thread, it rocketed into the air from the blast of air being released. Problem solved. His bike rode high in the front because the built-up air pressure wouldn’t let it settle in the corners.
A guy walked up to the truck with his shock linkage in his hands and said that he was preparing his bike for the race and noticed one of his linkage bearings was junk. We put a new bearing in his link for him, greased it up and asked him if the other bearings were okay. He said they were fine and walked away. He was back 10 minutes later and said that his linkage wouldn’t move. It turns out, the other bearings had walked out a little and, when tightening it up, the link became stuck. I pressed the bearings back in to where they belonged and off he went again.
Two blown fork seals were the next problem. The rider said that he didn’t know how he could have blown both in just six laps of practice. We checked his fork legs and there were no rock dings in them. We were in a quandary, until he told us that they were fine when he left New York with his bike tied down in the back of his truck. However, after all the hours of being tied down, the fork seals had passed a little oil between the oil seal and the dust seal as the bike bounced across 3000 miles of highway. During practice, some oil made its way past the dust seal and down onto his fork legs. It looked like blown fork seals, but it wasn’t. We popped the dust seals and cleaned the leg with contact cleaner and sent him on his way. Everything was fine after that.
The moral of these stories is to not forget the basics. They are common sense things that have the potential to make your day at the races a little less fun than it needs to be.