So it feels like you are hauling some serious oats around your favorite track and that you are riding on the edge of what the bike and yourself are capable of doing, but your friends are holding and maintaining their lines without effort and they are still passing you. The truth is, it can “feel” like you are going fast as hell and on the edge of the bikes capabilities riding on poorly adjusted suspension, when in fact your not really going fast at all.
Sometimes a simple adjustment can change that bucking bronco that is trying to throw you off or slam you to the ground, into a well tamed and well mannered thoroughbred who will take your thoughts and turn them into action. A well sorted bike is like having an ESP link with it. If the suspension and geometry is set up correctly it will turn in when commanded at your turn in point, it should hit that apex with the accuracy of a laser guided missile, and it should finish the turn smoothly without additional coaxing with the bike refusing and trying to run wide. Its when the suspension is dialed in for your weight and riding style that you can be scared, because it will not “feel” like you are going fast, but you probably are. That in itself is scary.
Setting up your suspension is the 2nd best thing you can do to improve your speed, confidence on the track, and the handling characteristics of your scooter. So where do you start? How do you know what is wrong and or right with the suspension? Well a good baseline is where you start, but before we get there, we should break it down further and make sure all the components are in working order. If the components are not in working order all the hard work we do to adjust it will be for nothing.
The first place to start before we even think about putting a screwdriver to an adjuster or a wrench to the preload adjuster is ensuring the bike is in good working and mechanical shape. Every component of the chassis plays a part in how the motorcycle handles, so its important that things like slop, friction, and worn out components are addressed and fixed. Worn, tight, or loose bearings in the steering stem (usually neglected), worn rear swing-arm, or suspension linkage bushings / bearings (usually neglected) need to be lubed and readjusted if they are in good shape, or replaced if they are not. Sloppy links will not allow the shock and rear wheel to “communicate” to each other. Doing the proper motorcycle maintenance is something that a responsible owner should do, track riding or not.
Make sure the chain is adjusted correctly. All motorcycle manufacturers give you a tolerance to adjust to. Its best to be on the high side of the tolerance. A tight chain will lock the swing arm from moving up any higher into the travel and will not allow the suspension to work properly. A chain that is to loose will cause the bike to be jerky when getting back on the gas mid corner where the bike needs to be the most stable. follow the manufactures recommendations, but run it on the high side or loose side of the tolerance. This will ensure the suspension is working correctly and the chain does not have to much slack.
Check your tires for the correct pressure, and if they are worn, or misshapen. Tires need to be inflated properly, and worn or misshapen tires should be replaced. The tires play a very important roll in telling you how things are working. It would be a total waste to chase a setup for a track on worn tires, just to change them and have to set the bike up again. So pick the brand, model, and size you want to run and try to stick with it.
If your a novice it may not be necessary to change your fork oil, but there are benefits to knowing what your starting with. Fork and shock oil degrades and becomes contaminated over time just like engine oil. Though you might not be an advanced racer, the fact that your starting with a known brand and weight is beneficial. Go through your owners manual and get familiar with service intervals, and what is acceptable. If your in the upper to advanced track day groups, the oil in the forks and shock should be changed to a known brand and weight. Many advanced racers will change their fork oil every few races, and service the shock once or twice a year.
Take notes. Keeping accurate notes of settings is important, so get a notebook and keep good notes. Many advanced riders, racers, and tuners prefer to keep notes in a diary format, explaining problems fixes, track conditions for the day, and setup information, and some like to keep them on standardized forms. Keeping legible and accurate notes is the key, and if you keep better notes than your competitor, eventually you will finish ahead of them. Keeping accurate and legible track notes is one of the most important things to do when dialing in your suspension
Do what the fast riders do, but do it better.
This is a lot of work before we even do an adjustment, but it is all worth it when you end up with a bike that is stable, easily manageable, and isn’t trying to kill you.
Since I like to work with lists, here is a short recap of prep-work.
- Make sure Tires are properly inflated
- Make sure the chain is adjusted correctly on the high side (loose side) of the tolerance
- Make sure Tires are not old, worn, or misshapen
- Make sure steering stem bearings are adjusted correctly and not worn and lubed correctly
- Make sure rear suspension linkages are not worn and are lubed correctly
- Know when the fork oil and shock oil was changed and what was used.
- Get a notebook to keep track of current and future settings
Spring rate, preload, static sag, rider sag, compression dampening, rebound dampening, and geometry. All these things can be adjusted and will be covered in this series.