BONES BACON ON WHERE THE FAULT LIES
You’re driving home from the races after a bad ay. You’re trying to figure out why it all went wrong. Your conclusion? “It’s the suspension.
It should be better. My bike beat me up. I got tired
because my bike’s suspension wasn’t working well. I
crashed because it kicked me.”
Trust me, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Here is a
reality check. Only about 50 percent of what you feel
when you are doing a postmortem on how poorly your
bike handled is suspension-related. An equal part is
chassis-related and, believe it or not, to some degree you
personally can affect how your bike handles.
Let’s start with how the chassis can affect handling.
Some bikes, especially steel-framed bikes such as mini
bikes, have frames that get stretched out from constant
pounding. The more hours on the frame, the slacker
every part of it becomes. At the factory level we have
jigs that we put our frames in to monitor geometry
changes. We find that more than a few of our frames
are stretched out to the point where we can often see
stretch marks in the paint. When a frame gets fatigued,
the geometry changes enough that the steering angle,
rake, trail, wheelbase and chassis height are way out of
tolerance, so much so that the bike couldn’t possibly
handle the way it was designed to, no matter what you
do to the suspension.
Aluminum frames are not immune to this phenomenon.
All aluminum frames go through a break-in period where
the chassis feels harsh, no matter what you do. Then,
once the aluminum takes a set, the frame starts to feel
good. Unfortunately, eventually the aluminum starts to
fatigue and the bike gets bad. Some factory riders will
take their practice bike frames—once they reach the
sweet spot on the aluminum continuum—and use them
on their race bikes. Then, after so many hours, the race
frame is thrown away.
Next on the list of why your bike feels bad are the
miscellaneous parts that make a race machine. The torque
of certain bolts, such as triple-clamp pinch bolts and
swingarm pivot bolts, can change how a bike handles.
Tire pressure increases as the race wears on, often as
much as 4 pounds. This will change how your bike
performs, especially if your tire pressure was a smidgen
too high to begin with. How old are the tires on your
bike? Rubber ages, and tire carcasses break down after
a certain number of hours. I’ve been testing with factory
riders who have sworn that something was wrong with
their front forks. Yet, no matter what we changed it
didn’t affect what they were feeling. As a last-ditch effort
we changed the front tire, even though the one on the
bike was relatively new. Lo and behold, they were
suddenly 2 seconds faster a lap, and we had wasted
hours chasing a problem that ended up being a tire.
Triple clamps can also drastically affect how your
bike handles. Not only the offset of the clamps, but the
structure, stiffness and web thickness can make a bike
feel different. Take this into consideration when you’re
in the market for new clamps. It should be obvious that
maintenance, such as greasing the linkage, replacing
worn parts, changing the rear axle position, gearing
changes, lowering the fork tube height and aligning the
front axle can also make a big difference in performance.
Now, let’s put some of the blame on you. The better
shape you’re in, the harder you can ride your bike, and
the more confidence you will have in general. This alone
will affect how your bike feels when you ride it. I have
had riders say that their bike wasn’t working right at the
end of the day, but the next morning when they were
fresh, they swore we had put different settings in because
it handled so much better. We set our race teams’ sus-
pension up for the ultimate test. If the rider doesn’t give
it his all, the suspension will be wrong. In this case, the
rider needs to man up and get in better shape. And, of
course, there are always the strange stories. One year at
Southwick Jeremy McGrath won the first moto very eas-
ily on his Peak Honda. In the second moto it looked like
his bike handled poorly. Later we learned that between
motos he was in the porta-can the whole time as a result
of a big bean-and-cheese burrito he ate the night before.
He didn’t need better suspension; he needed a better diet.
The moral of this story is, be open-minded about your
bike’s performance. It isn’t always the suspension’s fault.
Sometimes you have to take the blame. ;
Jim “Bones” Bacon has tuned the suspension of
the biggest names in motocross, including Jeremy
McGrath, Ricky Carmichael and Ryan Villopoto. If you
have a suspension question, send it to