I was talking with Johnny O’Mara this past weekend, and I told him that I used to be horrible at starts until one day at Saddleback I was watching him practice
some starts and decided that I was going to adopt his tech-
nique. Then, after a little practice on my own and lining
up for my next race, I found myself in the lead thinking,
“This is awesome.”
When you’re racing like I was that day and you see a lot
of bumps up ahead, you instantly start bracing for them.
At this point your eyes have told your brain that you’re in
trouble. That day at Saddleback I rounded the first turn in
the lead. Up the next straight I could see a bunch of really
big bumps. I was going way too fast for the bumps, and
I knew it was going to hurt. Sure enough, the next thing
I knew I was lying on the ground in pain. As I was lying
there, I couldn’t help but remember how awesome it was
to pull the holeshot. It was the best feeling in the world—
until my brain took over.
Back in the pits, I decided that my shock had been too
stiff and that was why I got kicked over the bars. Truth be
told, now that I look back on that combined awesome/terri-ble moment, I realize that my shock was too soft. As I hit the
face of the first bump, I leaned back to get the weight off
the front end. When I leaned back, I loaded the shock even
more. At this point there was not much travel left in my
shock to soak up the bump. So, it kicked me over the bars.
The same situation can happen if you’re coming into a
corner or, even worse, down a hill into a corner. Your eyes
see the bumps, and they tell your brain that you may be in
trouble. You react by clamping on the front brake. With the
front brake on, your suspension sucks down and you feel
every bump like it’s a jackhammer. Back in the pits after
that moto you decide that your forks are too stiff and that
you should soften them up before the next moto.
In actuality, you should probably do the opposite. A
stiffer fork wouldn’t dive as much, leaving you with more
suspension travel (in the plusher part of the stroke) to
absorb all of the bumps.
I hear riders talking about their bikes and how their
forks are too stiff. They say they beat them up so bad, and
they don’t understand why. The fork feels too stiff, yet they
have turned the clickers all the way soft and they don’t
seem to be getting anywhere.
Remember this phrase—“stiffer is softer.” It seems coun-terintuitive, but it is true. A stiff spring rides higher in its
stroke and doesn’t need as much preload, which means
that a stiffer spring can actually be softer at the beginning
of the stroke than a softer spring. Why? The soft spring
needs more preload or compression damping to hold it up.
The moral of this story is to not let your eyes fool your
brain into thinking that this stiff feeling always means
what you think it means. Stiff can mean too soft, and too
soft can feel too stiff. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Now just
get your brain to realize this, then get your suspension
setup better to handle that. Now your eyes won’t send you
into panic mode the next time you pull the holeshot and
ride over your head. ❏
Jim “Bones” Bacon has tuned the suspension of
the biggest names in motocross, including Jeremy
McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto and Adam
Cianciarulo. If you have a suspension question, send it
STIFFER IS SOFTER