At CRST, the curriculum helps students to understand what is going on behind the pre-set, pre-load and compression damping adjusters, so instead of simply twiddling knobs they can actually make changes with a purpose.
We’ve all seen them do it. We’ve all wished we could do it, too. There’s nothing much more exciting than scything through the twists and turns at a favorite race track, devouring knee-pucks and destroying tires while chasing that elusive tenth-of-a-second off personal best lap times. No matter what era you personally got hooked on speed, superbike racers like Gary Nixon, Scott Russell, Doug Chandler and Jamie Hacking have all made going fast on a sportbike look simple.
Funny thing is, when it’s all said and done, riding a motorcycle around a racetrack really isn’t that difficult. Anyone can do it, but the difference is how fast you make your way around. It’s not always a matter of who has the crazy gene and blatant disregard for their well being. In fact, much of it is about whether or not a person is comfortable. The trick is getting your bike set-up properly, and that’s where the Catalyst Reaction Suspension Tuning Riding School comes into play.
Catalyst’s unique program provides insight into the fine art of suspension tuning. It first increases a rider’s understanding of how their motorcycle works. Riders then learn how to change suspension settings and, most important, analyze the effects those changes. The end result expands a rider’s comfort zone on the road and race track.
Having a good set of tires is paramount to going fast but without your suspension set correctly they will not be nearly as effective. For now, let’s just assume you have the right rubber – but are you getting the most out of your suspension?
Have you ever noticed how much effort goes into setting-up a World Superbike during practice and qualifying? Riders and technicians tirelessly turn laps, make adjustments and analyze data in search of that perfect combo. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have a technician on hand and even if we do, it’s important to be able to feel, understand and accurately convey what your bike’s doing in order to make the adjustments count.
At CRST, the curriculum helps students to understand what is going on behind the pre-set, pre-load and compression damping adjusters, so instead of simply twiddling knobs they can actually make changes with a purpose. Many people are afraid to take the plunge and experiment with suspension set-up, but the investment in time pays off with an improved riding experience. Having an understanding of your equipment and how to best take advantage of the technology a modern motorcycle comes equipped with is vital, so you must educate yourself.
That’s how studying the art of motorcycle set-up under the guidance of CRST founder and Suspension School instructor Dave Moss really pays off. For less than the price of a rear tire you can learn the basic principles of suspension dynamics through an all-day hands-on training program that shows you how it works then puts you on the track where you learn to feel the effect of those changes from the seat of your bike. The school features a half hour of classroom followed by a half hour of track time at the spectacular Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California.
The objective is to focus on what the bike is doing, how it is reacting and how the rider can make the necessary changes. It’s a learning process in which the good students prove they have grasped the concepts and are capable of making changes and analyzing the results.
The school begins in class where riders have the opportunity to disassemble a fork internal, hold the pieces in their hands and lay the foundation for a basic understanding of what is actually going on beneath the shiny exterior of their front suspension component. Then, students build on that experience on the track while making their own suspension adjustments under the watchful eye of a skilled tuner, who guides you through the entire process. It’s like practice and qualifying all rolled into one day. Get your speed fix on the track and your education in the classroom. What’s not to like about that? All you need is a bike with new tires, some tools, a measure of self control and the willingness to be subjected to some on-the-job training.
It’s important to understand that most forks and shocks come with the basic adjustments for pre-load, compression, rebound and to learn exactly how changes to any of them effects the way the bike reacts. It is also critical that students are willing and able to listen and do as they’re instructed, because it is easy to miss the point as there is a lot going on. As any fast rider will tell you, the key to a good suspension tuning session is riding the same way all the time, so check your ego at the door. If you are pushing as hard as possible you won’t be able to focus on the subtle changes these adjustments make. Early sessions are intended to familiarize the rider with the motorcycle and how to ‘feel’ the suspension working at specific points on the race course. It is not specifically about getting faster just yet – that comes later in the day and is expanded upon in the Level 2 Suspension School.
The CRST approach to setting up a bike is to work from front to back. Start by setting sag – this is truly the most important suspension setting you can make and probably 90% of riders don’t even grasp the concept. Once you get that base setting it’s time to get the fork dialed in before moving to the shock. The curriculum at Suspension School starts with Fork Preload in Session 1. Let boot camp begin…
One of the quickest ways to turning a faster lap is getting suspension set-up for your riding style. Start with the most basic suspension adjustment of all: Setting sag.
One lap out, one lap in: That’s the routine. Each student takes two laps, focusing on a single turn or section, in this case it was the braking zone leading into Turn 14 (Final Turn). The goal is to experience the difference in pre-load adjustments and how it affects fork dive by starting at the softest setting and making it more stiff through the process. Every two laps we pull in – adjust another 30% of the suspension’s available adjustability then return to the track for more laps. Methodically we ride, return and repeat the process. The goal is to really feel the difference, make the changes and give feedback to the instructor in the post-session debriefing. The understanding and analysis of what these changes did to the motorcycle become the foundation for all the changes made from here on out.
The process is repeated for Fork Rebound in Session 2 and Fork Compression in Session 3. By the time Session 3 is in the books the students have a basic understanding of those three adjustments and how they affect the handling characteristics of their motorcycle. Once each student has fork settings that feel good, attention is turned to the rear shock. The same routine to getting it dialed-in is applied here. First up in Session 4 is Shock Compression followed by Shock Rebound in Session 5.
Armed with a decent base setting, front and rear, the students are turned loose in Session 6 to determine if these settings work well as a combined unit. If not, they have the opportunity to explain the ‘problem’ to the instructor and make suggestions for the changes they believe would remedy the issues. The instructor helps guide the decision process while allowing the students to learn on their own, rather than force-feeding the knowledge. At this point, students are on the cusp of graduating the Level 1 School.
Getting faster should be as simple as expanding your comfort zone that will allow you to exploit the potential from your bike, tires and suspension.
In the final stages of Suspension Boot Camp the rider must have the ability to ride consistently, hold a similar line lap after lap, and separate themselves from the motorcycle in an effort to pin-point any problems. The objective is to focus on what the bike is doing, how it is reacting and how the rider can make the necessary changes. It’s a learning process in which the good students prove they have grasped the concepts and are capable of making changes and analyzing the results when it comes time to set a motorcycle up for track duty.
Now, did I come away from the school with the knowledge to go start my own suspension tuning company? Not quite. What I did graduate with is an increased knowledge of not only suspension tuning in general, but how each adjustment affects the way my motorcycle reacts on the race track. It made me feel comfortable experimenting with the adjustments and moving forward it should make my feedback and subsequent analysis of how suspension changes a motorcycle’s behavior be even more useful to you our readers.
No matter how fast you are or how good you think you are – you will never know everything about a motorcycle. Increasing your knowledge base can only make you a better rider in the long run. If your motorcycle is set up properly, then you are more comfortable. If you are comfortable on your motorcycle you can then focus on riding faster. When you ride faster, it feels good and that really is what it’s all about.