Ride smoother to save money and turn faster lap times.

By Nick Ienatsch December 17, 2019

motorcycle chassis
A motorcycle chassis (TZ250 seen here) offers a variety of ways to spend Christmas money. Should fork and shock springs be on that list? – Darryl Meyers

Understanding how great riders load fork and shock springs is not high enough in most riders’ priority scale. Add in some riders’ belief that they must get more aggressive to go faster, and it becomes clear why so many of us change suspension components in search of chassis performance.

Yes, some bikes come from the factory with too-soft springs and under-whelming damping, but if you pay attention, you will find certain riders who can ride everything they touch very quickly. I have quite a few of those riders on my staff at YCRS: They will note that a bike is undersprung, but then proceed to ride it at a breathtaking pace.

I want you to become one of those riders.

Spring Loading

Try this: Sit on your bike with the front brake on. Push down on the front end, to collapse the fork. Have a friend pull down on the front end to help you. Note where the fork stops moving as you and your friend load the fork springs linearly, or at a consistent speed and force.

Now roll the bike forward at walking speed, and grab the front brake lever. Did your fork collapse more with the grab or more with the linear load you and your friend put on?00:3215:17

You’ll see significantly more fork travel with the grab, and that’s just at walking speed! The lesson to remember for the rest of your riding career is how a spring likes to be loaded. When the load goes onto a spring linearly, the spring has time to tighten and carry the load, passing the weight into the tire. Any grab or stab on the brakes in your car, truck, van, tractor, airplane, bicycle, or motorcycle, defeats the design of that spring. It needs a linear load to do its job. The abrupt rider is not riding the bike as it was designed to be ridden by the smooth expert who designed it.

Also note that the rider who abruptly grabs the brakes will forever be searching for the proper front-end setup. Springs will be changed, shim stacks swapped, oil levels adjusted—when the only necessary modification is changing the rider’s initial and final brake application.

Tommy Aquino
Tommy Aquino told the YCRS students, “There is a millisecond of smooth squeeze before hard brake or throttle pressure comes in…that millisecond is to load the suspension and tires before they work”. – Shoot from the Hip

Out Back

Ryan Burke and his data engineer Mark Schellinger tell a story about their search for shock springs last year. Ryan’s R1 was bottoming the shock so they upped the rear spring. It was still bottoming so they went stiffer again. Now the rear end was almost locked out and the bike was starting to have other issues, like losing grip over stutter bumps.

Mark zoomed in on the data, focused on Ryan’s initial throttle movement and found his application was extremely aggressive, and too quick. They made a plan to smooth out the initial throttle application and this rider adjustment allowed them to go back to a softer spring.

Stiffer: Not Always Better

Back in Kyle Wyman’s 600-class days he was involved in the ongoing, never-ending search for bike setup that is a racer’s life. During pre-season testing, Kyle’s R6 front end was heavily modified and the mods were constant: swapping springs, changing shim stacks, expensive cartridges, varying oil levels…quite exciting, this search for the perfect setup.

And then he rode a stock Champ School R6 with our standard tried-and-true fork settings. “This front end is better than my racebike’s,” Kyle laughed. Fascinating, no? Kyle spent a lot of time on school 600s that day and this helped him get a solid direction on his racebike’s fork, a direction that took him back toward factory settings.

Be the Spring Engineer

Save your family’s Christmas money by understanding spring loading and unloading through linear use of brakes, throttle, and steering. We, the on-board engineers, can make almost any setup work. Now your family has Christmas money for the truly important presents: MotoGP.com Video Pass, sticky tires, and a quick-shifter.