Suspension tuning is about aligning your riding style with your bike’s handling. It won’t turn a Civic into a Lamborghini, and it certainly won’t turn your rusty KLX into a new KTM. But the basic tenets of dirt bike suspension – sag, preload, compression, and rebound – can all be adjusted by anyone using just a few basic hand tools, and we’re here to tell you why you should.
When you’re convinced, check out this tech article on dirt bike suspension for all the juicy details.
Every year we meet riders who think suspension adjustments are a job for professionals only. While it’s true that an expert tuner will get the most out of your setup, modern bikes give you that adjustability right out of the box. That’s great because most of us wouldn’t get enough out of a professional tune to justify the cost, but this isn’t all about saving money. It’s about breathing new life into your bike.
Nearly any handling issue can be fixed with basic suspension adjustments, and those changes are so easy you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this a long time ago.
Have you experienced any of these symptoms on a ride?
- Rear wheel won’t track a line
- Front wheel won’t track a line
- Stability loss at high speeds
- Front wheel won’t stay planted
- Rear wheel bucks too much
- Front end feels saggy and unresponsive
Your bike’s stock suspension was tuned to work for a variety of riders and riding styles. It’s a great mid-range setup that will get you out on the trails with ease, but once you start pushing those stock settings you’ll often find they’re lacking in certain areas. New bikes from brands like Husqvarna are known for being well-balanced right out of the box, but even that new suspension will need a tune-up after a few years.
As years of hard riding take their toll on springs, seals, and other components, the bike starts losing its edge. If your dirt bike is getting old, it would benefit from some suspension tuning. Even basic damping and preload adjustments can breathe new life into a tired machine in ways that might surprise you.
That new life comes in the form of better balance, more predictability, and less wash-out. Imagine what his suspension went through in that video. That's crazy, right? But it was all controlled.
You know that feeling when the rear tire just isn’t doing what you want? You can see the rut, you can feel the rut, but the bike is riding too rough to lock it in? Maybe that corner is right after a double or at the base of a downhill, so the whole bike is hunched down going into it. Sounds like you’ve got too little rebound damping.
Say the front tire can’t keep up with a harsh section of whoops. That would be too much compression damping. Or maybe you’re using nearly all your travel on a certain rhythm section – that’s too little compression damping.
Of course, suspension tuning won’t magically shed weight off your bike (or you – savage). A heavy bike will always handle differently than a lighter one, and a fundamentally unbalanced chassis won’t behave perfectly even with the best aftermarket parts bolted to it. But with the right tuning and the right rider, nearly every dirt bike made in the last 20 years could run within a few seconds of all the others. What a time to be alive.
Whenever I change my bike’s oil and go for that first ride, I swear I can feel the difference. Like I can sense the improvement on a molecular level, the fresh blood coursing through the heart of my clapped-out Honda like the sweet nectar of the gods. In my helmet I say to myself, “Mmm, that’s some good viscosity,” as I ride with more confidence than I had half an hour ago.
Of course, the reality is that unless you go way over the service interval, drastically change weights, or get rid of a nasty filter, that feeling is almost entirely in your head. Yet it happens every time, and for awhile you swear your bike actually has more power.
If 1 in 3 people’s symptoms change after taking a medical placebo, it’s no surprise that most riders will feel better about their bike after making even minor changes to it. Once you know something’s changed, it’s second nature to look for that change in big ways. Suspension adjustments induce that same feeling of newness and inspire confidence even if nothing really changed.
We’re only human, after all.
You know something I would notice? Money in my pocket.
Turns out the Dirt Legal staff has a lot in common with early-2010s rap mogul Rick Ross. We hustle hard, we love us some Wingstop, and we think Aston Martins are pretty damn cool. If a 745 white on white is “f*kin Ross,” then a street legal dirt bike or ATV is f*kin us. We assume Ricky Ross Tha Boss doesn’t like wasting money, and we know he ain’t afraid of conquering something new.
Be like Rick Ross. Tune your own suspension.
Jim Bob’s Bike Shop will charge you $100 an hour just to touch your bike, a privilege you give to all those Tinder dates for free. I bet you won’t even get the tech’s number. And that’s not even a professional diagnostic session with an actual suspension expert. That will set you back $1000 or more, so unless you’re contending for a trophy or you’re feeling like King Ding-A-Ling there’s no reason to do that.
Besides a few basic tools, tuning your own suspension is 100% free. Us non-professionals would be hard pressed to notice the difference between suspension we adjusted ourselves and a pro’s thousand-dollar tune-up, so go ahead and put that extra cabbage toward a James Bond Coupe like a got-damn boss.
A Sense of Pride and Accomplishment
Skip all those 12-step self-help guides to happiness and inner peace – wrench on your bike instead.
Adjusting your own suspension saves you money, boosts your confidence, and transforms your bike into a better version of itself. That’s the kind of power that must be wielded carefully. If your Tinder date sees all the love and affection you pour into your bike, they’re falling in love. No exceptions.
You know what else does that? A street legal dirt bike. And you happen to be talking to the experts on making your dirt bike street legal, in under 1 month, for under $300. To learn more, have our people call your people.
How did suspension tuning change your life? Let us know in the comments!