Yes, you finally get to ride!...
Yes, you finally get to ride! Pick the track or quiet road you visit most often, and use that as a test loop. There's no need to go flat out; ride at a comfortable pace that lets you safely concentrate on what your suspension is doing.
You've got a base line, now dial it in
Once you've written everything down as your starting point, you're ready to suit up and ride (finally!). Go out to your favorite quiet road or racetrack that most represents the type of riding you do and run a couple loops (laps if you're at the track) until you have a good idea of how your bike is behaving. You don't have to ride all out, but rather at a comfortable pace that lets you concentrate on what your bike and its suspension are doing.
Experiment with the rebound damping first-which we know is most likely too stiff. Back the front adjuster out in an increment you can feel when you push on the bike at a stop (usually a half-turn or two clicks), and ride another loop. Write down the change and what you felt as a difference. Experiment until you find a setting that is obviously too soft, then backtrack to what you liked. Repeat for the shock's rebound. After every stop, take lots of notes-you'll want to refresh your memory at the end of the day.
Now that you're happy with the rebound settings, it's time to play with the compression damping. Back the front adjusters out to three-fourths of their range (nine clicks of 12, using our previous example) and make a loop. Now try the other way and note the difference. Again, experiment until you find a setting with which you're comfortable, writing down each change and the results along the way. Repeat for the shock's compression adjustment.
PRELOAD AND GEOMETRY
Think of the front preload...
Think of the front preload adjuster as a ride-height adjuster. In fact, on some earlier bikes with inverted forks, it is just that and doesn't change spring preload at all.
Getting the right angle on things
Now for the fun stuff. We know changing the chassis angle by altering ride height will sharpen or slow steering, and there are many ways to accomplish this. Up front, you can raise or lower your fork tubes in the triple clamps. Most stock bikes are limited with rear ride-height adjustments, but you can slip a shim under the shock's clevis (see Ask the Geek, Feb. '03), swap the dog bones for a set of adjustable arms or obtain a shock with a length adjuster.
Thinking back to step two, you can make a front preload adjustment to effectively raise or lower the front end-remember that, for the most part, preload simply moves the suspension's working range up or down slightly. You can use that fact to experiment with ride height and get an idea of what effect a change has. Make a loop or lap on your test road or track after adjusting the preload by two lines or four turns in either direction from its current setting. Note the change in your bike-as long as your suspension is not bottoming or topping out, the difference in handling you feel is almost certainly due to the change in trail that altering the preload brought about, and not any change in the fork's stiffness. Ride again with the preload set two lines or four turns in the opposite direction from the original setting, and note the difference.
If you found a setting you felt improved your bike's handling, continue adjusting preload in that direction. If you run out of adjustment range or are worried about bottoming or topping out your suspension (check your sag each time and make sure you have enough), then you can change the fork tube height and restore the preload closer to the middle of its range. Return the preload adjuster to its original setting. Lower the tubes in the triple clamps by 1mm for every turn of preload if you had to back the adjuster out; raise the tubes if you had to crank it in. Note that the tube height adjustment offsets the change in preload, and your bike will sit at the same ride height. Be sure to take copious notes on what you're doing, and at each change check that you have enough sag.
At the end of the day-and it will take a good portion of a day to work your way through all the adjustments-you should have your bike's stock suspenders working to your liking. But more importantly, because you've taken the time to separate out each adjustment and work on it individually, you'll be better equipped to troubleshoot your suspension when you go to another track or road.
Two settings that will feel...
Two settings that will feel almost identical: We lowered the front end of this bike during a test using the preload adjuster (top). Back at the shop, we raised the fork tubes in the triple clamps 8mm so we could put the preload back to where we wanted it (right). The two setups feel identical.