Suspension setup has an identity problem. Viewed as a dark art even by experienced riders, the elusive “perfect setup” always feels like it’s just a few clicks away, but for many it seems to be one step forward and two steps back.
Growing frustrated with his bike, and riding in general, Dirt School customer Gav Third booked on to one of our suspension setup days. Joining Suspension Tech, Ady, and his Motion Instruments data telemetry kit in Innerleithen to hopefully get a little closer to setup nirvana. What he left with was a bike that instilled confidence in his riding, a bunch of new PR’s and a renewed love for riding.
Gav was so impressed with the changes in his bike and riding that he offered to write a few words for us. Read on to hear more about the suspension setup day, from Gav’s point of view.
When I was offered the opportunity to have a suspension setup day with Adrian at Tweed Valley Bikes, I said yes quicker than a pogoing rebound at the bottom of Repeat Offender. Underlying much of my bike anxiety is a sense that I had never really managed to get previous bikes setup properly for me as a rider. I have watched countless videos online about when to adjust HSR or HSC, to start with sag and work from there and to generally start with baseline settings from the manufacturer. Thus, I would try to optimise each bike I have owned to behave in a manner that at least doesn’t result in surprise ejections or wallowy turns that never reach the exit.
That a rider such as myself could benefit from the factory suspension setup sessions you see on Instagram or Youtube is something I would previously have thought would require a fake moustache and not taking my full face off in the hope I might somehow be mistaken for a team rider. But this is exactly what was being offered. I have been used to getting 1:1 coaching sessions from DirtSchool previously and thus immediately trust the whole project at Tweed Valley Bikes who have changed the face of what it means to be a mountain bike company in the valley in the short period since they started operating. It’s apparent from Innes Graham’s incredible 3rd place at the Tweed Valley EWS, these guys can rely on the best staff in all aspects of their operations, from retail to coaching to just out and out railing it!
I’m not going to say I didn’t have anxieties going into the session. Thoughts such as am I good enough to even be doing this, what difference will it make to a mincer such as myself, I might not be able to blame the bike anymore and other such negative thinking processes went through my head in the days leading up to the session. I was also unclear as to what would be a recognised outcome that would demonstrate the session had made a real tangible difference? What if we were at a place that was already fairly optimised and I had paid money to just be reminded it was my poor skills that would become all too apparent? Thankfully I needn’t have worried.
I had handed in my bike the day before so Adrian could fit the telemetry kit to my bike in preparation for the day on the hill. We met at the shop and from the very start, Adrian explained how the session would operate and put me at ease. We were booked on the uplift for the day and Adrian planned to follow me to see how I rode and whether there was anything he could identify immediately from my riding that might influence how the session would go. The first runs down Cresta were relaxed affairs just to get some preliminary data although the relaxed aspect took a hit when my shifter came pinging off on the second run! Thankfully Adrian had a spare screw that fitted the shifter mount in his box of tricks, testifying to how prepared he was to deal with various eventualities with equipment.
We still managed to obtain some relevant data regardless of my inability to tighten bolts and this is where it gets a bit nerdy: seeing actual numbers that are objectively comparable to other riders and to recognised ballpark figures for optimised riding was both educational and also relatable to what I had been feeling through the bike. It was immediately apparent my rebound was set way too slow both front and rear but particularly on the front which was rebounding about half the speed of the shock. The knock-on effect of this was to make the average dynamic ride height through the fork much lower than it should have been, going from static sag of 18% to a dynamic sag of 27%. Adrian related the two figures should generally be similar. The next run we sped the rebound up both front and back but more on the front. Still, the fork was rebounding too slowly. We eventually ended up 8 clicks (of 24) faster than where we started. I had even set the forks up at the faster end of the recommended range according to the manufacturers baseline settings although I had thought it had felt too slow on drops and jumps relative to the shock.
The next thing we were able to see was I was only achieving around 77% of travel both front and rear at the sag pressures I had started with. Again, these were setup according to the chart relative to my weight and the sag measurements were around right when static. We decreased the pressure in the fork by 6psi and speeded up both HSC and LSC on the shock by 2 clicks each. Suddenly on the next run it felt like I had a lighter bike under me. Notably, this meant the HSC was now fully off on the shock which is a long way from the manufacturer’s baseline setting guidance. Coupled to the faster rebound I felt able to ride over stuff that previously I had felt like I was getting sucked into. The lower fork pressure encouraged tipping into steeper corners better and with more control. I was now able to utilise around 95% of the travel on the front although I wasn’t quite getting there on the rear. By this point we were at the last shuttle of the day so we decided to go with the changes we had made and see how it felt. We had clocked up 9 runs in total during the day and covered a wide selection of tracks including Quarry Enduro, A Salmon’s Journey, Angry Sheep and multiple runs down some of the DH tracks.
But this wasn’t the end of the process. Adrian suggested I try removing one of the 2 volume spacers from the rear shock to see if that improved the amount of travel I was able to use. I tested this a couple of days later but it became apparent I had less control through the rear end than previously and after discussion with Adrian we decided to put the spacer back in the shock and try and play around with the pressures and LSC. Despite being a busy man, Adrian remained approachable and open to further discussions about further changes.
Returning to thoughts about outcomes from the process, there were two clearly positive outcomes. Firstly, the confidence it gave me when riding with the knowledge that the bike was now setup for me and the numbers were all around the right place meant I could ride harder and more confidently. This shouldn’t be underestimated as a factor, as trust in the bike is huge when you’re travelling at speed. The next more objective outcome was I was simply faster. And I mean faster on every track I rode. Despite what your feelings may be about a certain online tracking app, I have always used it as a way of measuring my own progress. The manner in which I just knocked up PBs everywhere I went was pretty incredible and pretty unexpected in all honesty. I didn’t feel like I was going faster but I just seemed to be able to do things in a much smoother and controlled manner, meaning I was braking less and more importantly having fun again. If I’m being honest, I had been getting a little frustrated at the way my bike had behaved in certain situations although I had put it down to not understanding how to ride things properly.
Now I’m not saying I have suddenly become a riding god (sadly!). The improvements are relative to where I was starting from as a rider. But the improvements were undeniable. I was simply riding faster and better which is pretty incredible for someone who has had a fair few coaching sessions and felt at times maybe I just wasn’t going to get some aspects of riding. I had genuinely stopped having as much fun on the bike which I think was noticeable to my riding buddies at times. So the real and most important thing that has happened is my mojo for riding has returned, which is what we are all at the most basic aspects surely trying to stoke. When people tell you it’s not about the bike, I have changed my opinion slightly in that it’s at least a bit about the bike!
I can’t recommend the setup service enough and genuinely felt I had Adrian’s undivided attention the whole day with even some minor suggestions made about my riding style proving helpful.
Our thanks go to Gav for writing this piece, we're stoked you benefited so much from the suspension setup day!
If you'd like to find out more about our Suspension Setup Days here in the Tweed Valley, give us a call on 01896 831 429 or email at email@example.com.