It’s Tool Time!

I’m patiently waiting on the Man in Brown to show up on my doorstep to drop off a load of (highly specialized) tools, so I can get this front suspension pain in my arse taken care of once and for all.

What did I actually put on the track at Road A? Let’s just say that I was way too trusting of a bike that my hubby had acquired for me from a dude who is a mechanic by trade and the bike in question had also been set up and raced by a local racing team.

I’m not complaining, mind you. As far as I am concerned hubby got a great deal on the R1. The added up cost of the performance upgrades alone would have set us back as much as we paid for the bike itself. I’m speaking retail cost here. When you’re sponsored you could find yourself getting these things for free. I’m sure both parties came out of this deal smiling. I know I did, and Skinny Dude with Similar Spring Rate even cut me a break and knocked another five bills off of it. But it goes to show that even though I had checked the bike over to the best of my ability, with the mechanical knowledge that I had gained thus far, some things do not become obvious until you put the beast on the track and give it as much hell as you dare. I did. At the last race of the season. Yes, the finals. I went testing at the Grand Nationals and then still entered the actual race (there are some freakishly fast dudes in A Superstock); knowing it was a really bad idea, but when did that sort of thing ever stop me? But that is a different story for a different time. Maybe I’m going to tell it someday… when I’m completely over the public humiliation I received that weekend, and deservedly so.

Candy's Fork(ed) Leg

But I digress.

Finding a rolled up piece of shop towel shoved in between the outer dust seal, the inner oil seal and the ring clip that holds the seal assembly in place was the last straw. (Somebody sneaking some leaky fork seals through Tech?) The last straw in a long line of other straws that made me say WTF!?! out loud. Every one of these straws presented me with the awesome opportunity to research and add yet another tiny increase to my MotoMech Skill. I need to develop an eye for these things, I’m starting to, but I’ve got a long way to go. Vic Fasola took one quick glance at my bike and muttered something along the lines of my suspension setup being totally fooked and my grips being a few degrees off from each other! Holy hell, I measured those clip-ons as best I could with my digital calipers, which isn’t the right tool for that job anyway. They looked even to me, hell they felt even when I was riding the bike.

Later disassembly of the front forks revealed that the preload between the two legs was differing by several millimeters between right and left, the compression damping differed by 25 clicks. Absolutely nothing was right about the front suspension setup. Not geometry, damping, preload, relative positioning, or fastening torques. Nothing. Those tubes were slid so far up the triple tree that they were in danger of giving you a nose bleed when in the race tuck. A twitchy proposition to say the least. And to facilitate this extreme lack of straight line stability it was necessary to have the upper triple tree clamp half on the skinny part and half on the fat part of the fork tube. I snapped off both pinch bolts on the right side in an attempt to loosen them. I wonder how close they were to snapping when the bike was on the race track? I don’t even want to think about that. I managed to release the left-side bolts without a snap, by backing them out alternatively a few turns at a time. The bolts showed signs of fatigue. They were bent and the threads were unevenly stretched.

No wonder the bike felt weird in the front and kind of strange in the back. No wonder I was as slow as a blob of molasses hanging out in a fridge. The bike was talking to me. I didn’t understand all this feedback I was getting through the chassis. I am slowly learning, but my lackadaisical attitude, a conditioned response to balance perfectionistic tendencies with and adventuresome spontaneity into a more sensible approach, sometimes gets in the way and slow natural progression.

I get in my own way. There. I’ve said it. I’m a brainiac klutz. Leave me to my own devices with too much time to think and too much room for self-doubt, and I’ll stumble over my own two feet and land on the mental equivalent of my JLo ass. But I own my solutions and failures. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have to own something to trust in it. I have to test a theory and be able to reproduce the promised results on my own to fully believe it. I don’t follow blindly, unless the source has repeatedly proven itself, and even then I can’t help but feel the gnaw of insecurity. I like my variables to be assigned beforehand. I like the equation’s result to be known. But this is the real world… and constants aren’t much fun anyway.

In the end I have nobody to blame but myself; which is the preferable scenario to me. When the blame falls squarely on my shoulders I can spare myself the annoyance of being upset with someone else.

I should have done the research beforehand, educated myself on the things I was unclear on or was ignorant of and check all fasteners. Set the suspension up for myself instead of trusting “it must be right, because the guy is my height and approximately my weight and he raced it.”

However, too much theoretical knowledge without any real world experience makes my head hurt, it gets me frustrated by information overload and I end up winging it half of the time for lack of patience, time constraints, not having the proper tools, or simply by saying: “Ah, screw this, it’ll be alright.” After all, I don’t want to wrench. I want to ride!

I own it or am owned by it.

Sometimes I do find myself getting a little jealous of some of my friends who can call upon the experience of trusted others to help them along their way. I do most everything myself, and I fall down a lot. Occasionally, this gets a little old and I feel like quitting. Fortunately, I have Mr. Slow to kick me square in the leather pants when I start uttering such nonsense as wanting to quit racing because it’s such a pain in the ass in between. Hubby is EXTREMELY supportive of my racing endeavors. He is my rock. His is the hand that reaches out to help me up. He is the one who puts up with all my girly insecurities and the shit I dish out when I’m stressing, smiles and says: “I don’t care how slow you think you are, baby. I still am damned proud of you for getting out there. You are doing it. You just need to do it more. That’s all.”

He’s right. I know that on an intellectual level. Sometimes it is just hard to hold on to that emotionally when you’re down, but not out. I wish he could also be a master mechanic and a pro racer instead of just playing the role of my psychologist. 😉

My stuff is here, I’ve got to go!

17 days until race day.


The Suspense Is Killing Me

Getting ready to play!

Enjoying the first real spring day of the season: Fueling up for a ride with Mr. Slow.

I’m not happy. I was at first, but am not anymore. I was lubing my chain the other day and noticed that the rear sprocket is showing signs of wear, this led me to look into a gearing change, since I’ll have to replace the sprockets in the next few thousand miles anyway. This research, in turn, got my perfectionistic side all bent out of shape because I’m about to change yet another thing while I have one kink already to work out. One thing at a time, chica. One thing at a time. Thus, it came to be that I had to admit to myself that the suspension setup compromise is not working for me in the long run. But I really don’t want to go through that whole crappy fairing and fender removal process yet again. What a bummer that is. Heck, it isn’t really working for me at all, now that I had a chance to put a bunch of miles on the bike. Don’t get me wrong, I love it lowered like it is now. I’m more confident at slow speeds (even though my turns are wider than they used to be)  and I can actually flat-foot the thing in my race boots now; no more getting stuck on the incline side of a crowned road or trying to back out of a declined parking spot. She also feels more stable and planted. However, when I first started this project I hadn’t realized that maybe the adjustability range of the ‘Busa would give me problems and would lead to compromises. Lesson learned. Check the parameters before implementation to see if it’s even possible to follow through. It was a learning experience (and still is), and I wouldn’t have been able to ask the right questions at the time anyway. Yes, I could have asked for help and had the answers given to me, but that’s not how I work. I want to own my solution. I want to be guided, not shown. The Socratic Method, that’s how I like to be taught. I had to take it one step at a time, and I’m not sorry that I did. However, I am now frustrated with the current setup. The bike now corners like a bus and my arms are really getting tired from the heavy steering, at least that distracts me from my sore thigh muscles. 😉 My geometry is way too relaxed for my taste, since I am missing 10 mm of preload in the front, but the adjusters are at their limits. I don’t want to spend more money on this… I have to sleep on it, but I think the best I can do is raise the fork tubes through their triple clamp 5 more millimeters and crank in rear preload. Between those two, I should be able to affect the desired decrease in rake/trail. I’m dangerously close to getting into the no-no zone up front and I’ll blow my rear sag numbers into race territory, but I think it might just give me what I need. If not, I can always move for a reversal.


Suspension Tuning – Part 1 (Results): There’s a first time for everything…

…and then the renown goes into the crapper. Yes, I couldn’t believe it myself when I heard my own voice reverberating the dreaded words in my head: “Shit! The speed limit is too fast!” But we’ll get to that…

As I said in my previous post, I’ve done the obligatory 11-mile loop to test out my new configuration. But really that doesn’t tell you much, even though I was riding it like a jackass: extreme lane-weaving, swerves, quick-stops, hard acceleration, more stoppie attempts, more swerves… …all in the name of science. I wonder what people were thinking when they saw me scooting it down the road fairly erratically and seemingly out of control. Ah, who cares… Luckily, this road isn’t too busy, so I usually don’t have too many witnesses on my test flights.

The suspension travel: Before

The 'Before' pic: The Fat Lady's suspension travel.

The suspension travel: After

The 'After' pic: The Fat Lady's suspension travel.

Although, I couldn’t feel much of a difference, it’s much better than it was. It isn’t perfect, for perfection I’m missing 10 mm of additional preload in the front and optimally another 4 mm of fork tube raising would be in order. But I’ve reached the end of the Fat Lady’s adjustability, so this is the closest I can come to my ideal setup using stock hardware.

So, on to the story, then: It started with my usual loop, because I wasn’t really feeling up to exploring, since it’s still too cold for that sort of thing. Yeah, it was in the low 50s and sunny, but after about 60 miles of that I’m ready to go home, since I’m shivering all over. Anyway, I turn right onto the road that takes me through part of the Sumpter National Forest. It feels a little ‘bouncy’ today. This road is kind of rough for the first mile or so. It’s that cheap Aldi’s kind of asphalt, not smooth but more gravelly. You can actually see the little rocks in it. You know, shitty road. But I think nothing of it, I have never really liked the first part of it anyway. It’s bumpy, has cracks all over it in places and sports a few potholes. I don’t know why all these imperfections seem to be magnified today. I don’t like to bounce while leaning, makes me feel like I’m going to fall off. Once I get on the smooth part I open it up a little. A few more curves and the 25-mph 90-degree dogleg right is upon me. The only reason I go down this road, really. I take it at 65. I’m wider than usual, but still on my side of the road. Hmmm…. Oh yeah, I need to add a little more oomph next time, the ‘almost imperceptible’ heavy steering from the 11-mile loop is making itself known and it’s a little less imperceptible. Not a problem, I can definitely accommodate the Fat Lady. She does feel solid through that corner. She went where I put her. Smooth, but then this section of road is almost brand spanking new.

A few miles later I remember that silly obsession I have with finding that legendary ‘Kettle Creek’ road again. I google-mapped it, and there’s only one around here and it’s what I’ve long since dubbed the ‘Redneck Racetrack’, so if that’s the road they were talking about, I feel a little, well, underwhelmed. I mean I’m as horny for curvy roads as the next guy, but that really takes the cake. That’s desperation in motion. I wonder what the current lap record is. =] But I digress, so I’m off navigating by GPSr and reading street name signs, never mind the chill in the air. I take a few promising looking random turns (which is a dangerous undertaking in these parts), and a few miles later I hit the jackpot, or so I think. I quickly mash the ‘Mark’ button on my Garmin, because I need to be able to find this little piece of lean angle heaven later: Out in the middle of nowhere with no cops around to spoil the day. I have to keep reminding myself not to get too enthusiastic and outride my sight distance. I am in South Carolina after all, and a road can just decide to quit or turn into dirt or a gravel trail without warning. When the GPSr is routing this is usually indicated by incessant u-turn demands. It’s tough to behave, but I have a feeling about this, so I keep it reasonable.

Redneck Racetrack

Kettle Creek RD: The Redneck Racetrack

And with that last thought trailing, I round the next bend and find myself looking at a definite shift in surface color and quality. It seems like they redid this part, there aren’t any lines on it, but the cat eye markers are there to mark the centerline or where the centerline would be. It’s bumpy. What the hell?!? They forgot to smooth this out or what? Aren’t they supposed to do that when the stuff’s still hot, semi-viscous and smells like shit? Damn! It’s getting bumpier as I go. Hell, if I wanted to ride moguls I would have gone skiing! I’m down to the speed limit (which is 45, by the way) and still am feeling like I’m going too fast. Good gawd! In the name of all that’s holy! Just my luck, too. I find a curvy road and it’s shit; Mr. Murphy again and his asinine law. I can’t believe that I’m actually going the speed limit and am considering slowing down even further. I try to pick my way through using the smoothest path, with not much improvement in ride quality. I’m bouncing all over the place, the Fat Lady feels a lot like a pogo-stick and all this shaking is making me have to go pee. Curses! A pickup truck pulls out in front of me. For a change, I’m glad, it gives me an excuse to go slower still. Ha! I can hardly keep up with the truck. Chick on a Hayabusa is getting smoked by some dude in an old F-150 (or whatever the hell it is). Imagine that. My feelings are a little hurt. 😉 I see his rear axle bouncing over this heinous stretch of asphalt which is a road in name only. His rear tires are moving independently, rapidly hopping over the multitude of dips and peaks, the truck’s body twisting this way and that. I am almost mesmerized by the chaotic rhythm. I keep up, despite my growing nervousness and I wonder if there’s not a better way of negotiating rough roads like this. I’m really getting tired of getting slapped in the ass by my bike and putting up with all that shaking in my handle bars, trying to relax and letting the bike do its thing is getting tiresome. I shift my weight forward a little, and lift my rear off the seat. Hmmm… slightly better, but now my weight is on the bars. Little more. Now I’m practically standing on the pegs, in a half-crouch, supporting my weight by my thighs and core, knees in, but barely touching the tank. The weight is now off my wrists, fingers only lightly curled around the grips. Much better. Now my legs are acting as shock absorbers, and not bouncing around really smoothes things out a bit. Leaning into curves is an interesting feeling and I probably look like a dumbass doing it, but who cares. This is working. I feel more in control and I think The Fat Lady appreciates me not fighting her so much anymore. My thighs are getting tired; my thighs and several other muscle groups I didn’t know I had. This is great, I know I’m onto something here, since at one point I am seriously considering passing the bobbing truck in front of me, but decide against it at the last moment. “You don’t know this road, no telling what’s around the next curve.” Glad I listened to my voice of reason, because around the next corner awaits a stop sign, with not much room to spare. I soon find myself back on a real highway. Smooth, marked, clean. I pull into the next gas station without delay, since I am about to reach muscle failure and my bladder is screaming bloody murder. I take care of business, buy a drink and a small bag of Cape Cod’s parmesan cheese chips and have a seat on the curb in my bike’s parking spot. All I see around me are huge-ass trucks. I wonder why?!? An old dude in another one of those gigantic trucks, covered in red clay, pulls into the spot next to me. He gets out, big grin on his face. He says: “That is a fast looking bike. A real bike. Big. And a real-life girl riding it. Wow!” I smile up at him from my seat on the curb: “Yessir!” He’s amazed. “You really ride that thing?” – “Yessir.” – “You are a real girl!” I smile, then reply while pointing at the mud all over his vehicle: “Looks like you had a bit of fun, too.” His smile gets a little broader: “Because I’m a real boy.” I giggle. With that he goes inside. The guy had to have been in his late 70s. When he comes back out of the store, he stops and tells me that he rides, too. Then adds: “Real horses.” I tell him I always wanted to learn how to really ride a horse, but so far never have gotten out of canter. He smiles and says: “You look like a person who would enjoy riding.” We chat a little more and then he’s off again. Old guys rule.

I think it’s time I delved into “Suspension Tuning – Part 2: Damping”. Uh-huh, most definitely.

Linkage to the entire series:

  1. Suspension Tuning – Part 1: Rider Sag, Free Sag, and Preload
  2. Suspension Tuning – Part 1: Plan ‘A’. Plan ‘B’. Plan ‘C’ It Is.
  3. Suspension Tuning – Part 1: Exploratory Surgery
  4. Suspension Tuning – Part 1: Let’s Go Shopping!
  5. The (preliminary) results: OMG! OMG! OMG! The Fat Lady Can Dance?
  6. Suspension Tuning – Part 1: The Fat Lady’s Got Slammed
  7. Suspension Tuning – Part 1 (Results): There’s a first time for everything…