Dirt Bike Tracks:
Suspension Setup

Before you can start to adjust your suspension setup to the different dirt bike tracks, please make sure that you have done the following:

Now you are ready to get down to business. We will have a look at 5 different dirt bike tracks:

  1. hard pack dry fast track
  2. sand track
  3. mud track
  4. technical enduro track
  5. rocks

Here are the 4 basic rules of how to work with your click adjusters not matter on what track you do the testing. As so often in the suspension game different people like to do it in different ways. But these rules will keep you on "track" when you don't have a lot of experience with click adjuster testing.

Rule No 1

Always start with standard clicks! It is easy to get lost in trying to test with different click positions. So you need a baseline to return to if in doubt.

Rule No 2

Never change more than one thing at the time. You will otherwise not know which one had the most/best effect on your suspension. Change something, go ride a lap, then change the next thing. If it didn't improve the handling on that specific dirt bike track then reverse the change first before going on.

Rule No 3

Never change more than 3 clicks at the time in one direction. Otherwise you might miss the range where it actually had a positive effect. The only exception to that rule is if you want to experience the extreme effect of that adjuster to be able to differentiate it while riding. Then you can close or open it once fully before proceeding with the normal 2-3 clicks adjustment.

Rule No 4

This is no absolute rule but something to keep in mind. 6 clicks from standard is the max. adjustment you should make especially for the rebound adjuster. If one adjuster is totally closed and the others are around standard there must be something wrong.

It is a bit like with the gears on a bicycle: If you have the smallest on the front and the smallest on the back you are not using them in harmony with each other. Bear in mind that the standard setting has been tested extensively over months by suspension experts and pro riders on all sorts of different dirt bike tracks. So the setting is something that combines safety with best handling in all sorts of track conditions. Yes, you can adjust it to specific dirt bike tracks with LITTLE changes to one or the other side. But you definitely won't make it better by going into extremes.

If you are that unhappy with the handling then there is something wrong with your suspension in general. Not often but sometimes there are production problems like wrong shimming. Maybe you need a service because your bushes are worn and causing friction. If you are extremely fast you might want to consider to go testing with a suspension technician and get your personal setting done by changing the internals of your bike.

1) Hard pack dry fast track

Usually you make the damping a little harder on this dirt bike track. Then it is safer for the unexpected hit.

So close your compression and rebound adjusters as indicated above 2-3 clicks, one at the time, especially if you experience the following handling problems:

  • Suspension feels soft over big rolling bumps, through dips and jump faces
  • Suspension dives too much on brakes or bottoms hard on jump landings
  • Suspension feels spongy, no feeling of feedback

Only close compression and leave rebound on standard if you experience problems on braking bumps because the suspension is bottoming out.

You know that your suspension is too hard and you should open compression and rebound when you face the following scenarios:

  • Suspension lacks comfort on small bumps, sudden small sharp hits (tree roots, rocks)
  • Suspension feels hard and harsh throughout the entire stroke or is not using all of the travel
  • Problems on braking bumps because suspension is hard and not using all the stroke

Open only the rebound if you feel that the suspension packs down on braking bumps after a few bumps.

Open only the compression of the fork and the low speed if you experience a loss of traction.

2) Sand tracks

On sandy dirt bike tracks set your suspension up harder. Sand is mostly low speed damping, so work with this on the shock. In sand you can close rebound a few clicks for slower rebound.

Drop forks in clamps to raise front forks of the bike (wheel further away from the handle bar). Run maximum sag at rear to lower the back of the bike.

With those adjustments the balance of the bike will be slightly to the rear. It will hold straight lines easier and not fall into turns as it would normally do in sand. The weight of the bike is more on the rear wheel so the front wheel will be lifted and not dig itself into the sand so easily.

3) Mud tracks

On muddy dirt bike tracks add preload to front if you have a preload adjuster. Run rear sag at minimum value possible but stay within the recommendations. Add compression front and rear. Use standard rebound. You want your bike to ride higher and not to dive too much. You also want to get as much feedback from your suspension as possible.

4) Technical enduro

Softer suspension usually works well for enduro dirt bike tracks. So open your compression and rebound a little. Remove some preload from the fork and run maximum sag but stay within the recommendations. This helps to keep the whole bike lower so you can use your legs in technical sections.

5) Rocks

When we talk about rocks we don't mean the occasional rock section on the enduro track, but serious rocks like "The Roof of Africa" or the "Erzberg" race in Austria.

Super soft suspension is a NoNo on rocks. The faster you ride rocks the more damping you need to handle the impacts. Suspension needs to absorb many hits riding over rocks and it must stay active and work as high as possible in the stroke in order to absorb successfully without throwing you off course. The softer you make the suspension the deeper the suspension goes and there it cannot absorb properly due to the high progression of the suspension when working too deep or too low in the stroke.

Correct springs are vital for rocks! Springs that are too soft for the rider never keep the bike high enough in the suspension travel and cause big problems over rocks. Springs are also mostly linear in nature and a soft spring stays a soft spring no matter how much you jack the bike up by adding preload. (Click here for correct spring rate)

Make sure the bike is balanced. Springs and damping should match front and rear so the level of the bike stays correct and does not favour a forward or backward tilt. An unbalanced bike cannot track correctly over rocks. This is why changing springs front AND rear is important and the same goes with damping changes. Just doing front or rear is not advisable. (Click here for bike balance)

Damping should be enduro specific (for MX bikes!) and clicks run on standard to avoid unwanted geometry changes. If brave try rebound 3 clicks open from standard to improve reactivity over rocks. MX bikes need valving to handle rocks as they are over damped. If you modify the damping on a MX bike get it done carefully by someone with experience or you may end up with a disaster.

If you are short you can lower the bike a little either by cutting the seat or by internal modifications of fork and shock. Lowering is specialized and involved and seldom done correctly so be careful who attempts it. Lowering properly can be a huge advantage on rocks. Pulling forks through and running too much rear sag is not a solution as the geometry of the bike will change and once again shock will work too deep in the stroke and cause problems. Rather get the bike lowered professionally.

Test it!

If you have an MX bike and you are riding mostly enduro type terrain then you need to have some revalving done. For all bikes check out the article on servicing your suspension and on how to maintain your seals, because without that your suspension will eventually feel harsh no matter the setup. It is mostly underrated how important it is to get the suspension serviced (including change of bushes and seals) regularly.And last but not least take your time to find the right setup for the various dirt bike tracks. Get used to the clicks and the effects of the adjusters. On every outride change something here and there in order to get a feeling for it. Test and test again and if you get lost return to standard clicks.

Hope that helped. If you want to know more about different setups check out the Racing section of Dirt-Bike-Secrets.


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