I was pretty excited that WP was able to come up with a set of suspension for us to test. Let’s face it, haven’t we all wondered just how good real factory suspension is? Surely I could be fast like those factory boys if I only had their equipment. At the least it will make me look fast, and don’t pester me with the harsh reality of things, let me have my moment!
For testing we used the 2015 KTM 450xc-w. This is the bike I log the most hours on and perhaps the best all around example of a PDS model. I wanted it to be a real world off road test. Earlier we got the opportunity to ride some of the WP hardware at the track. That was a great ride, but doesn’t represent my daily ride experience.
Our suspension came directly from WP, set up specifically for me, my bike and my riding terrain (Baja). In theory it should be as good as it gets. These parts are available from the handful of WP authorized suspension outlets or directly via KTM/WP Factory Services.
For testing we logged over 40 hours of riding in Baja. We rode nearly every kind of terrain the peninsula has to offer; mountains, snow, mud, desert, SCORE race course and lots of hours boon-docking around to make some amazing new trails. We rode in the company of some pretty fast riders, so at times it was nearly full race pace.
I have to admit that there are few things I consider more difficult than trying to convey my impressions from suspension testing. There are hardly ever two riders who will feel the exact same response from suspension. Many times I have switched bikes with a rider nearly identical to me in speed and weight, only to find that I consider his suspension almost unrideable. There are so many variables between riders and riding styles that it is hard to find one set up that fits all.
Frankly, many riders just don’t know that much about set up either. If I had a dollar for every time I helped a rider “set up” a bike by simply adjusting everything back to stock….
Moments of Brilliance
As we tested and the miles piled up, the suspension showed some very distinct benefits. The nastier the terrain, the more positive the impression. Much of Baja had just received some heavy rains and there were new ruts and washouts everywhere. Most of these were no match for the WP suspension, it just gobbled them up.
But nowhere was the performance more obvious than that day we found an ancient abandoned road that was little more than a mine field of boulders. The secret was to get up to third gear, stand on the pegs and keep the rider weight balanced in the middle. Again the rocks seemed to nearly disappear.
I didn’t think much about it, the cobbly road. But then we stopped and one of my companions was complaining about how miserable it was. I offered to swap bikes. He only stayed aboard the XC-w for a few minutes before passing me and waving me down. He gave the KTM back in disgust saying he couldn’t possibly ride it any longer. He had no idea a bike could be that good in the rocks and claimed I had ruined him from riding anything else.
Now I wouldn’t blame you for thinking this story is slightly embellished. Nope, it is word for word as it happened. It wasn’t just some other rider either, but one with many riding accomplishments, including a solo finish in the Baja 1000.
It would be fair to say that the harder and faster you push this suspension set up, the better it works. What is somewhat more difficult to explain is exactly how it works. Typically I would describe specific actions of the fork or shock. In this case, it doesn’t fit. It is difficult to describe specific things that happen at either end.
For the most part, the bike seldom seems to do much. No matter what you hit, the attitude of the bike stays the same, level and neutral. It is almost as if the suspension action is somehow removed from the bike. If anything, it all seems to act almost in slow motion. I wish I had a better description, but it just works and with very little fuss.
Instead of thinking of how the suspension worked, I found myself regularly thinking about how good my bike seemed to be working. Instead of focusing on parts, it was the package the felt improved.
The fork action is very similar to the 4CS. A bit stiff initially, but then smooth through the middle and resists bottoming well. WP tells us that was the intent of the 4CS design, to mimic the Cone Valve. It won’t be mistaken for an Open Chamber fork. It lacks the initial plush feel, but tends to be more controlled through the rest of the stroke.
For better or worse, the shock is still very much a PDS feel. You won’t mistake it for a linkage design. It addresses some of the weak points of the stock PDS well. Again, in terms of feel, there is less sense of movement. It handles the big hits a bit better, but not perfect. Get your body weight out of position on a big hit and there will still be a sharp rebound. Or clip the side of a rock and again there will be a distinct kick.
Best For –
Let’s face it, stock WP suspension is pretty good these days. According to the manual, I am way overweight for all stock settings, yet I log hundreds of hours each year without making any changes on test bikes. Get the spring rates correct and there is little more I typically need for most trail riding.
If I am going racing, I will be looking for some additional improvements to the stock set up. This is where these components would really shine. If I were still planning to head out to the desert to race each week, I would probably find a way to make this fork and shock mine. Having looked though the wormhole, it would be hard to go back.
For trail riding it becomes a more difficult call. Our specific set up was certainly aimed at a big rider in open desert, so it was stiff at low speed, particularly the fork. When it comes to super technical trail, not much going to match the uber plush stock set up. If you are not riding hard enough to over tax the stock components, there won’t be as much performance to gain. Even so, those few moments of brilliance may be enough to sell some riders.
As for a price justification, I will leave you to your own devices. The TRAX PDS shock is $2427.93 and the Cone Valve fork is $3499.00. Pricing includes rider specific springs. Contact an authorized dealer for more specific information on set up.