If you just joined us, you should know this about me: I still ride oldish motorcycles.
You see, I am sort of funny that way, stubborn I guess. But I just don’t assume that the newest bike is somehow going to make me go faster than the one it replaced. Or in my case, the previous two it replaced.
Yes, I am still riding my beloved RFS KTM’s, those 2005-2007 400/450/525 models. I am prepping a bike to race next week. A new bike, well new to me that is, a very nice low mile ’06 450xc. It is 12 model years old now, and to my way of thinking, still just about the best all around dirt bike ever built.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some real improvements in some areas. The 2012-2016 450/500 xcw/exc motor may be the most durable and lowest maintenance enduro motor ever produced. I have one, great bike, but I mostly leave it in the corner and let Baja tour clients ride it. For all its improvements, it somehow lack the charm, the soul, of the old RFS motor. The bigger chassis suits me too.
But this isn’t a RFS dialogue today, well not completely. Today I want to talk suspension. If you are at all confused about what is what in the suspension world, I am not going to make it any clearer. I will probably just muddy things up.
It is impossible to know just where the suspension action ends and the marketing pitch begins. KTM has been all over the board on this one. For years all we had was the old WP Open chamber fork to deal with. First it came in the 43mm then evolved into the 48mm version that ran for 15 model years.
Along about the middle of the run, KTM started to mix things up with the SX and XC models. First came the Closed Chamber fork, then the 4CS and now the AER air fork. Now for the off road line they have finally retired the Open Chamber for the new Xlor fork.
So how is anyone supposed to know what fork works best? Each was touted as the latest greatest. Making things even cloudier was the fact that none of these were really used by factory racers for the last decade. They all run the Cone Valve fork. After keeping it hidden for all those years, KTM/WP is now happy to sell you it too, just open the wallet. Open a little wider if you please.
The use of the Cone Valve by top level riders meant that most never even raced on some of the other models. Not much additional develop went into them, particularly the 4CS.
So it begs the question; what is all of this about anyway? I think it is marketing as much as anything. Dirt bike technology is sort of vague. Let’s face it, many of the things you read in a magazine test, while perhaps being completely true, are hard for the average rider to appreciate. Can you real tell if this years model has better corner exit traction?
But suspension is one of those magic elements that we all gravitate too. If I only had factory level suspension, I am sure it would make me faster! I can remember talking to a top desert rider who summed his KTM factory suspension up as thus “It is harsh as crap, but it doesn’t kill me when I hit a square edge road crossing way too fast”. Obviously his set up probably wasn’t going to help me.
Now I tested the WP factory stuff a few years ago. It was a real treat for me because the factory tech built it just for me. I could see how it really could be an advantage for expert level desert racing. But the flip side was, for riding at anything below full race pace, it did not significantly outperform my regular trail bike components. It even under performed in some areas.
The point is, this leaves me just back where I started. I have ridden all of the above. Admittedly, my time on the air fork and Xplor is limited. But in stock condition, I have a garage full of 10 year old bikes that have better performing forks than any of these. The WP Open chamber was so good by the end of its run, that it needed very little to make it excellent.
For the RFS I use a shim package put together by Rob at Moto Lab. Out of necessity (economy) I have learned to do all the servicing myself. But it has taken time and is not for everyone to tackle. The Open Chamber is not a complicated design, but there many little things that need to be done just right. Frozen rebound needles are one of the common things I encounter on the older bikes.
But with the correct springs, oil and some mild work on the shims. I still feel the open chamber for is one of the best feeling forks around. It is very consistent in how it works and gives great feedback. I am sure other forks are loved by some riders. Different riders have different expectations. The number of variables is almost infinite in a suspension discussion. What works for one rider may not for another.
But more often, I think riders simply don’t know what they want and are swayed by the advertising pitch. I am often asked to give suspension advice, here is one piece of knowledge that nearly always yields positive results – put your clickers back to stock and set the sag.
I wonder how long it will be before today’s latest gets sacked for the next big thing?