Is tuned suspension worth the money?
If you have spent any time around off-road enthusiast you probably have noticed that whatever someone has done to their machine that person thinks everyone should do it. Of course, upgrades tend to be expensive and you can never really tell if the guy trying to convince you or himself.
Over the years I have struggled with that particular problem; if I buy that part or pay for that service is it really going to be that great. In most cases the answer comes back to you, the rider. Here in Sunny Central Washington there are some things that I feel are important for a dirt bike in terms of performance and control of your machine. I have ridden with many different types of people over the years. Everything from guys in work boots, jeans and the cheapest helmet they could find to people in $1000 boots and every other piece of gear you can imagine. So whenever someone tries to tell me I need a particular upgrade I always take it with at least 2 grains of salt.
Suspension is one of those expensive upgrades that I really questioned for years. I do not consider myself a great rider, I am not all that fast and let's face it, I'm getting old. Not to mention, modern bikes have great suspension out of the box. If you have ever ridden something from the 70's and 80's you can really appreciate how good stock suspension is, so why would I spend the money having it tuned for me? The answer is simple; control and the ability to ride longer distances, minimizing fatigue.
Most modern bikes come from the factory setup for racing on tracks with an average 180 pound rider. The spring rates, the dampening, etc. is tuned for high speed, jumps and plowing through soft dirt. On the other hand, some bikes come from the factory with the suspension set for nothing more challenging than a gravel road with the occasional wash-board section. The problem lies in the fact that most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. Which means that your suspension is actually working against you over the course of the day.
Having the correct springs for your weight means that the springs are bouncing at the correct time with the appropriate amount of force. Not trying to bounce you off the trail or bottoming out on that whoops section. Having upgraded valves takes most of that harshness out the bumps and hits that is coming through your handlebars. Having your sag set for your style means that bike will handle predictably. All of these things translate into you, the rider, having more control over your machine with less effort and hopefully allowing you to enjoy the ride more.
Like I said before I am pretty skeptical of upgrades and I also fully aware that self-delusion is a real possibility when it comes to convincing myself I made the right decision. So I decided to put it to the test. I currently have to dirt-bikes, both Yamaha; a 2014 WR450f and a 2010 YZ250f; very similar bikes except the engine. The 450 was my first new bike so I decided I was going to spend the money and get it setup for me. I can honestly say I love riding that bike. Every time I start thinking it's time to upgrade I go for a ride and that thought leaves my head. The 250 is fairly new to me, it was a bike in a box that I bought and rebuilt. It had very low hours on it when the previous owner decided to "up-grade" the engine. I decided to keep the 250 mostly stock with the exception of some cosmetic up-grades and better exhaust. Since I enjoy riding my 450 so much the 250 mostly sits. This past summer I decided that 250 needed to be ridden so my son and I decided to ride a trail that we know very well but is also fairly challenging. In the interest of not dragging this story out, let's just say I was exhausted by the half-way point and the bike is getting the suspension done.
Suspension tuning tends to be expensive, parts are expensive and you really need to have someone do it that has been trained and understands the type of riding you do. But in the long run you won't be disappointed, you will find yourself going up hills easier, riding longer distances and actually going faster without feeling like you are about to wad up and break everyone bone in your body.