Bike setup: is it worth the fuss?

By Rowan Page | Published on 2020-03-31


Bike setup: is it worth the fuss?

In the past week I have been on a premium adventure bike testing spree. I did back-to-back tests on the BMW R1250 GS Adventure and the F850 GS Adventure. I then repeated this exercise at KTM with the 1090 Adventure R and the 790 Adventure R. And just for good measure a quick blast up Ou Kaapse Weg on a trusty old R1200 GS adventure. All of these are great bikes, with many different merits, but that is a story for another day. This is about bike setup.

So why the pointless anecdote about adventure bikes? Well, with all the adventure bike riding in a short time span I quickly became accustom to their ergonomics, bike setup and rider aids. Jumping back on my dirtbike was an interesting experience. I only went for a short burn down a nearby dirt road, but I was immediately reminded that there was no steering stabilizer or clever electronic aids to help me out. These modern adventure bikes really do give you a false sense of security. Don’t get me wrong that is a very good thing, but the beauty of a dirt bike is that it’s you and the machine. Traction control isn’t going to come to the rescue if you cock it up.

The new BMW F850 GSA
The new BMW F850 GSA
When I bought my ‘new to me’ 2016 KTM 250XCW the first thing I did was put the suspension into the ‘standard’ setting and adjusted my levers as per usual. I have ridden many of this generation KTM and immediately felt at home on the bike. I logged about 30 hours (including an enduro and an off-road race) without any setting changes. This has usually been my approach to bike setup; put it in standard and focus on your riding. But my recent experiences have made me curious about what can be gained with trying to find the right setting for the type of riding you are doing.

The view from the 'cockpit'
The view from the 'cockpit'
I got out the manual and spanners and set to work. The suspension went into ‘sports mode’ and the handlebars adjusted into the furthers back position (closest to the rider). I have recently been doing more fast-paced riding over the usual technical ‘afkak’ rides and in theory this should be a better bike setup for that. All in all, it only took about 40 minutes, which included removing fork shoes and handlebars to access the clickers, as well as losing count of clicks many times. Now that I have everything easily accessible a total adjustment shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

So what then, did it make any difference? Heck yes! I went riding in soft sand on fast, whooped-out single track and the difference was immediately obvious. The front wheel was on rails. I have been struggling with headshake on faster sections and the combined changes seem to have done the trick. No issues whatsoever. I did notice a few times where I struggled getting the front wheel turned in quick enough, but this seems pretty insignificant when the trade-off is eliminating the arse-clenching headshake at +80km/h. Far from a scientific analysis or a shocking revelation, but definitely a proof-of-concept. Bike setup is important, and I need to spend more time understanding it!

What’s next? When I get the chance to spend some time at our training facility, I need to do some back to back riding on the same sections with different setups and take notes on how it feels. Sounds almost like this elusive ‘testing’ we hear all the factory guys talk about. How hard can it be?


Become a Subscriber

We will be emailing weekly digests of new content. We won't sell your details and we'll never spam you.

Subscribe