FULL DISCLOSURE 2: Powerline Park GNCC

Full Disclosure 2: Powerline Park GNCC

First, let’s talk about the week leading up to it…

The entire week between Masontown and Powerline Park, it poured rain in central Ohio. My plan had been to run my old ’09 525 quad at Powerline, (For future reference, even though they’re all technically 2009 frames now, my 3 KTM quads are referred to as The National Quad, the ’09, or the 450.) but with as well as things had gone on the 450 at Masontown, I couldn’t help but think that maybe the 450 was where I needed to be right now. Add to that the fact that I anticipated the track would be a slippery disaster, and I decided that the less powerful stock 450 engine would be a benefit in the slick Ohio clay.

From a setup perspective, I hadn’t planned to change much other than air pressures in the tires and a switch from the smaller XC Master rear tires to my usual Ground Buster II XCs. The Ground Buster II XC is a better tire in slick clay. The compound is crazy soft and with a 2 ply sidewall, it flexes and grips extremely well. Obviously, those same things hurt durability, so I typically run XC Masters in the rocks even with the slight reduction in ground clearance.

It’s worth noting that the KTM’s PDS rear end has a distinct advantage over a linkage bike in that way. The lack of a linkage hanging down under the swingarm means that there is nothing to get hung up in the deep ruts and rocks. I seem to be able to get away with 19” rear tires in the rocks better than a Honda can with 20”s just because I don’t have that linkage to get caught on things.

Case in point, a few days before Powerline, I realized that my ride height was MUCH lower than I had thought in Masontown. Once I switched to the 3/4” taller Ground Buster II XCs, I decided that I had better check and reset my ride height. Imagine my surprise when I found it to be 6 and 3/8 inches at the bottom of the frame at the footpegs! My target is always between 6-3/4” and 6-7/8″ and I had just added 3/4” of tire height so I didn’t understand how that was possible. Once I removed the rear plastic, I realized that the jam nut was nowhere near the preload collar, and suddenly things made sense.

Here’s why: (Remember, the premise here is full disclosure. If I make a mistake, you’ll still read about it here. Usually, that’s when I learn stuff anyway, and this time was no different!) When I first put the new rear shock on this bike, I had planned to run a race on it that Sunday. Since I was planning to go ride dirt bikes with my dad and some friends the Saturday before, and figured one of them could help me measure the ride height easier than I could do it myself, I must have not bothered to tighten the jam nut as I expected to have to adjust the spring preload. That Sunday morning, I remember being surprised to find that I had eye-balled the preload well enough that the the ride height was right at 6 and 3/4”! Which meant that I didn’t touch the shock, and thus, would have left the jam nut loose. That’s VERY unlike me, but it’s only way I can explain it. Slowly, the torsional force of the spring would have reduced the preload until it got down to where it was at Masontown, which by the end of the race would have had to be around 6-3/16”.

Suddenly my amazingly flat corning in the fields of WV made a lot of sense! And if the bike had made it through one of the rockiest tracks on the circuit that low, then it didn’t make a lot of sense to raise it all the way back up to 6-7/8” for a much less rocky Powerline Park. Not wanting to give up the bike’s new-found cornering ability, I split the difference and brought the ride height up to 6-5/8” at the bottom of the frame in front of the footpeg, and 7-1/4” at the bottom of the frame under the front engine mount. For what it’s worth, the front of the KTM frame where the A-arms mount is very flat, and I like to put some rake into it by running that 5/8” difference across a relatively short span. This gives me around 8 degrees of rake at static sag, and around 10 degrees at race sag. To be honest, I still wouldn’t mind a little more in some situations like an all-rock track, but that seems to be a solid compromise for most conditions.

Now let’s talk about the race!

So, when the green flag dropped Saturday afternoon, I left the line on a stock KTM 450 engine, riding lower than I had ever purposely done before. I left the line well on 24V but was quickly out-motored by the front runners in the Vet A class. That didn’t bother me though. The guys at the front of Vet A are former XC1 and XC2 riders and are quicker than I am anyway.  Besides, I was playing the long game here, riding an under-powered bike on purpose and hoping that it would let me keep my speed up later in the day. The track turned out to be more or less perfect. It was slick but not properly “muddy” and was actually a lot of fun.

Within a mile however, I realized that I had made a setup mistake. I had completely forgotten to soften the dampener back up following the rocky race in Masontown. The bike wasn’t bad to steer, but the extra dampening was slowing my steering input enough that my corner speed was suffering in the slippery stuff. In the slick clay, I find that you often need to make lots of little adjustments mid-corner to control your slide. With the steering dampener slowing those little adjustments, I found myself over-steering frequently and trying to keep the bike in-line by metering the throttle instead. It wasn’t a fast way around a corner. I fought with it for a mile or two before deciding that I would lose more time trying to work around it than I would just pulling over and fixing it. So I did.

I pulled off to the side at the beginning of a field section and jumped off the bike, taking a quarter turn (2 tick marks) out of the ‘center’ adjustment on my Precision-RP steering dampener. I didn’t know how much cross-over effect there would be from the center to the sides and at the time the problems I felt were all nearer to the center anyway, so I opted to re-join the race quicker rather than taking 2 ticks out of the sides as well. I lost a few positions in the process but was immediately more comfortable. Within a few corners, the guys who had been all over me prior to the adjustment, and had passed me while I was making it, were actually holding me up. I had made the right call. Choosing not to adjust the sides as well proved to be a slight mistake as the same steering-slowing effect was now evident near full lock. But it was workable and I decided not to adjust that out of the bike until I pitted for fuel on lap 2.

Unfortunately, a mile or so later, still fighting to get back some of my lost positions, I came upon a split line in a field. The guy ahead of me went right, so I went left and proceeded to put the hammer down to make a pass. After about 15 or 20s, I started to slow as I realized that the trails had not yet come back together. If you’ve ridden at Powerline Park, you know that there are trails all OVER that property, and the one I was on was every bit as run-in as the track had been. At this point, I knew that one of us had made a wrong turn. The trouble was, I didn’t know which one! I kept going until I found some caution tape barring my path and realized that it must have been me. I stopped for a few seconds, trying to see if the path I was on had been running parallel to the race-track and maybe I could just drop back in and try to minimize the damage but unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case. I doubled back and ultimately joined the race near the front of the Junior B class. I knew there wasn’t much of a point in being upset about this. With the year that I have been having, this was par for the course, so instead, I put my head down and started working my way forward.

The next interesting thing I determined was that the 450 may not have been the perfect bike for this venue after all, and to be honest that surprised me. I expected that with how slick the track was, the less powerful 450 bike would be a benefit in terms of traction, and while that was true in 2nd gear, the 525 engine has a trick up its sleeve that no 450 can match. The fact is, that even in the tighter sections of that track, had I been on my 525, I would have up-shifted to 3rd and kept the revs down in the slippery stuff. I’ve been doing that for years. It works. The 525 has the bottom end to pull through it and accelerate quickly without losing traction. I’m not usually a fan of lugging the engine like that, but in the slick Ohio clay, it can be a benefit sometimes if your bike is up to it. Unfortunately, the 450 was not. Trying to keep the revs down in 3rd gear was a losing battle. It seemed like I was on a knife-edge the whole time and if the revs dipped just a couple hundred RPM too low, there was no amount of clutching that would bring the speed back up to get them back. I wound up having to dab down into second and introduce a lot of wheelspin just like everyone else was doing to try to get my speed back, get back into 3rd, and try to stay there for a short while again. Eventually I gave up on it and started staying in second and metering the throttle to try to keep the wheelspin down. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a disadvantage, because everyone else was struggling with it as well, but the 525 would have been a distinct advantage and unfortunately, I had left it at home.

On the second lap, I pitted for fuel and backed off 2 ticks on the ‘sides’ adjustment on the steering dampener and found more time in the tighter corners near full lock, particularly on corner exit as I was trying to bring the bike out of a slide without oversteering. 8 ticks out and 10 ticks out on the center and sides respectively was definitely the hot setup in the smoother, slippery conditions at Powerline Park. I should have started the day there and I knew better. Lesson learned.

The high point of my day came in the last 2 miles of the race. Early on the last lap, Todd Moskala had got by me and try as I might, I could not hold his pace. He slowly got away despite my best efforts. Fortunately for me, with 2 miles to go, I caught him on the downhill going into the rocky creek bottom. Unbeknownst to me, Todd had had some sort of mechanical hiccup, but by the time I got by him, his bike was back to running fine and he was immediately right on my grab bar and pressuring me like crazy coming into the last mile of wooped-out fields. I haven’t done what I did next in a long time. Part of that comes down to my own setup troubles last year, part of it was probably mental, etc, but whatever the reason, I decided that this time, I was actually going to trust the bike and go for broke in the fields if I didn’t come flying off of it, I wasn’t lifting.

One of the things I always remember from back when I was fighting for wins in Junior B was being so comfortable with my setup that I would treat field sections like they were just a road course. My primary focus was on hitting every apex and every shift point correctly and making sure I was braking at the last second etc. I just trusted that the quad would sort out the terrain and so I didn’t really bother to give it much thought. I haven’t hit a field like that in years, but with Todd all over my rear tires, I gave it ago.

Surprise! The quad remembers how to do that stuff! I can honestly say that for the first time in a long time, I could have used more power for that last mile. My stock little 450 engine may have been a bit of a liability at this point, because Todd kept pulling up alongside me in the longer straights despite the fact that I didn’t miss an apex, a shift point, or even put a wheel somewhere that I didn’t want it over the last mile of that track. Ultimately, I just barely held him off and we slid sideways through the finish line under a second apart. I managed to hold on to the 8th place finish I had worked my way back up to after getting lost on the first lap!

Overall, it was a great day of racing! The quad was good, and as ever, I learned a lot!

So here are the highlights:
– The 525 is actually better in the slippery stuff for sure but ONLY if I use the extra torque and lug it a gear high. If I do that, it can do things that no other bike on the track can do and I should not leave that advantage in my garage in the future.

– 6-5/8” is not too low at the frame under the footpegs for a normal cross country track, and the rear shock only bottomed once and I did something dumb to cause it. With as good as the bike was everywhere else, we’ll be leaving this where it is for Ironman.

– My quad remembers how to crush wooped-out fields! I can’t stress enough how different my pace was at the end of this race than it’s been in a long time. The most interesting part was that it was not really much more physically demanding or anything, in a lot of ways, it was just a matter of working the controls and staying focused. I’ll be trying to start the day that way at Ironman for sure!

– I ran 1 psig over the tireballs in the rear. That’s too low for me I think. I remember blowing through the sidewall and smashing my rims into ruts and trees several times and I didn’t care for that. We’ll be trying 2-3 at the next round depending on conditions.

– The Precision dampener needs to be set at 10/8 for slippery tracks and 8/6 for rocky tracks. I’m thinking 10/8 or 9/7 for Ironman depending on conditions.

– And finally, while the front end was still phenomenal, I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as I was at Masontown. I’m not sure if that was because of the difference in terrain, speed, or the fact that I picked the rear of the quad up 7/16” and transferred more weight onto the front end. It was still the best front end that I’ve been on all year with the only exception being Masontown. I’ll make sure to take note of what I’m feeling at Ironman to determine what, if anything needs changed.

Tune in next Time!

-WS728

Big thanks to everyone who makes it possible!

FMF Racing, FASST Company, GBC Motorsports, Hinson Clutch Components, IMS Products, KLIM, KTMParts.com, Leatt Brace, Motorex, Powersport Grafx, Rath Racing, Rocket Ron Racing, Schumacher Race Works, Scott Goggles, Streamline Brakes, Towne and Country Real Estate, Twin-Air, and Walsh Racecraft.

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