Full Disclosure 1: Masontown GNCC

Social media is great for writing brief updates, thanking sponsors, etc but I always struggle to tailor my message a bit for the audience. I have a couple of short paragraphs at most to try to cover the highlights, then thank sponsors and hopefully write a little bit about plans for next round before I lose my audience’s attention. It occurred to me recently that after each race, there are a few folks that I will call or that will call me to hear feedback on how the race went and how whatever I was trying worked out.

I’m an engineer. It’s in my nature to try things and I try a LOT of stuff. I’m curious, I have a good handle on what kind of I’m feeling, and I want to see if I can make the bike better day in and day out. If I learn something, good or bad, I’ll be reporting it here. That’s why I’m calling this segment “Full Disclosure.” Originally, my plan for this was just to approach it from a technical side, but I can imagine in the future it may merge with my usual ride reports. Anyway, let’s just start writing and see what develops. Feel free to leave questions or comments below!

Let’s talk about Masontown!

Or rather… First let’s talk about the weeks leading up to Masontown…

The week before Masontown, I ran a local OXCR race. It a was an “off-the-couch” ride following a surgery I had on my left index finger towards the end of the summer break that had me off the bike for 3 weeks. I hadn’t ridden for a few weeks leading up to it either, so I needed a shake-down ride to remember what the controls did as well as to test a few things that I had been experimenting with prior to Masontown.

I have been running “Barbie Balls” as a flat protection system for years without issue. Unfortunately, 2 races in a row, I had problems with them leading up to the summer break, and I decided it was time to spring for some proper Tire Balls. I have ridden Tire Blocks and am actually a big fan of them on the rear tires, but installation is a bit of a headache, and I like the extra tunability of a pneumatic solution for the front tires, so I decided to give some Tire Balls a try at the OXCR. It occurred to me that the most important question I needed to answer was what pressure to run in the balls so that I was still happy with the feel, even if I got a puncture. To this end, I headed to the OXCR with 7 psig in the front Tire Balls and none in the tires. In addition, out of curiosity, I tightened my front crossover gap up from 12.7 mm at full extension to 12 mm. I’m working on the longer article on how we got to the 12.7 mm number, but I’ve been experimenting around there all year and I keep coming back to it. But locals are for trying things, and so I tried something again.

Surprise! The off-the-couch ride was only so-so. Part of that comes down to me being tentative early in the day, but part of it comes down to the front end rattling my teeth in the chattery stuff. I don’t think the Old 50 farm was really that rough, but that’s mostly the impression my eyes gave me because if I was going by handlebar feedback, it was a chattery mess.

Next came the question that comes when you’ve changed more than one thing at a time, (which is something I always try not to do… but that can actually be harder than you might think…) was it the 7 psig of pressure that chattered the front end to death, or was it the 0.7 mm crossover gap change? Typically, I find that it’s a combination and so coming into Masontown, I decided to run 5 psig in the Tire Balls and bump the cross over gap back up to 12.7 mm.

Now let’s talk about Masontown for real!

For several reasons (some of which will be explained in a MUCH longer article detailing my 2015 season at a later date…) my field speed isn’t what it used to be. At some point, you have to set the bike up to be good where you’re good. If my field speed isn’t where it needs to be right now, (I’m working on it, and made some good progress in St Clairsville…) it makes sense to set the bike up to devour the West Virginia rocks instead and try to make up time on the part of the track where I actually stand a chance of doing so. Because of this, I decided to go into Masontown with Tire Blocks in the rear tires with no air over them and Tire Balls up front with 5 psig and no air over them in an effort to make the tires absorb as much of the impacts as possible in the rocks. In addition, I cranked the steering dampener up from 8 clicks out on the center and 10 on the sides to 6 and 8 respectively. As with the tires, I decided that it made sense to slow the steering down a bit in the super tight stuff, to have the bike helping me out in the rocks.

The other big change I made was to take the 450 local quad to WV rather than one of the 525s. I decided that the 450 power would probably be easier on me in the rocks and I had done a little testing on it earlier in the summer and had found that I really enjoyed riding it. With the mess my season had been to-date, it made sense to give it a try.

And… It worked! The front end was the best I’ve ridden in a very long time! The soft tires absorbed a lot of the impact from the rocks and the shocks took care of the rest. Bumping the steering dampener turned out to be the right call and helped a lot with fatigue in the rocks as well. In addition, the bike cornered flat as a board, possibly the best that had been all year as well!

The 450 engine was an absolute riot. I was shifting and clutching the whole way around the track in a way I haven’t had to do in a long time on the 525s, but by the last lap, I was still hitting the fields harder and harder. It occurred to me that the bone-stock down to the exhaust KTM 450 power was mellow enough to be ridden aggressively all day without tiring me out. One of the more interesting things I felt was that with the mellow power delivery, even at full throttle, the bike felt so settled that I didn’t miss an apex or a shift point all day. It was a very interesting experience and got me wondering if the 525’s ability to brute force things hasn’t made me less precise over the years than I used to be. I’ll be watching for this going forward.

Overall, it was a day of positive takeaways, and as we drove home from Masontown, I was already looking up prices on 450 cylinder/piston kits from KTM and toying with the idea of converting my primary national quad to one for next year.

The only negative at all came in the form of a nasty G-out-induced bottom-out in a field section. It happened twice, but it was the first time I remember bottoming out my rear shock in literally years. I decided that it was probably not worth addressing, as I’ve always been told you want to bottom every once in a while so that you know you’re using every inch of travel. I still haven’t bottomed the fronts in forever and I don’t think I want to, but I was OK with bottoming the rear in a nasty 4th gear G-out.

So, lots of fun takeaways:

– The 450 is good. Maybe better than a 525 for where I’m at as a rider right now?

– At 12.7 mm of cross-over gap, the front end corners like it’s on rails, but is still super plush! I’m leaving it here for the time being.

– 5 psig of air in the front Tire Balls with no air over them is a solid setup for the rocks in Masontown, but I would probably want a little air going back to more ‘average’ XC type terrain.

I left Masontown really excited for St Clairsville, and more than a little torn on what bike to take there. 9th out of 13 in Vet A wasn’t quite what I would have liked, but 63rd overall was a step in the right direction, and I had some good ideas on where to go next!

Tune in next week!


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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