OK, I've posted a few times in the last couple months that I would have Rick at Cogent Dynamics rework my suspension, and last Sunday (finally) was the first time that my schedule, the weather, and the planets would align properly and allow me to go. What follows will run across several threads, most notably Sport Touring pictures, Supersport pictures, ST3 suspensions, and ST3 vs. Supersport handling impressions.....more on that later. What I went down for was pretty nuts-and-bolts: A fairly exotic suspension upgrade to my '05 ST3, and the chance to test it out on whatever roads I could find. What I got so exceeded my expectations that it's really hard to corral my thoughts into a single post -- but I'll try. Since there's so much material here, I'll be adding to this thread over the next day or so, but in a nutshell it'll cover the installation of a Penske 8987 shock, a guided high-speed romp over 140 miles of some of Rick's favorite roads to dial in the shock, the installation of a Penske Superbike kit on the stock Showa forks, and the opportunity to ride both Rick's '99 900ss, and also to have his wife Joyce's '98 900ssFE to use as a loaner to go play on some 'goat trails' in the mountains. This was, without question, the most fun I've ever had with my pants on, and I hope you'll find this both entertaining and informative.
Last Sunday I started out on a crisp (42 degrees), sunny day at 7 am., with intentions to make it as far as Knoxville, TN. From my home in suburban Detroit that would make it a 500 mi day, a good day ride. Since slabbing it through Ohio is sheer boredom (at strictly-enforced posted speeds), Kentucky came as a welcome relief, and the roads (finally) start to get some character. By the time I got to Tennessee my body had assumed a comfortable cramp, (I'm 52, and I don't care who you are, after more than 8 hours in the saddle something's gonna get tired), and I'm wondering if it's going to be a layover in Knoxville. But more curves+more elevation changes= more energy, and by the time I get to I-40 heading into Asheville, I've forgotten all about any physical concerns and I'm riveted by the road. I-40 turns out to be an absolute hoot with sweepers, twisties, and tunnels (note to self: don't wear sunglasses in tunnels
); and I found myself leading a caravan of 4 cars at, shall we say, "above posted speed limits", with slower traffic for the most part keeping to the right, and the local authorities keeping to themselves. At this point I'm making last-minute observations about my stock suspension handling characteristics, the better to be able to notice specific changes in handling once the new parts are installed. By 7 pm. I'm rolling into my hotel near the Biltmore Estate, having logged 11 hours riding time and 652 miles for the day....Sweet dreams till tomorrow morning.
I call Rick and he gives me directions to meet him at a gas station near Cogent Dynamics World Headquarters. Having only spoken to him on the phone, and read his posts here, I really only know that he seems like a very nice guy who's apparently very knowledgeable about motorcycles and performance suspension engineering. As far as what he looks like, I really was expecting to meet this iconic Ducati-enthusiast, probably decked out in Corse track leathers atop a tricked-out 996.....yeah, that's it......Here's what I saw when I pulled in
Let's just say that I wasn't exactly blown away.....Gym shoes and bluejeans??? But hey, this could just be the 'Clark Kent' side of him. He winds up a conversation with a few guys at the station, shakes my hand, and tells me to follow him. We take off and the first thing I notice is that he rides really well.....and he should, these are his roads. The next thing I notice is that these roads we're on are different than most of what I usually ride: They're narrow two-lane blacktop roads in excellent condition with LOTS of curves....I mean, LOTS
And whenever we'd come up on some kind of sand or gravel in the middle of a curve (often with a slope), he'd slow and drop his left foot to signal me to watch out -- very cool
A few miles later, after executing some interesting low-speed maneuvers down a 40degree sloping hairpin drive, I pull up to his shop. He takes off his helmet and says, "Well, you passed the test!" We go into the conference room and I meet his wife Joyce (Cogent Dynamics Chief Operating Officer), and take a look at today's project:
I should mention here that it's very rare for Rick to do installations himself, and normally he doesn't. Not that he can't -- it's just that he's got his hands full with tending to all the different divisions of Cogent Dynamics. And what's really rare is that he doesn't farm out his work. This is his passion and it really shows. The original plan was to have Myers Ducati, an excellent area Ducati / Triumph dealership, do the shock installation. But since they're closed on Monday, (and since it's Monday
), Rick generously makes an exception. The next thing I notice is that Joyce is pretty regular with announcements that somebody wants to talk to Rick on the phone.....I mean, the man logs some serious phone time....and he's unbelieveably generous with his time....which, I discover, means that he works long days. I'm self-employed also, and unbelieveably passionate about what I do, so I get this.
The installation is pretty straightforward, leaving me with this:
Then Rick asks me if I want to get some lunch. Sounds like a plan, and I suit up. So does Rick. And now I get my first glimpse of the man behind the 'Clark Kent' persona: On come the well-worn Vanson leathers, boots, and gloves, and out comes the '99 900ss -- hello Superman....Joyce suits up too and off we go to this funky rib joint near downtown Asheville.
After lunch Joyce leaves us and Rick asks me if I want to ride with him on some of his favorite roads and get this new shock dialed in. I resist the urge to urinate on myself and nod yes. I really didn't expect this -- the opportunity to get a guided tour AND expert suspension tuning -- but off we go.
We start off at a comfortable clip down another well-maintained 2-lane blacktop road, that would soon start to offer as much of a challenge as maintaining my pace with Rick. I would later discover that there are literally hundreds of these roads in the area, some with numbers, some with names, and many known only to the locals, with the names of the mountains that they're cut into. I soon discover from watching Rick's line that the trick here is to find a comfortable gear to stay in, and concentrate on line, lean, and throttle control. Next I notice that Rick isn't just a good rider, he's great. This goes way beyong home-field advantage and knowing where all the dangerous curves and sand/gravel deposits are (which he seems to have a photographic memory for). Nope.....he rides smoothly and efficiently, and I soon learn to trust his line completely.
Now a word about these roads: I've ridden on all types of roads in my 34 years of sport-touring, but I've never, EVER seen so many perfectly layed-out, wildly varied, technically demanding, beautifully conditioned, never-ending roads in my life. Rick would tell me later that there are so many great roads on the western border of North Carolina that it takes him a whole season of riding to get through them all -- and he's still finding new ones. If you're a canyon racer out in Cali or if you're lucky enough to live in the mountains anywhere, this may seem ordinary to you....I apologize in advance. In Michigan, I'm a virtual flatlander, and can only dream about this stuff. And if you're in the regular habit of going to different tracks and really know the thrill of flicking your bike through a decreasing-radius off-camber hairpin turn, I'm sure this is nothing new. But here's what I negotiated that day: 12-14' wide 2-lane 'goat trails' with virtually no shoulders, hundred-plus foot dropoffs, completely blind turns, insane grade changes (30-35 degrees into and out of hairpins),no guardrails, no runoffs, no flagmen, .....nothing but my sherpa, Rick, who's line I trusted completely.
Mercifully, this pace only keeps up as you go up, then down, the mountain. Then you'll reach a valley where you get a short break before you get to the next mountain. After 30 minutes of this I was actually feeling pretty good that I was able to keep up with Rick. He's riding hard, and I'm right on his tail.....yeah, right.....I round a turn just in time to see Rick coming out of a turn with his front wheel in the air, diving into the next turn and out of sight. OK, OK, I get it....But you know, I'm not doing too bad either
We pull up to a nice scenic turnout on a more sane road
...and Rick asks me what my impressions of the new shock are. I've been having so much fun I forgot to think about it....In a nutshell, I tell him that the bike feels "planted", but I'm hard-pressed to say anything more because the front end is so squishy. He smiles and says that's as good a reaction as he could expect at this stage, then asks me if I'd mind if he rode my bike for a while to see what he felt.......uh.....that would mean he's ok with me riding his bike for a while.......oh, HELL yes.....
It took about two turns for me to discover what all you superbike riders know: These freekin' bikes are a riot!!!! The first thing I noticed is how light and 'flickable' they are, and right behind that is how well they turn....Great googaly-moogaly, I've GOT to get me one of these!!!! In minutes I became a better rider on this bike. My MotoGuzzi 850 LeMans III is the closest I've been to this kind of handling, and frankly, there's no comparison. This time I stayed stuck to Rick, while trying to figure out how I can possibly explain to my wife why I really, really need one of these bikes
Another rest stop and we switch bikes back and compare notes.
I've gotta make some dinner now, so I'll get back to this later this evening to try to make it to the end of Day 2