Suspension Matters

Assuming your multisurface motorcycle weighs not much more than four hundred pounds,
has reliable electronics and engine, handles well and is equipped with chain drive and
excellent suspension, you can have great deal of fun in Baja where even the paved roads
vary from smooth to really bumpy.  I recently took a 200 mile ride below the border with
Mike Henshaw on a DR650SE and me on our KL650A-18. Both bikes were set-up with
Pettersson Pro Suspension (PPS)/Ohlins suspension and Buchanan wheels.

As we ran along the beautiful curvy coastline from El Mirador for about 12 miles to El
Sauzal which is just north of Ensenada, I was standing on the pegs (as I often have since
the 1960’s) looking over the side and down at the coastline. I was in the right lane
running about 55 mph when a loaded down 3 box GS Beemer passed me going about 60
mph. Since I knew there had been lots of road damage and repairs ahead I sat back
down and followed the adventure bike. As we neared a curvy, bumpy 4 mile section I
began to close on the Beemer so I could study how the big shaft drive, heavy wheeled
bike handled the paved undulations, ripples, bumps and sharp repair edges.

As I closed on the Beemer he sped up to about 75 and I stayed just to his right and
slightly behind him. As the curves got sharper and the pavement rougher, the monster
sport touring bike began to pitch and yaw a bit thus causing the rider to begin slowing.
Meanwhile, my PPS/Ohlins suspension, helped by light unsprung wheel weight was
smoothing the rough surface beautifully.  I slowed with the giant GS to about 60 mph
before deciding to return to about 70 mph with Mike not far behind on the DR.

Upon arriving at our favorite restaurant, Mariscos Bahia de Ensenada in down town
Ensenada, Roberto directed us to a safe shady parking spot and we went inside. Once
we were seated and our orders taken by “Rafa” (Rafael Rendon Rico), Mike and I
discussed the ride from Mirador to El Sauzal. Basically it all came down to “we’d rather
have the 35 to 40 hp chain drive, lighter multisurface motorcycles with better handling
and great Stig Pettersson suspension than the 90 hp heavy weight that is much more
uncomfortable and crash prone when the going gets rough”.

On the other hand if we were going from San Diego to Phoenix on the smooth super slab,
Mike and I would both be happy to trade bikes with the GS guy for the trip. Maybe that’s
why triple threat master vehiclist (rider/driver/pilot) Bruce Redding, automobile magnate
Tex “No Bull” Ernhardt and some of their friends have both KL650A’s and GS Beemers in
the barn. It’s nice to have a choice of tools for different jobs and to know which one to
choose when the going gets rough. More proof that no one bike is perfect for every
traveling environment.