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Zen and the science of motorcycle set up

By Mario

Ride Forever talks exclusively with Dave Moss

California-based Dave Moss makes his living from setting up motorcycles and advising others how to do so. It allows him to have his own business, travel the world and pursue his passion for racing. And while he’s not the only player in the game nowadays, he pioneered the idea of helping riders dial in their bikes at track days, as well as racers on practice and race days.


In the US, the demand for Dave’s expertise is insatiable, and has been from the start. Joining established suspension outfit H&H in 1995, and being part of the start-up of respected Stateside experts, GP Suspension, Dave struck out on his own in 2002. He got a five-day trial with a somewhat sceptical track day organiser. By the afternoon of day one the queue of riders for Dave’s tent stretched to the end of pit lane.

Until then, track day support was virtually unheard of. But, in his first full year, Dave did 310 track days. The results riders were experiencing lead to overwhelming positive feedback. Racers jumped at the chance to gain an additional edge.

Learning by doing. Here, it's setting rear sag.

Learning by doing. Here, it's setting rear sag.

The NZ programme

In-depth understanding of suspension–the technology, engineering, geometry, dynamics–requires a lot of hard work and brainpower. And, because everything affects everything else, it can seem dauntingly complex. But the Dave Moss approach is refreshingly easy to grasp. “All I’ve ever tried to do, since ’95, is keep things as simple as possible,” he says. “Then walk you down the path as far as you want to go.” 

This thinking informs the seminars he’s running here in New Zealand over the coming weeks. “They’ll start at the bottom level and continue up until I lose someone. If anyone ends up sleeping or confused, I’ve failed.”

Dave is running seminars and trackside clinics while he’s here. The seminars range from understanding the different categories of bike and what needs to be enhanced for individual riders, through to detailed workshops. The track days take two forms. “One is to support riders in getting a basic set up, including geometry and ergonomics,” explains Moss. “And then we want to optimise that over a morning or afternoon.” Above all, he is adamant that riders take away something, in terms of understanding and ability, that allows them to adjust a motorcycle for them personally.

It all starts with getting the ergonomics right. Not one bike at this seminar was properly adjusted to its owner!

The other side are schools, aimed at road riders, varying levels of track rider or racers. And there’s homework to do. For the advanced level, Moss says riders will have to bring a lot of information. “What’s the gearing like, what’s the shock length, what are your springs, how old’s your oil...”

It’s not all bookwork, however. On the day, riders start with all settings on minimum and proceed to adjust each aspect one at a time: front preload, rear preload, compression damping, rebound, etc. It’s all done in a two-laps-then-adjust cycle that takes 25% steps each time.

What Dave really does

If that all sounds straightforward, it’s because it is. But the underlying aims of Dave’s programme are a little more ambitious. “It’s about creating a sensory vocabulary, in terms of what’s going on and how the bike changes in a set corner, and a verbal vocabulary so you can explain what happens.” 

As you can imagine, a programme like this requires taking over the whole track day. According to Dave, there’s nothing else like it in the world.

“it’s about becoming informed and enthused as to what you can do to improve the motorcycle, specifically for you.” he says. “Then we back this up at the website, with the films on the Youtube channel and with our free iPhone App, so riders can empower themselves to use what they’ve learned.”

Some bikes were a long way off in their settings. This Fireblade was tearing rea

Some bikes were a long way off in their settings.

Taking it to the streets

It’s not just for racers chasing a number one plate, or fast group track day addicts, either. Dave’s advice and input is just as sought after, and appreciated, by road riders. Beginning with the simple stuff.

“It amazes many riders how much difference you can make just with ergonomics,” he says. “Having your hand controls, foot controls and seating position set correctly makes a world of difference to how comfortable you feel and how easy it is for you to control the motorcycle.” it makes for faster riders on track and more confident riders on road, as Dave found once again on a recent ride with some locals to Akaroa. “Adjusting the ergos [ergonomics] alone blew these guys away. It’s all about being more relaxed. That way, you and your bike will work together.”

There's no better way to learn than watching Dave do it.

There's no better way to learn than watching Dave do it.

Soft skills

Dave describes his work as “70% psychologist, 30% doing things.” When it comes to getting the best out a rider and their bike, he’s not exactly a fervent believer in telemetry. “It’s data. That’s all.” he says. “Data can be useful but it can only take you so far: a reference or a baseline. How do I know things are working? Usually, by the smile on a rider’s face. It has a habit of showing up in lap times, too.”

Essential to Dave’s method of working is communication. “Pretty much all the greatest champions have had the greatest communication skills. That’s how they motivate and carry their team with them; how their engineers know what to do so the bike and rider can do better.” It’s a learning Dave has taken to heart. “It’s something I’ve worked really hard on over the past 19 years, how to communicate with and inspire people.”

If you can get a place on one of Dave’s seminars or track days, it’s an opportunity not to be missed. Sam Neilson is helping organise Dave’s tour. Email him at And check Dave out at

Dave helps a rider with an initial set-up on her ZX-6R

The importance of egonomics. Hand controls

Reading the tyres