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Suspension technicians at Technical Touch have been working closely with the best Grand Prix riders for countless years now, so it is hardly surprising that a wealth of knowledge is exposed whenever a conversation about suspension begins. MX Vice editor Lewis Phillips felt it is time to expose you to that endless fountain of information and dial up Gunther Geerts, one of the current technicians at Technical Touch, to learn more about his work in the FIM Motocross World Championship and also how you too can benefit from the services that Technical Touch provide.
Geerts has worked with leading riders in MXGP since 2000, believe it or not, but that same knowledge that has helped take riders to world championships can benefit you too. Technical Touch offer everything that your average rider could want from correct settings, suspension manuals, suspension testing, servicing and parts. Eliminate every doubt with Technical Touch!
MX Vice: Give everyone a bit of your background within the sport, how long you have been working within the sport and that kind of stuff.
Gunther Geerts: I started with Technical Touch back in August 1999. A friend of mine was working for Technical Touch and knew that I had a technical background, so he just came out with the question and asked if I would be interested. I did a few races with them, just to see if it was something for me or not. I did Foxhill in the days of [David] Vuillemin and Pit Beirer. I started working there, then in 2000 I had my first full year in which I got to work for Suzuki with [Mickael] Pichon and [Josh] Coppins.
It was immediately at the highest level – Pichon was going for the title. I was lucky, because I had the Japanese staff from KYB there that year. I kind of got quite good training. I have been there since and never left. I did Yamaha teams with [David] Philippaerts, Suzuki for a long time and Aprilia with guys like Coppins and [Manuel] Priem. I went from left to right a little bit. The work that I have to do depends on the companies that make a deal with KYB Japan, then they tell me that I have to work for that team or that brand.
I used to work for Yamaha as a technician, but then Yamaha went to an in-house guy for suspension. Now my function for KYB is to supervise that a little bit and do the communication between all of the Yamaha factory teams to see if there are any problems or what they change. I then have to report that to Japan. If there is material failure or something like that then I have to do that – that is my job. I also do the major tests.
I was in Sardinia for two weeks in January, to do the tests together with the in-house guy. That is my job this year. I have a colleague, Jorg Pyka, who is the old suspension guy who used to work for Suzuki and I think he was the chief mechanic for KRT before that. We work together. Jorg does F&H and then we also have Jeremy Van Horebeek, Kevin Strijbos, some EMX teams and some WMX riders. We do that together – we kind of both keep an eye on them and help each other if necessary. That is how the current year looks.
What does a typical MXGP weekend look like for you? Is Saturday busier for you, because most guys are getting used to the track and establish what will work on Sunday?
Yep. Normally we leave on Wednesday evening with the truck, if it is a European round, then we arrive on Thursday afternoon and clean the truck. We are very fortunate to not have a big tent to put up like the teams have to do. We just get in and organise ourselves. We don't normally do a lot on Thursday after that – we just go to the teams to see if there are any problems and what has to be serviced. It depends a bit on whether the previous Grand Prix was muddy or not, so we decide who needs servicing or changes. Thursday is quite easy.
Friday is actually our busiest day, if you talk about work. We do services for whoever wants it. We have guys coming from other countries, so we take their practice suspension and service it. Most of the guys ride until oil comes flying out! They are not so strict on hours and how long they can use the stuff. On Saturday morning we go to the teams and talk a little about set-up, so of course we have a bit more work to do on that day to set the suspension up to the track. It's not actually too bad.
We make changes between practices at the beginning of the year – that happens quite often – and then as the season goes on they get a bit of a base that they are quite happy with. We can just make external adjustments that we can use to finalise the set-up, then most of the time by the end of Saturday we have the set-up that we need for Sunday. We obviously talk with the riders and see what could happen, like rain. We are quite prepared for Sunday at that point. Sunday is quite slow normally. If the riders do not have a big problem, then it is almost like being some kind of spectator.
We just keep things on the rails, because it's not just about changing suspension. It's also a mental game. It is very important knowing when you have to say something and it is more important to know when to shut up, because there is already so much stress. If you work with someone who is going for a podium or a title then it is really important to not make them unstable. You should be in the background a little bit and in there when it is necessary. I think that is the most important as a suspension guy or someone who is close to a rider.
Speaking of riders, is there one guy who you have worked with recently who sticks out in your mind for being just an amazing test guy?
Very recently, not really. You obviously have a guy like [Gautier] Paulin, who is quite a good test rider. Paulin has ridden for many brands and some really good teams – he has done so many tests. I don't think you could even imagine how much they sometimes test at Honda. I think the rider builds up experience, but if you want to talk about a really good test rider in all of my time then there are two guys.
Pichon, the first rider who I worked with, was almost like a walking computer – he could tell you exactly what you changed where. I was surprised by some of the things that he remembered, and he was also very sensitive with suspension. [Andrea] Bartolini is another one. I didn't really work with him, but I had to do some tests with him. He was the test rider for some brands.
You don't do it often, but you kind of trick them just to see what they are going to say. He came up with the answers that you maybe did not think of. He came up with comments that were correct with what you changed. That is always interesting, to work with people like that. Even today you can learn a lot from them. It is important.
One of the biggest changes to your job would have been when air forks were introduced, I would imagine. Just explain how that had an impact on your job and how the riders welcomed that in the paddock.
The thing with air forks is that they have a lot of positive points, but also some negatives. Not even negatives, just things that are not really improvements. One of them was that if you got damage on your oil seal then the air could escape, and then the fork would drop like ten centimetres. The image of the air fork was already killed before it was born. I remember that I had not even seen one, but I had already seen people online who had their own theories about it.
It already had a negative tone around it before it even landed on bikes. I have to say that it was not easy in the beginning. The air would replace the spring in some ways but there is still oil, shims and a piston. In a normal fork we know that if there is this problem then we need to do that kind of change to solve it. With the air fork we had to learn how to think again. Sometimes you had to do things a bit differently to solve the same problem. Changing that in your mind was a little bit difficult, because you were so used to working with spring forks.
Even today, I know that Yamaha used it for quite a long time in factory bikes… [Romain] Febvre loved that feeling and liked the air fork. Even in the America, the guys from Star Racing are using the air fork and not using the spring fork. It depends a little bit on the rider. Some love it and some don't want it. It definitely has some positive points though. I think the air fork is like 800 grams lighter, which is quite a lot. It has one really good thing with the KYB system – it never bottoms. It is made like that, so that it will never bottom or go completely to the end of the stroke.
That could be the reason why they like it in America, with the big jumps and everything. It has positive points. I think the public kind of killed it and today that is why it is not really in there anymore. People thought that it started to leak quite frequently, but that was not the case. I saw Alex Salvini at a fair in Cologne or Milan – that year he became world champion in enduro with Honda and used the air fork. I was so surprised!
Those guys go through mud six hours a day, but he said that it worked really good. It was possible and he loved it in enduro, which was not really something that I thought would ever happen. It is a little bit in the background at the moment, but the idea will always stay there I think. It has those positive points and I think they are trying to improve the points that people think are negative. Maybe one day we will see it back again? I have no idea or information about it, but I wouldn't be surprised.
Well this was going to be my next question! Technology has come so far now, so do you think that suspension has peaked a little bit in that respect? Do you think it can go further or do you think the next step is the air fork coming back bigger and better?
The thing is that suspension always looks the same. It has the springs and then if you are talking about the shock then it has the body, so from the outside it has looked the same for so many years. It's not just suspension that improves though. It is the combination of the suspension and your bike. The frame is a part of your suspension – it absorbs energy. Whatever the suspension cannot absorb goes into the frame. There's a relationship between the two. If you take a frame that doesn't absorb anything, then the suspension will not be able to take all of the energy. That is not possible.
There has to be some kind of link between the two, and with the frames improving then they had to step it up with the suspension too. That happened. It is not something that you see from the outside though. Materials got better, systems got better and they made it possible to make bigger adjustments on the outside. It is easier for you to find a direction or solution for some problems. They are still looking for improvements today, of course, but is there going to be a major turnaround? I do not really think so, in the near future anyway. They still look for improvements though. Is it easy? No, but they are going for it every day.
Switching topics a little, how much do you think a youth or amateur rider could gain by getting their suspension sorted out at Technical Touch? Could you even put a number on the gains that would be made by doing that?
A number is difficult! The thing is that a production bike, like a YZ250F, is made for someone of a certain weight. If you are a light person – like the kids who start to ride the 250F for the first time – or a heavy one then for sure you need some adjustments. I have seen this through the years. People do not respect the basics… A lot of people do not know how to put preloads or set the exact balance of the bike. I think it's really important to do that. Of course when they come to Technical Touch we adapt the suspension to their weight and speed.
It's certain that if you have your suspension set up like that then you will have a big advantage. That is so clear. On top of that, it is so important that you have maintenance after a certain number of hours. For some reason, if you have to spend money on an engine then it is no problem. People think that spending money on suspension is unnecessary, but it is so not like that. I think that we can help people a lot with their set-up – that is our job. You need a lot of experience in that before you can really help people, and we have that.
Interview: Lewis Phillips | Lead Image: Ray Archer
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