By Kevin Olen
So, there I was, 62 years old on my brand-new 2022 KTM 300XC-W Erzbergrodeo edition, hammering trails in nearby Idaho. I hadn’t ridden in 10 years, and the bike was beating me up on the trail. I was struggling to hang on, especially in the rocks. I was with a great group of guys, and all four of them were riding 300XC-Ws. After a couple of days of blaming all my problems on the fact that I was a geek, I started to ask questions about my suspension. Each guy offered me his bike to ride, because my bike was the only one with stock suspension. The guys graded the stock WP XPLOR fork as a C+ or B- at best. After I tested one of the bikes whose rider was the same weight, I realized that I needed to get mine fit to my skill set and dimensions.
HERE’S THE PLAN, STAN
I called my longtime friend John Bumgarner, who had a new KTM 300XC-W and had Dick Wilk of Dicks Racing modify his suspension and engine. Now, he absolutely loves it. John is fanatically OCD with his machines, so this held some water with me.
After talking with Dick about my suspension, I shipped my forks and shock to his shop in Utah. I had described to Dick that the fork seemed to deflect off square-edge holes, and it was scary when I hit embedded rocks. The fork seemed to dive bad under any downhill braking or G-out-type hits. He installed his APS fork system that utilizes progressive compression damping, meaning it starts plush and gets stiffer as it moves through the stroke. He makes the internal parts himself, using his own proprietary design and machine shop. Additionally, the existing components are revalved to work in conjunction with his system. Out back, the shock gets re-valved for smoother action and increased control to match the newfound fork performance.
My first ride with the re-valved fork and shock was monumentally better by all accounts. I rode the bike on the same trails with similar conditions as I had when it was stock, and it now felt balanced. The dive action was gone, and the fork had a good, plush feeling overall. At $700, it was well worth the price of admission.
Like many people, I like to watch Extreme Enduro videos and noticed that the factory guys were using WP Pro Components cone-valve forks and a Trax rear shock. I thought this must be how they were able to do such incredible things so easily. I looked online and found a used set that fit a KTM with PDS suspension, then pressed the “Buy Now” button. I couldn’t wait to see how the “works” stuff would match up to my modified dampers.
I bolted them on, set the sag and off I went. Reality check! They were brutally stiff and only worked if I hit something hard and fast. In the craggy stuff, they beat me to death. I slammed the compression adjusters to full soft, but this made no improvement in the cone valves’ hunger for jerky terrain.
The phone call to Dicks Racing was another plea for help. He asked if I was happy with the stock components that were modified. “Yes,” I said. He asked why I felt the need for the Pro Components from WP. I danced around this, and then groveled asking for assistance. He explained that the cone-valve design is geared for pro-level racers, not old men. He said he could modify them to suit my needs, but they would never feel like the APS forks that I had. Fair enough. I went ahead and sent him that suspension, hoping he could work miracles. Once he looked at the suspension, he called and said the spring rates were correct and that the internal modifications would cost $540.
HERE IS THE BEST PART OF THIS WHOLE SUSPENSION JOURNEY…
Dick called to tell me my suspension was done. I had already made plans to be in California for a family visit, so it was decided that I would stop by Dick’s place on my way to California. We would fit up the cone-valve fork and Trax shock, and do some testing, tuning and setup. What started out as an invite for an afternoon and overnight stay turned into three days of testing my modified stock suspension and the cone-valve/Trax components.
The first test session had Dick on my bike with the modified stock suspension. He handed the bike off, and I took my 300 on his test loop. It was a crock pot full of varied terrain—from sand, rocks, downhills and square-edged curbs to whoops. I loved the balance, control and especially the action in the rocks. He informed me that he, too, was happy with his mods.
We then went back and installed the cone valve stuff. He rode the bike first, then handed it to me, again silent with his thoughts. I rode the same loop and had huge expectations as to how much better this “factory” stuff would be over the stock units. I was slapped with another reality check here. It was excellent, but reacted to input nearly identically to the modded XPLOR dampers. The cone-valve fork was better on the big G-outs, but overall, and I hate to admit this, it was very hard to tell the difference. As for the shock, it took me more time to try to find variances, but the Trax shock was slightly better in the rocks and the big G-out hits.
Do I regret buying the cone valve/Trax shock? Call me transparent, but the answer is no. Frankly, I like to outdo my riding buddies with cool stuff, and my purchase was because I wanted it, not because I needed it.
Finally, Dick and I talked ad nauseam about the character of the engine. I agreed that the power was friendly and tractable, but seemed tinny in the middle and didn’t rev out. Dicks Racing has an engine package consisting of head mods, throttle-body mods and re-tuning of the ECU. The cost is $875. While I was there, I decided to have him do the mods, and he altered the oil ratio down to 50:1 for increased reliability. As with the suspension mods, he made the powerband come alive. Again, money well spent.
I ended up spending three days at his house/shop. I had a great time talking, asking questions, and watching him work. He was a gracious host, and I learned so much about the inner workings of my motorcycle. He’s been working on and modifying dirt bikes for 45 years and is a true master of his craft. Not everyone gets to have this experience, but whether you drop your bike off or ship the components, the results are the same. Dick is a very accomplished racer and still rides/tests all the time for real-world results. He’s the guy you talk to on the phone, and he does all the work himself. It doesn’t get any more personal than that.
I can’t thank Dick Wilk enough for his time and effort to make this project happen.
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