By Bones Bacon
Packing. I have heard riders use this term quite a bit over the years, and honestly the majority of them have no clue what the word means. I think they heard someone use it in a sentence once (probably talking about packing their gear bag for the weekend), and they thought it sounded cool, so they started using it. Suspension companies and tuners may have slightly different ideas about what the word means, but generally speaking, it means that the wheel, whether it is the front or rear, cannot respond quickly enough to follow the bumps on the ground, resulting in less sustained wheel contact with the dirt.
This is generally not a good thing, but the problem can easily be remedied. When most people use the word “packing,” they mean that the rear wheel is not hooking up when they accelerate through a series of choppy bumps. Although not the only cause of this problem, if the shock’s rebound is too slow and the bike’s speed is high, the rear wheel will not be able to recover from the compression stroke quickly enough and therefore won’t have sufficient travel left to soak up the next bump. The rear wheel then hits the next bump and compresses even further into the stroke, since it hadn’t fully recovered from the previous bump. The rear of the bike just keeps getting lower and lower into the stiffer part of the stroke, and now the rider is hanging on for dear life. Why? Because his shock is packing. Break out your trusty flat blade and loosen the rebound a couple of clicks to allow the rear wheel to respond quicker to each bump. The wheel will contact the ground more, resulting in more traction and a much calmer ride.
Front forks can also suffer from the dreaded packing problem—although it’s not as common. If the track is very fast and full of small choppy bumps, the front wheel may not be able to respond to the bumps quickly enough to keep the front tire planted. This problem usually pops up when the front end is light under acceleration and when the rider is turning slightly through the bumps, sometimes resulting in the handlebars shaking from side to side (head-shake). Again, grab the screwdriver and loosen the rebound a couple of clicks to let the wheel recover quicker from bump to bump instead of just skipping across the bumps. Generally, the rebound adjuster on the forks is used to adjust the overall ride height of the front of the bike in corners and through a series of bumps or whoops
Other things can cause or exacerbate the packing, such as the compression being too soft. If this is the problem, the wheel will hit the bump and compress too far into the stroke, requiring more time for the wheel to recover than may be necessary. Or, the opposite may be true. The suspension may be too stiff and not soaking up the bumps, making the wheel just skip across the bumps instead of soaking them up. If it is a problem caused by the suspension being too stiff or soft, this should be easy to determine, as that will be the first action that you feel. If you land from a jump and your fork instantly bottoms, if you accelerate out of a corner and the rear instantly sinks, or if you brake into a corner and the front instantly dives, then your suspension is too soft. The opposite in these areas would be a stiff compression problem.
If you determine that the compression part of your suspension is in the ballpark, then you may very well be talking about a packing problem, and you can now use the word and know exactly what you are saying.