It’s easy to argue that Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach — the names of two men and their town, but better known as the acronym AMG — is and always will be associated with high-performance Mercedes-Benz automobiles. In the late ’60s, the ur-AMG brand was an old-fashioned startup, consisting of just Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher tinkering and tuning Mercedes engines in a small garage in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, in order to go racing. As former Mercedes engineers, the pair knew their way around the cranks and valves of the varying displacement V8s coming out of Stuttgart at the time. They stayed laser-focused on the machinery they knew and they earned one hell of a reputation around the world, on and off racetracks. Mercedes eventually took notice and in 1999 gained control, making AMG its official performance arm. Today, almost every car brand has a dedicated in-house skunkworks operation similar to AMG. In the realm of motorcycles, however, you can count them on one hand… and have fingers to spare. But, narrow your search to America’s east coast and you’ll find Solid Performance, a garage in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, that’s dedicated solely to modifying KTM bikes.
Evan Yarnall, President of Solid Performance, also started out in a small garage, spinning wrenches, tuning chassis and tinkering with suspensions, his aim being to make motorcycles quicker both on-road and off. He lent a hand to a few road race teams, but got his foot in the door with KTM when he was National Enduro Champion Mike Lafferty’s mechanic for two years. Yarnall met Kevin Schuler, now a part-owner and Sales Manager of Solid Performance, back in 2006 and, as Schuler puts it, “we got along well initially because I was racing at the time and fairly good at setting up a bike. So I got a little respect from him.” The two immediately started discussing plans for a dedicated KTM dealership in the Pennsylvania area. But KTM was just getting out of a financial crisis and adding more dealerships to the network wasn’t in the cards.
Keeping KTM in mind, the pair continued to wrench and tune on the side until around 2012, when they were able to secure a dealership and take an initial order of 35 bikes. Even before Schuler and Yarnall took delivery of their first shipment of bikes, though, it was clear they didn’t want to be just another motorcycle dealership featuring as many brands as possible to solely churn a profit. “As far back as 10 years ago, we always talked about being more of a setup and tuning service for riders, being very specialized in KTM. There aren’t that many KTM-only dealers out there at this point.” In that respect, Schuler’s and Yarnall’s vision wasn’t far off from Aufrecht’s and Melcher’s — focus in and lean hard on your strengths and the quality of your product will speak for itself.
Just as AMG utilizes learnings from the intense test lab that is motorsport, Solid Performance does for KTM bikes, fine-tuning suspensions especially. “We try to get riders set up right off the bat so they’re not going down setup routes where they don’t have anyone to go back to, discuss it with and use as a resource. A big part of what we do is suspension and chassis tuning for each individual.” And, according to Schuler, “every bike’s suspension, from the factory (no matter the brand) is sprung for a rider who’s 180 lbs. The minimum we do is re-spring the bike, check the sag when they sit on it and lower it to custom fit the rider’s height.” Schuler went on: “not to name names, but some of these other dealers… you’re lucky if you get a bike with all the bolts tightened up when you get out the door.”
Solid Performance isn’t against doing power upgrades, but considering the way KTM motorcycles come from the factory, they’re not always needed. “We’re constantly battling the internet. People will come in thinking they need to up the horsepower and engine performance, but suspension setup is way more important than anything you can do to the engine. Ride the bike for a little bit and then see if the 165 horsepower on a 1290 Super Duke is not sufficient enough for you — give it a chance. The internet has millions of suggestions and riders can easily fall prey to what they believe is a good option (as far as tuning the bike) because they read it on the internet and it just snowballs from there.”
Riders tend to either accept their new bike as the perfect machine right from the factory or think they need to hot-rod the engine to hell and back. There isn’t really a middle ground, and yet neither is true. And that’s the mindset Solid Performance is out to change: to get the most out of your motorcycle, you need a chassis and suspension that lets you make use of all the power already on tap. Solid Performance – Schuler, Yarnall, their team of mechanics – are just trying to squeeze the most performance out of a KTM motorcycle as they can in the most efficient way possible.
I have a three-day, off-road 500-mile ride later this month, through New Jersey’s 1.1 million acres worth of dense forest, but first I’m on the edge of Wharton State Forest ready to learn dirt-riding 101. Read the Story