Tested: MSC MOTO STEERING STABILIZER
A steering damper (aka stabilizer) can be a great upgrade for your motorcycle. By damping the steering motion of a bike, a steering damper can help prevent tank slappers, help make your bike more stable (less twitchy), and they can help with deflection caused by trail obstacles. Many of the benefits from a steering damper work to prevent the rider from crashing, which may explain why so many riders who run steering dampers swear by them. MSC Moto is an Australian manufacturer with 25 years of experience building top-shelf dampers for dirt bikes, ADV bikes, and road bikes. For KTM’s 790 / 890 platform, MSC Moto offers complete kits (there are slight differences between the 790 and 890 kits) that comes with everything you need to install a quality steering damper on one of these bikes.
The MSC Moto KTM 790 ADV Downunder Mount kit is a sub mount kit, meaning that the damper is mounted under the bike’s handlebars, resulting in a 25mm rise to the OEM handlebar clamps. Thanks to the factory bracket on the frame, installing this steering damper is one of the easiest damper installs out there, and the whole process can be completed in minutes. There is no need to weld anything, or having to fit a collar over your frame, which means no pulling your triple clamps apart. Honestly, the hardest part is getting your bars back to the exact place you had them before installation. All of the parts included in the kit are well machined, and quality hardware is supplied with the kit.
At first glance, the RM3 steering damper may look like it is lacking in features compared to other damper options on the market, but you can’t judge this book by its cover. I would be willing to bet that this damper has all the adjustments that the vast majority of riders out there actually need, so what is the point in paying for features and the ability to adjust things you’re never going to test and dial in anyway? Be honest – if you currently own a damper, which adjustments have you actually adjusted? With other popular stabilizers on the market, I would expect that most riders only ever adjust the base or slow speed damping circuit, and that they never touch the high speed or the sweep, or any other model-specific adjustments. The RM3 may only have one adjustable circuit, but this damper is far from a one trick pony.
The RM3 damper features MSC Moto’s Active Return to Center (RTC) valves, which is a steering damper technology that you have to ride to fully appreciate – because it’s pretty damn cool. Active RTC allows the damper to provide a variable amount of damping as the handlebars return to center depending on what the damper is doing. Say you’re bombing down a trail, or trying to hold a heading in some sand so you’re making little steering corrections. The RM3’s base valve will provide damping when you are steering away from center, and Active RTC will provide damping as you move back to center, giving the bike a well-supported and damped feel. Now all of a sudden, say you need to make a huge steering input. When you steer back toward center with force or in a hurry, Active RTC bleeds off return to center damping, so you can steer back to center without having to fight the damper, and steer more quickly.
Another way to explain how Active RTC works is with a static example. Say you have your bike on a stand and you turn the damping all the way up on the RM3. As you steer away from center, you’re going to feel all of the damping in play. If you slowly steer back to center, you’ll feel that damping as well. However, if you try and quickly steer back to center, you’ll feel Active RTC step in and you can snap the bars back to center without having to fight the damping you’ve clicked in. Obviously, once you cross over the center point of your steering, you will be steering away from center again, and back into the damping setting you’ve made with the base valve.
Other steering dampers on the market only provide damping as the bars move away from center. While having no RTC damping is great when you’re riding a tight track or trail or doing any kind of riding where you’re making a bunch of big steering inputs, it’s not the best setup for high speed work or riding on soft surfaces. Conversely, other dampers that do offer user adjustable RTC damping have to be adjusted manually, meaning that the rider needs to stop to adjust the RTC manually depending on their riding conditions. Active RTC provides the best of both worlds: no RTC damping and full RTC damping, in that it’s there when you want it, and gone when you don’t need it.
Steering dampers are a great addition to a bike that can make a real difference in the way it rides. They can add a significant measure of safety for the rider, even when said rider is doing dumb things that can cause a tank slapper or other instabilities that can lead to a crash. So it’s really important to make sure that your bike is well setup before you add a damper of any kind, as a damper could be masking another setup problem that is causing chassis instability. The April 2020 issue of Upshift Online has a great article on chassis setup in Issue 44, so check that out as a starting point if you need to get your chassis dialed in.
The MSC Moto KTM 790 ADV Downunder Mount kit with the RM3 steering damper has proven to be a great piece of equipment. The beauty of the RM3 is that it’s the most approachable, easy to use steering damper I’ve ever used, and I’ve got years of experience running both the gold and silver colored dampers from other manufactures. More does not always mean better, and while I have made changes to the other settings besides the base valve on my other dampers, I don’t find myself missing those adjustments on the RM3. I just ride my 790, and make the occasional damping adjustment depending on what type of surface I’m riding on. The RM3 damper does its job providing stability and support when I need it, without getting in my way when things get tight. Active RTC is pretty impressive too – so much so that I really want to try it on a dirt bike, so hopefully I’ll get to conduct that test some day. For anyone looking for a steering damper kit for their KTM 7/890, the MSC Moto RM3 is a great way to go.
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