SEASON OPENER: Prepping Your Bike for the Highest Performance


MXEditor

For many of our readers who don’t live in a temperate climate, spring means it’s time to get your treasured machine out of its hiding place and get ready for the riding season ahead. High performance off-road machinery hates to sit…and when it does, all kinds of bad things can happen.

“If I have to choose between opportunity and preparation, I’d choose preparation, without it opportunity is useless.” -- Saji Ijiyemi

So where should you start?

We’ve reached out to our off-road experts, riders and racers who have spent years figuring out how to be best prepared when hitting the road (or dirt) after an extended period of downtime…and we’ve tried to put it all together here for you. Don’t forget that a great source of knowledge of all things dirt is available on ThumperTalk.com

WHEN WINTER COMES

When storing your prized machine, a good offense is always the best defense. There are a number of steps you can take prior to retiring your steed to hibernation, and these simple items can make all the difference when warmer weather shows up.

WHEN GOOD FUEL GOES BAD

Gasoline and stabilizers: There seem to be two schools of thought on how to best approach this. One is to drain the tank and carb of fuel and “put her up dry”…but we’ve seen issues where the last bit of fuel doesn’t evaporate completely and leaves that dreaded gummy residue that equals death to carburetors and fuel injection components, so we don’t recommend this approach.

A better way to store fuel in your machine is to fill the tank with fresh fuel, adding fuel stabilizer such as Sta-Bil Fuel Stabilizer or Star Tron Fuel Treatment and run the machine until you are sure that the now stabilized fuel has run through the system, at least a few minutes.

Then top up any remaining space in the tank with fresh fuel and stand the bike upright.

When spring arrives, drain fuel, fill with fresh gas and go…although we’ve ridden out the tank of stabilized fuel with no issues more than once.

Two strokes and four strokes: Are fuel stabilizers used for both two and four strokes? Yes. And if gasoline with ethanol is in your bike, use the blue-colored Marine Formula Sta-Bil. It's formulated to prevent phase separation.

YOUR BATTERY: IS IT READY?

Intelligent chargers: Batteries don’t seem to like being off their charging cycle and this is especially true of the old lead acid batteries. The new type lightweight Lithium Ion units also like to stay at peak capacity and as such using an intelligent trickle charger such as the Battery Tender or similar unit has always been the way to go when it comes to our rides because it keeps it in the best health and tells it when it’s time for replacement.

First, we remove the batteries from the bikes and put them on a wood surface on our bench, we don’t leave batteries in the bikes in case of any leakage while charging from the lead acid units. We have multiple batteries here…and for that we like to use the Battery Tender Four Bank System and we’ve also heard good things about the cheaper PulseTech QuadLink which gives you the ability to charge four batteries at once with your 6-volt or 12-volt battery charger, regardless of the brand.

It’s also simple to just alternate the leads every week between batteries. Even the singular units have a visual indicator as to how the battery health is so it’s easy to spot one that’s going bad during the charging cycles.

Now let’s look at items you should inspect before the season starts.

FLUIDS: DO YOU NEED CHANGE THEM?

Engine oil, brake fluid, etc. Do they “go bad” or expire during the off-season? After some research we’ve come to some findings:

Engine oil: As long as it’s fairly clean, engine oil should have no issues when sitting for six months. But dirty engine oil contains lots of contaminants, from blow by and leaky seals, gasoline contamination, etc. and these can work breaking down items like clutch plates and seals given enough time, so if it’s not clean and clear, replace it.

Brake fluid: Brake fluid also degrades over time when in use, so change it. Moisture in your brake fluid enters through seals and the master cylinder cover…that’s why there’s that window there, so you don’t have to keep opening (and contaminating) the fluid inside. Remember that brake fluid attracts water and given the chance it will become unstable and lack the heat resistance required to effectively stop you in the shortest distance, as well as corroding everything it comes into contact with.

There are a myriad of devices available to test brake fluid for contaminants, and we’ve seen everything from cheap ($8) test strips to LED testers ($20) and even bench mounted tester that go for up to $500. We’ve only used the cheap strips and we find them to be fairly effective when coupled with a keen eye.

Radiator fluid: Radiator fluid does break down and it's anti-corrosive and cooling properties become wholly ineffective over time as well. Most brands have a schedule that the manufacturer uses to determine when to replace it. We follow this in our bikes but we also do a visual inspection to be sure that the coolant is worthy of usage. It’s pretty simple…does it look the same as when it was put in? It the radiator still full as when you topped it off last? Does it look like it came on a spaceship from Mars with the bright green hue?

Dirty, contaminated radiator fluid can point to upcoming, more serious engine issues…if you notice any dark colors or residue in the coolant these could point to a failing head gasket or seal. Basically, if it doesn’t appear fresh and clean, change it and then keep an eye on it.

WHEELS & TIRES: VISUAL INSPECTION IS NECESSARY!

Spokes: Spokes play a vital role in your wheel setup but are many times overlooked during the maintenance of our machines. You should do a visual inspection of the spokes, looking for bent and/or broken spokes. Obviously broken spoke(s) require immediate replacement. Bent spokes are a judgment call, as long as they can be tightened correctly and without hassle.

To make sure your spokes are at the correct torque to support the wheel structure, you must use a spoke wrench such as the ones made by Motion Pro or Fasst Co. and spokes must be tightened in a specific order and each tool comes with detailed instructions for this procedure, follow it religiously for best results.

Rim locks: Off road bike’s rim locks can work their way loose during the riding season and once they do, they’ll flatten your tire quickly. And usually this will be at worst time, such as in the big race!

Normally, you can tell how the rim lock is aligned and whether it’s tight by simply insuring that the stud for the rim lock appears straight and is exiting the rim, pointing directly at the wheel axle and the nut is on the stem. If it isn’t, it’s best to let all the air out of the tube and (very gently) move the rim lock and stud assembly back to the optimal position. The hardest part is repositioning the rim strip back over the rim lock, so good luck with that.

Screw the valve stem nut all the way and fill the tube, and repeat two or three times to insure the tube is seated and tighten the rim lock so it's snug but not tight. Do not tighten the valve stem nut…just back it up against the stem cap and keep an eye on it to see if the tire/tube is slipping on the rim.

Dry rot: If you have been storing your bike for an extended period of time, especially off the stand, it’s best to do a visual inspection of your tires. Were they old when you mounted them? Vintage bike and vintage tires? Better check the sidewall, especially where it meets the rim for any cracking or blistering. Either of these two conditions would necessitate replacement.

BRAKES, BEARINGS AND DRIVETRAIN: EVERYTHING IN SPEC?

Disc Brakes: These are fairly easy to visually inspect for pad wear and as pads are so cheap, if I see any significant wear before the season starts, I’ll replace them just so I’ve got that added bite when competing. You should also inspect the brake alignment pins for corrosion and replace as needed.

Drum brakes: With drum brakes, the signs of wear can be deceiving, as you can’t actually see the brake shoes. Some bikes have a wear indicator that has a pointer on the hub which shows a “wear range” but we’ve never found these to be very accurate. Better to take the wheel off and take a look…it’s easy to see how worn they are and you can use calipers to determine shoe thickness.

Wheel bearings: Wheel bearings wear out, and when they do it can be ugly, so just put your bike up on a stand and rotate the wheels by hand. Is there any side to side play? Doesn’t spin freely? Clunking noises? Then wheel bearings may be an issue. With the sealed types, replacement is your only option but with non sealed bearings you can try removing, cleaning and re-greasing them. Make sure you inspect them for any obvious pitting, cracking or uneven wear…but if they still look good, they may have just been dirty.

Drivetrain: Your sprockets and chain take a lot of abuse when out riding because sand, dirt and water all conspire to shorten the life of a chain and sprocket set, no matter how tough. Drivetrain setups including sprockets and chain are inexpensive (about $100) and are easy and quick to replace. First off, take a look at your sprockets…how are the bolts, are they all tight and at the correct torque spec? Are the teeth all there and are they sharp and exhibit no hooking? How is the chain…is there a lot of play, is it getting to the limits of the chain adjustments, is it noisy or does it slap when landing from jumps?

These are all signs of excessive chain and/or sprocket wear and a sprocket or chain failure can lead to a hospital visit – and if the chain gets wrapped up in the engine case, it can lead to a cracked case (as happened to this author on my KTM)…and this is big money to fix. So don’t do what I did…make sure to replace these worn driveline components before they fail and endanger you and possibly others around you.

REEDS & VALVES: INSPECT, ADJUST OR REPLACE?

Reeds: If you ride a two stroke, you should visually inspect your reed valves as they tend to crack/chip over time. This will make your machine hard to start and stay idling, so best to make sure they are good. These chips and cracks can be very small and sometimes hard to see so look carefully, especially in the corners. The fingers of the reed valve should snap shut with authority when lifted and released, if not they probably need replacing.

Valves: If you ride a four stroke, you should take some time at least once a season to inspect the clearances on your intake and exhaust valves. Excessive play in valves can wreak havoc on a well-running engine, making it hard to start and idle as well as reducing power and because the valves open/close with such frequency, the valves and seats in the cylinder head wear out…causing the valves to loosen up into the head, and this adversely affects your engine. You can correct these tolerances by using shims to offset variances in the valve train.

Most bikes are different and you must consult the owner’s manual for your specific bike’s valve checking procedure, tolerances involved, tools and parts required. This can be a long and involved (as well as costly) inspection/replacement procedure so it is often overlooked by casual enthusiasts.

BREATHE EASY: EXHAUST INSPECTION & MAINTENANCE

Exhaust canister and packing material: Exhausts on off-road bikes are fairly simple, whether two stroke or four and most maintenance of the exhaust is centered on the “muffler” or “silencer” portion of the unit. Inside most silencers is a disposable packing (baffle) material that helps re-route and quiet exhaust gases, and this material can be replaced. Packing material for exhausts is quite cheap, and not replacing this material can lead to issues such as bad idle, hard starting and excessive noise.

To inspect your exhaust for baffle issues, it’s best to remove the rivets and replace when required, depending on how many hours the machine is operating. Signs of needing replacement include excessive noise and pieces of baffle material leaving (being blown out) the canister. You’ll have a good idea when it’s time, and keeping the noise down in our sport is a positive thing!

CABLES: STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT?

Control Cables: Cables are one of those items that are fairly simple and inexpensive to replace, but many riders don’t bother to address their condition until they fail. And when they fail you can really get stranded, so it’s best to visually inspect your clutch and brake cables prior to the season beginning and take corrective action where necessary.

Most cables wear points are at the entry and exit/pivot points along its route, so first check where the cables are adjusted and whether they have free play as recommended in the owner’s manual. Now work the cables via your levers and check to see that the pull (and release) are smooth and consistent. Any undue play or added tension in the pull are cause for concern as throttle cables for example, can stick and cause a major catastrophe.

Control cables are a high wear item and should be lubricated regularly using a cable lube device. Cables are relatively inexpensive and you should replace your cables when any visible wear/binding/bending/kinking is observed.

UNDER PRESSURE: ENGINE COMPRESSION TESTING

This is a maintenance item that when done regularly, can give you a good idea of how much and how fast your piston/rings and compression chamber components are wearing out. If your combustion chamber compression is not at least 100 PSI, your engine is in need of attention and saving it now before it grenades can save you lots of your hard earned money. Most engine builders are looking for a reading of 125 PSI to as high as 180 PSI as indication of a healthy compression. If the compression is reading low, it could be a sign of things like worn rings or valves/valve seats or even a bad head gasket!

The testing is fairly easy, and you’ll need an engine compression tester and these range in cost from $25-$500 depending on complexity and brand. Make sure that the included adaptors contain the size your bike requires (same as spark plug size, usually 12, 14 or 18mm).

Here is the basic drill:

  • Disconnect the ignition
  • Remove spark plug
  • Screw in tester
  • Open throttle
  • Rotate kick start
  • Take reading

If you get a low reading, you’ll have more homework to do…is it leaky valves, or maybe bad rings? Using a leakdown tester can add more to the mix by telling you exactly how much loss you have and potentially the cause.

THE FINAL WORD: In conclusion, preparing your bike by following the procedures above will significantly increase your chance of more seat time and less time fixing things. Items like the compression testing can indicate upcoming engine component failure quickly and inexpensively. Lower cost items like brake components and control cables are vital to get you home after a day on the trails and should be replaced whenever they require. A little homework up front can keep you from staying after class in moto-school.




User Feedback


If the bike has a CV carb, simply opening the throttle doesn't do much when checking compression.  You need to either remove the carb or prop the slide open.

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This is a bit late of a reply but I have run into that very thing a fair bit. The best way to over come it is to do a leakdown test. With 0% leak down at 100psi you know it is a definite pass.

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      ~Open end wrench 7mm and 12mm
      ~ It’s a good idea to have a extra hand around
      (Not needed, but I highly recommend tiny Phillips and flathead screwdrivers (Pictured next to the jar and the ¼” extension) I recommend these for removing a couple things since you can put pressure with your thumb on the end and unscrew it with the other hand. This insures that you will not over tighten any parts, and ensure that you will not strip the heads of the bolts.
      Ok, now that you have the tools, let’s start by putting the bike on a bike stand. I put it on the stand rather than the kickstand because it’s more stable and sits higher. I hate working on my knees. Start by taking the number plates off. Yes, both of them. The right side, you take off one bolt and the top comes off of its rubber grommets, pull the top off, and the plate comes right off. The left hand side, use the 10mm socket to take the battery bolts off, and then take the Phillips bolt near the back. Again, rubber grommets are used to hold the top in place. Take the seat off. There are two mounting bolts on the back:

      Those two bolts are both a 12mm socket. Use the open end wrench on the inside, and use the socket on the outside. You may need to use an extension if you don’t have a deep socket. Once you have the two bolts off, slide the seat back, and lift it up. This is what you have. Notice there is a hook in the middle and a knob on the tank. That is what you are sliding the seat off of.

      Now that the seat is off, you must take the gas tank off. Don’t worry, you won’t spill any gas any where, I promise. On the left hand side of the bike where the valve is, slide down the metal clip holding the tube in place. Turn off the gas supply, and slip the tube off slowly. Now take off the two bolts in the front of the take. This is on the lowest part of the gas tank in the front, behind the tank shrouds. The socket you will use is an 8mm socket. Take the bolts all the way off and set them aside. Now look back at the last picture posted. On the back of the tank, there is a rubber piece connected to the knob and the frame. Slip that rubber piece off of the frame. Pull the vent tube out of the steering stem and lift the tank up. Don’t tip it, and lay the tank aside where you won’t trip on it. This is what you’ll end up with:

      It may be a good idea to take a rag, and wipe all the dirt off the top of the bike if any. You don’t want anything dropping down into the carb. If you do, engine damage is the result. A clean bike is always a good thing! Now we must drain the gas out into that container. This is very easy. Make sure you open the garage door, windows, whatever, to let the fumes out. Breathing this crap is bad. Here is where the drain screw is:

      (Don’t worry about removing the carb, that comes later) This is on the right side of the carb, on the float bowl. The vent tube that goes down to the bottom of the bike is where the gas drains to. Put the jar under that tube and start to unscrew that screw, enough so that the gas leaks into that jar. Once the gas doesn’t drip anymore, close the screw all the way. Now on to the top of the carb. We are going to take this cover off:

      This cover comes off by removing the two screws. Once removed, the lid comes off as well as the gasket. Flip it over and set it aside. Do not set the gasket side down on the ground, as it will get contaminants! Here is what you are facing:

      The angle of the camera cannot show the two screws. But one is visible. It has a red dot, and opposite of that side is a darker red dot. I made it darker because it’s not visible, but that is where it is. This is where I use the miniature screw drivers to get the screws. I magnetize the screwdrivers, and use care to make sure I don’t strip the heads. Metal pieces in a piston are not good! Remove the two screws. Put these screws on a clean surface so they do not get contaminants. Now get your vise grips and set it so that it will lock onto the throttle, not too tight, not too loose. Set the vise grips on the seat. Start to open the throttle slowly as you guide that “plunger holder” (as I call it) up to the top. Once you have the throttle all the way open, take the vise grips, and lock it so that the throttle does not go back any more. What I do is I hold it pinned and lock it up against the brake so it doesn’t rewind on me. If you don’t have locking grips, a friend will do, just have them hold the throttle open all the way until you are finished. How fold the plunger holder to the back of the carb and pull the piece up to the top. Take care not to remove it, as it is a pain to get back together! If it came apart on you, this is what it should be assembled to:

      Once you get the holder out of the slider, set it back like this:

      As you can see, the bar is back 45 degrees, while the holder is forward 45 degrees to make a S. Here is what you are faced with when you look down on the carb:

      Where the red dot is where the needle lies. Grab needle nose pliers and carefully pull up the needle out of its slot. This is what the needle looks like once it is out.

      Now we must move the carb to take the bowl off. Untie the two straps on the front and back of the carb. Don’t take them off; just loosen them until the threads are at the end. Take the front of the carb off the boot and twist the bowl as much as you can towards you. Tie the back tie down to that it does not rewind back on you. This is what you have:

      Now we must take off the bowl. Some people take that hex nut off to change the main jet, which you can, but you cannot access the pilot jet, and you can’t take out the needle jet (a piece the needle slides into), so we need to take it off. It’s just three bolts. As we look at the underside of the carb, this is what you will see:

      The bolts with the red square dots are the bolts you will be removing. These are Phillips head bolts, and the bolt with the blue dot is your fuel screw. This is what you will adjust when the time comes, but keep in mind where that bolt is. You need a small flat blade to adjust it.
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      The blue dot is for cross reference, which is the fuel screw once again. The green dot is the pilot jet. You can remove this using a flat blade screwdriver. Just unscrew it and pull it out. Once you pull it out, set it aside and put in the 45 pilot jet you got. The red dot is the main. You remove this by using a 6mm socket. Just unscrew it. If the whole thing turns, not just the jet, but the 7mm sized socket under it, don’t worry, that piece has to come out as well. If it doesn’t, use a 7mm to unscrew it off. Here is what the jets look like:

      Pilot Jet

      Main jet attached to the tube. Take the main jet off by using an open end wrench and a socket on the jet. Again, it screws right off.
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      From left to right: Main jet, Pilot Jet, Fuel screw. Now in the main jet’s hole, if you look closely, you see a bronze piece in the middle of that hole. We are going to take this off. Since I did not do this part (I only changed my pilot jet when I took these pictures) there are no pictures taken for this section but this is really simple to do if you’ve been a good student and know where things go. You should know anyways, you have to put the bike back together!
      (Notice: There have been discussions about these needle jets being the same. Only change this needle jet if the one you have is worn out. If you do not have the old needle, a older drill bit bigger than 3/20ths (.150), and smaller than 11/100 (.11") Use the tapered side of the bit, set it down in the hole and tap it out carefully.)
      Now take your OLD needle, I repeat, the OLD needle because what you are going to do next will ruin it. Pull the clip off with your needle nose pliers, or a tiny screwdriver to pry it off. Then put the needle back in the hole where it goes. That’s right, just to clarify, you took off the needle, and you put the needle back in the hole with no clip. Slide the point side first, just as it would go normally. Now if you look at the bottom of the carb, the needle is protruding past the main jets hole. Grab another pair of locking pliers (vise grips as I call them) and lock it as tight as you can on the needle. Pull with all your might on the needle. Use two hands. Have a friend hold the carb so you don’t pull it off the boot. Tell them to stick their fingers in the hole that goes to the engine, and pull up. After pulling hard, the needle jet should slip right off. Then notice which side goes towards the top of the carb. There is one side that is a smaller diameter than the other. Take the new needle jet, and push it up into the hole the way the old one was set. Just get it straight. Take the tube the main jet goes into, and start threading it in. Once you can’t tie it down anymore with a ratchet, unscrew it and look at the needle jet to make sure it’s set. That’s it for the needle jet. Now let’s start putting the carb back together.
      (Notice: Many people have destroyed jets and such by overtighting them! Use the thumb on the head of the wrench and two fingers on the wrench to tighten it down.)
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      If you look directly under the carb, the round hole is aligned with the pilot jet. Take the float bowl, and put it back on.
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      The top clip position is #1, the lowest one, closest to the bottom, is #5. (The picture says six but it is five in this case) For reference #1 is the leanest position, while 5 is the richest. I put the clip in the 4th position. Read at the bottom of the page and you can know what conditions I ride in, and you can adjust them to your preference.
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      As you can see, you can slip your fingers in and pull it out. Do that. This lets more air in to the air box. Don’t worry about water getting in. There is a lip that is about 1/8” high that doesn’t let water in. When you wash, don’t spray a lot under the seat, but don’t worry about it too much.
      The next thing you must do is remove the exhaust baffle. The screw is a torx type, or you can carefully use an allen wrench and take care not to strip it:

      The screw is at the 5 o’clock position and all you do is unscrew it, reach in, and yank it out. This setup still passes the dB test. The bike runs 92 dB per AMA standards, which is acceptable. Just carry this baffle in your gear bag if the ranger is a jerk off. I’ve never had a problem, but don’t take chances.
      That’s it! Start putting your tank on, seat, and covers. After you put the seat on, pull up on the front, and the middle of the seat to make sure the hooks set in place.
      Turn on the bike, and take a can of WD-40. Spray the WD-40 around the boot where it meets the carburetor. If the RPM rises, you know you have a leak, and the leak must be stopped. You must do this to make sure there are no leaks!
      Here is my configuration:
      04’ 230F
      Uni Air filter
      132 Main Jet
      45 Pilot Jet
      Power up needle, 4th clip position
      Fuel screw 1.75 turns out
      Riding elevation: 2000ft - Sea level
      Temperature – Around 60-90 degrees
      Spark Plug Tips
      When you jet your carb, a spark plug is a best friend. Make sure your spark plug is gapped correctly, (.035) but that’s not all that matters. You want to make sure the electrode is over the center, and you want the electrode to be parallel, not like a wave of a sea. Put in the plug, and run the bike for 15 mins, ride it around too then turn it off. Then take off the spark plug after letting the bike cool. The ceramic insulator should be tan, like a paper bag. If it is black, it is running rich, if it is white, it is running lean. The fuel screw should be turned out if it is running lean, and turned in if it is running rich. Go ¼ turns at a time until your plug is a nice tan color.
      Making sure your bike is jetted correctly
      While you are running the bike for those 15 mins to check the plug color, you want to make sure it’s jetted correctly now. Here is what the jets/needle/screw control:
      0- 3/8 throttle – Pilot jet
      ¼ to ¾ throttle – Needle
      5/8 – full throttle – Main jet
      0-Full – Fuel screw
      Pin the gas, does it bog much? Just put around, is it responsive? When you’re coming down a hill, the rpm’s are high and you have no hand on the throttle, does it pop? If it pops, it is lean and the pilot jet should be bigger. If it’s responsive your needle is set perfectly. You shouldn’t have to go any leaner than the 3rd position, but I put mine in the 4th position to get the most response. Your bike shouldn’t bog much when you have it pinned. If it does it is too rich of a main jet.
      Determining the plug color, you will have to mess with the fuel screw.
      That’s it, have fun jetting, and any questions, post on the forum, but remember to do a search first.
      Also, if your bike requires different jets due to alititude, humidity, or temperature, please post the following so we can better assist you:
      Average temperature
      Altitude (If you do not know this, there is a link in the Jetting forum that you can look up your alititude)
      Average Humidity
      What jets you are currently running
      What the problem is (If there is one)
      Just do that and we'll help you out the best we can.
      EDIT: The girl using this login name is my girlfriend. You can reach me on my new login name at 250Thumpher
      Then again, you're more than welcome to say hi to her!
      -Phill Vieira