I once drove all the way to Croatia to race at Rijeka, it was a 4,000 mile round trip dragging a caravan halfway across Europe. My recollections of the trip aren’t pleasant. With a caravan you become a motoring pariah; truck drivers give no quarter and private motorists hate you. And when you see a van with a caravan hitched to the back it makes you look as if you belong to a certain Anglo-Irish sub-culture who might offer to tarmac your driveway at a bargain price. So, after a very stressful journey which included a rather intense experience with some stony- faced Slav border guards whilst entering the former eastern Bloc , we arrived at the circuit. The bike lasted half a lap. A faulty ignition rotor gave up the ghost and it was game over. Pack up your stuff and drive home. To finish first, first you’ve got to finish.
Experiences like that can be character building. You either quit and find another hobby or you learn from it and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My chum Pip Higham , drag racer, Suzuki technical guru and ace bike builder drummed into me the importance of checking everything before a race and then checking again for potential ‘race losers’ or ‘show stoppers’ as he calls them. I like to think some of Pip’s pragmatically thorough approach to bike preparation has rubbed off on me over the years and I’m quite pernickety about preparing the Adventure Ride bikes before an outing. The consequences of mechanical breakdowns out on a remote trail can be just as distressing as a mechanical failure in Croatia, especially if you’ve got four customers in tow who have taken a day off work and paid good money to be with you.
In my experience the kind of thing which catches out the unwary trail rider is usually avoidable and with a bit of pre-planning the opportunities for disappointment can be minimised. Modern engines rarely break down nowadays and even if they do develop problems it’s usually possible to limp home one way or another. Conversely if your drive chain snaps you ain’t going nowhere. It’s the simple stuff you need to prepare for.
Trail riding is a harsh environment for a motorcycle. Can you imagine what this sort of treatment does to chains , wheel bearings and suspension linkages? It’s ‘orrible.
Here’s a list of some of the more common showstoppers and a few tips how to avoid them.
You might get away with a dry chain on a road bike but out on the trail they tend to break more readily. It’s a brutal environment and any weak links , if you’ll pardon the pun, quickly manifest themselves. I stopped using expensive chain lube aerosols some time ago, whatever you put on will get washed off as soon as you’ve crossed two or three fords anyway. Nowadays I use a half inch paint brush and liberally paint the chain with whatever cheap oil I can find in the remainder bin at Halfords. Remember on an O-ring chain the rollers themselves are sealed, it’s the rubber O-rings themselves you are trying to lubricate so they can slide easily against the side plates. Once the O-rings dry out the chain becomes stiff and creates unwanted friction and drag even if the rollers are running smoothly. I’ve also equipped my bikes with a Loobman chain oiler [www.loobman.co.uk] These ingenious little chain oilers are cheap as chips [less than twenty quid] and have halved the chainwear on my customer bikes. It’s a manual system and every so often whilst out on the trail I give the Loobman a few pumps to deliver some fresh oil. Highly recommended.
Top Tip; if you’re using a split link chain a blob of silicone sealant pressed in an around the spring clip will prevent it flying off. Carry a spare link tie wrapped on the bike somewhere just in case, oh, and a cheap chain splitter.
Yeah, yeah, before you say anything this shot was taken immediately after a ride prior to cleaning. Note the centre link filled in with silicone and also the feed head on the Loobman oiler.
Link tiewrapped to the ‘bars. Cheap insurance.
Punctures can definitely spoil your day. I don’t mind changing a tube in the warmth of my garage listening to Radio 4 with a mug of tea and choccy digestive to hand , in fact in a perverse way I quite enjoy it. Any such enthusiasm disappears when I’m on a bleak hill top with an easterly wind blowing up my Jacksie and rain dribbling down my neck. No siree, you don’t want to be getting unnecessary punctures if you can avoid it.
Recently I’ve started using OKO tyre sealant and have had very good results, in fact I reckon it’s brilliant stuff. Get it from http://www.thefordcentre.com, they’re based in Brum, are nice people and really know their stuff. I use it in conjunction with 4mm heavy duty tubes and with that combo punctures should be a thing of the past.Bear in mind though if you clout a rock at speed the ensuing snakebite puncture can sometimes be too large for the OKO to work so my advice is always carry some patches , a spare tube tyre levers and a pump just in case. A pump ? Yeah I know the modern way is to use a CO2 cannister but I’ve had problems with these and prefer the good ‘ol analogue method. You know it makes sense. Even if you aren’t experienced at changing a tube at least if someone else comes along who is you’ve got the right kit to deal with the problem.
Top Tip; a lot of punctures are cause by tyre creep which drags the tube and pulls the valve out. Mark the tyres with Tippex and keep an eye on it during a ride. In my experience fronts suffer from creep more than rears. Strange but true. Also think about your tyre pressures. 8psi in the rear and 12psi in the front might give you lots of grip but will also increase the incidence of punctures. You’re not in a competition so sacrifice a bit of grip for reliablity. Run ’em at 15psi.
Tippex, simple but effective.
A snapped clutch or brake lever can quickly bring proceedings to a halt. Carry a spare and tie wrap it to the handlebar safely. Now here’s a strange one, recently I’ve had a spate of the adjusters rattling loose and I put this down to the dry weather making the trails very harsh and creating extra vibration [mud is like a shock absorber]. When an adjuster falls out on the trail you are usually stuffed and it’s a long walk home
Top Tip; Put a blob of silicone sealant on the adjuster locknut, it’s a tip I picked up when endurance racing and it works a treat.
Not pretty but infinitely preferable to walking home
I’ve once saw a nasty accident caused by a grip slipping off a handlebar. If’ you’ve got bark busters on this isn’t such a problem but even so a rotating grip can be distracting even if it isn’t a danger. Grips which are on tight in the workshop can suddenly slide off in the most unpredictable situations , especially in damp conditions. Again, harking back to my racing days the best solution is to lockwire them on. Failing that use some hairspray when fitting the grips, it dries and hold them in place, just like your barnet.
Lockwired grips are a useful safety aid and much kinder to the environment than Harmony hairspray. They also have the added advantage of making you look as if you’ve just competed in an ISDT, especially if you’ve got the split link tied to your handlebars.
Whilst you’ve got the Tippex out here’s another tip; Use it to write the number of your breakdown provider on the back of a side panel. Don’t rely on storing the number on your mobile, if the ‘phone gets wet or the screen breaks your done for.
When you look at the performance of modern dirt bike brakes and the conditions they have to function under it’s a miracle they stay working as long as they do. The problem is, if they start to drag or bind it’s sometimes difficult to detect , especially if you’re plugging through thick mud. the first thing you know about it is when smoke starts pouring off a caliper or you find you’ve got no brakes on a steep descent.
A lot of problems can be avoided if you detach each caliper when doing your pre ride check, whip the pads out and by judicious use of a tyre lever hold back the piston[s] leaving one free and gently press the brake lever. Check each piston in turn and make sure it’s moving freely. Sometimes they get gummed up with accumulated trail crud and they can stick , it’s an easy fix in the workshop but not so simple out on the trail. If a pad is dragging slightly you’d be surprised how quickly this will boil the brake fluid leaving you without a brake. It’s a 5 minute pre ride check and perhaps a bit OTT but one day you’ll be glad you did it . I do it on all the customer bikes and have avoided potential problems on more than one occasion
That’s all for this now folks, due to various commitments I won’t be able to post for a week or two so until the next time, ride safe.
Gratuitous endurance racing shot.Oh happy days, just look at the concentration. Then, half a lap later… The same rules of bike preparation are equally important on a trail bike.