If you are like me, you are more than ready to move on from COVID, politics and listening to people talk about either one. I never thought I would see the day that I would miss religious arguments. But, unfortunately, that's the world we are living in at the moment. So instead, it's much more fun to talk about dirt-bikes.
You might be thinking that the dirt-bike season is over and it's time to put the bike away for the long, dark, Winter. If your bike is need of some major attention this might be the time to do just that. Normally I would advise you to keep riding as long as possible and wait until January or February to get your bike fixed up for the next season. But, what we have been finding with many of our suppliers is getting parts, particularly OEM parts, has been taking longer than normal. Some items that traditionally have taken less than a week to get, can take as much as a month or more. The crazy part is there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to which parts are going to take a long time to get; some things are showing up on time, some are not. On top of all that we have been hearing rumors from suppliers that the back-log on parts is going to get worse since manufactures are having difficulty getting needed supplies to produce the parts. Most everyone is hoping to get back up to speed and caught-up sometime next summer. What that means for you and me is that if you wait until Spring, or even late Winter, to get your machine fixed you might be waiting right through the beginning of the riding season. So, bottom line, if you need work, get it done as soon as possible.
Now on a happier note! If your bike doesn't need some down-time, there is still lots of time to ride. Temperatures here in Sunny Central Washington have been amazingly mild for this time of year. The mountains are pretty much snowed in for the season, but the desert riding is just getting started. So far, "The Man" has not shut down the riding areas, so get that bike loaded and get going. Another plus is that unless you decide to fall down and hurt yourself (which never happens) you can easily practice social distancing, particularly if you are faster than your buddies, or slower whichever the case may be. As far as I am concerned a full face helmet is just like wearing a cloth mask (keep in mind, I am not a medical professional of any sort. I don't even play a doctor on TV) so take my dubious advice at your own peril.
One final thought, if you are new to the idea of Winter Riding; it's a different experience. Don't get fooled into thinking you need some sort of special gear, or need to wear a snow parka. You just need to remember to layer your clothing and NO COTTON. As far as your bike is concerned, if you have electric start make sure you have a good battery and charge it before going (avoid leaving it on a battery tender). Dirt-bike batteries are small and generally don't like cold weather. If worse comes to worse you can jump start your bike just like a car, but keep in mind if you hook your little battery to a big car battery you can't leave it hooked up very long or you will have a very, very bad day.
Have questions? Feel free to send us a message. Our crew may not be able to give you medical advice, but we can sure doctor your bike and give lots of cheap riding advice. Just remember to have fun, be safe and you are faster on two wheels than you are wadded up on the side of the trail.
Okay, I lied, this may not be all that interesting to most people; but, if you own an off-road vehicle of some sort it may be important to you. Have you given any thought to the bearings in your suspension? I know, now that I have come out and said it you are waiting breathlessly on the edge of your seat.....
Suspension bearings are actually a pretty serious thing, particularly if they are not maintained. Many modern off-road (and on-road for that matter) vehicles use some type bearings in the swing-arm, shocks, a-arms, etc. Out of all the bearings on your machine, these probably take the worst abuse from water, dirt, mud, sand, cockroaches (okay, not cockroaches, just making sure you're paying attention). Unfortunately many vehicles don't have grease fittings to aid in maintaining these bearings. Which means to perform any sort of meaningful maintenance, the suspension has be taken apart, cleaned, greased and put back together. Because it is such a hassle to do this type of maintenance many of us (including me) tend to put it off until later, which normally turns into never. The problem with this approach is once the grease is gone or turned into a rock, rust begins to set in, and then it's down-hill from there. Once the bearings and races get nice and rusty they have a tendency to fuse themselves to whatever they are supposed to be protecting from wear. Eventually the individual pieces become impossible to remove without seriously damaging things like the swing-arm, or on motorcycles, the engine case. The result is a task, that is tedious and not much fun, turns into a repair from hell that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to repair. Not to mention the tears of frustration that are shed and the time spent shaking your fist at the heavens..
Hopefully you are convinced it's time to take care of your suspension bearings, and you may be wondering how often it should be done and when to do it. Like most things in life, it all depends on how and where you ride. If you live on or near the coast or ride in sand it should be done at least yearly, maybe even more if you are riding on the beach. Those of you that are riding in a drier climate like Sunny Central Washington, it should be done every year, but if you stretched it a little you are probably okay (always assuming you aren't into mud bogging). But, use some common sense, you know where and how you ride, don't talk yourself into thinking you can put it off just because you don't want to do it.
A final thought on this subject, if you plan to do the work yourself always be very careful with anything that is spring loaded ( you know like your shock springs) and avoid getting a bigger hammer if things don't go smoothly. Of course, there is always the option of relaxing with your favorite beverage (adult or otherwise) and let our tech's shed the tears of frustration and shake their fists at the heavens while you enjoy the nice spring weather and your involuntary time off.
Winter isn't giving up so easily this year, but Easter is just around the corner and the trees are budding. With everything that is going on in the world it's easy to ignore your property until things settle down. But, the reality is despite the fact that most of us are off our routines, the vegetation is still going to do it's thing and start growing. That means it's time to get your equipment started and serviced before you really need it.
One of the biggest problems we run into here at the shop is matching man-power to demand. One of the reoccurring questions we get is "how long is this going to take?" Most people look to their equipment when they are ready to use it. There are few things as frustrating as having your day planned to work in the yard and not being able to get the rototiller started or the mower. To add insult to injury, you call the repair shop and they have a wait time of anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks. The unfortunate truth is most shops have the same problem, not enough hours in the day, not enough qualified mechanics, parts that have to be ordered from who knows where and customers all wanting to take advantage of the nice weather at the same time.
So, what's the solution? The most obvious is get out there and start your equipment before you want to use and get ahead of the game. Wait times are always going to be a problem, but if you are strategic about it the down time won't impact your plans. At this point you might be thinking "that's great advice, if I had thought about it a month ago". If your in the "need it now" category you still have a few options that might work (no promises). The most common issue with equipment that sits for any period of time (even as short as a few weeks) is the gas going bad. We live in the age of ethanol, which means gas has a shelf life just like milk. Once it spoils, game over, you need to throw it away. If your equipment won't start try draining the gas from the tank and the carburetor, get fresh gas (not the stuff that has been sitting in your gas can all winter) and try again. You can also use a little bit of starting fluid to get things going. Sometimes a little squirt of starting fluid will encourage the engine to start and pull some of that new fresh gas through the system. Just be cautious with the starting fluid, particularly with 2-stroke engines (like weed whackers and chainsaws) a little bit goes along way, allot can cause serious engine damage. A couple other things you can check/replace are the air filter and spark plug. Both of these are relatively inexpensive and should be changed annually anyway.
If none of those solve your problem it's time to get your equipment into the shop, just remember when you call, be kind to your neighborhood repair shop, they are working as fast as they can; telling at the person on the phone that your yard is a jungle is not going to speed up the process. Stop, take a breath, and enjoy the fact that you have grass growing, trees budding and bugs flying around. It could be much, much worse; you know like freezing rain, snow, sub-zero temperatures and all that fund stuff!
I admit, I have a love/hate attitude towards the Fall season. I love the Fall for the weather, warm days and cold nights. Typically here in Sunny Ellensburg, Fall is also the season that the wind takes a little vacation (usually). The hate part comes from the fact that Winter is just right around the corner.
One of the other things that Fall signifies (at least in our house) is that it's just about time to start thinking about switching from woods riding to desert riding. We are very fortunate where we live; we are not confined to riding only in the summer. But, as the weather starts cooling off and you start getting ready to ride a different type of terrain there are a few things that you should consider for yourself and your bike.
If you are new to desert riding, particularly in cold weather, there are some things you should know. First and foremost, dress for the occasion. Over the years I have ridden with quite a few different people that I met through social media riding groups (no not dating groups, even though it seems like it sometimes). And one of the most common mistakes I have seen when it comes to riding in cold weather is over-dressing. It's hard to gauge sometimes how much to wear, particularly when you get out of the truck and it's 30 degrees with a pretty good wind blowing. Many people will bundle up with a heavy jacket, sweat-shirts, heavy gloves, etc. The problem is that riding a dirt-bike, particularly in the desert, is an extremely physical activity. So what typically happens if you are wearing too much, is that in about 2 miles from the truck you are so hot that you are melting, can't breathe and your goggles are useless. So now you have to make a decision, do you tough it out? Carry your extra clothes all day? Or, go back to the truck? If you are with a group of people, none of those options are very good. So avoid it all together, think layers. I typically wear some sort of light-weight thermal base layer (NO COTTON!) my regular jersey, pants, chest protector, etc. Then, depending on how cold it is a light, pack-able wind breaker that I can fit in my pack if I don't want to wear it (which is most of the time). For gloves, if it is below freezing, I start with a little heavier pair (I like the Fox Polar Paws) and then once I am warmed up I switch back to my regular pair. I have found that I stay reasonably comfortable throughout the day. There a few more things about how to prepare yourself that I will address in another post, but now I want to write a little out what's really important, your bike.
Just like you, your bike is going to need some adjustments so it handles well and makes it through the day. The very first thing you should be checking before every ride is your tire pressure. Improper tire pressure can and will end your day early. Woods riding is typically much slower and more technical than desert riding, which means you can get away with running lower tire pressures to take advantage of the handling and traction. The problem with desert riding is it's usually fairly fast, with lots of whoops, etc. So the possibility of pinch flat is very high. So to avoid that particular problem you need to run a higher pressure. But, here is where it gets tricky; too much pressure and the bike won't handle very well, sort of like riding on marbles. If the pressure is too low; it's pinch flat time. I typically recommend being somewhere between 12 an 15 psi. If it's your first time out or you are running a soft tire you may want to start on the high end and adjust from there as you ride. It's also not a bad idea to carry a small tire pump in your pack in case you let too much air out. Unfortunately there is no "one-size-fits-all" tire pressure. There are many variables to consider; for example the weight of the rider, how much gear do you carry, what type of tires/tubes are you using, are you fast or slow, etc. Start high and work your way down until you find your sweet spot. Just remember going too low means you get to replace a tube and possibly a tire if you have to ride very far on a flat.
The other thing that you should be looking at is your suspension. When was the last time you had the oil changed in your forks and shock (yes that is real thing). Ideally it should be done once a year. Not only does the oil get fouled with debris from wear, but it also gets contaminated with water from condensation. Next on the list is your clickers, also known as the rebound and compression adjustment. Personally I typically run my forks and shock a little "softer" for the woods. But in the desert you need to stiffen things up a bit (no pills involved). Just like with tires, the speed and type of terrain requires some adjustment. Since there are some many different bikes, riders, etc. I can't give a meaningful number to set your clickers. I suggest is to carry a small screwdriver with you, so you can adjust throughout the day. I also recommend that you record your current settings somewhere (assuming you are happy with how the bike handles) so you have a baseline to go back to. You are looking for that happy place between riding a pogo stick (bouncing off every rock) and bottoming out your suspension in the whoops. Don't forget that if you adjust the forks you should also adjust the shock to match. A rough guide to help you is this; if you are bouncing all over the trail, soften your rebound. But if you are not getting enough bounce over the whoops (meaning you are working harder than the bike), stiffen the rebound. For compression; if you are feeling every rock and your teeth are getting loose, soften the compression a bit. However, if you are bottoming your front end then stiffen a little. Remember, when it comes to messing with your clickers a little bit goes a long way. One or two clicks per adjustment is plenty. In theory, when you are going through whoops the front and rear of the bike should be more or less bouncing the same. If the front end keeps coming up, or the seat keeps trying to spank your bottom that tells you that you need to adjust the rebound either front or rear.
Once you find that happy place for your tire pressure and suspension settings it's probably a good idea to record those somewhere. That way next year, you can just focus on enjoying the ride and maybe only have to make slight adjustments.
Last but not least are your fluids. It's a good idea to run some Sea Foam or other moisture removing product in your fuel to make sure you don't have any accumulated water in your fuel system. Also, if your brake fluid has been in there more than a couple of years you should replace it. It will also absorb water over time and potentially freeze. Check you coolant to make sure it is sufficiently mixed not freeze in cold weather. Finally, your oil. Hopefully you have been changing it regularly. You might also think about going with lighter viscosity. Check your manufacturer recommendations for your machine and temperature.
With a few preparations, you can be riding most, if not all winter instead of sitting in front of your computer watching boring helmet cam videos from the summer; or people that live in warmer climates doing monster jumps and making you feel old and slow (which is probably true, but it's alot more fun to being riding and pretend you are almost a semi-pro rider).
If you have been around motorcycles very long, chances are you have come across an article, forum post, or a random person talking about setting the sag on a bike. The problem is, no one really talks about WHY you should care about the sag on your bike. So if you are like me (and lots of other people) you most likely have never adjusted and probably won't since the bike handles good anyway. The truth of the matter is your bike probably does handle pretty well for the most part, but chances are with a little adjusting it could handle much better and allow you more control in those situations that gets your heart pumping in your ears.
First things first, what is sag? The simple answer; sag is distance that your rear shock compresses when you are sitting or standing on the bike in a stationary position. I know not really very useful, but here is the interesting part. That amount of rear shock compression has a huge impact on how much pressure is on the front wheel. Which in turn has a big impact on whether or not your front wheel is going head West while you are turning East, causing your head to go South right into the ground (lovingly known as "washing out the front end"). It also effects how your bike handles in a straight line. If you are getting a "death wobble" going straight it may have to do with a sag adjustment (but don't assume that's the issue, check the wheel and stem bearings before your next ride). Another way to look at sag is how level your bike sits with you (and your gear) on it.
Now that you have an idea what sag is, the next question is how do you adjust it? The process is pretty similar for most modern bikes. The specifics can vary quite a bike from one bike to the next, so keep that in mind as you read. To start with, a rear shock on a motorcycle is not the same as a shock on your average car or truck. A motorcycle shock has two parts, an adjustable shock absorber and a coil spring. The coil spring is the part we want to take a look at, the rest of the shock is for another blog. The coil spring is usually held in place by some sort of ring that can be screwed up or down to adjust the amount of pressure being put on the spring (known as the pre-load). That ring often has another ring above it which is known as the lock-ring. The lock-ring's only job is to keep the adjusting ring in place once it has been set. For sake of time, we are going to pretend the lock-ring doesn't exist once it has been loosened and moved out of the way.
The first thing you need to know before you begin is how much sag you want. This is the tricky part. Your owner's manual will have a number, when you start reading forums you will see other numbers. Often people refer to this as "race sag". On most modern dirt-bikes that number is somewhere around 100 mm. This is a good place to start, but by no means the golden ticket for everyone. Once you have a number in mind, it's time to find, rent or steal a friend; get your handy tape measure and put on your riding gear (including your backpack if you use one). You also need to find a hard, level place and something you can lightly lean your handlebars against while you are on the bike.
Once you have everything in place (BTW this is not the part where you start drinking beer with your buddy); put the bike on a stand and measure from the rear axle to the fender (keeping the tape measure vertical) and record that number (this is call the "unloaded dimension"). Next take the bike off the stand and hold it upright, pull up on the rear fender and let go (don't bounce the bike), measure from the rear axle bolt to the finder, making sure the tape measure is vertical. I typically put a small mark on the fender so I know I am measuring to the same spot each time. Once you have that measurement, write that number down. Subtract small number from the big number; this is known as your "Static Sag".
Next get on the bike, with your gear on; keeping the bike upright and standing on the pegs (or sitting slightly forward) have your buddy (assuming he took my advice about the beer) measure from the rear axle to the same spot on the fender; record that number, this is the "loaded sag". Subtract the loaded sag from the unloaded dimension and that will give you your "race sag".
Now that you have your race sag and your static sag you can start the adjustment process. In very general terms, your static sag should be 30-40 mm. Your first step is to adjust your race sag by turning the lock ring either tightening or loosening the pre-load depending on which direction you need to go. It will most likely take a few tries before you get the number you are looking for. Once you have your race sag set check your static sag again. If your static sag is way off it's an indicator that you need a different shock spring. Most bikes are designed for 180 pound riders with minimal gear. They are not generally setup out of the box for a rider with gear or if you are like me a heavier rider with gear.
It's a good practice to check your sag periodically throughout the year. If you are racing it's a good idea to check it before every race. This also a good time to take a close look at the bearings in the rear-end and shock. Once you have done all that, go ahead and grab a beer, relax and tell each other lies about that monster hill you climbed or just barely avoided an agonizing death on that cliff-edge.
Some final thoughts on sag. Your race sag is an important adjustment that shouldn't be ignored. It's not a bad idea to ask around and see what other people are running on their bikes. Most articles that give a specific numbers are written with track riding in mind. Depending on if primarily sit or stand while riding, what type of riding you do (trail riding, hare scrambles, etc.) and what type of terrain you ride can have an impact on your best race sag number. You may find that 90 mm race sag makes your bike handle much better than 100. Don't be afraid to experiment. Finally, if you haven't had your rear shock serviced recently it's probably time, not enough pressure in the shock can throw your sag numbers off and cause poor handling.
One of the routine questions we get here in the shop is whether or not old equipment is worth fixing or just replacing? The answer to that age old question is "it depends". Very helpful, I know. But, here are some things you can use to determine on your own to make that decision. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to refer to everything as a lawn tractor. These suggestions apply to most, if not all equipment. So when you read "lawn tractor" just envision whatever piece of equipment you are contemplating replacing.
The first, and maybe the most important, question is why are you thinking of replacing your "lawn tractor"? Even though this seems like a pretty simple question it is actually more involved than you might think. If you are considering a replacement because something is not working then read on. But, if you are considering replacing simply because you are ready for something new and you really have your heart set on a particular something or other then you should probably pull the trigger. No matter what you do to your old machine, chances are you won't be happy with it, and you may spend the rest of the season regretting having put money into it.
Now that we have that out of the way, it's time to start assessing what you have going on. One of the big misconceptions is that newer is better. Unlike your car, truck or motorcycle, most equipment hasn't significantly changed in the last 20 years or so. New equipment tends to look sleeker, but that's about it. So when a customer asks me if I think something is worth fixing I generally start with asking them about the engine. Does your engine start? Is it blowing blue smoke out the exhaust? Does it sound like someone is banging metal garbage cans together when it's running? If your answers to those three questions goes something like "yes, no and no" then most likely your engine is worth fixing.
The next question is about the transmission (assuming it has one). Does it move under it's own power? This one is little trickier because yes or no doesn't actually mean as much as you might think. Something as simple as a worn or broken drive belt can make your transmission seem to be failing, when in reality it could just be a $40.00 belt that has gone bad. In this case you have to take a leap of faith and replace the belt to know for sure if that is your problem.
Finally, the cutting deck; at least on things that have a cutting deck. If the cutting deck has rust holes in it, or holes of any sort you should not use it. The possibility of something coming through one of those holes and taking you out, or worse someone else, is enough to not take the chance. Depending on the machine, replacing the cutting deck is not always a death sentence, but it is costly enough that you should find out the price to replace it and then go from there. Blades, mandrels, pulleys, etc. aren't particularly cheap, but may not be as expensive as you think.
At the end of the day the cost of repairing an older piece of equipment is generally much less than buying new. As always, it usually comes down to what you actually want. And how much you want to spend. So before you make a decision take some time and price out a replacement, then you at least have an idea of what you might be willing to spend for a repair. Paying a shop $150.00 to fix an old push-mower doesn't make much sense if you can buy a new one for $160. But paying $400 to fix a lawn tractor does make sense it a replacement is $2000.00.
One final thought, when you are comparing the price of a replacement verse repair; make sure you are comparing apples to apples. If you have a lawn tractor with a 54" cutting deck with a 24 HP engine, don't look at the tractor with a 12 HP engine and 42" cutting deck for comparison, unless of course you are thinking of down-sizing.
Taking a little time to know your own mind will make the trip to the repair shop or the store a little less painful. Always keep in mind, you are the one that will have to live with your decision. The person behind the counter at the store or the repair shop has their own reasons for recommending new or a replacement.
Okay, I have to admit the title was a "fake it until you make it" thing. But, in spite of the fact that there is still a foot or more of snow on the ground and continuing cold weather I am confident that Spring is almost here. Thankfully it's not just the calendar that tells me that; there are some tell tale signs from Mother Nature that we are almost there. The days are noticeably longer, trees are starting to bud and I have heard rumors of Robbins in the area (though I can't confirm that last one). In the mean-time, while we patiently wait for the thaw, there are some things you can be doing to be ready for the warmer weather.
If you are like me you may tend to forget that you own outdoor equipment over the winter. Now is a good time to take a look at anything you have with a gas engine and get it started. Most people don't realize how bad modern gas is for your equipment. The idea of gas being bad is strange but true. Most gas stations only sell gasoline that has a fair amount of ethanol added. Unfortunately it only takes a couple of weeks for the fuel to start breaking down. Once this process begins the fuel is less combustible, eventually the fuel will not ignite at all. From there it only gets worse; over time it will start causing damage to your carburetor and even engine components.
The burning question is what can you do to prevent this? There are several things that can help minimize fuel related problems. The most obvious is to drain the fuel from your equipment at the end of the season. This is better than nothing, but can cause it's own problems in the form of dried out seals. The alternative is to leave the fuel in the system and add a fuel stabilizer. Unfortunately that is still not enough. The best solution is to use non-ethanol fuel, a fuel stabilizer and start and run the engine long enough to reach operating temperature on a monthly basis.
Since we are at the end of winter there is a good chance that you haven't done as much as you would have liked. That's why I recommend taking a good look at your equipment now, before you need it. If your equipment was running fine when you parked it but won't start now the first step is to drain the fuel from both the tank and the carburetor and then fill it with fresh. If it still won't start you can try a new spark plug. However if you still aren't making progress it might be time to get it into the shop. There is a high probability that the carburetor is plugged and needs to be either be cleaned or replaced.
Don't wait until you are ready to use your equipment. Once the season gets started there are many people doing the same thing. Which means longer wait times for repairs, and if parts are not readily available it could be several weeks before you see your equipment running again. It very frustrating when you are ready to ride your bike or mow the lawn and all you can do is wait.
It's that time of year again; the weather is getting a little better, the days are slightly longer, but it's still cold outside. We are just about into February, which for me is the worst month of the winter. Here in Sunny Central Washington we typically get the full range of weather in February. It can go from 50+ degrees to 0 in the blink of an eye. This about the time I start feeling a little stir crazy and need to get out. So, I go riding as much as possible. Believe it or not, there are quite a few places in Washington to ride during the winter. In fact, many are better to ride in the winter than they are any other time of year. But the big problem is how do you do it, and keep your toes from freezing off? Here are some suggestions and things that we have figured out over the years to help.
One of the biggest things that I have found to make a cold day adventure a little more comfortable is to have a warm-ish place to change, eat lunch or just take a break. The ideal would be to have a nice toy-hauler or some other type RV. But, let's be honest those things are expensive and add quite a bit of complication and expense to a day ride. Right now we use a cargo trailer for our winter riding. The bikes are hauled inside, then once we get there and unload we have a nice open space. With a few lights, an indoor/outdoor carpet that rolls up and a tank mounted propane heater we have a cozy place to get out of the wind and get warm if needed. Not to mention it makes a great little shop if someone has mechanical problems.
At this point, you might be thinking that a cargo trailer would be great, but you don't have a truck to pull one or the extra money laying around to go buy one. Or, you simply don't want to mess with a trailer, then what?. This doesn't mean you'are out of luck. Before we had a trailer we used an a pop-up canopy with walls and a propane heater. All of which are fairly inexpensive and don't take a huge amount of room when stored. Throw a tarp down, and wa-la you have a cozy little place out of the weather that you can stand-up in. A word of warning though, if you do go the canopy route, be sure you secure it to something. Many of the places we ride in the winter can be windy, and those canopies make great sails if the wind catches it. You can tie the canopy to your truck or trailer, then use your gas cans and straps as anchors, works like a charm.
No matter what, the best way to beat the winter blues in on a bike. It's great exercise, gets you out of the house and lowers the chances of being pillowed in your sleep by your spouse.
With the weather getting to that point where it makes it very hard, if not impossible, to convince yourself to get out and ride, it might be time to take care of some of the maintenance tasks that you have been putting off. One of the most common things we run into around the shop is bad bearings, particularly suspension bearings. Most modern bikes and many ATV's don't have good old fashion grease fittings that can be used to keep the bearings greased. On top of that, bearings in the swing arm, suspension linkages and lower shock are constantly being exposed to water, dirt, mud, sand, etc. Which means they are the most likely to need service regularly.
You might be thinking, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". The reality is it may be broke, you just haven't noticed. Catching failed bearings early can and is, the difference between a huge repair cost and one that is only mildly painful. I say mildly painful because replacement bearings are not cheap (if you are buying half-way decent parts) and there is a fair amount of labor involved, assuming you are taking it to a shop for the work. However if you let it go too long, swing arms, linkages and shocks are really expensive.
Assuming that your bearings are not completely rusted and can be saved here are some tips for taking care of them. First thing you need to do is determine what parts need attention. On most motorcycles and ATV's there are bearings where the swing arm meets the frame. While you are looking at your swing arm, be sure to inspect the chain slider, if the plastic is worn it should be replaced. If it is worn completely through you need to make sure the chain hasn't worn through the swing-arm and into the bearing. Motorcycles typically use needle type bearings, where many ATV's use either a bushing or a cone bearing. The next place to tackle is where the shock connects to the swing arm. How this area is designed can vary quite bit from one manufacturer to the next. Most Japanese bikes use some sort of linkage between the shock and the swing arm. On many bikes, but not all there is a needle bearing in the shock as well. While you have bearings on the brain, don't forget both wheels have bearings that are prone to go bad, and even though most of the time they are a "sealed" bearing you can pop the plastic seal off and re-pack the bearings. The problem with doing this is there is really no good way to clean the bearing while it is in the wheel; if you pull the bearing out of the wheel it should be replaced since the process of pulling it out usually damages the bearing.
Once you have identified all the bearings that need to be serviced it's time to take them apart. Do yourself a favor and only do one set of bearings at a time. They look very similar and can be easy to mix up. However once a bearing has been used it should only be put back into the same location, otherwise it will fail earlier than it should.
In most cases needle bearings are used, be very careful that you don't lose any of the bearing rollers. They are very small and missing just one means it's time to buy a new bearing. You will not be removing the race (the part that is pressed in). Once you have the bolt(s), seals and the rollers out inspect everything very carefully. If the seal is damaged, looks ragged or egg-shaped, replace it. If there is surface rust on the rollers or race spray it down with some sort of oil like PB Blaster or WD-40 and clean with a wire brush. Inspect the surfaces carefully for pitting. If there is pitting, the bearing should be replaced. Assuming that everything looks good make sure clean everything thoroughly with clean solvent. I recommend non-chlorinated brake cleaner. Once everything is squeaky clean it's time grease and re-assemble.
Choosing the correct grease is very important. You should use a product that is resistant to water fouling. A marine grease is cheap and easy to find, there are many other products that work well also, but that is a topic for another post. Keep in mind, these are precision manufactured machines (sort of), which means you don't need grease coming out of everywhere. Make sure wipe off any excess, not only does it look better but it reduces the amount of dirt and assorted debris from collecting on or around the bearings. Be sure when re-installing that you put any spacers back in that came out, ignoring the spacers can cause some pretty serious damage when you torque things back down. Follow the manufactures torque specifications for bolts and nuts. Once you have things tightened back up check to be sure everything moves freely, a slight resistance is good; but if anything doesn't move freely you probably missed something and need to go back and find it. Don't fool yourself, if anything is binding it won't get better with time. Ignore you inner redneck. If it involves duct tape, bailing wire or hoping it will better if you just force it a little more, you are going to be sorry later.
Finally, keep a couple things in mind through the process; take your time, be very very clean and avoid drinking beer until you are finished. However, you can always bring it to us and then you can drink all the beer you want and we'll call you when it finished!
When was the last time you thought about the oil in your suspension? How about the gas charge in your shock? It's easy to forget about maintaining your suspension, but a little maintenance can save lots of money, not to mention improve handling.
Over time the oil in both your forks and shocks starts to break down, losing viscosity and gets fouled with debris as the piston slides wear. In addition, believe it or not, you can get rust forming inside from condensation. Your shock is filled with high pressure nitrogen that will slowly leak out over time. All of these things add up to a decrease in performance and can lead to expensive repairs if not addressed.
How often should you have your suspension serviced? It really depends on your riding habits and your budget. In a perfect world you would have your suspension serviced annually. But, like many things that is not a hard and fast rule. The real question is has it ever been done? If so, do you remember who was the president at the time? If not, or if it's been a while it's time to get your machine into the shop.
The next big question that comes to mind is the cost. Most of us don't have buckets of money stashed around the house. The simple, and very un-helpful answer is--it depends. Cost often depends on how much you can do yourself. Your least expensive route, if you plan to have a professional do the suspension work, is to pull the forks and/or shock yourself and bring them into the shop. But if you don't have the tools, place or skills then you will need to take the entire machine to your favorite mechanic to have the work completed. It also largely depends on what your machine actually needs, and the quality of the parts used. Having said all that, here is a very rough idea of what you can expect to pay. Assuming you can pull your forks and/or shock, labor on a set of forks is probably going to run you somewhere between $100-$150 depending on your forks and how much your mechanic charges. Most forks will require a little over a quart of oil (for both) so that means you get to buy 2 quarts, so you can figure around $30 for oil. Again, keep in mind the type oil you use can vary in price considerably. A set of seals will run you somewhere around $40. Now before you start thinking about buying a cheap set of seals for $20, remember you get what you pay for and if the cheap seals fail (and they do) it will not only cost you for another set of seals but the oil and labor as well. My personal preference when it comes to seals; OEM is your friend. But, that a discussion for another post! So for a service on a set of forks you are going to be somewhere around $200.00 assuming you don't need parts replaced besides seals. Your rear shock will probably be about half that since there is only one. This seems like allot at first blush, but like all things mechanical if you let it go too long it will cost much more later.
Another thing to consider when it comes to having any work done is timing. Many shops offer discounts in the off-season when business is slow. So the best time to get your work done is when you really want to go ride, but the weather is terrible. If you wait until the season starts you will most likely pay more and have to wait, sometimes quite a while, before the work is completed. You don't want to be the guy that is watching Youtube videos of riding when everyone else is actually out riding. Finally, resist the temptation to have the neighbor kid do it since he is always "tinkering". Suspensions are actually quite delicate when it comes foreign material (aka dirt) and parts left over. You should only have a qualified mechanic touch your suspension. It could mean the difference between a great day of riding or ending up in crumpled pile on the side of the trail.