When I look to the hills, I can see fresh snow at the tops of the ridges here in sunny Central Washington. That means it won't be long before the cold white stuff will be here on the valley floor. Depending on your disposition, this might be a happy occasion or a deep sense of dread building in your gut. No matter how you feel about the snow, it means that you should probably be thinking about your snow removal plan for the winter. With that plan in mind, it's even more important to make sure your equipment is ready for the challenge.
Regardless of whether you plow or use a snow thrower, there are some basic things you should be looking at immediately, not on the day of the first snow. If you are like me, it's easy to put off getting your equipment ready. After all, it ran just fine when you used it just a short 8 to 9 months ago. Not to mention, it might anger the snow gods if you start the machine too early. With that in mind, unless you are looking for a hard, cheap workout shoveling snow, you should probably take a look at a few things... like today.
The very first step, after you have convinced yourself to tempt the wrath of the snow gods, is to make sure your equipment starts. It is extremely common with today's fuel for gasoline to go bad after a few weeks, let alone months. If your equipment won't start and it's been sitting for a period of time, you need to get the old fuel out, including out of the carburetor, and add some fresh gas. If the fuel in the tank has gone to the dark side, it's also a good idea to let some clean fuel run through the system prior to starting, just to be sure you have gotten rid of the bad stuff. If it still won't start, check, or even better, replace the spark plug. If by now you are sweating, cussing, or maybe whimpering a little, it's a good time to stop and get it into the shop.
If you held your mouth correctly and said the proper incantations and your unit started, give a little prayer of thanks. Before you start doing your happy dance, however, take a moment to listen to the engine. At full throttle, is it running smoothly and evenly, or is it surging? Does it idle without the choke? If it is surging or not idling, you may need to have some carburetor work done, but that is a discussion for another day.
The next step is to take a look at the belt or belts, depending on what you have. Most snow throwers have a removable plastic cover over the belts. Typically, you will see two belts, one for the auger and one for the drive. They should both be fairly loose unless the control handles are depressed. But, make sure to check them carefully for cracks or fraying. The belts themselves are relatively inexpensive, but they are guaranteed to break right in the middle of use, and changing them on the fly is not an easy job. In addition to the belts, most snow throwers use a friction wheel system that consists of two metal wheels sitting perpendicular to each other. One of the wheels has a rubber strip around the rim that provides the friction. This rubber strip can also wear out, crack, etc., and should be inspected or replaced before the season starts.
If you are plowing with an ATV or a lawn tractor, there is a very good chance your machine also uses some sort of transmission drive belt. The same idea applies. Plowing is particularly hard on belts, and changing them in the middle of a snowstorm is a good way to ruin your day.
Last but not least, give the whole thing a once-over; how are the tires? the cables? anything external that seems unimportant? Often, it's the little silly things that turn into big problems at the worst time. Trying to fix something in the cold, snowy dark is just about one of the most miserable experiences there is; not to mention, you may not be able to get parts right away. I have found that the snow doesn't really seem to care that you are broke down. To make matters worse, the longer the evil white stuff sits, the harder it is to clear. If you wait too long, it starts turning into a mini-glacier, and you might need a front-end loader and some dynamite to move it.
A little bit of planning really does go a long way in preventing a not-so-fun task from turning into a nightmare. As always, we are here to help; just don't wait until you need it!
Now that we are officially into the full swing of Summer, the weather has gone from "Hey this is nice" to "I'm melting" in a matter of days (at least here in Sunny Central Washington). One of the trends we start seeing in the shop this time of year is older equipment, like me, aren't big fans of the heat. You may find that your machine doesn't want to start after you have been using it for a while, or it starts but just doesn't want to move. There are, of course, are a whole slew of heat related problems you could be dealing with in the near future. The big question we are routinely asked by customers is if it is worth fixing?
Once upon a time, like pre-COVID, before out of control inflation and supply chain issues, etc. this was a fairly easy question to answer. In most cases if your machine was getting long in the tooth and starting to nickel and dime you to death it was time to send it down the road and get something newer. Simple, right? Well those days are gone, at least for a while. Getting a new piece of equipment that is on par with your old one is more difficult than you think.
One of the trends we have been seeing coming out of the pandemic is more and more faulty units and parts right out of the box. Some manufactures have even resorted to building their own components rather than waiting for the their traditional suppliers to get back up to speed. But, like any new production of a product, the first couple of years can be really tough getting the bugs worked out. For the consumer, this can mean that your brand new machine is breaking down as much or more than your old one.
On top of that we have heard from several customers that they can't even find a replacement, and if they can it's very expensive. Gone are the days of new $1000 lawn tractor or $100 push mowers. Many people find that when they go replace their equipment with the modern version the price has literally doubled, with the specter that the new unit might be a dud from the factory.
So back to the original question, at what point do you say "junk it" and move along? The first thing you have to ask yourself is how much do you want a new machine? Sometimes we just want something new and shiny, and that's okay. The key here to at least be honest with yourself, even if you have to sugar coat the purchase to your significant other.
If, after searching your soul, you come back with the notion that you don't really want something else, but you don't want to throw money away on some old turd; then it's time to start looking at the problem objectively.
When it comes to making a decision there are really only a few key things you have to look at. Start with the most obvious, it it rusting into oblivion? If yes, junk it. If no, keep going. The next question is the engine; does it run? Is it blowing blue or white smoke (the color is actually pretty important), does it sound like someone is playing Rock'em Sock'em Robots inside a garbage can? If your answer is "yes" to either of the two last questions it may be time to move on, but do yourself a favor and get a quote for a new engine and compare that to what it would cost to replace the machine.
Now if your machine has passed the engine sniff test, take a look at the transmission? Does it go forward and backward? Is it making terrible noises like something from the pits of Hell? Well there is your answer.
The bottom line is this, if the overall condition of the machine is pretty good it is generally worth fixing. But if it has been used and abused for 20 years it may be time to move on. Just be careful that you don't get caught in the trap of thinking because it looks old and dated that it's not worth fixing. Often times that old equipment, with a little love and money will surprise you. One other thing to keep in mind, outside of the Powersports and Vehicle worlds, the technology really hasn't changed much. The nice shiny lawn tractor you have been eyeing is pretty much the same as the old clapped out machine you have been using for the last 10 years.
Personally, I am a fan of keeping things going. If it's been a good machine overall and parts are still available, I would rather put money into something that has shown it's own merit over the years, rather than rolling the dice on something new and shiny that may turn out to be a lemon.
It's that time of year, the snow is mostly gone, the weather has warmed considerably and the flowers are in bloom! It's time to get on your bike, ATV or climb into your UTV and head for the hills. Whether you are going for the day or the weekend there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Do you have your "10 Essentials"? If you were in Boy Scouts, at some point you probably heard that phrase, probably multiple times. Often we don't think of going into the wilderness on a motorized vehicle the same as hiking or backpacking. But, think about this for a minute, when you are hiking you are mostly likely only a few miles from your vehicle; but when you are in or on a motorized vehicle you could very easily find yourself dozens of miles from your vehicle. What happens if you break down? Or worse, get lost? I know, that would never happen, right.....?
The reality is that getting in trouble on a bike or UTV is very possible and it happens more than you might think. My rule of thumb when I go out is this: do I have the needed gear to spend the night outdoors? In the old days, it was difficult and expensive to get light-weight and compact survival gear; thankfully that is no longer the case. You can, of course, still spend lots of money on gear if you want but you don't really need to. Here are some basic things I always carry with me regardless if I am on my dirt-bike, Jeep or simply hiking.
1) A way to make fire (ooo fire good). Matches are okay, but they don't always work if they get wet or just get old from being in your bag too long. Instead I carry a simple flint and steel as well as a small pill bottle stuffed with cotton balls saturated in Vaseline. Cheap, water-proof and takes very little room.
2) Water and way to purify more water. There is nothing worse than running out of water and looking at that nice cool stream or lake, knowing that drinking it may lead to some serious stomach/intestine issues which in the end (no pun intended) is worse for you than running out of water. I carry a small bottle with water purification tablets, boiling the water will also get you there, but you need some sort of container to boil in.
3) A knife of some sort. There are lots and lots of choices here, but I prefer something small and compact. It's tempting to carry your Rambo survival knife; but the truth is, even though it looks cool, it's not terribly practical and takes alot of room in your pack. In addition a small folding saw is a must, trees are sneaky; they are always looking for a way to fall at just the right time to get in the way.
4) Some sort of shelter; now you might think I am nuts to say this but it doesn't need to be a tent or a big blue tarp. I carry a very compact "space blanket". These are great for keeping warm, but also keeping the rain off your head. They even make them now that you literally crawl into like a sleeping bag.
5) Small flashlight, this one is self explanatory. There are lots of bright LED lights on the market. Personally I prefer a headlamp that takes actual batteries. That way you can carry extra batteries, chances are you won't have a USB charger handy.
6) Food! I always keep 3-4 energy type bars in my pack, in addition to what I brought for lunch. Yes they get sort of squished over time and don't look very appetizing, but when you are hungry they are the nectar of the gods!
7) Small first aid kit, doesn't have to be a big one, but make sure you have band-aides, disinfectant and some sort of pain relief like Ibuprofen. Duct tape, and no not the whole roll. I wrap a bunch around a lighter and keep in my first aid kit. Works great for emergency repairs and blisters.
8) Compass, you might think you don't need this since your phone generally has the ability to tell you direction these days. But again, if you don't have a way to charge it, it's not much good. Even if you don't know how to use it with a map to find your way, a compass will at least help to prevent walking around in circles.
9) A map of the area, with your parking place marked. Again GPS is great and I use it all the time. But I also keep a paper map with me since batteries do go dead and GPS and cell phone signals are not always available.
10) Last but not least is some sort of rope. Parachute cord is what I typically carry since it is light and strong. A good way to carry it is in a weave of some sort like a bracelet or strap of some sort.
This is in no way an exhaustive list, or even a good one! But it is what I carry. You will find over time that you will develop you own list. The thing to keep in mind is finding ways to stay happy and more importantly, alive, if things don't work out the way you planned!
Now that Christmas is in the rear view mirror and the New Year is just around the corner we have officially entered the Twilight Week. Some people are off work this entire week while others are at work but might as well be off. Or maybe, you are one of the unlucky people that have to be at work and actually have to do, you know, work.
Regardless of where you are in the Twilight week spectrum this is a perfect time to do a wellness check on your equipment. Those dusty bumps that you look at in the winter and don’t actually see. Things like your motorcycle, lawn equipment, generator, etc. This is the perfect time to take a few minutes and get each one of those things started. If the battery is low or dead, charge it (don’t forget it’s on the charger). If your equipment won’t start, try dumping the old the fuel and putting some fresh in (not fresh out of the gas can that’s been sitting there all winter as well). If that doesn’t work give it a little shot of starting fluid, sometimes that’s all it takes to work through the bad gas if there is only a small amount in the system.
Once you get the engine started make sure you run it long enough to bring it up to operating temperature, in most cases 10 minutes or so is enough to get the old fuel out and the new fuel in. Don’t forget, if you do need to change out the fuel, fill the tank completely and add a fuel stabilizer. We, unfortunately, still have a few more months of cold weather. If your machine is liquid cooled make sure to check the anti-freeze, if it looks anything like a Slurpee it needs to be replaced sooner rather than later. Last but not least, don’t forget to add air to your tires, or at least check the pressures. Tires lose a fair amount of air just sitting, if you let the tires go completely flat it may end up ruining the tire before you realize there is a problem.
Ideally, it’s best to get equipment out and actually use them for a while; this will insure that you are getting things up to operating temperature and evaporating whatever condensation has built up inside the engine. However, if you are like us, and have snow on the ground that is not always possible. Even running things in place is better than not starting at all.
Finally, if you do need to get your equipment into the shop for some work, don’t wait until March or April or even worse, May. By then, most shops are already getting into their “Spring Rush” you might find yourself waiting a long, long time. We generally recommend getting your equipment in sometime in February or at the very latest the first part of March. Getting work done too early can be problematic if the equipment sits for 2-3 months before being used. The prime time is a few weeks before you actually need it so you have it back in plenty of time and it’s ready to go when you are.
Happy New Year!
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.