Spring is in the air! You can always tell because you start seeing FB posts about the Desert 100. After participating in both the Poker Runs and The Race I have seen some pretty scary crashes as well as some frustrated riders. One of the things that has always amazed me as you walk around camp is how many bikes are in pieces. I don't know if it is just because people wait to have their machines worked on by the vendors that are there (some of whom are top notch) or because they haven't really looked at their bike all winter and just realized/remembered that it needs work. Either way, this is not your best move. The biggest problem with working on your bike in camp is the blowing dust. Every year I have been there the wind blows like crazy and almost every year the dust is also blowing like crazy. When you open your bike up (any part of your bike) you are exposing it to dirt and grit. Getting dirt in any part of your bike that has any sort of lubricant is very bad. Dust has a nasty way of sticking to oil and grease. Bearings+Dirt = failure and lots of money out the window.
It's hard when there is still snow on the ground to get yourself motivated to get the bike out and see what it needs, but do yourself a favor and start now. Here are some things to look at and get taken care of so you are ready for the big weekend.
Grips: seems simple enough and not a big deal, but good grips can be the difference between blisters or no blisters.
Steering stem bearings: Put your bike on a stand (probably a good idea to have someone else hold the bike so it doesn't fall), grab the fork legs and push/pull, if you feel any play you may have a bearing issue. At the very least if you haven't done it recently it's probably time to clean and repack your stem bearings.
Wheel bearings: With the bike off the ground check for any side to side slop. If you do have play in the wheels double check that they are actually tight and don't have loose spokes. A bad wheel bearing at mile 60 is probably not going to end well.
Spokes: Again with the bike off the ground check for loose or broken spokes. This is particularly important on small bikes. Missing spokes, particularly when riding the desert, usually leads to more missing spokes pretty quickly and a short day. While you are at it, make sure your wheels spin freely and don't have any wobbles.
Chain and sprockets: Make sure your chain is adjusted properly. Once it is adjusted, pull out on it horizontally at the very back of the rear sprocket, if it pulls away from the sprocket it's probably time for a new chain and probably sprockets (your new chain will last longer if installed with new sprockets). Check your sprockets, look for any "hooking" (particularly on the front) or sharp teeth.
Brakes: Check your brake pads and rotors, if your pads are near 3 mm or so replace them. You don't want to find out your brakes are worn on some rocky downhill section.
Fork seals: This always seems to be a big one. If your seals are leaking, don't assume it's time for seals. Motion Pro makes a nice little plastic tool for about $5.00 that helps get seals clean and stop leaking. If you have not done this before, Youtube is your friend. Having said that, if your seals have been leaking for a while or you haven't changed the oil in your forks in recent memory it may be time to take care of it. Having your suspension in shape can be the difference between getting through the whoops and ending up in a sage bush on the side. Remember to put your bike on a stand and crack the bleeders, be careful if you haven't done this in a while the little screws can go flying sometimes if there is a fair amount of pressure.
Rear shock: This is one of those things that is easy to ignore and takes tons of abuse. If it hasn't been serviced in a while it's probably time. They do lose pressure over time and the oil needs to be changed.
Carburetor: If you are careful about not using ethanol gas, use a cleaning product occasionally like Sea Foam and run the bike every so often you generally don't need to do much with your carb. Having said that, if the bike won't start, or is hard to start, only runs with the choke on, won't idle, etc. It's probably time to pull the carb and clean the jets (and everything else) or even have it rebuilt.
Valve adjustment: This is one of those things that is often ignored because they can be a pain to check and adjust. But, making sure your valves are in spec can save you lots of headaches. Also, depending on how much time your bike has on it, replacing the timing chain periodically is a very good idea. Like your drive chain, the timing chain can and does stretch. When this happens it throws the valve timing off slightly, which in turn can make the bike hard to start, lose power and in some cases jump timing. Usually when that happens you are in the middle of nowhere and the only way out is uphill both ways.
Air filter: A clean air filter is absolutely crucial. I strongly recommend you have at least one if not two extras. If you do the poker run your filter will be dirty by the end. If you plan to race the next day you will either need to clean your filter or put on another. The biggest problem with cleaning while you are there is getting it to dry somewhere out of the dust, but warm enough to actually allow it to dry. I have seen lots of guys pushing their bikes because their filter plugged with dirt, don't be that guy.
Tires & Tubes: Good tires can be the difference between washing out in a corner or making it up a hill. Just because your tires still have knobs on them doesn't mean they are still good. Front tires tend to start losing side lugs long before they look worn in the middle. Rear tires can lose lugs all over the place. Tubes also should be looked at carefully when changing tires, some people recommend always changing the tube when you change the tire. I don't personally belong in that group but if the stem is rusted at the base, lots of dingle berries on the tube that don't rub off easily, creases or small tears; replace the tube. Do yourself a favor and get a heavy duty tube. I have talked to people that won't run a heavy tube because of the weight. That's all fine and good, but keep in mind this desert riding/racing not supercross. Pinch flats can ruin your day.
Last but not least is oil. I put oil last because of all the things that people neglect or ignore on their bikes this is by far the worst. Most modern bikes only hold about 1 quart of oil (some even less). Which means that it doesn't take long for that oil to get dirty. Once that oil is dirty and full of carbon it starts wearing things out prematurely. I have seen perfectly good engines ruined in a short period of time because the oil was let go too long. What kind of oil, synthetic vs. mineral, etc. etc. is up to you. Put keep in mind, just because synthetic oil doesn't start breaking down as fast as traditional it still gets dirty.
Keep in mind that by taking care of things early you can save yourself lots of trouble and money later. Not to mention you can spend your time hanging out and having a good time rather than losing bolts in the dirt. But, remember, no matter how much you plan things can still go wrong with your bike or you (a crash for instance) so be sure you have water, a little food and a way to communicate. Most of us are not professional riders with a full support crew, so be smart and be safe!