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.
Is tuned suspension worth the money?
If you have spent any time around off-road enthusiast you probably have noticed that whatever someone has done to their machine that person thinks everyone should do it. Of course, upgrades tend to be expensive and you can never really tell if the guy trying to convince you or himself.
Over the years I have struggled with that particular problem; if I buy that part or pay for that service is it really going to be that great. In most cases the answer comes back to you, the rider. Here in Sunny Central Washington there are some things that I feel are important for a dirt bike in terms of performance and control of your machine. I have ridden with many different types of people over the years. Everything from guys in work boots, jeans and the cheapest helmet they could find to people in $1000 boots and every other piece of gear you can imagine. So whenever someone tries to tell me I need a particular upgrade I always take it with at least 2 grains of salt.
Suspension is one of those expensive upgrades that I really questioned for years. I do not consider myself a great rider, I am not all that fast and let's face it, I'm getting old. Not to mention, modern bikes have great suspension out of the box. If you have ever ridden something from the 70's and 80's you can really appreciate how good stock suspension is, so why would I spend the money having it tuned for me? The answer is simple; control and the ability to ride longer distances, minimizing fatigue.
Most modern bikes come from the factory setup for racing on tracks with an average 180 pound rider. The spring rates, the dampening, etc. is tuned for high speed, jumps and plowing through soft dirt. On the other hand, some bikes come from the factory with the suspension set for nothing more challenging than a gravel road with the occasional wash-board section. The problem lies in the fact that most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes. Which means that your suspension is actually working against you over the course of the day.
Having the correct springs for your weight means that the springs are bouncing at the correct time with the appropriate amount of force. Not trying to bounce you off the trail or bottoming out on that whoops section. Having upgraded valves takes most of that harshness out the bumps and hits that is coming through your handlebars. Having your sag set for your style means that bike will handle predictably. All of these things translate into you, the rider, having more control over your machine with less effort and hopefully allowing you to enjoy the ride more.
Like I said before I am pretty skeptical of upgrades and I also fully aware that self-delusion is a real possibility when it comes to convincing myself I made the right decision. So I decided to put it to the test. I currently have to dirt-bikes, both Yamaha; a 2014 WR450f and a 2010 YZ250f; very similar bikes except the engine. The 450 was my first new bike so I decided I was going to spend the money and get it setup for me. I can honestly say I love riding that bike. Every time I start thinking it's time to upgrade I go for a ride and that thought leaves my head. The 250 is fairly new to me, it was a bike in a box that I bought and rebuilt. It had very low hours on it when the previous owner decided to "up-grade" the engine. I decided to keep the 250 mostly stock with the exception of some cosmetic up-grades and better exhaust. Since I enjoy riding my 450 so much the 250 mostly sits. This past summer I decided that 250 needed to be ridden so my son and I decided to ride a trail that we know very well but is also fairly challenging. In the interest of not dragging this story out, let's just say I was exhausted by the half-way point and the bike is getting the suspension done.
Suspension tuning tends to be expensive, parts are expensive and you really need to have someone do it that has been trained and understands the type of riding you do. But in the long run you won't be disappointed, you will find yourself going up hills easier, riding longer distances and actually going faster without feeling like you are about to wad up and break everyone bone in your body.
As much as I hate to admit it, Summer is finished, Fall is here and Winter is just around the corner. Those of us that live the in Pacific Northwest are just about at the end of the yard work season. Which means it's almost time to put away that yard equipment for the winter. Once upon a time you could get away with just sticking your equipment in the shed and forgetting about it until Spring. Unfortunately, thanks to ethanol mixed in your fuel this is a very bad idea; at least if you want your things to start in the Spring. Here are some tips that will hopefully save you some tears and money.
Ethanol free fuel is your best bet. Finish the season using non-ethanol fuel (2-3 tanks if possible). For your last use of the season add a fuel stabilizer. We recommend Sea Foam , but there are other good products out there. When you are finished, top off your fuel tank and add a bit more stabilizer. Keep in mind, too much stabilizer will not hurt your machine, it may not run very well until you get it out of the system in the Spring, but that's about it. Not using enough can mean a trip to the shop. It's important to fill the tank completely, this will reduce the amount of oxygen your fuel is exposed to and slow the oxidation process.
If you don't have access to ethanol free fuel you can dump all the fuel in the tank and drain the carburetor (or run the engine until it uses up the fuel). Then add straight Sea Foam to the tank, enough to fill the carburetor and at least coat the bottom of the fuel tank. Keep in mind, however, that Sea Foam does not burn very well so in the spring you will most likely need to drain it out of the carburetor in order to start the engine. Even though is seems like alot of work, in the long-run it will protect your fuel system over the course of the winter.
There is one more option that I don't recommend and that is simply draining the fuel system and calling it good. The reason I don't think this is a good idea is the fact that all of your fuel system parts have essentially been washed in alcohol which means once you take away the fuel they will dry out and possibly need to be replaced in the spring.
Some other things that you should consider are things like cleaning the machine before storing it for the winter. Grass, dirt and debris build up left over the winter is a great place to catch and hold moisture which will cause rust to form on the steel parts and possibly lead to pre-mature failure. Grass seems to turn to concrete if left dry any place it has built up. This can cause problems with your transmission linkages not working, belts slipping, etc.
If you have tires that are losing air you should consider getting them repaired or putting the machine on stands of some sort. Tires left flat with weight on them, particularly in cold weather, will cause cracks in the sidewalls which cannot be repaired.
Consider where you are storing your equipment. Keeping the rain and snow off is important. Having a shed of some sort is best, but even a simple tarp will get the job doe. If water gets into your exhaust (and there is really nothing stopping that from happening) or your intake can ruin your engine. Not to mention protecting the paint, etc. If you are doing the tarp method I recommend doubling the tarp (unless you have one that is very heavy duty) and make sure to secure it well.
Finally, if your machine has battery, you should take some precautions to protect it. The best thing to do is to pull it out of the machine and store it somewhere where it won't freeze. If that's not an option, at least disconnect the negative terminal to prevent any sort of parasitic draw; electronic hour meters and other electronics pull a very small amount of current from your battery. Over time, these will drain the battery completely. No matter which way you store your battery it should be re-charged occasionally. I don't recommend "battery tenders", in my experience these seem to cause pre-mature battery failure. Rather I prefer to simply charge the battery when needed then leave it alone. It is very important that you don't let the battery go completely dead or freeze, these will most likely ruin your battery. On our equipment I try to make a point of at least starting the engines once a month so, then let it run until it is completely warmed up. This allows you to assess the battery and it will help get rid of any condensation that may have built up in the engine. However, keep in mind that if you do start the engine you need to make sure it runs long enough. Shutting it off too soon will only increase the condensation inside the crankcase.
There is an old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" there is no place this axiom is more true than in the realm of machinery. If you need help getting your equipment ready for the winter give us a call!
One of the big questions all of us ask when it's time for a new piece of equipment is should I get something new, or take a chance and buy used? Like most things you have to weigh the pro's and con's. If you buy new, you know that it has not been abused (yet) and in most cases it comes with a warranty if you do have problems. If you buy used, the cost is generally much lower, but you don't always know what you are getting.
The cost of equipment can be very discouraging, particularly if you are on a budget. So for many people used is the best option. If you are looking at used equipment here are some tips to help avoid buying someone's problem.
The first step in the buying process is to get your own thinking straight. Not everyone has the same perception of "good shape" or "barely used". So when you are looking at something always take what the owner is saying with at least two grains of salt. Don't be fooled if what you are looking at is shiny and clean. It's amazing what can be done with a pressure washer and some Armor-all.
I always start by looking at the tires (if it has tires that is). Tires and wheels will tell you allot about how something has been used. Bald tires is a dead give away that the equipment has been through the ringer. Believe it or not, weather checked tires (with lots of tread) can indicate that the thing has been sitting not been used much. Brand new tires on an old machine should set off a red flag. If the tires pass the sniff test move on to the engine. Check the oil; not only are you looking to make sure it actually has oil, but you are also checking the color of the oil. It never ceases to amaze me how many people simply do not change the oil on their equipment. We often get customers that will tell me they have never changed their oil or done any maintenance but are proud of how good their equipment still works. If the oil is significantly low (like not showing on the dip-stick) run the other way. Chances are the engine has already suffered internal damage and premature wear. If it does have sufficient oil then you should be looking at the color of the oil. Most motor oils are a honey color when they go in. Depending on the brand that color can range from a very light, almost clear, amber to a darker raw honey color. If the oil on the dipstick is in this range then it's fairly new. But, if the oil is very black that means it is old and probably has not been changed in a very long time. Unless you are getting a really good deal, you should probably walk away and find something better. If the oil color is somewhere in between rub a little between your fingers it should still feel slippery and not gritty. Smell the oil (I know sounds weird) if it smells like gasoline there is a problem, most likely the carburetor needs some attention. Any grit in the oil means that you should be moving on to something else.
Once you have satisfied yourself that this particular machine may be the one, start it up and listen. This can be a little tough if you don't know what you are listening for, but give it a try. A worn engine will often make rattling/knocking noises at first that go away after a few seconds as the engine warms up. This is not automatically a deal breaker, but it should be something that you note when negotiating price. If the knocking does not clear up on it's own the engine may not be long for this world. Along with listening you should also be looking when the engine first starts. Keep an eye out for smoke coming from the exhaust. Blue smoke indicates oil, black smoke fuel and white is coolant. A little blue smoke at start-up is generally nothing to get excited about, but if it lasts more than one or two seconds that's an indicator of engine wear. Continuous black smoke means there is a fuel related issue. White smoke that doesn't go away (assuming it's not 10 degrees) can mean it's had serious cooling system failure.
Once you feel somewhat confident about the general health of the engine and machine make sure to test it. Not just for a few seconds; make sure to run it long enough to get it completely warmed up. If possible, use it for it's intended purpose for several minutes. Make sure everything works. Remember you are paying for this thing and it doesn't come with a warranty. If the owner is not willing to let you run it for a few minutes you should be concerned. If someone is selling a piece of equipment they are not doing you a favor by letting you test it out. Once the money changes hands you own whatever problems the machine has.
Finally, once you get your new purchase home I always recommend doing a full service. Change all the fluids, filters, etc. Routine maintenance is the key to machine longevity. By servicing it right away you know when it's due for it's next service and you know that it has the proper fluids and filters. The bottom line is maintenance will always be cheaper than fixing. By doing a service before you use it you know where you stand and you decrease the chance of premature failure from neglect.
As the temperatures start to creep up (finally!) it's important to make sure your equipment is ready. High temperatures tend to be very hard on small engines. By taking a few precautions and performing some maintenance you can keep your engine healthy during the hottest part of summer.
One of the most important things to do is make sure your engine has clean oil and filled to the proper level. We often get customers that rarely or never change their oil. Clean oil is cheap insurance. Oil tends to break down over time and loses it's ability to lubricate. High temperatures speed up this process. Once oil starts losing viscosity, engine wear and possible serious failure are not far behind. In addition, oil will collect the fine grit and dust that gets past the air filter, which of course leads to premature wear. Also, be sure to routinely check your oil levels. Particularly in hot weather your engine may burn oil without your even realizing.
Speaking of air filters, how does yours look? Don't know? It might be time to check. Keeping a clean filter in your machine is very important. As the filter catches dirt and debris it restricts air flow into the engine. Over time, restricted air flow leads to poor performance and fouled spark plugs. If that's not enough, the dirtier your filter, the more likely it is that dirt is getting into your enine.
Last but not least is your cooling system. Even if you don't have a radiator, your engine still has a cooling system. On air cooled engines those little fins do more than just look cool; they are dissipating heat. No matter if your engine is air or water cooled, if it is covered in dirt, oil or something in between it is most likely running hot. It's important to make sure your engine is clean. If your engine is covered with plastic cowling you should pull those off at least once a year and make sure you don't have grass, dirt or mice under them (yes we have found mice, mice nests and even a bird under a cowling).
A little maintenance can go a long way to prevent big problems. Don't wait until your equipment decides stop working to give it some TLC.
The grass is growing, the trees are budding and now the equipment won't start, now what?
You may have noticed that your grass went from a sort of green color, to a lush jungle just about overnight. You may even be thinking it's past time to get your mower started and do something about it. Or maybe you are thinking it's time to get that garden patch tilled and ready for planting. No matter what yard chore you have the requires a piece of gas powered equipment that first start of the year can feel like playing the lottery. If you are really lucky and hold your mouth just right then engine will start before your arm falls off from pulling and you can happily start whipping your yard back into shape. But, what if it doesn't start, now what? Before you haul that equipment to the shop, or worse to the dump; here a few simple things that you can try.
1) Make sure you have fresh fuel. Dump the old gas from the fuel tank and drain the carburetor bowl. If the gas in the carburetor bowl has gone bad your engine will not start. Make sure the new gas you are putting in the tank is not left-over from last year. Gas with ethanol goes bad very quickly, so get rid of the left over from last year. Start the year with clean, non-ethanol gas mixed with a little Sea Foam.
2)If you have been pulling for a while you may need to pull and clean the spark plug. Bad gas will coat the tip of the plug and prevent it from working properly. You can use a propane torch to burn off the bad gas, but your best bet (and the safer option) is to replace the plug with a new one.
3) Check your air filter. You may be surprised at how dirty your filter really is, a plugged filter can be the difference between a happy engine and one that is trying to ruin your day.
Remember, your outdoor power equipment needs to be serviced at least once a year, maybe more if you are using it frequently; or in hot, dusty conditions. Oil changed, filters replaced, blades need to be checked and sharpened, or replaced if they are starting to chip or crack. The underside of your mower deck should be scraped and power washed, deck level checked, cables inspected and replaced if needed. Clean the grease & dirt from the engine, etc. Most small engines will give years of service if they are properly maintained. Don't wait until it breaks to give it some attention.
As always, we are here to help with parts and service if you need it, just give us a call!
Looked at your air filter lately?
One of the things that tend to get ignored on small engines is the air filter. We forget about them in our cars as well, but your small engine filter is working in conditions that would probably make your car cry. Motorcycles, mowers and other power equipment are used in dusty, hot conditions. Over time ignoring your filter can lead to some pretty serious problems like hard starting, poor performance, fouled spark plugs and even engine failure.
As a general rule, outdoor power equipment (like lawn mowers) should get a new filter element every year. If you are using your equipment in dusty, harsh conditions it should be changed more often. On dirt-bikes, if you are riding here in Sunny Central Washington, you may need to service your filter after every ride in the summer. If you are riding in conditions that are not dusty you can go longer. But you should inspect your filter after each ride and service it sooner rather than later. Don't wait for it to turn into a blob of dirt.
Depending on the equipment there are different types of filters and ways to service those filters. Many pieces of outdoor equipment use a double filter system; a pre-filter and a paper air filter element. The pre-filter is typically made of foam or a combination of foam and mesh. In most cases these filters can be blown out with air or even better washed with soap and water. If you choose to wash your pre-filter make sure it is completely dry before installing back on your machine. The paper filter element can be serviced if it is only slightly dirty. Simply blow it out with compressed air. However, be careful; these filters are made of paper and are easily damaged with high pressure air. If the filter is very dirty, oil fouled are starting to look gray, replace it. When in doubt throw it out. Just be sure to replace it before use. Don't be tempted to run your engine without an air filter.
Off-road motorcycles and ATV's often use a two stage oiled foam filter. These filters are meant to be washed and oiled regularly. If you have never washed one there is much too it, but there is more than one method. The safest is to purchase a commercial foam air filter detergent, always follow the directions on the packaging. But to give you a general idea, wash to the filter with detergent, rinse thoroughly, allow to dry completely (overnight in a warm place) and apply filter oil. The "other" method which is cheaper, but requires a bit more caution is to wash the filter first in solvent and then in hot soapy water. Dawn liquid dish soap or a similar product works well. Rinse completely and then allow to dry over night. If you go the solvent route it's important to wash the solvent out as quickly as possible. Over time the solvent will start breaking down the glue and even the foam of the filter.
When it comes to oil there are lots of products on the market, just be sure it is the appropriate oil for your filter. K&N oil for example is designed for a specific type of filter and should not be used on a foam filter. When you are applying the oil, be sure to saturate the filter and squeeze out the excess. Some instructions will say to submerge the filter in oil; you can do that but it requires allot of oil, is messy and not really needed. Make sure to apply the oil extra thick on the sealing ring, or use filter grease to insure a complete seal.
If you are thinking of skipping the oil and just running the foam filter dry, stop right there. If you choose to go that route the filter will only catch the large particles and allow the fine dust to pass right through and into your engine. We have done some very expensive repairs for customers who have gone this direction.
If you have a K&N filter or similar product it's recommended that you use K&N filter cleaner and oil. Pleated filters are great but require an extra measure of care when cleaning and oiling. Always follow the manufactures instructions.
Last but not least, always remember to wear appropriate gloves and eye protection and avoid skin contact with cleaning chemicals, solvents and oils. Those warnings on the label should be taken seriously, even outside the state of California!
Keeping your air filter clean can be the difference between a good day and a bad day with your equipment. It's one of those maintenance tasks that don't require much mechanical expertise or time. But as always, if you don't feel comfortable taking care of it yourself or just don't want to do it, give us a call and let us take care of it.
For many people the Desert 100 marks the start of the riding season. My advice to any dirt bike rider is to go at least once. Not to race, unless you are an experienced rider, but to experience the event. I am a firm believer that if you like bikes, and things related to bikes this is one of the best events to attend. You will see just about every make and model of bike you can imagine. Everything from tiny little pit bikes to big adventure bikes. And riders of all shapes and sizes.
Over the years I have talked with quite a few would be racers and my advice is always the same. Go, do the poker run, watch the race and if you still think you want to race do it the next year. I am no expert, but I have competed in the race several times and I can say it is exciting and fun, but one of the most physically challenging things I have ever done. It's one thing to go for the day riding in Mattawa with your buddies and put on 50 miles. It's something else entirely to ride 30 or so miles on Saturday with several hundred other people, get up early and race 100 miles the next day with several hundred people. The race terrain is extremely varied; ranging from tight technical sections with lots of rocks to open fast sections through sand. Mix that with the fact that you are physically and mentally tired and sometimes surrounded by riders who are feeling the same way. It's easy to make a mistake and get hurt. Having said all that, I am firm believer that if you are inclined to race at all you should at least try it once.
Once you decide if you are ready physically and mentally you need to decide if your bike is ready. Just like you, your bike will be put to the the test both on the Poker Run as well as The Race. Every year I see people broke-down on the side of the trail or simply out of gas. Here are some things to check and consider as far as your bike is concerned.
First off, Odessa tends to be windy and very dusty. If you don't have an extra air filter, get one. You will be amazed at how quickly your filter will plug with dirt. This leads to your bike running very rich, using more gas, and possibly fouling spark plugs. Along with that, do you have an extra spark plug and the correct tools to change it in the field? No one likes carrying extra weight. But the reality is there are no mobile mechanics running around to help you. You might get lucky and one of the sweep riders might take pity on you and/or might have the correct tools and spark plug. Did I say "might" enough times? Don't assume someone will be around to help, otherwise you may be pushing your bike a long long time, uphill both ways.
How about your chain and sprockets? This is a big one that we often don't think about much. If you sprockets are looking like little shark fins or sharp little ninja stars; change them and your chain before you get there. You might get lucky and find a vendor that has the correct parts, but don't hold your breath. While you are at it, check your bearings and spokes for play. A little bit of play now, could lead to an early end to your day and a very expensive repair when you get home.
When was the last time you changed your engine oil and filter? Or your transmission oil? Frequent oil changes is probably one of the cheapest and easiest maintenance tasks that gives the most bang for the buck. Most dirt bikes hold somewhere around a quart (1 liter) of oil, which isn't very much. Just because you are running the latest and greatest, most expensive synthetic oil doesn't mean you don't need to change it. I could go on and on about oil changes but I will spare you the rant and just leave it at this. Change your oil and filter before you go. If you old oil is black, flush the crankcase.
Last but definitely not least is your tubes and tires. I strongly recommend a good desert tire with a stiff sidewall along with a heavy duty tube. Pinch flats are extremely common on this type of terrain. Lots of sharp pointy rocks, high speed whoops, etc. Next thing you know, you have a flat. If you have the skill you can patch it on the side of the trail but that means you need to carry the appropriate tools. Remember to run your tire pressure a little higher than you might normally. If you do get a flat and have to ride it out you can use zip ties (lots and lots of zip ties) to hold the tire to the rim. This of course means you need to carry zip ties!
A final thought; there are many good vendors on-site that can do repairs and sell you parts. But don't assume they will have the parts you need or the tools to fix your particular problem. But if you do find yourself needing something, stop by and see us in vendor row and we will do our best to get you back on the trail!
Dreaming of Spring?
It's that time of year that we can almost see Spring right around the corner. Your garden patch is calling, and it's just about that time to put away the snow blower (hopefully). Don't forget to "summerize" your winter toys and equipment before you put them away. Give us a call if you have questions.
Enough about Winter, what I really want to focus on is Spring! If you have equipment that hasn't been started in a while you may find yourself frustrated. Before you decide to toss the trimmer, here are some tips to try. The biggest issue we run into here in the shop with Spring equipment that won't start is bad gas. Your first step is to dump out whatever fuel is in the tank. Even if you have used a stabilizer there is a good chance that the gas just isn't up to par. While you are at it, drain the gas from the carburetor fuel bowl. If you have old gas in a your gas can, get rid of it and replace it with fresh non-ethanol gas. Keep in mind, even doing this, your small engine may be hard to start. A small shot of starting fluid may be just the ticket to get it going. Remember, a little bit of starting fluid goes a long way. Overuse, particularly on 2-stroke engines, can lead to serious engine failure. Once you have your engine started make sure to run it long enough to get it to operating temperature, this will help purge whatever old fuel is left in the system.
Another thing to look at is your air filter. You might be surprised how much debris has collected in there. A clean filter can be the difference between a healthy running engine and a trip to the scrap yard. Two stroke engines may need to have the carburetor adjusted for maximum performance.
A final thought, your engine oil should be changed at least once a year. Often, we associate changing oil with heavy use. This is true, but what is heavy use? That's always the question we wrestle with. Most small engines should have the oil changed every 50 hours of use or once a year depending on which comes first. You might be wondering if you still need to change your oil even if you haven't really used your equipment much. The simple answer is yes, just sitting your engine is collecting condensation inside and the oil becomes contaminated.
Early Spring is the best time to get your equipment started and serviced. Don't wait until you need it every week, once the season is in full swing you may find yourself waiting and watching your lawn turn into a jungle.
Even though riding in the mountains here in Sunny Central Washington is a few months off, it may be time to take a look at what tools you are carrying in your pack and make some adjustments. We just returned from a trip to Sunny Central California to see some friends and do some riding. Overall the weather, riding and friends were great. But, the trip did not come off without a hitch. During our ride in the Mendocino Forest my bike decided to start having emotional issues. Loss of power, backfiring and nothing over 1/4 throttle. The check engine light came on, and started flashing a code. After pulling the tank, seat, etc. on the side of the trail and many colorful words I determined there wasn't anything to be done since it appears that a sensor decided it was time to call it quits. Fortunately, the bike would still start and run (sort of) so I limped the 14 or so miles back to the truck.
The experience got me thinking about what I carry in my pack. Like many people I struggle with the "how much is too much" debate. Over the years I have gone from carrying what seemed like a full tool-box including a lift, to just a small assortment of tools. However, the newer fuel injected bikes have some possible issues that may not have been potential problem on the older bikes. For example, on many modern bikes, if the battery is not connected they will not run properly or at all. In the old days, you really only needed to worry about a loose or broken wire in your ignition system. No so anymore; now you have to worry about your ignition and your fuel delivery systems and possibly the charging system as well.
Don't get me wrong, I am not lamenting about these "new fangled contraptions" . I think fuel injection is great for the most part. But as the technology we ride changes, we have to change our approach to understanding it and being as prepared as possible. So back to the issue of what to carry in your pack. The first step is to determine what tools are needed to remove your seat and tank. On most modern bikes this is pretty simple. On my WR450 it takes an 8 and 10 mm socket. Next, do you have the appropriate spark plug tool? This is one of those things you really should check in the comfort of your garage. Many bikes require an extra thin socket and/or a wobbly extension to get to the spark plug in the first place. So if you have just grabbed a spark plug socket that's not designed for a modern motorcycle there is a good chance it won't work and you don't want to figure that out on the side of the trail. Along with the appropriate spark plug socket and extension you may need some sort of tweezers to fish the plug out of the hole. Again do it in the garage first. Personally I carry a Tusk folding t-handle, 8, 10, 12 and 14 mm sockets, various allen keys (that fit the bolts on my bike), box-end wrenches of the same size, Tusk spark plug socket and extension, a small pair of pliers, a small phillips and a small flat screwdriver as well as a small knife. I also carry some zip-ties, extra spark plug, tire plugs, tube patch kit and small bicycle tire pump. It sounds like allot, but it all fits into a small pouch.
In addition to what I now carry I need to add a jumper wire with alligator clips and some electrical tape. That way if a wire breaks I have a way to by-pass it or make a repair. A simple thing like a ground wire breaking off can put your EFI bike into a panic and cause it to either not run at all or if you are lucky run really poorly, but still get you back to the truck.
A final thought; even though you cannot prevent things from breaking when you are on the trail, you can reduce the chances. Regular maintenance and inspection of your bike is the key to not needing tools. Oil changes and air filter maintenance go a long long way. Regularly inspect wire wiring, battery, brakes, bearings etc. I know, you might have to clean your bike but believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than dealing with a break-down in the middle of no-where, particularly if the problem could have been prevented with a little TLC.
Of course, you do have the option of jacking up the radiator cap and putting a new bike under it, but I am not sure how practical that is.