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.
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!
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!
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.
Have you ever noticed that some days you cannot seem to keep the bike on the trail and out of the bushes? Or that you seem to laying on the ground when you thought you were riding a dirt bike? I have, and thankfully thanks to good protective gear and my amazing riding skills (okay because I generally ride slow) most of the time the worst injury is a bruised ego (with a few notable exceptions that I will ignore). I like to chalk this particular phenomenon up to something I call "Crash Karma". Now before you start getting red in the face and think I am talking religion or making fun of religion, stop. Back away from your screen, breathe, imbibe in something that will help you calm down. When you are ready, come back and finish reading.
Crash Karma is not a religious, spiritual or mystical thing. In fact it's more of a "are you being stupid" thing. Or, in many cases it's a "is your bike set-up for the conditions" thing or some combination of the two. The other day, after a nice Sunday ride we were talking about who crashed, when, how and the amount sniveling and whining that went with the crash. We are a very sensitive group of riders and care about each other's feelings and......okay not true so back to my story. Any way, as we were recounting the adventure and laughing with (always laughing with, never "at") one or more of our riding partners, my son said to me "you never crash". This is, of course, completely false. I have the scars and hospital bills to prove it. But lately I have been either really lucky or really good and haven't really found myself looking up at the sky unintentionally. I like to joke and say it's because there are a couple of guys I ride with that are soaking up all the Crash Karma by bouncing off something hard at least once per ride.
While this is funny after the fact, it's always a little stressful at the time and it got me to thinking about why do we crash? We are trail riders, not racers (for the most part). We don't ride tracks where someone is going to run into you (normally) or land on you after a big jump. But somehow we manage to end up on the ground and the consequences can be very painful and stay that way for a long time. So, after applying my amazing intellect to the problem I have come up with two reasons for the crash problem; being stupid and bike not set-up. As for the being stupid part there is not much cheap advice I can offer on that subject, there are people who get paid lots of money to listen to your problems and tell you how stupid you are. I on the other hand don't really care about your problems, but there are a couple of things I can offer on the subject for free. In my opinion the first thing every rider needs to come to grips with is your own abilities and skill level. Get over yourself, you are not a professional rider, no matter how close you came to "going pro" when you were younger. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you should always "play it safe". In fact half the fun of this sport is push your limits, but there is a difference between pushing your limits and being stupid. You know, things like "if you can't see around that corner, slow down, there are other people in the woods that are even more stupid than you are" and of course the old adage, "when in doubt, throttle out". Believe it or not, there is some truth to this one but I will get to that later.
Okay, now that we have gotten past the being stupid part, let's look at bike setup. Most modern dirt bikes are setup from the factory for 180 lb riders that are riding a closed track. Not a 220 lb rider with a backpack riding trails. The first thing you should look at is your spring sag on the rear shock. The pre-load on your rear spring affects how the bike going to handle in the corners, hills, etc. There are lots and lots of videos and tutorials online for how to set your pre-load also known as "race sag". Just keep in mind, most of these guys are thinking track conditions, but the process is the same for us trail guys. Along those same lines, you should seriously consider the rear spring. If you are 250 lbs with your gear on, you need a different spring for the rear shock. Again tons of resources online that deal with this subject.
Once you have your sag issue figured out, you should probably give your "clickers" some thought. These are the adjustments on your front forks and rear shock that control how your suspension is going to respond. Most bikes have two adjustments, these are usually flat head screwdriver adjustments. On many Japanese bikes there is one at the top and another on the bottom (check your owners manual to figure out which is which). One adjusts the compression and the other is rebound. Compression deals with how "stiff" your suspension feels as you go over bumps and jumps. Rebound deals with how fast your suspension bounces back after it's compressed. Most of the time what I see when a bike comes into the shop is that these are set too hard. Believe it or not, for trail riding you want both adjustments on the soft side. If you are riding slow single track you want that suspension to travel smoothly and avoid bouncing as much as possible. Nothing worse than trying to get up a rocky hill and the suspension keep rebounding up with every rock. One thing to keep in mind here, is your front and rear suspension should be adjusted together. On the other hand, if you are riding desert, particularly with whoops, you suspension needs to be a little stiffer and rebound faster. What you don't want is your forks or shocks bottoming out in the whoops. So, my suggestion is first find out what the stock settings are for your particular bike and adjust your clickers accordingly. Then go for a ride with the appropriate adjusting tool (usually a small screw driver) and back your clickers out 1 or to clicks at a time and see how it feels. By the way, this shouldn't be done when you are riding with a group. Stopping every 5 minutes has tendency to inspire other riders to push you off the nearest cliff. As you adjust your suspension pay attention to how the bike feels, is the seat bouncing up and hitting you in the butt? Back the rebound off on the rear shock a click or two. Is the front fork bottoming in the whoops? Turn the compression on your forks in a couple clicks. There is no magic number, it's all about personal preference. Once you get those numbers figured out, right them down somewhere. The setting for fast desert riding may make the bike hard to handle in the woods and vice versa. One last note on suspension, if you have the money to spend (like about $600.00) have your suspension re-valved by a professional. You will be amazed at the difference. Not to mention you now have someone you can talk to about your settings. The last thing on suspension is the adage "when in doubt, throttle out". There really is some truth to this. Unlike your old 10 speed or bmx bike from back in the day, modern dirt bikes have pretty amazing suspension. The front forks will compress a long way, which means that if you can keep the bike straight it will mostly likely roll over just about anything short of a wall. When riding is loose soil or lots of rocks going a little faster is actually better than trying to go slow. Either way, make sure you always wear appropriate protective gear so that when you do find yourself on the ground those rocks don't find a way to poke through your skin.
Apart from suspension the other big thing that many don't understand is tire pressure. If your tire pressure is too high the bike will feel like you are always riding on marbles. Too low and you run the risk of a pinch flat. What pressure you choose has allot to do with terrain, tire type and tube thickness. If you are running a soft MX type tire with a standard tube you need to have your pressure a little higher. High speed desert riding you probably need to be in the 12-14 pound range, slow technical single track a little lower. If you are running a desert tire like a Parker DT or Maxis Desert IT along with a heavy duty tube you can get away with lower pressures. Personally when I still had tubes I always ran a desert type tire with a HD tube. For desert I kept it at about 12 lbs and woods about 10 lbs. I now have the Tubliss system so I am run somewhere between 8 and 11 depending on terrain. Lastly keep in mind, 18" rear tires are less prone to pinch flats than 19" rear tires.
The last thing to keep in mind, your skill level and bike setup will only get you so far. Your ability to read the terrain and make good choices is the ultimate goal. The only way I know of to get better at this is seat time. The more you ride the better you will get at this. You will find that your comfortable riding speed will increase naturally with your confidence level. Also keep in mind your physical shape as you get fatigued physically your ability to make quick decisions gets slower. So don't be afraid to slow down a little. Your riding buddies may roll their eyes at you for being slow, but speaking from experience that's a whole lot better than your favorite orthopedic surgeon rolling his eyes at you in the emergency room.
The term "Annual Service" is one of those important sounding, but vague descriptions for getting work done on your equipment. But, have you ever wondered what it really means or what is involved? If so, you're in the right place and keep reading.
The first thing to keep in mind is an annual service varies quite a bit from one piece of equipment to another. Two stroke engines (like chainsaws and string trimmers) have different needs than four-stroke engines (like lawn mowers and motorcycles). For simplicity we will start with two-stroke powered equipment. A two-stroke engine is a relatively simple compared to a four-stroke. Generally speaking a two-stroke engine does not have a oil in the crankcase that needs to be changed since the lubricating oil is mixed with the gas. However, if your two stroke engine has a transmission, the transmission will have oil that needs to be changed periodically. The service parts on most of these engines include the spark plug, air filter and fuel filter (most of these fuel filters are located in the fuel tank). Many string trimmers have a transmission that needs to be greased. Of course carefully cleaning the body and engine is important to make sure the engine is getting appropriate air flow. Chainsaws in particular need to be cleaned since the combination of bar oil, saw dust and dirt tend to build-up and can lead to overheating.
Four-stroke engines need similar servicing but generally have more fluids. On a typical four stroke engine the big thing to remember is making sure your engine oil is clean and at an appropriate level. Engine oil is one of those things that if changed regularly will keep your engine healthy for many years. Always refer to your owner's manual for specifics on your equipment. But a general rule of thumb for lawn equipment is engine oil should be changed every 50 hours and/or at least once a year even if you have less than 50 hours on the engine. Keep in mind, even if you don't use your equipment much, your oil will collect the condensation that forms on the inside of the engine. In addition to oil, the air filter, fuel filter and spark plugs should be serviced on a routine basis. On equipment with a hydro-static drive that is serviceable the transmission should be serviced approximately every 500 hours (again refer to your owner's manual for your specific machine).
In addition to your engine, you need to consider a few other parts on your mower. blades should be checked at least once a year (more often depending on how much you use your mower). If your blades are not bent then they should be sharpened and balanced. If your blades have been sharpened several times or are bent then they should be replaced. Pay close attention the tips of the blades. If they are showing signs of cracks or chunks missing the blade should be replaced.
Blade mandrels should be greased (if possible) and the bearings checked for play. Mandrel bearings wear out quicker than you think since they are spinning very fast and are exposed to water and abuse. If you catch a bearing failure early it is a fairly simple and inexpensive repair, but if left too long the entire mandrel will need to be replaced.
Most riding mowers have at least two belts (more in some cases). Your mower has one belt that goes from the engine to the transmission and another that drives the mower deck. The mower deck belt is fairly easy to check, but the transmission belt can be hard to see and may require removing the mower deck to inspect. If your riding mower is having a hard time going up-hill it's probably time for a new belt.
Your mower deck should also be cleaned (and scraped if needed). Compressed air is better to clean the excess grass and debris followed by water. If you don't have access to compressed air use your hands and pull out as much grass as you can before trying to use a hose. Water will only make the job harder. If equipped, remove the covers from the pulleys so you can get all the debris cleaned out. Leaving grass on the deck will lead to premature belt failure and rust. The bottom of the deck should be scraped and washed at least once a year. If you are cutting wet grass it should be done more often. All that wet grass sticks to the deck and promotes rust. Once your deck is clean, the deck level should be checked and adjusted if needed.
Your engine and chassis should be cleaned and degreased. Excess dirt and grease on your engine will cause the engine to run hot and can lead to premature failure. It is also important to clean any excess grass and debris from under the hood and around the linkage for the mower deck. Grass can build up and cause premature belt failure, transmission slippage, etc.
Finally, steering components should be cleaned and greased, tire pressures checked and tires inspected for cracks.
Like any piece of machinery, regular maintenance is important to keep your equipment reliable for years. Feel free to give us a call if your equipment is ready for some attention!