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!
One of the things that seems to get ignored the most on many vehicles and equipment is greasing the bearings and axles. For most of us this is one of those maintenance tasks that's right up there with cleaning the bathroom. But, if ignored, can lead to very expensive repairs. Grease is a funny substance that can't seem to make up it's mind. Over time, if a bearing or shaft is used regularly the grease begins to break down and gets runny, eventually losing it's ability to do it's job. If it's a left to sit and not moved regularly it gets hard and again stops doing it's job. So that means if you want to keep your equipment healthy and happy the old grease needs to be cleaned out and replaced.
You may or may not realize it but your wheel bearings, steering components and linkage parts are all greased to provide lubrication. Without grease the bearings will wear out prematurely or worse...rust. If you wait too long between servicing you may find that you can't get things apart without a large hammer and propane torch or maybe the jaws of life. So the real question is how do you make sure this doesn't happen? Believe it or not, it's easier than you think.
Many pieces of equipment and vehicles have a thing called a "zerk" fitting. These little fittings are designed so that the tip of grease gun "snaps" into place, a couple of pumps of grease and your finished. The old grease is pushed aside and the new grease is in place. Some things to remember about zerk fittings; first you need to make sure there is no old grease and dirt covering the fitting before you attach the grease gun. Second, the tip of the grease gun needs to be held firmly in place. When you pump the handle, if the grease comes out around the tip, it's not going into the fitting. Third, if you can't get the grease to go into the fitting it may be time to pull things apart and clean out the old grease. If the grease gets too hard a grease gun won't work.
What if it's a bearing that doesn't have a zerk fitting? Unfortunately many bearings do not have zerk fittings, these include things like wheel bearings, linkage bearings and more. Linkage bearings and lower shock bearings on dirt bikes are particularly prone to failing. If you think about it, every time you ride, those bearings are working. Every mud puddle, stream or washing is exposing those wear surfaces to water. These bearings should be inspected, cleaned and greased annually. Once these bearings lose grease they rust and deteriorate very quickly and can lead to serious damage.
Even though servicing bearings is no fun, it's not a difficult task generally, unless of course you have waited to long. When servicing your bearings you should use a low flash solvent to clean the old grease and dirt out. Once you have the bearing clean you can inspect it for damage. Assuming there are no issues, use a good quality grease; preferably something water proof. Once you put things back together make sure the excess grease is removed. Leaving blobs of grease outside the bearing or axle is pretty much a dirt magnet.
Some final thoughts, if you are greasing axles, make sure to clean all the old grease off, if there is any rust completely remove it with a wire brush or a very fine abrasive. WD-40 and Scotch-brite works well, do not use a grinder, file or heavy sand paper. On these particular parts, a little grease goes a long way so don't get crazy with it. Also keep in mind that grease is a petroleum distillate, which means it's no bueno for you. Wear gloves, eye protection and appropriate safety equipment for the task.
If all of this sounds like a little too much fun, don't worry, we will take care of it, just give us a call.
The New Year is here! It seems like Winter is okay right up to New Year's Day. With all the planning and excitement of the Holidays it's easy to forget how cold it is outside (unless of course you are reading this from the East Coast this year). But it seems like once January hits, time slows down. In fact, my theory is that January and February are actually twice as long as any other month but we tell ourselves they are the same, just to get through. If you are a winter sports fan you may be shaking your head as you read this and wondering what I am whining about. Well, if you are one of those people, all I can say is ....uh-huh....
As you stare longingly out the window at the snow and ice; day dreaming about summer you still should give your equipment some thought. Chances are most of your equipment hasn't been started in 2-3 months, the battery is dead or dying on your lawn mower, motorcycle, generator, etc. If you forgot to run non-ethanol gasoline and a fuel stabilizer the gas in your carburetor bowl has started going to the dark-side (and I don't mean in a Jedi sort of way). So, there is no time like the present to get out there and get those things started and run them for a while. Chances are nothing is going to want to start, so prepare your mind for that, do some deep breathing, chant a little if you need to in order to stay calm. You will thank yourself in the Spring for taking a few minutes now to run things through a cycle or two.
Some things to keep in mind when you head out to the shed. If you have equipment with low or dead batteries, starting and running them is important, but you won't charge the battery completely just running at an idle. Most small engine charging systems are designed to charge at full throttle over a long period of time. So with that in mind your best bet is to charge your batteries with a charger for several hours. Remember though, small batteries can only handle small charging current. Doing a high amp "fast charge" is a bad idea for a small battery and can damage it. Many batteries have recommended charge rate on the battery somewhere, but a general rule of thumb for small batteries is 1 to 3 amps. Personally, I recommend charging the battery completely before trying to start your equipment, this reduces the strain on the battery and starter. After you have started the engine and let it warm-up, charge the battery one more time before putting the charger away.
Once you do get the engine running let it completely warm-up before shutting down. Not letting the engine achieve full operating temperature is actually worse than just leaving it sitting. The reason for this is condensation. Think back to high school science class; what happens when cold air meets warm air? You guessed it condensation forms (you know like on the outside of a cold drink on a warm day), the same is also true for the inside of your engine. You need to let everything warm-up enough to evaporate the moisture that is already inside the crankcase. This is also the reason that you should change your engine oil annually, even if you don't have many hours on it.
Last but not least is fuel. This is one topic I can't seem to stress enough. The other day my son called me the "Ethanol Cop". Even if you have been buying "non-ethanol" you still need to run a fuel stabilizer and run the engine occasionally to get fresh fuel into the carburetor bowl. The fuel in the carburetor bowl is the first to go bad, so if your equipment won't start, but the cussing has, drain the fuel bowl and try it again. Bad gas simply will not burn, so dumping fuel down the carburetor throat or using starting fluid may get the engine started, but chances are it won't run for long. Most carburetors have some sort of a drain screw on the bottom. If you open that screw and nothing comes out either you are out of gas or you waited too long and it's time to get your machine into the shop for a carburetor service.
Just a little bit of attention now could save you a whole lot of headache later. Chances are if you wait until you actually need your equipment it may be too late. Spring is the busiest time for small engine repair shops, many are 2-3 weeks out before they can even look at your equipment. Late Winter is the best time to get those repairs and annual service done so when the snow melts and wind starts blowing you are ready to get out there.
When I first started trail riding just for the sake of riding I never really gave much thought to my tires. Back in those days I had a Kawasaki KLR 650, you know the "Swiss Army Knife of Motorcycles". It was big and heavy and generally a pig, but it was street legal and I could ride it on trails. I was of the opinion that as longs the threads weren't showing I was still good. Well, many years later I have changed my mind on that particular subject. Maybe it was the multiple times I found myself going the wrong direction up a hill, like sideways or backwards, maybe it was the ridicule at the staging area, maybe age and experience. After thousands of miles off-road riding on a variety of bikes I am a firm believer in good tires, and not just any old tires, but tires that are designed for the terrain you are riding.
Before you start rolling your eyes and thinking this article is about converting you to a particular brand, stop and relax. I realize when you start talking tires with people it can be allot like talking religion or politics. So I will avoid talking brands and focus more on types of tires.
The first thing you have to know is the terrain you primarily ride. I have talked to people that choose their tires and tubes because they are concerned about weight. That's all fine and good if you are a track rider and you are doing big jumps and so on. But if you are a trail rider weight is only really an issue if you have pick the bike up off the ground. Here in Sunny Central Washington, we have more than our fair share of rocks, in most cases very sharp rocks. Which means that the wrong tire choice can result in a short day and lost money. Just like truck and car tires, motorcycle tires come in a variety of thicknesses known as a "ply". A ply is essentially how many layers of rubber were used to create the tire. The more ply's a tire has the the thicker it is and the more it weighs. Also, dirt bike tires can be DOT approved or not, meaning they are legal to use on the road. Typically speaking a DOT tire is going to use a harder compound and stiffer sidewall, also called the carcass. The good thing about these types of tires is that they last longer than average and are less prone to getting a pinch flat. The downside is you generally are sacrificing traction/grip since the tire is not able to flex as much.
A rough rule of thumb when choosing a tire is the harder the terrain the thicker the tire. If you are primarily riding sand and mud without many rocks, then a softer tire is a good choice for you. Lots of grip and the tire will last a reasonable amount of miles. If you are a Central Washington rider you can still run the soft tires, but be prepared to replace them often and be sure you carry a tire repair kit in your pack.
Some other things to consider when choosing tires are tubes, or whether or not you want to run a Tubeliss system. Personally, I run a Tubeliss, but if you don't want to go to the extra expense I recommend always running a heavy duty/extreme duty tube. The heavier tubes will be less prone to pinch flats and will last longer overall.
Finally, the last thing to consider is your tire pressure. The heavier duty the tire and tube the lower you can run your tire pressure. Keep in mind, dirt-bike tires are terrible at higher pressure, anything above 15 pounds is like riding on marbles. When I run a tubed tire I typically keep my pressure somewhere between 10 and 14 lbs. depending on where I am riding and how fast I think I will be going. When riding single track in the mountains I run a lower pressure, generally this type of riding is slower and more technical so you want the tire to flex as much as possible. But, when riding the desert, either outside of Mattawa or the Desert 100 I run a higher pressure since riding speeds are much faster and the terrain makes a pinch flat a real possibility.
Having a good tires can be the difference between having an enjoyable day on your bike and a day that makes you wonder why in the world you bought a motorcycle in the first place. Personally I have a very strong cheap gene and hate having to replace a tire before I can see the cords, but I have ended up on the ground or getting my butt kicked on some scrabbly hill enough times to realize that cheaper is not always better.
Now that summer is over and winter is more or less on top of us you might be thinking that it's time to put away your dirt-bike for the winter. But, believe it or not, this is the best time to ride ; at least until the snow get too deep. Many people think of dirt-bike riding as being a summer sport. But in reality, at least in Central Washington, riding in the late fall, early winter can be some of the best riding conditions you will find. For the most part, riding in the mountains is finished by mid-November due to snow accumulation. But there are still lots of places to ride in "the desert". The great thing about this time of year is the terrain has some moisture in it so those sandy sections actually have great traction. The daytime temperatures are relatively low so you don't over-heat. Believe it or not, once you get going riding in 30 degree weather is quite comfortable.
The real key to enjoying yourself while riding in the winter is dressing appropriately. One of the common mistakes I see people make is over dressing for the ride. When you are standing around waiting for that one person to get his or her boots on at the staging area and it's 30 degrees with a breeze, it makes perfect sense to wear your winter parka. But once you get moving your winter jacket suddenly becomes a mini-sauna. Here are some tips and maybe some Christmas list ideas to keep you comfortable.
First and foremost, the number one thing you need to remember is NO COTTON! That includes socks and underwear. Cotton is great when it's dry, but once you start moving and sweating it quickly transforms from warm and soft to cold and sticky and puts you on the road to hypothermia. There are many alternatives to cotton that are still warm, can breathe and will wick the moisture away so you stay warm even when they are a little damp.
Starting with the feet; personally my feet tend to get cold. So, the best solution I have found is two pairs of socks. The first pair is usually thin, like a summer sock, that is some sort of synthetic material. Over that I wear a heavier boot type sock. The thinner sock will help wick moisture away from your skin, while the heavy sock provides the insulation that you need. The combination of the two will keep your feet reasonably warm all day, even when everyone wants to stand around talking about their feelings.
Next, moving on up the body, the legs. Again, this is one of those things that it is really easy to over dress and end up too hot. I recommend your regular riding pants. But under those pants go wither either a pair of tights (like yoga pants, yeah I know super sexy) or if it is really cold a pair of heavier thermal underwear (long johns). If you do go the long-john route steer clear of the cheap cotton variety. I have found that thin tights work just fine in just about any temperature. Just like with the socks, the thin nylon tights wick moisture off the skin and offer a small amount of insulation, while at the same time your regular pants are offering the bulk of the insulation against the cold. Remember, dirt-bike riding is an active sport. Bulky clothes are great when you are sitting around the fire, but not when you are trying to navigate a rocky single track canyon.
Next on our list is your torso. Just like before, a thin base layer is where you should start. There are lots of work-out type under shirts that work just fine. Start with one of these next to the skin, then your jersey. If it's really cold out I have an insulated jersey that I will use. Normally the combination of the base layer, the jersey and my chest protector are enough to keep me nice and cozy. But if those are still not quite enough I also carry a light-weight wind breaker type jacket. Something small enough that it fits in my pack. Just keeping the wind from blowing through the mesh of your jersey is usually enough to stay nice and warm.
For your neck and head there are a few options. If you start early enough you can grow a cave-man beard and wa-la have natural insulation. But, that's not an option for everyone. So I recommend a thin balaclava under your helmet (one of those Ninja masks). There are several varieties of balaclava's out there. Personally I stay with the very light-weight kind. They are generally enough to keep the wind off the skin but don't over-heat your noggin in the process.
Last, but not least are your hands. The hands are probably one of the hardest things to get warm when you are riding. I have tried using a variety of techniques to overcome this problem , including heavy snow gloves. But I have found that thick gloves are very uncomfortable and tend to impede the handlebar controls. So, what I have found that works for me is to to carry two sets of gloves. I start off with a pair of Fox Polar Paws. These are actual dirt-bike gloves but they are thicker on the back of the hand, but the palm side is normal thickness so they don't feel as bulky. For some, that may be all you need. Personally I don't like the bulky feeling on my hands. So, once I am warmed up a bit, I put the Polar Paws away an switch to my regular gloves. When there is stop of some sort, if my hands are getting cold I just put them in front of the exhaust while the bike is running or even hold onto the muffler if it is not. Normally, while I am riding, the combination of my own body heat and the little bit of wind-break from my hand guards is enough to keep my hands comfortable. Also, by switching out, I have a dry pair of gloves in my pack if I need them. Another technique that works reasonably well if you don't want to spend the money is go and get yourself a pair of those knit gloves that look really small but stretch to fit your hand and then wear those inside your normal gloves. I have also talked to people that wear latex gloves under their regular gloves, but that's a little too hot and steamy for my taste.
Having said all that about how to dress, keep in mind that riding in the winter has it's own set of problems. So always be prepared. You should carry an emergency blanket in your pack, some way to make a fire and maybe a couple of hand-warmer packets. You never know when you may find yourself in a bad situation and having to hang-out in the cold for a while.
If you are looking for someone to ride with in sunny Central Washington check out this Facebook group:
Now that the kids are going back to school (that is if the smoke will go away) it's time to accept the fact that summer is, more or less, at an end. But, the good news is we are coming into the best season of the entire year, at least for sunny Central Washington. The beauty of the Fall season is the fact that we still have nice warm days, but not usually to point of melting your average person, cool nights and even a little rain now and then.
Fall at our place also means that for a while the yard starts growing like crazy, while at the same time the trees start dropping their leaves. You might be looking at that old leaf blower that has been sitting since last Fall and wondering if it will actually start, or maybe thinking that it's time to get the lawn sweeper ready and of course don't forget about your trusty chainsaw. If that's the case you are on the right track. The time to get those things fixed and ready is now, before you actually need them. Don't wait until your yard is completely covered to figure out of your leaf blower is not working. If you do, there is a good chance that by the time you do get things running there will be snow on the ground and then you have a really nasty job to do in the Spring.
Here are some little things you can do that may help getting things going. The number one problem we encounter here at the shop when it comes to hand-held 2-stroke engines is bad gas and carburetors. Once upon a time, gas lasted for years without going bad. But, thanks to ethanol those days are gone. If you have been buying non-ethanol gas and using a fuel stabilizer you are probably good. But, if you have been just buying your gas at the local gas station, chances are it is mixed with ethanol. In that case, if it has been in your machine for more than a month it is most likely already separating from the path of light and going to the dark side. Do yourself a favor, don't even try starting your machine. Dump the fuel that's in the tank and dump the fuel that's been sitting in hour gas can and get clean gas. If you can find it, get ethanol free gas and mix in a little bit of Sea Foam. Once you put the freshly mixed gas into your machine, make sure to pump the primer bulb several times. One most small carburetors this will flush the old gas out of the carburetor and allow the new gas in.
Once you have some clean gas in your machine go ahead and start it. It may still take several pulls to get it going. If it doesn't want to start with the choke on, turn off the choke and hold the throttle wide-open. Doing this will dry things out inside, if the engine is flooded. If none of that works you can give it a couple of squirts with starting fluid. Just keep in mind, it's very important to only use a little starting fluid. 2-stroke engines rely on the oil that is mixed with the gas to lubricate the engine. Starting fluid has no lubrication, so too much can cause serious damage to your engine's internal parts.
If none of that works and you are ready to dump some of that fresh gas on the machine and throw a match it's time to walk away, pick-up your phone and give us a call. In most cases we can save these pieces of equipment for right around $100, sometimes less. Depending on your particular equipment, this can be an economical alternative to replacing the unit. Of course, if you are ready for something new that can be fun as well.
One of my favorite places to be is in the mountains surrounded by trees. The long winter has made it pretty tough to get up into the mountains due to the snow. But, the snow is melting fast (yay!) and the trails are beginning to open up. In our ranger district (Cle Elum) and the one to the south of us (Naches) the trails are officially closed until June 15th to motorized use. But, if you fill out the appropriate paperwork, say the right words in the right order and sacrifice a chicken under the full moon you can volunteer to patrol and clear trails, which is what I did. So yesterday we put the little chainsaw on the dirtbike, loaded up and headed for the hills. We found lots and lots of trees down which we stopped at each one, cut up and moved off the trail. In 3-1/2 hours we managed to get in 9 whole miles (round trip). We finally got to the point that my itty bitty 14" Stihl was not up to the trees that were across the trail, so we decided that it was time to call it a day and come back later with a bigger saw. Even though it was lots of hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
As we worked I was reminded of how different riding in the mountains is compared to riding in the desert. One of the biggest things is visibility. In the desert (for the most part) you can see someone coming toward you quite a ways out. But in the trees this is not the case, so it is really important to slow down around blind corners and when you do meet someone going the other way, use hand signals to indicate to them that there is someone behind you, or if you are the last in line, let them know that you are last person in your group. Depending on who you talk to, some people will say to indicate the number of people behind you with your fingers and if you are the last just a clenched fist. I tend to lose track of how many people are either ahead or behind me, so I prefer to just use my thumb to indicate there is someone behind me or the clenched fist if I am the last in line. Always keep an eye out for hikers and horses. Horses in particular don't mix well with motorcycles. Even though some of the people you run into in the mountains think they should be the only people allowed on the trails, that's just not the case. We all have to share what we have and figure out how to get along.
Another thing I was reminded of as we worked the trails was how quickly you can get winded, over-heated and dehydrated in the mountains. I think this is largely due to the change elevation. We live at about 1500 feet above sea level and I like to believe I am in reasonably good shape. However, when we start riding in the mountains the staging area is somewhere around 3500 feet and goes up from there. I find myself huffing and puffing in no time just walking up a hill or moving tree rounds. At higher elevation you have less O2 and your body has to work harder to draw air into your lungs since you don't have as much air pressure pushing the air in compared to lower elevations. So, as you start getting back into the mountains it's important bring and drink plenty of water. Don't wait until you are thirsty, or worse start having muscle cramps. Trying to "conserve" your water is not a good idea. Most riding areas around Kittitas county have lots of streams and creeks. Thanks to our abundant wild-life it's not generally a good idea to drink straight from the creek. But for about $5.00 and a very small portion of your pack you can get water treatment pills so if you do run out you don't find yourself having to decide between dehydration and quality time in the bathroom later. Also know your limits, if you can avoid it, don't push yourself to the point of exhaustion. At least on a motorcycle; once I get to the point where I start feeling worn-out that's when I start making mistakes and crashing. Which then leads to more exertion, since usually a crash in woods means dragging your bike back onto the trail or having to push it up-hill. Once you start you are stuck in a downward spiral and a fun day in the woods turns into misery, or worse you seriously hurt yourself and turns into a helicopter ride.
If you think that working hard for no pay sounds like a good day, you should join a volunteer work party. If you don't know how to do that, follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/crossroadsoutdoormotors/). We will be posting more trail clearing days in the next few weeks.