Dirt Bike Advice - Basic Maintenance for Every Dirt Bike - Dirt Rider Magazine

Dirt bikes have come a long way in the past 25 years. It was once common practice to buy a new bike then spend 10 to 20 hours in the garage prepping it before you ever rode your shiny, new mount. You had to go about changing darn near everything before you could take your first ride, much less enter your first race.Steel rims, spindly spokes, cheap-grade tires, crappy shocks, brittle fenders, awkward levers and more would get stripped off a brand-new bike to be replaced with suitable aftermarket components. Can you imagine the beating any current manufacturer would take from the public today if it expected consumers to spend even an hour prepping or changing out parts before their bike was ready to be ridden? The factory would be barbecued in the press and on the Internet before it could blink.Technology has made our motorcycles go faster, handle and fit better and be far more reliable—so reliable that they have approached "appliance" status. The point is that the average appliance performs its function without much, if any, input from its owner in the way of maintenance.Sounds cool so far, so why is that a problem? The good news is that today's motorcycles are so reliable and competent they no longer require four hours of work for every hour of riding. The bad news is that even the best of us can get lulled into a false sense of well-being and turn a blind eye to the maintenance our bikes really need.Sure, they may always start, run and function, but if you want your bike to continue to perform as designed, you are going to have to put in some quality garage time before your neglect bites you right in the wallet.Dollars and SenseThey say money is the greatest motivator, so here are a few numbers to consider when deciding if you really have enough time to do basic maintenance on your bike.A rebuild kit for a neglected linkage costs an average of $90. A tub of grease to prevent the damage is $4. Net savings: $86.A new top end with gaskets runs $175. The cost of cleaning your air filter is $2. Net savings: $173.Transmission gears/bearings can total more than $1000. Transmission oil is a mere $5 (that is 200 oil changes). Net savings: $995.Worn-out tires that cause you to lose traction and result in a crash that leaves you with a broken forearm will require you to pay the deductible on your insurance and miss maybe a week's worth of work, costing you, say, $1500-plus. A new set of tires retails for $175. Net savings: A bunch!Starting to get the picture? It is like the old saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" your mom recited. Turns out she was right ... again.Theory of relativity for gearheadsHigher-revving engines typically wear more rapidly than slower-revving engines. The rock-hard Southern California dirt causes much-quicker tire wear than the sand of Florida; but chains, brake pads and linkage bearings used on the West Coast have massively longer life spans than they do in Eastern states, with more mud and water. A 125 rider who is constantly on and off the clutch with the throttle pinned is going to get far less life out of his clutch than someone who putts around the track on a 450. Pretty simple concepts, really, but they are forgotten more often than you would think.All manufacturers' maintenance schedules and recommendations are based on the "average usage" information they collected and compiled over years of testing and can be found in every owner's manual. (You remember the owner's manual, don't you? That was the book that came with your bike, which you never read.) Some of their recommendations may seem to have been written by lawyers, such as the suggestion that the owner replace the entire frame every 50 hours. Then there are some that appear to have been designed solely to sell parts, such as rebuilding the top end after every three rides. But for the most part, they are real-world guidelines and should be heeded.Greater than average isn't always betterIt is very important to understand what constitutes greater-than-average usage. Mud races are a perfect example. Anyone who watched the 2004 season-opening supercross in Spain saw firsthand what greater-than-average usage looks like. The short list of throwaway items included chains, sprockets, clutches, air filters, bearings, cables, brake pads and, in some cases, engines. All of these components got thrashed in a single event. The mechanics didn't even try to save most of the parts off those poor bikes; they just pitched them in the dumpster and replaced them with new ones.Other environments, such as sand, salt water and high-speed desert riding, can also create rapid or increased wear on many of the working parts of a dirt bike, so keep your usage in mind when deciding which schedule is most appropriate for you and your bike.One of the most-common fallacies in the dirt-bike world is that if you don't race, you don't need to spend much time working on your bike. Au contraire! Trail riding, hillclimbing and fire-roading all can be hard on a bike, and without some periodic TLC on your part, your $6000 investment could just be dwindling away with each ride. Something to think about, huh?"New" used bikesIf your current ride is not a new 2004 bike yet is new to you, the best thing to do is take the same approach President Reagan took with the Russians back in the '80s: "Trust but verify." It is OK to believe everything the previous owner told you in his sales pitch, but take the bike apart and see for yourself. Chances are everything he said was 100 percent true and your bike doesn't need a lick of additional maintenance. Fat chance. Start from the front and work your way back so you don't forget something because whatever you forget now you will end up paying for later, one way or another.BrakesHey, buddy, nice pad. Or is it? Only close inspection will tell. Although a pad may have plenty of meat left, it still could benefit from replacement. The soaps and chemicals used to clean the bike can become embedded in the pad material, and the properties of the friction material can be modified by repeated cycles of heating and cooling. Decide on a replacement schedule that works for you, and stick with it regardless of the appearance of the pad.Cable LubingWell-lubed cables help prevent arm-pump. Remember, though, you are squirting lube into the cable sheath at one end, so it must exit the other end. If the clutch cable enters the engine cases, or the throttle cable enters the carburetor (not all four-strokes do but all two-strokes we can think of do), you'll need to remove the cable from the far end before lubing.
IgnitionJust because your ignition is still making a spark doesn't mean it isn't living in filth. You should remove the ignition cover after every washing to make sure there is no water entering it. Periodically check the key connections and grounds for corrosion.Grips/ LeversGet a grip. Grips and levers are the most-vulnerable components and usually the first victims in any crash. But even on an accident-free bike, levers and especially grips do wear out. Luckily, they are also some of the cheaper parts to replace.Carb DismantledTank filters don't keep out all the crud. You'll have to occasionally do that yourself. Note: If you park your bike for an extended period of time with gas in the carburetor, you will most certainly need to clean it before the next ride.Worn Tire vs. New TireBalding? A worn front or rear tire can put you on your head more quickly than you can spell Dunlop. Remember: Rubber is cheaper than plaster. Many riders are picky about front-wheel traction, so even if they are watching the tire budget, they will invest in premium front tires from Bridgestone or Dunlop but use a cheaper rear and replace it more often. This is especially true of off-road riders who ride on very abrasive terrain. One trip will ruin an expensive motocross tire. A good example is that many hard-core desert guys run an IRC M5B in the rear for the aggressive tread and long wear. The same is true of some Michelin, Maxxis and Kenda rear tires.Throttle MaintenanceA sticking point is not what you want your throttle to become. For safety's sake, if for nothing else, keep it clean and the cable lubed. Replace the throttle tube any time it suffers damage or grows sloppy on the handlebar.Dirty EngineTo find a problem, you must first be able to see it. Good maintenance starts with proper hygiene. You can also "wash a bike to death" if you get carried away with the pressure washer. If the bike is just spattered or dusty, wipe it down rather than pressure washing it. But be sure to remove any caked-on dirt or mud.Chain and SprocketsThe weakest link is where every chain breaks? We think it breaks at the farthest point from your truck. Show your chain some love on a regular basis by keeping it clean, well-lubed and adjusted, or you may get some unwanted exercise.Linkage and PivotsOut of sight, out of mind. The linkage bearings, seals and pivots all are important aspects of your rear suspension. They are also very expensive parts to replace. Grease is your friend. A little dab will do ya! Note: The same goes for your axles.Reed BlockA "Reed block" in supercross might get you a 10-point penalty, but your penalty for not replacing your reed petals is poor performance. Once a year is about right for most bikes, but some models are harder on them than others, and aftermarket reeds generally wear more quickly.
Old Spark PlugIf you think your spark plug looks worn, it probably is. If the electrode edges are rounding off, replace the plug.SpokesSpokes are no joke. Keep them snug from day one, and you will have round rims longer. Ignore them, and they will let you know when it is too late.

Periodic Maintenance Table
After Break-in Each Race 3-5 Races 6-10 Races As Needed
Transmission oil
Piston, 125 two-stroke
Piston, 250 two-stroke
Piston, 250/450 four-stroke*
Clutch plates*
Clutch springs*
Clutch basket*
Spark plug
Power valve, clean
Valves, adjust
Coolant 2 years max
Air filter Replace yearly
Oil filter
Silencer packing
Fork fluid
Shock fluid
Linkage, service
Steering bearings, service
Wheel bearings
Chain, clean and lube
Chain, replace
Sprockets, replace
Brake pads/fluid 1 year max
Cables, lube
Throttle, clean
Lever pivots, clean
Levers, replace
Grips, replace

* The guidelines for these parts will depend on how hard you ride, how well you conduct routine maintenance and how serious you are about performance. Some maintenance is model-specific. For example, a Honda CRF250R will need a piston change more frequently than other 250cc four-strokes—in as little as 10 hours of riding time. Part of the problem is that oil consumption increases with wear, and the little engine doesn't hold a lot of oil. Even if the piston doesn't fail completely, you could be looking at extreme repair bills. The Yamaha YZ250F needs a new cam chain twice a season, and all the valves should be replaced once a season. The bigger four-strokes can go longer than these guidelines, but only if you are religious about oil changes and air-filter care. Conversely, if money is a bigger issue than performance, change the clutch plates or clutch basket "as needed"—in other words, when you start to notice the clutch slipping or you see evidence of wear on the basket fingers.