One of my favorite sayings is "the devil is in the details." In the case of off-road motorcycling, the "details" are the little setup tips and preparation ideas that will help you more fully enjoy the sport and avoid some of the problems riders have encountered over the years. In the jillions of trail miles under my wheels, I have tried to remember and catalog some of the more valuable details that crossed my path. Some I have learned the hard way, and some from other riders. Regardless, the information is no less valuable whether you learned it first-hand or not, although learning first-hand usually seems to be a little bit quicker.I have divided the tips into five categories--riding gear, levers and controls, engine, suspension and chassis--and listed them in no particular order as all are important.What is truly vital to note, though, is their key feature: They are about anticipating problems or situations and having an idea or solution already mapped out. After all, the whole point of tips is to fix problems before they happen, or at least have a solution in place to limit the probability of encountering drama while riding. But in the real world, that isn't always easy, so I like to have a backup plan, like carrying a fanny pack with tire irons, a tube, CO2 cartridges and an axle wrench. In other words, all the tools necessary to solve a predicament must be included to successfully resolve a problem. This is a three-pronged approach.First, and definitely number one, is to remember problems you've experienced; write them down, make a list. Sometimes I had to experience the trauma more than once to get the idea. Second, work up a solution and implement it. I am hardly the originator of all good tips. It has always been easier and more preferable to take a clue from someone else's predicament than to invent a solution out of the blue. Sponge up ideas from anywhere you can, but make sure to consider the source and sift through the information for the good stuff. Third, have a backup plan if your first solution has the potential to be less than 100 percent effective. That fanny pack is an example of a backup plan. For long rides or races, the probability of encountering a problem has me wearing that fanny pack. Hopefully, I would have prepared my wheels so as to avoid a flat, but if I'm two hours away from my truck, it's sure nice to be able to fix it.Enough said about doing your homework. My point is not to lecture, but to pass on the 50 or so best tech tips I have come across to help you avoid pitfalls and enjoy riding as much as I do.
RIDING GEAR****1. KEEP YOUR HEAD UP.
Probably the most important tip is to look up the trail. The farther you look ahead, the bigger your safety margin and the faster you can go in that section. Be sure to raise your visor so it doesn't block your vision.2. PULL THE LINER OUT OF THE MOUTHPIECE.
To get maximum airflow to your face, remove the vinyl liner just in front of your mouth on the inside of the helmet. This will reduce the backflow of your humid breath, reduce goggle fogging and help you avoid overheating. Don't remove any of the Styrofoam (or other similar material) designed to absorb crash energy.3. PREP YOUR GOGGLES.
Always prepare your goggles for the worst possible conditions you might encounter. Remove the lens, hand-wash the goggle and let it dry thoroughly. Treat the inside of the lens with No-Fog High-Performance Breath Detector and the outside with Rain-X. If there is any water on the course, use a static remover like Dust'R Dust Repellent from Moose, especially if it's going to be dusty in other sections.4. WEAR GLASSES.
If the conditions are really hot and humid, I switch to riding glasses instead of goggles. The difference in the amount of cooling air to my face is unbelievable. For long, hot, tight races, I will carry a spare pair in my fanny pack in case I start to overheat. Realize you may be compromising eye protection, and ride accordingly.5. ZIP-TIE YOUR CHEST PROTECTOR TO YOUR PANT.
In any race lasting longer than half an hour, it is necessary to carry water to drink. To counter the weight of the drink system attached to the back of your chest protector, zip-tie the bottom front of your chest protector to your pant belt. Cut a small hole in your jersey (or wear the pads outside like they are designed to be... --Ed.) and feed the zip-tie through the hole and around your belt. This will keep the front of your chest protector from digging into your Adam's apple.6. WEAR SHORT SOCKS.
For hot weather, wear light, short socks instead of calf-length socks. Your feet are a radiator for your body. To stay cool, don't overlap your riding pants with thick, tall socks. Not all boots are comfortable enough for this, but it works if your boots do.7. CHECK THE WEATHER.
I am a Weather Channel junkie. And although it seems impossible for anyone to forecast accurately more than six hours in advance, that is enough to get a good idea of the possible conditions coming your way. Check it out and dress accordingly.8. BRING LATEX/VINYL GLOVES.
Have a good supply of latex/vinyl gloves handy in your garage, trailer or truck. Not only are the lubricants and chemicals used in our sport greasy and messy, some can be less than kind to your skin. Wear gloves, especially when cleaning and reoiling air filters.9. HYDRATE.
Studies of athletes have shown that as little as 2 percent of body weight lost to sweat can cause fatigue and loss of mental acuity. For a 200-pound rider, a 4-pound loss is equal to 64 ounces of water absorbed. If your urine is dark-colored after a ride, you are not drinking enough. And if you wait until you are thirsty, it is way too late, so drink up and drink up early.
LEVERS AND CONTROLS****10. GLUE AND SAFETY-WIRE GRIPS.
The most important connection between you and your machine is at the grips. Grips that are not glued and safety-wired will come loose, guaranteed. Carefully clean the bar end or throttle tube, apply the glue and quickly slide on the grips in the correct orientation. Then finish the job by safety-wiring the ends to keep water out. Bury the twisted ends in the grip. Take extreme measures to make sure no glue gets inside the throttle tube.11. CLEAN THE THROTTLE.
Off-road bikes equipped with hand guards will trap dirt and water between the throttle housing and the handlebar. Remove and clean the throttle regularly. Don't use grease or oil on the handlebar to lube the throttle as this will gum up the works. A throttle should always snap open and closed without any grit, grime or hesitation.12. POSITION YOUR LEVERS.
Locate your clutch and front-brake lever in the middle zone between horizontal for when you're sitting and way down for when you're standing. The position of the levers must be comfortable while both standing and sitting, without tweaking your wrist too much in either case. Over-rotated levers can cause arm fatigue, loss of strength and/or arm-pump.13. POSITION YOUR SHIFTER.
Like hand controls, the shifter must also be situated for easy use when sitting or standing. In addition, a low lever will be vulnerable to being false-shifted by bushes or may get bent by stumps or rocks. If you have the lever too high, you won't be able to shift while sitting.14. MONITOR SHIFT-LEVER WEAR.
Replace the shift lever regularly to avoid missed shifts. The underside of the lever tip--this is especially true of aluminum levers--wears smooth, allowing boots to slide around. Fresh knurls help a boot grab the shifter, making for more positive shifts.15. POSITION YOUR BRAKE PEDAL.
Adjust the static position of the brake pedal to be near horizontal to the footpeg. This reduces the possibility of bending the pedal and gives a good compromise position for both sitting and standing.16. ADJUST BRAKE-PEDAL FREEPLAY.
Adjust the freeplay on the pedal at least an inch to avoid overheating the rear brakes.17. WATCH BRAKE-PEDAL WEAR.
Keep the teeth on the brake pedal sharp to maximize the traction on your boot. Most bikes have steel teeth and can be filed sharp with a hand file.18. CUSTOMIZE THE LENGTH OF YOUR SHIFTER AND/OR BRAKE PEDAL.
If your feet are small (like mine) or really big, consider shortening or lengthening the shift lever and brake pedal to customize the fit and improve action. My size-seven boot had me shortening up the brake pedal 3/4 inch to better place the tip of the pedal under the ball of my right foot. Really big boots may require lengthening the shift lever and brake pedal to improve shifting and braking.19. SHARPEN THE FOOTPEGS.
Keep the teeth of the pegs sharp so your boots can stay planted to them. Use a flat file to dress up the edges, especially on the front side of the pegs.20. CLEAN AND LUBE CABLES.
One reason a new bike feels so good is because the cables are clean and the controls work perfectly. Remove the throttle cable from the carburetor before cleaning and lubing to avoid filling the slide with junk. Carefully inspect the inner wire for any broken strands, and replace the cable if it is worn or frayed. Clean with a contact cleaner and a cable-luber. Then use a lube designed specifically for cables.21. ADJUST YOUR HAND GUARDS' POSITION.
Locate your hand guard as close to horizontal as possible. Hand guards that are mounted too low will surely get pushed back and come loose. You may have to play with the mounts and rebend the bar to find the perfect fit, but this will drastically reduce the possibility of their moving or coming loose and becoming a liability.22. GET HOT GRIPS.
If your bike has a lighting coil, using heated grips for cool or wet weather is the trick to keep hands warm and dry. Install the heat pads under the grips and remember to safety-wire the grips. Carefully route the leads, giving a loop of wire at the throttle. Wire in a switch to turn them on or off.
ENGINE****23. CHECK CARBURETION.
Correct carburetor settings are the very best, and certainly the cheapest, performance enhancement you can do for your engine. Different temperature and humidity conditions will change jetting requirements. Colder temps make the engine lean; high humidity makes the engine rich. Consult your owner's manual and contact professional aftermarket companies for advice and specifications. Even though most bikes today come with fairly close settings, it is always a good idea to have a selection of jets--main, needle and pilot/slow--in both directions, leaner and richer. As a final note, write jetting specs on the float bowl of the carb so you always know what size is inside.24. MAINTAIN YOUR TWO-STROKE OIL RATIO.
Don't run too much oil in your gas. If you have black spooge drooling off your pipe and muffler, you are running too much pre-mix. I run PJ-1 Goldfire at 50:1 in my KTM 125 SX. This eliminates spooge at the pipe/muffler junction and gives crisp throttle response. Depending on the oil, we recommend ratios between 32:1 and 50:1--meaning 50 parts fuel to one part oil.25. GAS-CAN IDENTIFICATION.
Permanently label your gas cans/containers for two-stroke premix or for straight gas. This will prevent your buddy who borrows fuel from your truck from seizing his two-stroke on your 93-octane straight gas. I also mark the container for the kind and amount of oil I use to eliminate any confusion. If you run race fuel, indicate that also.26. REGULAR GEAR-OIL TRANSFUSIONS.
Change your two-stroke gear oil regularly as it gets contaminated from clutch wear, absorbs water over time and degrades from the shearing action of the gear teeth meshing.27. REGULAR ENGINE-OIL TRANSFUSIONS.
Change the engine oil regularly in your four-stroke to maximize the life of your engine. The oil gets contaminated from clutch wear, degrades from the shearing of the gear teeth and can absorb moisture through the venting system. In addition, most modern four-strokes carry minimal amounts of oil to keep their weight down, further increasing the stress on the oil. Check the level often, as most engines use up oil (slowly we hope) and don't have a large margin. Also, avoid full synthetic oils; they often have properties that are too slick and can cause clutch slippage. A semisynthetic oil works best, so check your owner's manual for the best possible type.28. DRAIN THE FLOAT BOWL.
If you are going to store your bike for any amount of time, drain the float bowl to prevent future carburetion problems. Evaporating fuel will leave a residue, leaning out the jetting when you bring it out of storage. Old fuel can also varnish and clog small passageways and cause a world of hurt down the line.29. WASH YOUR BIKE OFTEN.
Plug the end of the muffler and cover the air filter to keep moisture out of the engine. After washing, start up the bike and warm it to operating temperature to eliminate moisture in the engine and pipe system.30. MANICURE VENT HOSES.
Cut the ends of your carburetor vent hoses at a 45-degree angle to help keep debris from clogging them and starving the carburetor. Also, replace any hoses that may be pinched or burned closed.
SUSPENSION****31. BLEED YOUR FORK.
Air pressure can build up in your fork, making its action harsh. Regularly open the bleeders to equalize the air pressure. I also open up and leave open the bleeders on my fork when the front end is pulled down for transportation in my truck. This prevents pressure from building up in the fork and stops any leaking.32. CLEAN YOUR WIPERS.
On most forks, you can remove the wipers easily with a screwdriver. Especially after a muddy event, you should clean out the dirt under the wiper and around the top of the seal. This will reduce the dirt getting packed into the main seal and extend its life. Put a dab of light grease on the inside of the wiper before lightly tapping it back in place.33. SET COMPRESSION.
Use the owner's manual as a guide for compression settings. Generally, from the factory they are set in the middle of the range, but count the total number of clicks or rotations and divide it in half for a starting point. A good rule of thumb, though, is to make the compression settings as stiff as you can stand comfortably. This will require different settings for different riders and different terrain conditions. Turn the adjuster in one click at a time until it gets uncomfortable. From my experience, most riders set the compression too soft. Keep a log of your favorite settings depending on certain conditions and make sure this diary goes wherever your bike goes.34. KNOW YOUR MUD SETTINGS.
Tighten up the compression-adjuster settings a couple of clicks for a muddy race to compensate for the additional weight the bike will pick up from wearing the mud.35. ADJUST SPRING PRELOAD.
Set the preload per the manufacturer's specs generally. But for a muddy race, increase preload to compensate for the weight of the mud the bike will pick up. Weight gain can be 10 to 20 percent of the bike's poundage, so adjust the preload accordingly.36. ADJUST REBOUND.
Set the rebound adjuster as loose as possible to give the maximum suspension travel. Remember: Rebound works against the tension of the spring, so you want it as light as possible to let the suspension return to full travel between bumps yet control the rear of the bike. That also means the rebound is generally not changed much once a base setting is discovered. Find a comfortable setting that works with your riding style and be sure to test the setting before going out for a race or hard-core ride.
CHASSIS****37. ROUTE THE GAS-TANK VENT.
Never direct the gas-tank vent hose down the steering stem. Fuel that leaks out can wash the grease off your lower steering-stem bearings, letting rust attack them and reducing their life.38. STRAIGHTEN RADIATORS.
Twisted radiators can be straightened decently by clamping the reservoir ends in a vise, lightly sandwiched between two two-by-four boards. Hold one end with your hands, the other between the wood, and slowly and carefully untwist the unit. Don't jerk and don't try for perfection, just usable function. If a radiator is severely tweaked, there is a chance you could crack the joints when trying to straighten them.39. INSTALL DECALS WARM.
Use sunlight or a hair dryer to warm up decals and make them more flexible. A light soap spray--like Windex or, better yet, Sticker On--helps you to precisely place the decal. Then carefully squeegee out any moisture from the center outward.40. MAINTAIN THE MASTER LINK.
Check the clip on your master link often. On O-ring chains, the longer pins of the master link tend to wear sooner than the chain, thus accelerating the wear of the clip. This is usually worse if a larger-than-standard rear sprocket is used as that forces the chain into the chain guide more.41. LUBE YOUR CHAIN.
Lubricate your chain often--and at the very least, after washing the bike. On O-ring chains, the lube mostly keeps the O-rings from cracking and breaking away, exposing the inner link to water and dirt. O-ring doesn't mean "no maintenance."42. ADJUST YOUR CHAIN.
Off-road situations usually have some mud involved, so never run your chain too tight. This is the biggest factor in breaking chains, fast wear on sprockets, loose rear sprockets and even broken countershaft bearings. Mud will get between the chain and sprocket and tighten up the adjustment, so it must be on the loose side before a ride.43. MAINTAIN THE CHAIN-ADJUSTER BOLTS.
Most new bikes have aluminum swingarms and steel adjuster bolts. Periodically remove the adjuster bolts and treat with Anti-Seize compound to prevent the bolts from locking up in the swingarm.44. GREASE THE AXLES.
Remember that rust never sleeps. Between the washing and leaving the tires on for a year, axles can become almost impossible to remove. Regularly remove the axles, even if you aren't changing a tire, and lubricate them with a smearing of grease.45. BLEED BRAKES.
Hydraulic brakes are so good we can forget they need service. Brake fluid loves water and will absorb it given any chance. In addition, the heat that the rear brake fluid encounters is severe. Periodically bleed the brakes until fresh, clear fluid appears at the calipers. Also, if you are serious, use only brake fluid from an unopened can to avoid any possibility of contamination. This applies to all hydraulic controls, including the front brake and clutch.46. FLUSH THE COOLANT.
Change your coolant at least every two years to eliminate corrosion in the engine and to keep the cooling system working at maximum efficiency.47. KEEP THE BEAD DOWN WHEN CHANGING TIRES.
Changing tires easily is all about being smarter than the tire. The diameter of the bead of the tire is smaller than the outside diameter of the rim--duh! So to get the tire on or off the rim, the bead must be pushed down inside of the drop center of the rim and kept there while the opposite side of the tire is leveraged over the rim edge.48. USE FOUR TIRE IRONS.
Once you have deflated the tube and "broken down the bead" (pushed it into the drop center of the rim), insert four tire irons between the bead and the rim, spaced about 5 inches apart. Start in the middle, and progressively work out to the sides using the four irons, checking that the bead opposite the irons is down. Using multiple irons eliminates fighting to get them in under the bead and virtually erases the possibility of the bead falling back under the rim after you pull it out.49. USE WD-40 WHILE CHANGING TIRES.
I use WD-40 to help remove old tires and to ease the installation of new meat. It is mostly a carrier and evaporates quickly. Spray the bead area, but be very careful not to get any spray on a brake rotor.50. INSTALL THE TUBE FIRST.
I have found that installing a partially inflated tube in a new tire is the easiest way to mount tires. Lightly coat the inside of the tire with baby powder first, so the tube will find its place nicely inside the tire.51. VALVE-STEM NUT AS LOCATOR.
Use the small nut on the valve stem to stop the stem from receding into the tire while you're trying to push the bead inside the rim. I always install the stem in the hole of the rim first, then thread the nut on about 1/4 inch to hold the stem up. Never thread the nut all the way down; this will either result in a pinched tube while tire-changing or the stem being torn out while riding. Once inflated, thread the nut up against the cap, not the rim.52. SUN A TIRE.
Set a new tire out in the sun before changing to soften it up and make changing it easier.53. PACK YOUR FANNY PACK.
Periodically check your fanny pack for completeness. Don't carry the kitchen sink; just carry what you need to perform most jobs in the field. I have two basic packs: one for racing, which is minimal, and one for trail riding. The difference is the riding pack holds the stuff necessary to fix a flat and adds a water container on the hip. Check it over before a ride; it's not fun to realize you've already used the CO2 cartridges or the spare master link doesn't fit your new chain when you're on the trail.
BONUS SECRETS: 54. RUCK WASHING TIP.
Rather than spending a couple of days waxing my boxvan, Thor truck driver Jimmy told me to mix some Mop & Glo with water and spray it on the truck after a washing. The truck will shine like new and it takes no work. Figure that he has a 53-foot-long truck to shine every weekend, and that's a good tip. It works on trailers, too.55. SERVICE AFTER A RIDE, NOT BEFORE.
This is one of those philosophical tips learned over many years. Don't wash your bike unless you have the time to fully service it and fix any problems. Trust me, you will be stoked and in a hurry to go riding when the opportunity presents itself, and the last thing you want to do is to have to clean an air filter, fix a flat or whatever when you could be roosting. Do that work afterward so you are ready to go at the next drop of the proverbial flag.