Fixing Santa’s Sled: Basics to Maintaining your Ride

 

santa sledOl’ Saint Nick must have one heck of a pit crew of elves toiling away at his North Pole garage, because those little dudes are capable of fixing all the dings, dents, scrapes, and mishaps Santa’s sled incurs during his multi-million mile journey on Christmas Eve every year. One thing is for sure though, Santa knows that if you properly maintain your ride and stay on top all the necessary repairs, not only will your motorcycle, ATV, or UTV last longer but it will look better, hold its resale value, and give you more enjoyment overall.

There are many things that can go wrong with your vehicle during the riding season, from something as simple as a slow leak in the front tire, to a more serious situation like a blown head gasket. Even when you’re not riding, things like the battery can go south if you don’t properly store your bike. You don’t have to be a hardcore mechanic to make minor repairs or perform basic maintenance tasks, you just need the right parts and the right tools.

IMG_4748Book Learning: Whether you’re fortunate enough to purchase a brand new vehicle or score a great deal on a used machine, one of the first purchases you should make is on a repair manual that covers your year, make, and model. With more than 500 titles covering everything from cruiser motorcycles to dirt bikes and ATVs, Clymer Manuals has a book for just about every make and model from all the major manufacturers dating back to 1960. Each manual extensively covers everything from basic maintenance like oil changes, tire replacement, and brake line bleeding to more in-depth procedures such as complete engine rebuilds and transmission tear downs and repairs. Each process is detailed in step-by-step fashion with many steps featuring accompanying photos to give you a comprehensive understanding of the task at hand. Every manual is written in a clear and concise manner making it just as easy for a first timer to understand as it is for a seasoned enthusiast. You’d be amazed at how much confidence you’ll gain when it comes to working on your motorcycle or ATV. And not only will you save money by not paying a shop to do your repairs but you’ll also gain a greater appreciation for your ride.

IMG_4747Tired Tires: There’s one thing that’s keeping you up and running no matter if you’re on two wheels, three wheels, or four—the rubber between you and the road. If your motorcycle tires aren’t properly taken care of and regularly checked you just might find yourself sitting on the side rather than having fun. Several things you want to check for are proper tire pressure, punctures or cracking, and tread wear. Improper tire pressure can not only significantly affect the handling of your ride but low tire pressure can reduce fuel mileage, lead to tire failure, and affect tire life. There are times when off-roading where lower pressure in your UTV tires can help you get a bigger footprint for better traction and help keep you from sinking, it can also give you better traction on uneven surfaces. But before you go letting air out of your tires make sure you have a way to air them back up to the recommended pressure once you’re ready to get back on the throttle. High speeds and aggressive riding/driving on low tire pressure can be an accident waiting to happen.
IMG_4750Try to make it a habit of giving your tires a good once over before every ride. What are you looking for? You want to scan the tire for any foreign objects that may have jammed into the tire surface. A screw or nail might not always immediately result in rapid air pressure loss, so give it a look, if you see something in the tire that’s not too big then most likely you can repair/plug it with something like a Stop and Go Tire Plugger Kit or even a Slime kit. Depending on the size of the object and its location, you can typically pull the object and plug up the hole in matter of minutes. Many of these tire plug kits come with an assortment of plugs or with a substance like Slime that will fill in the hole for a temporary fix. They also often include small CO2 cartridges that will add air and get you back wheelin’ down the road. The Slime Smart Spair Kit is great to have along because not only does it come with an 8oz bottle of Slime Tire Sealant, but it also includes a high power 12-volt 300psi air compressor with all the tools necessary to hook up to your motorcycle, ATV, or UTV battery to quickly and easily air up your tire. Just remember, a plug/sealant is not a permanent solution and once you are back home or somewhere where you can get a new tire and or tube you should replace the plugged tire/tube. Also, be aware that when riding on a plugged tire you should reduce your speed and not drive/ride as aggressively as you would on a non-plugged tire.
As you’re doing your pre-ride check on your tires also take note of the tread wear. Obviously bald or extremely worn down tread is bad! Aside from loss of traction, bald/worn tires can leave you more susceptible to blow outs and hydroplaning on wet surfaces. Tires have wear indicators molded into the tread grooves. When the tread is worn down to the level of the wear bars, the bars become exposed letting you know there is about 1/32 inches of tread remaining and that the tire should be replaced. Some manufacturers recommend replacing the tire when there is 2/32 or 3/32 inches of tread remaining. Aside from the wear indicators, another quick check you can do is with a penny. Throw old Abe upside down and shove his head between the tread groove, if the tread comes up past the top of his head you’re in good shape. If the tread is below the top of his head it’s time for a new tire.
IMG_4751When inspecting off-road tires, check your knobs and make sure they aren’t ripped, broken, or missing completely. Broken or ripped knobs on off road tires can lead to poor traction, handling, and ride quality. Replacing your dirt bike tires can be a rather simple task with the right tools. First of all, get the wheels off the ground. The M2 Worx Stand from Matrix Concepts is really lightweight with its I-beam construction but can handle up to 500 pounds. The motorcycle stand also comes with a work tray that can be stored under the stand so that you can keep track of nuts and bolts. While not absolutely necessary, a tire changing stand can relieve stress in your back and give you a stable working station.
IMG_4744Motion Pro offers plenty of quality tools like its tire irons and Trail Bead Buddy that can help make changing a tire much easier. The Trail Bead Buddy is handy as it can lock onto the rim with the threaded lock and keep the motorcycle tire bead in position as you work your way around with the tire irons. Here’s a couple of useful tips: if you’re running a motorcycle tube, put a little bit of air in it so it just barely takes shape, then add some baby powder to the inside of the tire. The air will make it easier to get the tire set inside and the baby power will allow the tube to slide and help keep it from dragging and/or pinching. Lastly, a little tire paste around the bead will make it easier to slip the tire over the rim and set the bead. If you don’t have tire paste some soapy water will work as well.

IMG_4746Fresh and Clean: If you’re a dirt bike rider, chances are you’ve had a spill or two or maybe took the whole “rubbin’ is racin’” saying a little too seriously and your bike is showing the results. It’s impressive how much abuse those plastic fenders and covers can take but eventually they’re going to break, crack, or tear off. Luckily it doesn’t take much to get your bike looking nearly brand new again with a fresh set of dirt bike plastics or some replacement moto graphics. You could even change up the look of your bike by going with an enduro fender or an all new graphic set. Companies like Acerbis and Factory Effex offer a wide range of replacement dirt bike plastics and decals. Getting your bike back into new or near new condition can be a fairly painless process as most fenders and side covers simply mount with a few bolts. You may find that you might need to do a little drilling, trimming, or fine tuning with a file to get your plastics to fit just right, but if you use tape or a pen to mark out the area(s) that need to be trimmed or drilled and take your time, you’ll get your new plastics installed and looking good.
When installing a new dirt bike graphics kit make sure the surface is thoroughly cleaned. If you’re re-applying fresh graphics you need to get all the residual glue from the old graphics of the stock plastics. As for installing dirt bike decal kits on new plastics, there may some leftover releasing agent from the mold process or some other kind of gunk that needs to be removed. There are many solvents that can be used, but brake cleaner is a fairly common item that is found in most garages that can be used to clean off plastics. Once the plastics are cleaned, a little soapy water on the surface or even a few light sprays of Windex will allow you to maneuver the stickers around so that you can get them aligned perfectly. Then a squeegee or even a credit card wrapped in clothe can be used to push/scrape out any air bubbles. When trying to get air bubbles out, start from the center and work the bubbles out towards the closest edge. Sometimes you might even have to use a needle or sharp knife to prick a little hole in the bubble to let the air out, then you can scrape the decal down smooth.

IMG_4749Juice it Up: If you’re going to be storing your vehicle for any period of time you need to make sure you properly take care of your ATV, UTV, or motorcycle battery otherwise you won’t be going anywhere when it comes time to ride. As your battery sits it gradually loses it charge, this is especially true with lead-acid batteries. Depending on your battery, climate, and whether or not your vehicle has things like a clock or radio that might not turn completely off, the amount of charge your battery can lose in only a few weeks could be pretty significant. And if not tended to, eventually it will get to the point of not having enough juice to crank over your engine, or worse yet, no juice at all. While letting your battery repetitively deeply discharge can eventually kill the battery, overcharging can be just as harmful. Hooking your battery up to a Battery Tender (BT) is a smart idea because the device will do a quick check of the battery, then do a bulk charge to get the battery 75-80% fully charged. The unit will then go into an absorption mode which conditions the battery for optimal performance. Lastly, the BT will go into float/maintenance mode and keep the battery properly charged until you’re ready to go. Utilizing a BT will help you get the most out of the life of your battery and keep you from buying a new one every season or every other season.

IMG_4745Keep it Flowing: The internal fluids in your vehicle are its life blood. From the engine to the gear case and radiator (if so equipped) keeping your internal fluids at their proper levels and changed at the manufacturers recommended intervals can be the difference between a fun and exciting day on the trails or kicking yourself because you cooked then engine. Among a list of things, your motorcycle oil keeps the internals of your engine well lubricated thus reducing friction and heat. It’s imperative to regularly check you oil level, and make sure your oil is not burnt or broken down to the point to where it is no longer working as it should. These day many manufacturers like Arctic Cat and Polaris make it easy to perform a fluid change on your machine by selling kits that contain everything you need for the task at hand. The Arctic Cat AC Oil change kit for example comes with a gallon of Arctic Cat Extreme 15W-50 High Temp Full Synthetic Oil, an oil filter, and a funnel. Basically it’s a Saturday afternoon UTV oil change in one convenient box. Beyond the basic oil change, there’s the Polaris ATV Maintenance Kit for ATV and Ranger owners. The kit comes with everything you need to change your drive train fluids and keep your fuel system clean. The kit includes: 1 quart of AGL-ATV Gear case Lubricant, 1 quart of Demand Drive Plus, 1 quart of ATV Angle Drive Fluid, 1 three ounce tube of All-Season Grease, and 1 twelve ounce container of Carbon Clean Fuel Additive. This kit will help keep everything lubed and in good working order.
While engine oil and the external air moving around your engine will help it dissipate heat, the radiator and its anti-freeze/cooling liquid are also vital to keeping the heart of your machine operating at a reasonable temperature. Extreme heat can not only cause discomfort for the vehicle operator, but as mentioned earlier it can wreak havoc on an engine causing internal damage that can lead to costly repairs or worse a shot engine. A 50/50 mixture of ethylene glycol anti-freeze-coolant and distilled water is what you’ll find in most cooling systems. For track days, some street bike owners may use just a combination of distilled water and something like Water Wetter, due to the track not wanting a substance like ethylene glycol spilling onto the track. While this combination is ok for those situations, it’s not good for extreme cold climates because it doesn’t have any anti-freeze properties and therefore the water can freeze and expand, thus potentially causing internal damage such as cracks or leaks.
The motorcycle, UTV, or ATV coolant/anti-freeze recommended by your manufacturer is obviously a good choice, but many people have seen significant cooling and performance results from products like Water Wetter and Engine Ice. There are many options available when it comes to coolant/anti-freeze and most come pre-diluted. You’ll find it in a rainbow of colors variety of colors and that it often has a sweet smell, both of which make it easy to spot leaks. However, it’s that combination of smell and bright colors that can lead children and animals to think its ok to ingest. Many people like Engine Ice because it uses propylene glycol which is relatively harmless to plants, animals, and then environment whereas a tiny amount of ethylene glycol-type antifreeze can be extremely harmful and even fatal to animals and humans. No matter what type or brand of motorcycle coolant/anti-freeze you choose to use, it’s always best to keep it out of reach of children and never leave open containers of fluid lying around, always dispose of them properly.

There are many other simple tasks and inspections you can do every time you ride, once a week, or even once a month to keep your machine in tip top shape. If you make it a point to perform regular checks, maintain proper service intervals, and make repairs sooner rather than later, then you too will be able to rack up the miles on your sled, just like Santa.

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