Tuesday Tip: Speed Dial—Prep Your New Bike For Dirt The Fast Way

It’s that time of year once again; the new model-year bikes have arrived, and all of us loyal moto enthusiasts flock like swallows in Capistrano to the local dirt bike shop to lay down coin on a new ride. After letting the shady salesman in plaid pants convince you with his smelly cigarette-breath that you got a “helluva’ deal, the last thing you want to do is be back in this creep’s shop a few days later, making him richer at the parts counter.


The grim reality, though, is that without a little TLC your new scooter is guaranteed to take a crap on you sooner rather than later. Why so, you ask? Won’t a new bike last for months before the first scheduled maintenance? Sorry, Jack, but we’ve got news for you: Modern day motocross bikes ain’t your old man’s Buick! Not only are these babies high-performance machines, but they live their lives getting abused in the dirt.

TWMX grabbed hold of Team Suzuki rider Nick Wey’s mechanic Billy Felts for some suggestions on how to go about the no-fun procedure of prepping your bike as quickly as possible, because we know how badly you want to ride! Felts did his patented speed prep on our brand new 2004 RM250, but each of his hints apply to all bikes, period. Keep in mind that Felts stresses this be the very least you do to a new bike before riding it and says that if you have the time to, take it all the way apart and re-grease everything. We’ve simply narrowed it down to the few most important procedures. So without further ado, here’s Billy…


“The headset is something that always needs re-greasing from the factory because it’s a part that experiences a ton of movement. A good, high-quality waterproof grease should be used, and in liberal amounts. There are a few ways of doing this, but the really fast way involves taking the entire front end of the motorcycle off in one swoop. You end up with what looks like a unicycle, but you’ll save a lot of time versus taking the front wheel, brake, and forks off separately.


“Start by taking the number plate off the bike, then take the front brake master cylinder off of the handlebars. This will allow the bars to be pulled up and off of the forks altogether with the top triple clamp. Once the bars and clamp have been removed and placed on the gas tank, loosen the headstem nut and the pinch bolts for the forks. Underneath, you’ll find a little castle nut that you’ll remove.


“Now comes the good part. By removing those few things we discussed in the last paragraph, you can now slide the whole front end out of the lower triple clamp; forks, wheel, axle and all! Before you slide the assembly out, though, make sure that the bike is secured on the stand. If someone is around, ask him or her if they’ll stabilize the bike until the forks have been slid out of the clamps.


“The stock grease might be fine for a month or so, but I recommend re-greasing it from the start before the bike gets too dirty and there’s much cleaning involved. Plus, I’d prefer to break the bike in with the high-quality grease we’ll continue to use throughout the season. Apply a liberal amount of waterproof grease in both your top and bottom bearing with either a small brush or your fingers until the bearing has plenty of ease throughout. You don’t want the grease blowing out everywhere, but you want it to be plenty saturated.


“Since we removed the front end assembly altogether, simply stick the forks and stem back in the clamps and slide the front end back on. You only want to go finger-tight on the headstay nut. Tighten your top triple clamp nut with a torque wrench first before tightening the controls. While you have your tools out, dial in your brake and clutch levers to the desired heights and raise or lower your bars for comfort. Finally, make sure that your forks’ pinch bolts have been tightened using factory-specified torque settings.


“Just like the headset, the suspension linkage on your bike’s rear end is in desperate need of more grease from the showroom floor. These are the two most important parts to grease before riding, and just like the headset, the linkage needs waterproof grease not only because of the mud on the track, but the power washer used to clean it afterwards.

There’s a trick to doing this one fast, too. Traditionally you’d take out the rear axle and remove the rear wheel to access the linkage bolts, but there’s really no need to do this if you follow these steps.


“Start by taking the chain roller off first, then remove all of your 12mm nuts off of the linkage bolts. This will let you push the linkage bolt out towards the swingarm, in turn exposing the bottom shock bolt. After removing the shock bolt, proceed to take the pivot bolt to the wishbone linkage out. Now loosen and remove the actual linkage itself.


“Take all of the collars and sleeves out, and if you just couldn’t wait to ride your bike before doing this, clean out all of the bearings and linkage with solvent. If you were a good boy or girl, though, simply wipe off the old factory grease and add plenty of waterproof grease to the bearings and sleeves and you’ll be good to go.


“Put a little grease on the shanks of the bolts and on the threads, and put the linkage back together on the bike. Don’t forget to torque the bolts to the factory settings using a calibrated torque wrench.

            “Since we did this the quick way, a little care is needed when reattaching the lower shock bolt. One hint for lining it up to its hole is to place your foot under the rear wheel, lifting and lowering as needed. You’ll eventually come to the exact spot needed for the bolt to be pushed through effortlessly. Tighten, and you’re on your way without ever even having to remove the rear axle bolt!


  “You can’t really blame the factory assembly workers for the few problems that can lie in the wheels. Though they do often come a tad loose from the dealer, our mission here is more to help with the break-in of the bike while at the same time making sure that things like tire pressure are set correctly. This will not only help the safety factor, but also the fun factor, so it’s time well spent.


“The spokes will need to be tightened after every moto for the first few days. As they gradually seat, you’ll have to tighten them less and less, but don’t go too long before checking them, even when you think they are seated properly. After the initial break-in period, I try to check my spokes after every ride (two at the most).

“When the wheel is still new and breaking in, I tighten the spokes in a pattern of three on the left, three on the right. This helps keep the wheel true and straight and allows for even tightening. Only give them a quarter turn each at the beginning, too, as this will also help keep things straight. Once they get snug and I feel they’ve broken in sufficiently, I then tighten them one at a time in succession.

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“The rim lock is normally not something most people put too much thought into, but tightening them is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve run into a couple now from the factory that weren’t tight, so I always check them just to be certain. You don’t need to crank them down too hard; doing this can cause the rim lock to snap.

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“This is something I probably shouldn’t even have to say, but check your tire pressure every time you ride, period. Of course, there’s even more chance of them being set incorrectly from the dealership, but don’t forget to always keep a pump and air gauge in your truck! I normally set the pressure to 12 psi in both front and rear, though depending on track conditions these numbers can go up or down a pound or two.

“One last thing on the wheels: On the valve stem you’ll find a small lock nut underneath the valve cap. I always loosen this nut until it’s flush with the valve cap because if it gets too tight against the rim and your tube moves in your tire, the valve can be completely ripped off.


“We’re almost done, but there are still some last-minute, miscellaneous items that you don’t want to forget about. For starters, always go through and check any and all fluids. For the oil, if your bike is not equipped with a sight window, grab the owner’s manual and locate the fill level bolt. When you take this out, a small amount of oil should come out. If there’s no sight of oil, add more until it comes out.

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“You never know when the service tech at your local dealer decided to leave early for a hot date and forgot to add coolant, so always check it out for yourself by pulling the radiator cap off. If you must add some, use a 50/50 blend of straight coolant and purified water.

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“Perhaps the most important step to take when preventing your bike from becoming a clapped-out roach is to go around and tighten every visible bolt you can find. Do this before you ever ride the bike, or I guarantee you’ll be missing bolts at the end of the day. After break-in, make this a ritual—every few rides, get the T-handles out! Though some mechanics like it, I don’t recommend using Loc-Tite on these bolts, because it just makes for a mess later.

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  “Next check your air filter and make sure there is oil on it. Sometimes, especially if the bike has been sitting for a while, the oil will drip down to the bottom of the filter and onto the airbox, leaving the filter dry and vulnerable. If it needs to be done, just take the filter out, add oil and squeeze it out; don’t wring it.

“Now sit on the bike and make sure all of the controls feel comfortable. You should have already set your levers, so now check your brake pedal height and shift lever height and set according to preference.

“Last but not least, while you are still sitting on the bike grab a buddy and have them help you check the sag. Start by taking a measurement (in millimeters) with the bike on the stand. Put one end of the tape measure in the axle hole, and go straight up to the fender. (You should end up pretty close to the seat.) Make a small mark on the fender where you take your measurement, and this will be the same place to measure from when the rider is seated.

Note the reading, then have the rider (that’s you!) sit on the bike, fully geared up with boots and all. Now take the same axle bolt-to-fender mark measurement you made when it was on the stand, and write that number down. The difference between these two numbers is your sag.

Consult your owner’s manual for your bike’s precise numbers, but normally Hondas and Suzukis are in the neighborhood of 105mm, while Yamahas and Kawasakis are about 95mm. If you are over the number, turn the shock counter-clockwise to take tension off of the spring. If you are under, do the opposite until you reach that magical number. Well, that’s it…now all you have left to do is go enjoy your new bike!  

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