By Iain Glynn
This is part two of a three part series.
Now that you have taken care of the easy to service and update items you can address the performance related service items. For less than a couple payments on that new bike you can bring the measurable performance of most bikes way up. The first things to address are the common items that wear over time. Performance degrades slowly so chances are you haven’t noticed that your brakes are a little softer, your chain doesn’t as roll smoothly, or your suspension doesn’t keep the tires on the ground with quite the same authority that it once did. With a few simple services you can have your bike going and stopping as good as new again.
The stopping system on your bike is the most important and easiest thing to service in this category. If your bike is more than a year old you will absolutely benefit from a brake fluid flush and some new brake pads. If your bike is more than five years old this is also a great time to look into changing out your old brake hoses for new units. The external surface of the brake hose may still look great but the inner liner can swell or degrade and restrict the flow of brake fluid. Braided stainless brake hoses are available for most models but even a new OEM rubber hose is a great way to bring your braking system back up to spec. With the levers and pivots working smoothly from your earlier cleaning you can push that new fluid smoothly and squeeze those fresh brake pads for a crisp and confident stop.
The chain drive on most motorcycles is badly neglected and people don’t think about how much that old chain effects how your bike goes down the road. I have seen riders with old chains think their bike has problems ranging from out of balance tires to broken transmissions. Just because your chain isn’t broken doesn’t mean it isn’t ready to be replaced. Even if your chain is squeaky clean and well lubed it may be worn out or have kinked links. If your chain has 10k or more miles on it REPLACE IT and you will be amazed at how different your bike rides. The distance between the chain links increases as a chain wears so always replace both sprockets at the same time as your chain or you will accelerate the wear of the single new component you just installed. For more info on chain and sprockets maintenance out this mini article.
The clutch pull on your bike probably isn’t as smooth as it was when the bike was new and smooth clutch actuation makes a huge difference in riding feel. Clutch cables are easy to change and hydraulic systems are easy to bleed or rebuild. Be sure to inspect the bushings or bearings associated with your clutch pushrod if your bike has a hydraulic clutch. This is a great time to replace a notchy pushrod bearing before it seizes miles from home and ruins your clutch slave cylinder. Touratech stocks the ‘Magura Blood’ and clutch bleeding kit that is needed for most European bikes.
Every rider has heard the saying “keep the rubber side down” and if you only ride on clean, dry pavement than pretty much any tire will do. Adventure bikes allow you to explore varied terrain in new and interesting places and more traction will help you along the way. Tires wear in two major ways, one is easy to see (tread wear) and the other is harder to keep track of (age). Getting old sneaks up on a tire just like it does to most riders, but a tire is cheap and easy to replace.
All DOT legal tires have a date code molded into the sidewall that looks like a 4 digit number. This 4 digit number represents a week number and a year to identify when the tire was manufactured. 0116 represents the first week of 2016 and 5217 represents the last week of 2017. The rubber compound of your tire will begin to lose it’s flexibility and thus it’s ability to stick to the ground as soon as that slippery coating wears off the new tire but this degradation usually doesn’t accumulate to a noticeable change until a few years have passed. If your bike has tires that are more than 3 years old you should seriously consider changing them to get your traction back!
The shape of a tire has a significant impact on the handling characteristics of a motorcycle. If your front tire is wider and flatter, this will set your bike up to be more stable in a straight line but the bike will require more effort to lean over into a turn. If your front tire is taller and narrower the bike will take less effort to drop into a turn and allow you to initiate turns more quickly. Rubber compounds from different manufacturers allow more or less grip on cold or wet pavement.
A tire that lasts a REALLY long time will often not provide as much grip as a tire that wears out quickly. Some riders prefer a tire to maintain it’s tread depth for multiple years, others want their tire to stick like glue and they don’t mind changing them more frequently than their engine oil.
Tread is the easiest way to guess the purpose of a given tire and the shape of the tread blocks really comes into play when you leave paved or hard packed surfaces. Having large voids between tread blocks makes a tire look very off-road capable but it really hurts the on pavement performance because it reduces your contact patch with the road. A tire with very little space between the tread blocks is more likely to ‘pack up’ with mud when the going gets slippery. Real off-road dirt bike tires are actually much flatter in profile than street tires because as the bike leans over the aggressive side knobs on the tires are forced into the ground to produce traction on soft surfaces.
Adventure bike riders are really challenged when it comes to finding the right tire because of the mixed surfaces and different challenges every rider faces. There is no perfect tire that works great everywhere but there are some very good compromise tires that work really well across surprisingly varied surfaces. To get the most out of your bike it is very helpful to look at what type of riding you most often do and buy the tire that will perform the best for you.