Preparing & planning for adventure – Part 6: Pre-trip servicing
In our last article we looked at the ways you should plan your trip and now, having decided on your destination and how you’re going to get there, we need to look into getting your bike ready for the big adventure.
Your bike’s pre-trip service is critical in ensuring that your machine is serviced and in the best possible condition for the rigours of the Australian landscape.
Good preparation reduces the likelihood of failures, and when something does fail, it makes the repair easier.
Extra attention to servicing and the condition of your normal wear parts needs to be foremost in your thoughts. Items such as tyres, chains, coolants, cables and radiator hoses need to be in tip-top condition – the same as if you were preparing for outback travel in any vehicle.
If your service is nearly due, bring it forward so that you leave with a fully serviced bike. This includes all your oils and coolants. Always use high quality oil, especially if you are going into a hot climate. We always use synthetic, or semi-synthetic oils, which cope with heat a lot better than a normal mineral oil
I always start a long ride with a new chain and sprockets. It’s the chain that wears the sprockets, and the front sprocket, being a much smaller tooth than the rear, gets a lot more wear.
It’s important to get a good quality chain, not an unknown brand, and you definitely need an O-ring chain. I don’t find it necessary to go to an extra heavy duty chain, but if you are going to be exposed to pretty extreme adventuring on a loaded bike, then it’s a smart thing to do.
I’ve had some experience with O-ring chains that spit the rollers off, so use a chain that you’ve had good experience with, or ask questions for your particular model bike from people with more knowledge than yourself. Spitting rollers (the small roller that contacts the tooth on the sprocket) can be very detrimental and the chain can fall to bits very quickly. This will mostly occur from excessive heat.
The O-ring chain is a sealed unit and the O-ring holds the lubricant in, so stretching the chain shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re putting dry metal on dry metal where the roller makes contact with the tooth, the chain can overheat.
This can happen if you’re riding the bike down the bitumen at 100km/h for long periods, so you’ll certainly need some lubricant for your chain, or it will just generate too much heat. Even in competition such as the Australasian Safari, the factory teams lubricate their chains at every possible opportunity.
The dry lubricants are better, although any is better than none, but you don’t have to pile heaps of lubricant on the chain.
There is much more damage done by over-tightening chains than by chains that are too loose. You don’t want your chain too loose or it may come off, while a tight chain will put horrendous pressure on everything. As the suspension travels, a chain that is too tight can start to damage rear wheel bearings as well as, in some cases, eventually breaking the chain.
I always start a long trip with brand new tyres, even if my current tyres are only 25% worn.
Use a tyre that you have some knowledge of, and do your research well. A tyre with a strong case is one of the most important things, and if you are going to be doing a lot of off-road adventuring, make sure you get a tyre that doesn’t throw knobs. A hard compound tyre that is too open in the tread pattern can start to get chipped on rocky surfaces, and then when you get on to the bitumen it can start to throw knobs off.
A hard terrain tyre actually has a softer compound rubber, and it’s the softer compounds that won’t throw knobs or chip as easily.
Continental, Mitas, Metzeler and Heidenau are the four main brands that are popular in adventure riding, and they all have varying attributes.
A tyre will typically have a life of between 5000 and 7000km, however, adventurer Simon Thomas gets around 15,000km from his Continental tyres riding a heavily loaded 1150 around the world. Simon rides the bike gently, and with a big load the rear wheel rarely slips. The more wheel spin you get, the more quickly the tyre will wear.
Here’s a case in point. In a strong head wind, I wore a tyre out in the length of the Birdsville Track while tyring to maintain 100km/h on a 600cc bike with no weight on it. So as you can see, the smoother you ride, the longer your tyres will last.
Tyre pressures are also critical. If you lower your tyre pressures and want your tyres to last and not damage, you must ride slower – usually under 80km/h. If you’re riding on an unfamiliar surface and you hit a rock or a stone, the impact on the tyre at 100km/h is many times greater than it is at 80km/h.
When I was riding in Africa, the locals told us not to go above 80km/h when on anything other than a smooth surface road, otherwise we would start to have tyre trouble, and that is exactly what we found.
Your tyre pressures have a lot to do with the weight of the bike. In my experience you need to add enough pressure to make the tyre stand up correctly, and it should have a little bit of flex if you apply some weight to it. On the bigger bikes that can be up around the 35 pound mark, and on tar this will be even higher on a loaded bike. On a small bike on loose surfaces, where you’re riding slower, you’ll be down to around 18 pounds. There really is a broad range, but the key is to make sure the tyre has enough pressure that it is maintaining its correct shape.
A lot of the adventure bikes have tubeless tyres, and tubeless plugs are an essential item to carry. The tyres are repaired from the outside, and the plugs are very easy to use (Google it and you’ll see how easy it is). I’ve fixed cuts up to around 15mm in length (using about eight plugs), and if you get to the repair quickly you can even save some of the air in the tyre before it goes completely flat.
Even if you have tubeless tyres, it’s important to carry spare tubes, as you won’t get the bead to re-seat properly without adequate air pressure (such as from a compressor at a service station).
It’s also a good idea to carry a couple of stick-on sleeves, which are like a heavy duty patch (as well as your tube patches), because even if you replace the tube, if there’s a split in the tyre, the flexing on each rotation can cause the tyre to pinch the tube and cause another failure. These patches are applied to the inside of the tyre and are quite strong. Also ensure your patch glue has not dried out.
If your bike runs, say, a 19 inch front tyre and 17 inch rear tyre, you can sometimes get away with carrying a 17 inch tube that will stretch enough to fit the 19 inch tyre. This is only a short-term fix, but it will get you out of trouble.
It is essential to carry some form of liquid metal in your tool kit. No matter where you’re riding, there’s always the possibility that a rock or a stick can damage your crankcase or your radiator, which could leave you stranded.
There are forms of liquid metal that come in a paste, which you knead together to harden, or you have an ‘A’ and ‘B’ tube that you can also do some great repairs with. When repairing a hole, you need to clean and sand the surfaces thoroughly (even using petrol if you have nothing else), scrape the paint and the fresh alloy surface, and patch the hole as best you can. Get the surface as clean as you can, and try not to touch it with your dirty fingers.
I’ve even seen 20 and 50 cent coins used to patch holes, and very successfully. The liquid metals will set quite quickly, and if your motor is hot then it will set it off even quicker.
I generally carry ‘Knead It’, which I find works well, but ensure whatever you take hasn’t dried out. You also need to pack the tubes well so that they don’t rub against each other, because the tubes are quite thin.
CABLES & LEVERS
Even on newer bikes, it’s important to check the condition of your cables. Clutch cables can fray over time. Lubricate them before your trip, or if in doubt, put new ones on as it could save you some trouble down the track.
It can also be worth carrying your old cables as spares, just in case.
There are repairs kits that you can get to take with you, and while a repair is not always ideal, it will get you out of trouble.
You will also need to think about taking spare levers if you don’t have good hand guards. You can ride without a brake lever, but you can’t ride without a clutch leaver very easily on a loaded bike. The best option is to fit strong handguards such as Bark Busters.
It’s a good idea to carry a spare headlight globe as these can fail for all sorts of reasons. Obviously you’ll need to pack these up in bubble wrap for transportation, and always ensure you keep your fingers off the surface of the globe, especially if it’s a Quartz Halogen unit.
The paper type elements generally aren’t quite sufficient in Australia’s dusty conditions. The dust will get through them, so you need to run an oiled foam air filter, especially if you are following other bikes. Unifilter is an Australian made oiled foam air filter and will absolutely work in our conditions. We use them on all our bikes and definitely recommend them.
Clean fuel is important and most of the multi-cylinder adventure bikes usually have pretty robust fuel systems fitted. You do, however, need to make sure the pick-up around the fuel pump doesn’t start to get blocked, as this can cause fuel problems.
Towing is a detailed subject that we’ll go into in a future issue, but a tow rope is an essential item to carry. I normally take a piece of flat webbing that rolls up and is compact, and they have reasonably good breaking strength.
If you’re doing the big lap of Australia on the tar, it’s a different scenario than if you’re doing a central exploration, whether that be Oodnadatta, Birdsville or any of the other tracks. However, once you get into remote areas you don’t have the recovery options available to you, so a satellite phone is an important addition to your kit.
You can hire them, and while the call rate is quite high, if you’re travelling in a group then the per-day cost is not that expensive. It’s also worth noting that 000 calls are free from a sat phone.
As a general rule, when doing your service before an adventure trip, try and do the whole service out of the tool kit you’ll carry on the bike. This will ensure that you have the right tools for the job. If you don’t have a tool, make sure you get it to take with you, and don’t carry tools that you aren’t going to need.
In the case of a rear wheel axle, if you do it up with a long spanner from your tool chest, then you try and do the same job on your trip with a smaller spanner out of your tool kit, you’ll find the handle won’t be long enough and you won’t be strong enough to get the nuts undone. It’s certainly better to realise this before, rather than when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.
If you’re not a mechanic or don’t service the bike yourself, at the very least check that you’ve got sufficient spanners to remove your wheels and do any general servicing items that might be required. You need to have the tools to remove your air cleaner and your fuel tank, to remove and changes tyres, and to adjust things such as your handlebar clamps, brake levers, hand guards and mirrors.
Even if you don’t know how to use the tools or fix the bike, somebody will come along who does. You can have the best mechanic standing beside you, but if he’s got no tools, then he’s no use to you at all.
Even if you’ve never changed a tyre, take the levers (I always carry three), because you’ll find somebody who can change it for you.
Breaking down in the middle of your big adventure is something that you want to do everything to avoid. While we can’t guarantee that it’s not going to happen, performing preventative maintenance on your bike will go a long way to ensuring that you get the most out of your trip.
You may not have much mechanical knowledge, but learning the basics of your bike, and how to perform simple on-the-road repairs will certainly pay big dividends at some point down the track.
Enjoy the ride!