7 Deady Motorcycle Maintenance Sins…

…that I commit on the regular.

Just to appease the most litigious among us, I’ll clarify that I’m a radio operator, machine gunner, cable guy, and engineer by trade. Thus, I’m completely unqualified to offer anyone advice on the mechanical maintenance of a toaster, let alone a pontoon boat with wheels. Be that as it may, let’s talk about me…

(1) “Always replace the chain and sprockets together”

The moment has arrived. You look down at that sparkling gold chain you’ve painstakingly spent hours keeping clean, lubricated, and rust-free, just to notice there’s a damaged o-ring protruding from between the side plates. The rollers are getting worn out and rasping against the pins so you decide it’s time to cut this chain loose and move on.

In my case, I examine the “hooked” nature of both sprockets and make a decision. Is the sprocket the cause of the damage to the chain, or has it simply reached the end of its life thanks to heavy use? If it’s the latter, which it typically is with the neglected hardware on the business end of my dirt bike, I simply buy a chain, install and move on.

Is it cheaper to replace the sprockets and the chain as a set? Sometimes. Do I like new shiny bling on my bike? For the photos in my garage and driveway, sure. For the dank whoolies on race day? You can’t see the chain anyway (unless it’s gooooooOOOLD). If you’re using your sprockets as a poor man’s Rekluse, yeah, you’re seriously cutting into the life of your chain. If your chain is missing two or three rollers, your sprockets are about to be trashed. If only one of the three components has reached its wear limit, replace and ride. The “Minister of War and Finance” will thank you.

(2) “Replace tires as a set”

Along with, “don’t mix and match tires”. Some will suggest that if you’re going to install a fresh rear tire, you should also replace the front. Others will say, if you’re going to change brands or models of tires, you should replace both tires at the same time.

Long-time readers will know that not only do I disagree with this advice, I adamantly oppose it in several circumstances. The Shinko 804 (front) has put more miles on my Scrambler than any other tire, but despite how much I like the matching 805 rear, the Metzeler Karoo 3 (in 130/80-17) lasts just as long, and until recently, was the same price with better rain and off-road manners. After spending time on the new Bridgestone AX41 Adventurecross tires, that front tire has dethroned the 804 as my preferred ADV front, however, while the rear performed amazingly on and off-road, it simply doesn’t last long enough to justify the cost per mile. This of course is my own experience, but without fail, I promise you that you’ll find similar comments about the Dunlop 606 rear paired with the Pirelli MT21 front on endless dual-sport forums. There are undoubtedly circumstances where tires do not pair well together, however, this “myth” is far more pervasive than it deserves.

(3) “When you replace the tire, you should also replace the tube”

What if I just put that tube into that tire yesterday? What if I replace tires every 2,000 miles because they’re soft (DOT) knobbies on the pavement? What if I’ve only raced on this tire once and it sucks?

Solid advice for first-time owners replacing the shagged OEM tires on their new bike. Probably phenomenal advice for folks that replace a set of tires every season or perhaps every three seasons. For folks that are spooning on fresh rubber multiple times a year… maybe. In the scheme of things, tubes and rim strips are cheap. If you’re rocking discount tires like I am but can’t splurge on a fresh tube, perhaps you’re cheaper than I am.

All that said, I re-use tubes with great frequency. On the Scrambler, I probably replace a tube every 8,000 miles or so on the rear; usually about every other tire. At one point, I was swapping a tire (or both) about every 3 months. I saw virtually no scuffing on the tube, so I just put it back in the fresh tire. You’re risking wearing a hole through the side of the tube, stress on the valve stem, dry rot, and probably some other stuff I don’t know about… and yet, I’m still here. Private label tubes are as cheap at $6 at an internet retailer but probably $30 plus if you buy a name brand from your local dealer. It’s cheap insurance, and if you’re dropping $300 plus on fresh new buns, what’s 10% more? If you’re pinching pennies, riding every week, and inspecting the tube after the change, use your noggin and you’ll be fine.

(4) “Never go cheap on tires!”

“…it’s the only thing that connects your bike to the road.”
I really… really hate that expression. This is motorcycle speak for “You get what you pay for!” Is that true sometimes? Yes. However, it’s not etched in stone.

Longtime readers will recall my lengthy write-up about ADV tires for the Scrambler. 6-7k is about all I ever expect to see out of a tire considering my hamfisted nature. $200 tire or $80 tire, if it lasts beyond 7,000 miles I’d be shocked; coincidentally, I fully expect to outright HATE that tire by the time it surpasses that mileage. While I think everyone wants something different out of a tire, be it mileage, wet weather confidence, off-road traction, or cornering grip, I think all of us subconsciously recognize “value”.

Value is what I want, per how much I pay. The K60 scout could probably see incredible mileage on my bike, but for the price, I could pay 40% less for the Shinko 805 and get 75% of the mileage. I like the K60, I’d run it again, but considering the range and the performance of the 805, I’d rather buy more tires for less to have the tire manners I prefer. That formula doesn’t work for everyone. Some folks want one tire to last a season, some folks put a premium on (insert metric here), that’s fine, I can’t argue with that. However, “cheap” might mean “affordable”, “the lowest price”, “lesser-known brand” or “shoddy craftsmanship” depending on who you talk to. When it comes to price, “cheap” doesn’t necessarily mean “low value”. Folks need to try tires and see what they think. If they’re “cheap”, even if they don’t like them, they aren’t out much. Also, if you’re keeping your eye on your machine, you’ll notice if anything seems to be “going sideways” as they say.

(5) “Always balance before mounting”

Perhaps with the caveat “on road-legal motorcycles”. Along with said caveat, I might even agree if we’re talking about “road-only” motorcycles. However, these days most tires are incredibly well-balanced from the factory. You may have an unbalanced wheel, but if the wheel is balanced and the weights are still in place, you’d be amazed by what you can get away with. I’ve mounted a fresh set of tires and forgot to balance the tires before turning out the lights in the garage. Later that week I realized the balance mark was nowhere near the valve stem. It occurred to me that I noticed no odd vibrations on the bike while riding to work, including on the highway.

Inversely, back when I was relegated strictly to pavement riding, I frequently knew it was time to replace a front tire because I could feel the wobble caused by tire “scalloping”. For folks that don’t know, scalloping, or “cupping” is uneven wear caused by several possible factors; heavy braking, underinflation, unbalanced tires (wait, what?), suspension issues, and as I’ve discovered recently, seems to be coincidental to running dual-compound tires. In my case, aside from soft suspension, cupping on my Speedmaster was caused by underinflation. Despite being properly balanced at a dealer, the tire became unbalanced over time, and for some, would lead to premature replacement.

Is this a safety issue? I’m sure it is, and if I’m on a sport bike at a race track, or even talking about my (currently) road-only Harley, I intend to balance the tires. However here’s something dual-sport and adventure people have probably noticed; if you’re forced to emergency brake on knobbies or adventure tires… congratulations, your tires are now unbalanced. After a close call with wildlife on the CRF250L, on the trip home I noticed a cyclic vibration in the front wheel. A closer inspection of the (DOT) front tire revealed scalloped knobs. At this stage are you going to re-balance the tire? What if it won’t balance, are you going to replace it? Safety first says… yes, replace it. I, unfortunately, don’t have the wallet for such things… and it’s unquestionably going to happen again when the next dog darts into the road or Turkey tries to assault me. Safety third.

(6) “Don’t air down adventure tires off-road”

“Taco’d” rims, torn valve stems, broken spokes, and pinched tubes. All things I’ve seen… meanwhile, you’ll observe me dropping 10 PSI out of my scrambler tires before I spend any significant in the dirt.
I’m an avid podcast listener and follow several reputable riding instructors on social that advocate street pressures off-road. Per all of the nightmares listed above, I get it, and they’re right. Lower pressure in “unskilled” hands can lead to significant “mishaps”. At the same time, aggressive tires and “lower” pressure is cheap talent augmentation. I’d prefer to educate and allow people to choose versus pushing hard and fast rules about riding. Do racers use their entire hand on the clutch lever as they teach at the safety course?

When racing a dirt bike, I run anywhere from 8 to 12 PSI with bead locks and ultra-heavy-duty tubes. While I did design and 3D-print a bead lock for my Scrambler for racing purposes (to run 20PSI and NOT tear a valve stem), most adventure motorcycles cannot accommodate a bead lock because the rear rims are too wide. Manufacturers also assume you’re going to be on the road, and therefore a bead lock would throw off the tire balance. In the end, conventional advice for running street pressure is to avoid flats. This is safe advice… however, even pavement racers reduce air pressure. For folks that don’t know, reducing tire pressure increases the surface area of the “contact patch” with the ground. The tire essentially gets more purchase on the earth, and typically enhances grip. Off-road it also offers the added benefit of making the ride a little softer. Again, this comes at a cost, being the increased risk of a flat tire or worse, a disabled motorcycle. I run 28 PSI front and 36 PSI rear pressure in the 19 and 17-inch hoops of my hipster machine without much trouble. I also leave the valve stem nut loose so I can see if the stem starts “tilting” from hard acceleration or braking. If that happens, I add more air. The 19″ front tire is a bit skiddish in the gravel, so lower air pressure makes things “settle down” a little. Your mileage may vary.

(7) “Winterize your motorcycle”

Welp, Labor Day has come and gone, it’s time to give the bike one last deep clean, plug the exhaust, fog the jugs, attach the battery tender, and pull the cover over the bike. Advice you most certainly won’t find here.

Following the purchase of more dirt-worthy machines, I admit to washing motorcycles way more than I expected or even want to. Finding broke shit, and fear that clay will coalesce into concrete being the main driver of the said cleaning. My own stupidity aside, washing your motorcycle with greater frequency as the mercury starts to drop is good advice. Assuming you prefer chains and fasteners with less ferrous oxide, as it nears January here on the east coast it’s wise to make sure you’ve removed road grime, dust, and especially salt before letting your prized possession sit idle in the garage.

Of course, riding all winter long is absolutely possible, and don’t take my word for it, ask Blaine Paulus Jr. That of course comes at the cost of time, tenacity, and a steady stream of replacement parts. That said, a gummed-up carburetor or throttle body, a rats nest, and spiders setting up a colony under your seat are probably your worst enemy if you aren’t prepared to kickstart the bike every few weeks through the winter. Different strokes for different folks, but after about 2 weeks of no riding, I’m anxious to hear the rumble of the machine. I make no qualms about pushing the bike into the driveway and thumbing the starter. Be aware, however, if you’re starting the engine, but not long enough to run it up to operating temperature, you are potentially doing more harm than good. Make sure you let the bike run long enough to evaporate any condensation that’s set up shop inside your engine cases and capitalize on all that dino-juice lubricating the expensive bits. A fuel stabilizer may still be a good investment if you don’t think you’ll be able to move much gas through the tank over the winter; unless of course, you can get your hands on ethanol-free gas. Those tips and investment in some solid winter kit goes a long way.

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5 Responses to 7 Deady Motorcycle Maintenance Sins…

  1. Good points that counter a lot of MC myths. I’ve probably spent most of my riding life using two different branded tires together. That way currently on both my bikes. I used to reuse tubes too, but it seems like mechanics had a sit down together somewhere and pledged to never do it again. At least the places I’ve gone recently, won’t do it anymore.
    Many moons ago I used to use aluminum sprockets (at least rear) to “save weight.” Was a stupid idea. Those may not even make it as long as the chain. Steel sprockets are tanks. They’ll outlive the roaches.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      I admit I’m presently stretching the life of tubes in my Triumph beyond my comfort level, definitely need to swap those this winter, but generally, and especially in dirt bikes, I’m gonna have a crash or a nail that generates a flat before a tube wears out.

      Great point about sprockets. I did one aluminum cookie on the scrambler and I won’t do another one, not worth the hassle, not even close.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bud Bingham says:

    I agree with your points about most of the cast in stone rules, is more subject just to use common since. My riding is on payment. No way do I feel it’s necessary to replace both tires. My front tires get twice as many miles as the rear tires. Chain, definitely replace the sprockets. I replace tubes, when putting a new tire on. Winterize. StaBil in fuel during winter months. I will ride in the winter months, weather and road surfaces permitting. Good read

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      There’s no question, there a metric for fun and risk tolerance and motorcyclists as a population are all over the map. At the same time, if a person exclaims hard and fast “rules” when a person has never personally witness the pitfalls is just proliferating mythology. I just want folks to at least be offered a realistic reason “why” you shouldn’t do the dumb things I do 🤣

      Thanks for reading sir!


  3. Days i Ride says:

    All of this is really simple common sense, though some may argue with you about airing down tires off-road. I agree with you, if you have proper off-road tires, there should be no need to air-down as they should do their job. As a cyclist, all of the things you listed are the norm in every case and I practice. So I carry the habit over to my motorcycles as well.


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