Task #1: Steering head and bearings:
When was the last time you cleaned the head bearings and inspected the races very carefully? Yes that means both bearings and both races! It cannot be cold enough to solidify grease, so you will need to have a warm garage to do this! You’ll somehow need to prop the front end up in the air. Wood blocks under the exhaust, stands under the engine, stands that reach the frame slider and hold the bike up that way and of course, straps from the roof to the frame (requiring the tank to be removed). There are many ways to do this, but ideally this is a one hit job completed start to finish and it can be done very quickly if there’s no damage to the races. If the races need replacing, the wheel, fender and forks must be removed.
Once the upper triple clamp is off, you can take the lock rings and tabbed washers off (straighten the tabs first). The wheel will touch the ground exposing the lower bearing and give you access to the race. You can remove the upper bearing and race. Clean everything meticulously and then inspect carefully for wear. If in doubt, replace it. All good? Repack the bearings and put it all back together again.
The hardest part is getting the tension correct on the bearings It is truly trial and error. Once the front end is off center it should smoothly drop to the steering stops and ever so slightly pick up momentum (with the wheel in pace). Start with the bearings snug on the lower lock ring and work in from there with very small adjustments.
Once done, check using the front brakes that there is no clunk with the steering stem moving against the bearings. Make sure that there are no worn or worn out button on the brake rotor sending the wrong info!
Task # 2 Swing arm pivot and bearings
This is perhaps the most neglected part of a street/track/race bike. It’s hard work, dirty and there’s often a lot of grunting involved especially if there are shims between the swing arm and frame. The shock is already out, so this is not too hard.
Look at the assembly as a whole on both sides. Is there a lock nut in place? Do you need any special tools to remove it? Are you willing to get those tools or just use a hammer and a punch? Do you need a socket on both ends or a socket and large allen wrench. Can you compile the tools you need? If not, I wouldn’t do this until you can borrow what you need as tightening the swing arm pivot shaft is a very important task and you cannot guess the torque value!
If the swing arm is very dirty use engine degreaser on it before you remove it. Follow the product instructions on use as well. There’s nothing worse that trying to manipulate a swing arm that is covered in old chain lube and rocks!
Once the lock nut and pivot shaft are removed, clean and grease the pivot shaft. Ease the swing arm out and remove the end caps. You do not need to cut the chain at this point.
Are there any shims – note which side they came from? Clean the bearings and inspect them very carefully. If they are sealed, is the rubber failing and shredding? Any doubts? Replace the bearings. You’ll need to take the swing arm to a shop that has a press for that. Next, inspect the plastic guard that sits on the swing arm. Is it intact, is the center guide rail worn down? Are the attachments points cracked or broken? Replace it!
Reinstall the swing arm very carefully paying close attention to the chain routing, especially with the shims. Insert the pivot shaft and make sure any excess grease is removed from both ends. Torque the shaft and nut depending on what you have to the specs listed in the service manual. DON’T GUESS!!!!!!
Then move the swing arm up and down to make sure movement is smooth and free of any grinding or binding feeling. Raise and lower using the axle end of the swing arm to give you better leverage and more feel. Any doubts, start over with the installation process.
Task #3 Shock linkage
These come in various designs:
– no linkage, just a direct mount to the swing arm
– plates that mount to both the shock and swing arm
– a dog bone link so called because of it’s supposed similarity in shape
Shock linkages are at the base of the swing arm and therefore open to all the dirt and debris the rear tire can throw at it. Add in large quantities of nice hot chain lube and there’s a big mess evolving under there. When was the last time you actually saw the rebound screw at the base of the shock? What, you didn’t know you had one? Yikes……
Look underneath and get to work! Take a picture AFTER CLEANING this area thoroughly. Plates have markings on them so you need to make sure that they go back oriented correctly or there will be severe migraine type headaches.
You should also mark one end of the link arm/dog bone with a felt pen/Sharpie so that also goes back in position the right way round. Again, there cannot be any guessing!!
Shock linkages can have fixed bushings that are pressed into the swing arm. Alternatively, they can be a pressed rubber bushing and a loose steel bushing that freely moves in and out. No matter what design you are dealing with, see if it comes apart by hand – no tools should be required. If there are any removable bushings, take them out, clean and inspect them. Once cleaned and reinstalled, do they fit snugly? There should be no free play between the rubber housing and metal bushing. If you are happy with the fit, lightly grease the bushings and install them.
While you are doing this work, also check the top and bottom mounts of the shock and complete the same servicing. In addition, give the mounting bolts a good wire brushing or use a wire wheel to polish them up.
Oh yes, you know which bolts go where, right ?!?!?!?!
Task #4: Gearing
When was the last time that you checked the rear wheel for perfect alignment? How did you do that and how did you mark the swing arm – are the marks still there? It doesn’t hurt at this time of year to go through the process again and do with no rushing and with an opportunity where all is quiet in the garage and you can get the alignment perfect.
Next, you will want to look very closely at the chain. A cold garage is a good thing in this instance, as any of the links that have a tendency to bind will show that very clearly. Bind? Where links are at different angles to each other rather than perfectly aligned. While you are checking each link of the chain, you might want to check the bushings and look at the amount of yaw in the chain under the swing arm.
To check the sprockets you don’t have to pull the chain off or remove the wheel, but if you want to take a very close look at them, you should take the rear wheel off. Look at the tips of the teeth for lateral wear and then check the depth of the teeth – has that increased? Teeth that are worn will also create different shapes from needles to nubs, so again – check carefully. Steel sprockets can be durable to a point, but aluminum sprockets wear very quickly when something is out of sync’. Check a rear aluminum sprocket every time you change the rear tire.
If you are replacing chain and sprockets for the new season – are your times faster? Will you go faster again this year? Should you actually evaluate gearing prior to buying the same stuff as a default purchase? Did you get a more powerful engine this year – that may require different gearing asap?
Contemplate, then purchase.
Then figure out with a gearing change how you are going to test for shock length changes to make sure that edge grip is retained. Cause and effect – manage it effectively……
Task #5 Brakes and lines
With a new season coming up, obviously there’s going to be new brake fluid, but have you thought of sending the master cylinders away to be inspected, or will you take them apart yourself? The reason? Bleed return holes are very small, so any debris can cause a problem.
When was the last time you replaced the line from the master cylinder to the reservoir? Is it rubber or clear plastic? Does it have any elasticity to it or is the line pretty inflexible? Does the line ‘sweat’ at all? Perhaps you need better material? Oh – do you have spares of the little plastic elbows for the master cylinder that link to the reservoir tube?
Have you inspected the brakes lines? Is there any chaffing at all on the outer protective sheath? Any kinks in the line, and have the lines been hitting the fork tube at all under the front master cylinder? Perhaps as the system is being bled you might consider moving those lines to allow a greater range of movement for the master cylinder of the bar for more angle variance and potentially better ergonomics?
Brake rotors need to be sand blasted and honed. They also need to be checked for any warping using a glass plate (off the wheel) and should be measured for thickness to see if they need to be replaced. Don’t forget to measure free play in the buttons between the rotor and carrier and please stop thinking you can get a few more races out of a rotor that is too thin. There are plenty of cracked rotor horror stories out there.
Calipers need to come apart for a thorough cleaning and the pistons to be polished and any debris or sludge to be removed. Don’t be shy – get in there!
Task # 6: clip ons, levers and rear sets
Lets start with handlebars first. Did you mark them at the start of last season and did you move them to a new position during the season as your riding style matured? Before you mark them again, are they actually even? With after an market clip on there is some degree of movement when the bike is being transported and they cannot be locked into position. Therefore every time you unload the bike, you need to take a visual check of this and have reference marks to go back to. How old are the bars themselves? Did you have to drill a couple of pilot holes before mounting everything correctly? That can create a weak point in the bar and if the bike is transported often and you tie it down firmly, that’s a lot of stress. It is mandatory to have replacements on hand that are pre-drilled (of course) so there is a minimal amount of time spent in bar swaps.
Do the levers truly fit your hand and finger length? There are many standard length and short levers with all kinds of different shapes and adjustments. The worse thing I see is the lever cannot be adjusted correctly and that can lead to counter steering when braking and shifting. Get the right shape and buy a spare set if the budget allows it. You’ll only determine that by looking at other riders bikes and with their permission, sit on their bike and see how that lever feels to you. Often it feels instinctively right.
And…. don’t forget to grease any bushing present or hinge joint!
How old are the grips and how worn are they? Are they still available or has that company ceased to exist? Do the grips fit your hand correctly? The grips have to be as good a fit in your hand as boots are to your feet. If you have a brand/model you like, get a few sets!
Did the bike go down last year at all or fall off the rear stand? Have you checked the frame tabs to see if they are bent? They can be removed and others welded in place! Remove the rear sets and take a wire brush to the loctite on the bolts and also take a tap and clean the threads out on the frame tabs. Check that the mounting plate to the frame is also straight and free of any cracks as you don’t want any side load on bushings. Next, evaluate the bushings themselves on the shift and brake levers to see how much free play there is. Too much? That could have big ramifications on shifting precisely as the shift action will be deflected from all that free play. That won’t give you a positive shift. Check the linkage throughout for too much play as well.
Task # 7: fuel injectors/carburetors and air filter
Let’s ask the obvious questions:
– did you take all the race gas out of the tank immediately after the last race/track day and run pump fuel through the system and did you add Stabil or other fuel additive to that pump gas and run that through the system for a few minutes to ensure all the race gas was gone?
– have you removed the fuel injectors and sent them away for cleaning – ever?
– did you remove the carbs from the bike, pull the pilot and main jets and blow all the passages out with pressurized air and then blow the jets out (oh and while there, did you check the needle and seat for grooving and inspect float levels?).
If you know the bike is going to be stored over the winter, you need to get that process done right away with the fuel, fuel additive and carb clean and blow dry with compressed air. If the bike has been using race gas and you left it in the tank over winter, you may need to check all o-rings and gaskets and inspect the fuel pump carefully. Have gaskets and a fuel pump ready as a spare!
You need to inspect all fuel lines & fittings and any hose clamps in place to make sure everything is intact and hoses have not been in any way compromised (bent) or damaged. This is especially true with high pressure fuel pumps and fast connectors!
Do you run a stock air filter? What is your replacement interval? Do you blow the stock air filter out (reverse side) to clean it and repeat the exercise constantly to save money? Sometimes budget restrictions make us do things to cut costs. Instead of trying to reuse a stock air filter get an after market one that can be washed and will last a lot longer. Not only that – it can be truly cleaned. Intervals on cleaning are much more regular though but that’s a good price to pay. Don’t gum the air filter up with oil though and follow the manufacturers recommendations to the letter.
While we are talking fuel and air, when was the last time you changed the spark plugs or pulled them to check the color they have? How old is your battery, when was it last load tested and did you disconnect the ground terminal before storing the bike? If you left it all winter on a battery tender – kudos to you 🙂
Task # 8: body work
On a track or a race bike – yes – this is a critical area for regular inspection. I’m not talking about bolts, I’m talking about the body work itself whether it is ABS plastic or fiberglass.
I will say this on bolts or dzus fasteners. Make everything the same as best you can with one bolt head (Phillips, allen or hex), one washer size and one series of Dzus fasteners. There’s nothing worse than needing several tools to take bodywork off.
We take bodywork for granted most of the time. It’s painted, it’s on and it stayed on all day. Really? That’s enough?
I’ve seen way too many incidents and crashes caused by failed fasteners and plenty of disqualifications from races through loose bodywork flapping around. Several of both types right in front of me…… A belly pan under the rear wheel is not what you expect in the middle of the corner!
No matter what bodywork you have, you need to inspect particularly the inside of it carefully and thoroughly. What are you looking for?
– how thin has the area become where the bodywork attachment points are?
– is the attachment area frayed at all on one or both sides?
– are there any spider cracks in or around the attachment area?
– Have the holes enlarged leaving the bodywork to move on the fastener?
– is the ram air tube area frayed and split?
– do the ram air tubes fit precisely or flop around
– are any sensors that are attached firmly mounted or loose?
– are the windshield holes drilled correctly or are there empty hole mistakes?
Nose and side fairings:
– are there any spider cracks or holes from bolts, cameras or other missiles hitting the nose fairing?
– is the nose fairing cracking from being mounted wrong in that it is too stressed?
– are the attachment holes for the windshield frayed and a loose fit allowing the windshield to flex excessively or eve move?
– do the side fairings fit correctly to the nose fairings or do you have to pull to mount them?
– are the mounts points intact, frayed or cracked?
– in the center of the side fairings, can you see any stress cracking on the inside?