No Cost Performance Improvements

Tires - What can you do to your bike that can help acceleration, gas mileage and handling? How about checking air pressure in the tires? This often overlooked, no cost maintenance item significantly influences tire wear. Set it to the tire manufacture’s specification.

Chain - Another highly neglected item that we see in our shop all the time is a poorly adjusted and usually under-lubricated chain. This will significantly affect performance and handling. A chain with no lubrication eats up horsepower (and consequently gas mileage). If you don’t believe it, try spinning the rear wheel before and after lubing the chain. Multiply the effort differential by several hundred RPM and there is a VERY measurable horsepower difference. An extreme example is when a bike has been sitting for a while and the chain starts to rust. We’ve had examples where the rear wheel wouldn’t even turn and would actually stall the engine!

Chain tension is likewise an extremely important adjustment. Too tight, (which is most common), and the gearbox, swingarm and wheel bearings all become over-stressed, the suspension doesn’t act freely, and even shifting can become difficult. In addition, the internal friction of the interface between chain rollers and sprocket increases, reducing horsepower that could ultimately be transmitted to the ground. If the chain is too loose, the chance of it jumping off goes up. Additionally, a very loose chain whipping around beats up the chain and sprockets and to a lesser degree, transmission components.

To properly adjust the chain, make sure that when the countershaft sprocket, swingarm pivot and rear axle are in a straight line, the chain is just free to move up and down a very tiny bit. You’ll find the chain is probably a lot looser when the bike is parked than you’d imagine.

Steering Head Bearings – A last thing to check is properly adjusted steering head bearings. If these are too tight, steering precision is reduced and the bike may have a tendency to weave at some speeds, as if it had an overly tightened steering damper attached. Bearings wear much more quickly in this state. If the steering bearings are too loose, the forks will transmit far more shock to the handlebars and frame, the bearings get “pitted” causing “notchiness” in the steering, and steering precision goes way down…

To properly adjust these bearings, first make sure the bearings are in good shape, i.e., not rusty, no pits or score marks, and are properly greased. Then, tighten them just enough to make sure the forks swing side to side easily with no drag, but also with no discernable looseness when the forks are rocked fore and aft. There should be only the slightest pre-load on these bearings so as to avoid any of the afore-mentioned wear issues. This slight bit of pre-load allows for new bearings to seat properly.  It should be noted that these type of bearing adjustments border on art rather than pure science and as such, adjusting bearings correctly is the result of practice, practice, practice. 

Proper maintenance of your tires, chain and steering head bearings can reward you with a precision feel in ride and handling, and add to the longevity of the motorcycle’s life.

Stay tuned for the next installment where we explore the idea of the motorcycle working for you, not the other way around.