Top FIve Trail Tips; What to do when trouble strikes

Modern ATVs can get very wet, but get too deep and they’ll suck water and drown, leaving you stranded. How you handle the situation can mean the difference between replacing expensive engine internals versus riding home.

Murphy’s Law can be a real bummer. It states that what can go wrong, will go wrong. When something goes wrong on the trail, it can have mild consequences (your riding buddies are annoyed at the delays) to serious (you have to spend the night in the wild or walk all the way back to your truck).
Naturally, the best way to keep trouble at bay is to heed the famous Boy Scouts motto: Be Prepared. Always check your machine’s mechanical state at regular intervals to insure that it’s in peak condition. Even so, trouble or bad luck may still sneak up on you.
We have listed five common trail maladies and what to do about them. In some cases, our on-call experts chimed in with their sage advice. Heed their words well, and then get out on the trail!

A flat tire is probably the most common problem you’ll encounter while riding. They happen anywhere, at any time, and for almost any reason.
Always carry a tire repair kit with you. They are small, weigh very little, and can really save your day. Inside you’ll find a set of plugs, a needle-like applicator, a CO2 inflator cartridge, and a bottle of vulcanization cement. Take the needle and ram it once or twice into the hole to clean it out and smooth it. Then put a plug into the end of the needle, smother it in the vulcanization material, and insert it almost completely into the tire, leaving a little of the plug showing, then remove the needle, leaving the plug inside. Once the cement has hardened, use the CO2 bottle to re-inflate your tire. Examples of these kits can be found at, (800) 888-9021.
If the sidewall gets punctured, you’re in more of a bind, because these plug-style kits can’t repair a sidewall tear. You can try an industrial strength patch kit, not the small one found at bicycle shops. Apply the cement and large, thick patch to the sidewall and press firmly.
Lastly, install a set of TireBalls in your tires before ever leaving your house. The system works by putting individual inflation cells in each tire. If one gets punctured, the rest keep your tire solid and rolling. They’re expensive at around $250 a tire but they work wonders on keeping you going. Most of the top GNCC racers use them., (877) TIREBAL.

We spoke with chain and sprocket guru Vic Krause, founder of Sidewinder Sprockets, (630) 513-1000, for top tricks and tips when your chain goes kaboom while riding.
Vic Krause: “A broken chain can usually be attributed to lack of maintenance, inadequate lubrication, worn sprockets, and dirt and mud—all contribute to weaken your chain. Plus, a chain stretches as it ages, and should never exceed more than three percent of the nominal chain length. And of course, hitting a rock or log can shatter a chain in a heartbeat (and your sprocket too!).
“What to do if the chain is still usable and you find the missing master pin link but there’s no trace of the side plate or clip? Not to worry! Because you were clever enough to wrap a length of safety wire around your crossbar in case of an emergency, you are prepared to answer this challenge. Reinstall the chain. Reinsert the pin link into position and wrap the safety wire around the clip grooves in a figure eight pattern to secure the link. Tie off the safety wire and limp back to base camp. You survived and learned three important lessons:
“First, never reuse a master link clip. They are made from spring steel and lose 50 percent of their holding tension the first time they are removed. This is the real reason most master links come apart. Also, if you are heavy handed putting on a new clip and carelessly pry it over the pin, you can distort the clip and set yourself up for a tossed chain. Special pliers are available to install and remove master link clips in a foolproof manner.
“Lesson number two is that carrying a length of safety wire can pay big rewards in case of a trailside breakdown.
“Lesson number three is to always carry two spare master links aboard your quad on any cross-country adventures.
“Another scenario is when the teeth begin failing on your front sprocket. The snatching in the drive train is unmistakable…teeth are missing. Stop immediately and reverse the front sprocket. Enough metal is left on the opposite sides of the remaining teeth to get you home if you drive gingerly. The lesson here is to inspect the front cog regularly for hooking and wear.”

Let’s face it, we own ATVs and we therefore love to get them as dirty—and wet—as possible. Swamps, rivers, and mud bogs are just too tempting to pass up. But sometimes we get in too deep and before we know it, the quad is coughing and sputtering and on the verge of stalling out. What to do?
The key here is, if the water is up to your tank and it doesn’t look like you’ll be able to get out in the next few seconds, switch the machine off quickly. Do the same if the quad suddenly dies. The reason is, if water has been ingested into the cylinder, trying to run the engine will cause serious internal damage. Water doesn’t compress like fuel does, and all sorts of expensive things can bend, break and shatter.
Get your ATV out of the water (see winching technique section of this article). Remove the airbox lid. If the air filter is soaked, pull out the spark plug, dry it off and set it aside. Dry out the spark plug cap with a dry cloth if possible. Remove the air filter and wring it out.

Would you want to get mired in muck like this without a winch? We thought not. Ride with a winch and a buddy, and know proper winching techniques.

If you have a four-stroke engine, turn the on/off switch off and hit the electric start or kick the piston through, and watch all the water from the cylinder and exhaust blow out through the pipe. If water keeps coming out of the exhaust, stand it up on the grab bar and let it drain out. If your machine is a two-stroke, with the plug removed, tilt the ATV on its side or upside down and push the kickstarter several times to drain the water out of the cylinder and bottom end through the spark plug hole (you may find that two-stroke engines can hold a surprising amount of water!)
Once you’re certain all water is out of the airbox and/or the cylinder(s), put it all back together and try to start the machine. It will probably blubber and sputter, but don’t hit the throttle to try to dry it out! Just let the engine idle, because there may still be damaging water in there. After a few minutes of idling, the engine should start drying itself out and sounding better. If not, you may have to be towed back to the trucks.

If you take a tumble on your quad and break a clutch lever at the perch, don’t despair. Get your tranny into neutral (you may have to rock the quad as you click through the gears to neutral), Have your riding partner give you a tow or push and bump start it from neutral to second. Nevertheless, this is a moment when you’ll really appreciate riding with a buddy. You may not be able to bump start your quad by yourself.
The best thing is to carry a spare lever. They’re cheap, small, light, and easy to install, so why not carry one in your fanny pack?

Our friends at Ramsey Winch (, ([800] 777-2760) filled us in on the correct techniques of winching and how to extricate your quad in a safe manner.
Ramsey Winch: “The best way to get acquainted with how your winch operates is to make a few test runs before you actually need to use it. Plan your test in advance. Remember, you hear your winch as well as see it operate. Get to recognize the sound of a light steady pull, a heavy pull, and sounds caused by load jerking or shifting.
“Your winch will not only pull your ATV up or ease your ATV down a steep grade, it will also pull another ATV or a load while your ATV is anchored in a stationary position.
“Use a heavy rag or gloves to protect your hands from burrs when handling the winch cable. Use the supplied hook strap when handling the hook for spooling the wire rope. Never connect the hook back to the cable around an anchor point. This can cause cable damage.
“It’s generally preferred to use a strap or chain of suitable strength along with a D-shackle when pulling another ATV out of trouble. If hooking directly to the ATV, always attach the winch hook to the ATV frame. Never attach the winch hook back to the winch, winch mounting system or any other parts of the ATV that is not the frame. When anchoring the winching ATV to a tree, always use a tree strap protector and place it as close to the bottom to the tree trunk as possible.
“When attaching the cable hook to an anchor point, always attach the hook facing upward. If the hook ever fails, the force will proceed downward into the ground. Keep yourself and others a safe distance to the side of the cable when pulling under load. Do not step over a cable or near a cable under load.
“When pulling a heavy load, place a blanket, jacket or tarpaulin over the cable five or six feet from the hook. This will slow the snap back effect in the event of a broken cable.
“Use the ATV wheel power to help the winch, but don’t overtake the winch line. Plan your pull. You can’t always hook up and pull out in one step. Examine all the areas for anchoring possibilities as well as leverage situations, direction and goal.”

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