Racing, farm work or just roaming around backcountry trails, ATV riding is a fun hobby, a great way to spend an afternoon and if used for chores, makes the job that much easier.
ATV ownership is much like car ownership. Your 4-wheeler needs general maintenance and upkeep. Like your car, letting the little things slide can slow you down, alter overall performance and ultimately impact the life of your quad.
Most ATVs don't have an odometer so you can't always tell how far you've ridden in order to know when maintenance is due. Generally, you tally the hours spent riding and based on your ATV's specific recommendations, usually when you've reached a certain amount of engine running time, you'll need to change the oil.
Scheduling basic maintenance (covered below) is key to the life of your quad but to get optimum performance out of your ATV check out the following tips to see if it makes sense to upgrade or address if you're currently dealing with some riding issues. In this guide we cover the following areas that alter ATV performance the most:
- Intake, Fuel Systems & Air Filters
- Suspension Lubrication
- Nuts & Bolts
- Drive Train
- Hoses & Cables
Riding on old tires with little tread is an obvious check however the type of tire based on your riding needs is also important. Many tires and tread types exist specifically designed for use on the Motocross track, riding trails or to handle the rigors of work. Check out our Guide to Choosing ATV Tires and Wheels to get started.
Don't forget to check for proper tire inflation before heading out. If you detect a small leak add sealant.
Intake, Fuel Systems and Air Filters
This is the bread and butter of your engine. Taken together, these systems work together for optimal engine performance and acceleration. If one is not up to the task it affects the others. Fine tune all three and ride for hours.
If your ATV uses an electronic fuel system you get better results adding a fuel controller to tune your fuel system. If you're running a carburetor and have some bum parts you'll definitely feel the pinch. Grab a repair kit to fix any issues on this front and be sure the ATV is jetted correctly.
Veteran riders know about the air filter - keep clean and well-oiled. One way to extend the air filter's life is to add a filterskin which is a must if you ride where it's sandy or dusty. One little known fact about your ATV is you can increase the power by adding a filter kit which eliminates leaks and provides more air for power. If you're racing, every possible edge counts so a filter kit may be the final ingredient in grabbing the holeshot.
Bad exhaust = Bad ride. If you're having trouble with the power band you might need a new exhaust. If you're looking for pure power check out the FMF but keep in mind some are loud and not meant for trail riding. Big Gun manufactures a great slip-on that doesn't leave your ears ringing and is trail legal.
In many respects the exhaust and intake systems go hand-in-hand. Upgrades to both give you the most noticeable performance boost. On the other hand, neglecting both is the quickest way to alter your ATV's overall performance.
The controls are literally at your fingertips when we're talking bars and grips. If you're uncomfortable riding your ability to stay in the race or ride all day is severely hampered. First check out our ATV Steering Stem Height Guide to see if you need an adjustment. Changing out your current bar to an oversized version like the Flexx is a good idea for racers and ODI X-Treme grips offer optimal traction combined with extra comfort.
Ultimately the choice comes down to you. What works best for one rider may end your day early and vice versa. You'll know the controls aspect to your ATV need addressing if you're unusually fatigued, sore or the muscles in your upper body ache after a day of riding.
You wouldn't think of brakes as a necessary component to overall performance but a set of bad brakes on your quad affects your ability to stop effectively and slow down when necessary. Brakes that bite can dump your momentum in a race faster than the most difficult corners and squishy brakes can send you off-roading, literally. If the brake system on your ATV is compromised get it fixed.
An overall brake job includes replacing worn out pads, warped rotors, the master cylinder and calipers.
The above address more technical aspects to what alters the performance of your ATV. Sometimes we lose focus though of the everyday maintenance needs which overtime can significantly reduce power, torque and the overall life of your 4-wheeler. Consider the following as gentle reminders of what to check before and after every ride to ensure quality performance each and every time out on the track or trial.
You probably guessed this one. Oil (and the filter!) is the first thing that comes to mind as well as coolant, but don't forget to bleed your brakes and replace with fresh fluid according to manufacturer's specifications. If you ride in the winter make it easy on yourself and go with a combo coolant/antifreeze to protect your quad from both temperature extremes.
The ATV suspension system includes a-arms and swing arms loaded with bushings and bearings that need lubrication. Greasing you entire system is a good idea and replacing worn or damaged a-arms and swing arms happens from time to time. Check seals and bearings; replace as needed.
Nuts and Bolts
Before every ride, tighten every bolt and nut. Forgetting about this can cost you dearly down the line when a major component loosens when you're in the thick of things. Regularly checking nuts and bolts is also a great way to find those that are damaged and worn out so have spare hardware on-hand for a quick replacement. Use a torque wrench to ensure tightness at manufacturer's specifications.
Clean and lubricate your ATV's drive chain and sprockets after every ride. For those extra-soiling rides a chain brush cuts a lot of the clean-up work time. Check for broken teeth or wear and tear to your chain. When replacing your drive chain or sprocket(s) replace all at once. A chain and sprocket kit is your best bet in this case, if you do it piecemeal remember to replace all the drive train components together.
Hoses and Cables
Like the nut and bolt check, look for dry, cracked or otherwise damaged hoses. Replace immediately. Lube all cables and replace those frayed or worn out.
There's a lot of work involved in ATV maintenance but those that stay on top of it prevent the type of performance let-down that costs a chance for the podium or ends a day on the trails. Make it a part of a regular ride-day routine and you'll slowly cut the work-time involved so you can get to playing.