Maintenance and Troubleshooting

A tale of all the work we had to do on the bikes during the trip so far.

We try to fix problems on our own, before turning to experts for help.
We are not experienced motorcycle tinkers. But we tried to prepare the bikes by ourselves before embarking on the trip and thus get to know them a little. We’re constantly learning and of course already managed to do one or another newbie mistake. But we’re determined to never make the same ones twice. ๐Ÿ™‚

We rely on:

  • the workshop manual for the DR-Z400 by Clymer (good explanations and good quality photos of all the important parts and steps)
  • the thumpertalk DR-Z forum, where many common problems have already been covered by countless other DR-Z riders
  • the facebook group ‘DRZ400 Owners’, where we got useful help within a few hours after posting about an urgent problem
  • and lastly on exchanges with other motorcyclists on the road. Everyone we have met, had some tips and tricks to pass on, which came in handy months later

If we find the time we will also post a list of all the tools and spares we carry. The selection has been expanding ever since we started running into some of the more serious troubles you can expect once you’re on the road for a while.

Our experience with mechanics in South America is mixed. There are some guys who really know their job and take good care of the bike, but many just do sloppy work and you’d be well advised to check any job done on your bike. We still can’t believe how many loose or even missing screws we detected after someone else laid hands on our bikes. Try to be around when someone is working on your bike, and check everything again after the work is done. And insist on correction if you’re not happy. After all it’s your life that depends on a well-maintained motorbike, not the mechanic’s.

Some of the “problems” might not seem significant to you, like loosing a screw. But for us, this often meant spending a whole day, often more, walking or riding, being sent criss-crossing a city (sometimes several) from one shop to another in search for the item we needed. That’s why we also mention the smaller troubles. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You just can’t carry spares to ALL the screws on your bike.

May it be of help to anyone planning a longer trip on a DR-Z 400, and maybe other bikes too.

maintenance (to keep the bike happy)
minor troubleshooting (annoying, but doesn’t leave you stranded)
major troubleshooting (showstoppers)

Trip km LBB km FYH km What happened? What did we do? Country
0 6’179 7’127 trip starts CHL
~400 ~7’527 chain guard mounting screw lost screw replaced CHL
~500 ~8’027 horn stopped working bought replacement, but problem solved itself, probably bad contacts CHL
2’321 9’448 rear break light didn’t turn off anymore greased the connection point between brake pedal and brake light switch CHL
3’426 9’605 10’551 regular maintenance engine oil change (by mechanic)
(20W50 semisynthetic)
3’426 10’551 drive chain starts to wear changed front sprocket (from 14 to 15 teeth) CHL
5’123 11’302 a fall shortens the break lever now I too have one of those fancy short levers, yay! CHL
5’261 11’440 worn rear tire new rear tire (Cheng Shin Cross) CHL
5’261 11’440 chain guard broke temporary fix with zip ties CHL
7’437 13’616 worn drive chain installed new drive chain (Yaban (Chinese)) CHL
7’778 13’957 chain roll disappeared caused by a too loose drive chain? CHL
7’778 13’957 1st puncture, rear tire (wire) fixed with cold patch, re-did the whole job after realising that the wire punched both walls of the tube multiple times ARG
8’927 16’073 worn drive chain installed new drive chain (Yaban (Chinese)) ARG
9’126 15’305 16’270 regular maintenance engine oil change (incl. oil filter)
(10W40 semisynthetic)
9’751 15’930 16’900 worn rear tires (Cheng Shin after 4’500km; Heidenau K60 after 12’000km) mounted new ones (Mitas E-07) ARG
9’751 15’930 worn front tire mounted new one (Pirelli MT60) ARG
9’751 15’930 drive chain was losing a pin fixed failing link with new clip master link ARG
11’006 17’185 rear rack broke (probably too much vibration under heavy load) brought the rack to a welder who did a marvelous and quick job ARG
11’371 17’550 2nd puncture, rear tire (screw) fixed with cold patch ARG
11’962 18’141 chain roll still missing finally found and mounted a new chain roll ARG
11’962 18’141 19’377 rear shocks need adjustment to higher load from luggage adjusted spring pre-load ARG
12’142 18’321 drive chain broke at full speed installed new drive chain (D.I.D 520V) ARG
12’160 18’339 3rd puncture, rear tire (nail) fixed with cold patch ARG
12’529 18’708 4th puncture, rear tire (patch didn’t hold in the heat), subsequently the valve was ripped off replaced beyond-repair 18″ heavy duty tube, with a regular 21″ spare tube (works fine) ARG
~13’470 ~20’885 chain guard broke (a common DR-Z problem??) temporary fix with zip ties and a piece of wood CHL
15’123 21’128 22’364 regular maintenance engine oil change
(10W40 semisynthetic)
15’223 21’228 22’464 air filter dusty cleaned preventively for the high altitudes in Bolivia, with fuel and engine oil due to lack of proper K&N cleaning kit CHL
~15’345 ~21’350 5th puncture, rear tire (thorn) replaced 21″ tube, which we fitted during the last puncture and were to lazy to replace until now, with new 18″ tube BOL
16’031 22’210 chain guard broke a welder reinforced the thin metal plate and bolted it to the plastic part BOL
~16’314 ~22’493 lost screw between hand guard and bar found replacement in a shop selling exclusively screws BOL
18’255 25’706 slowly leaking rear shock (had been a problem for a while) brought in for service > oil seal was replaced BOL
18’255 25’706 maintenance air filter cleaned and cables lubed by mechanic (unsolicited) BOL
19’198 26’492 extremely worn drive chain and sprockets exchanged for a complete new set, chain baought in Chile (D.I.D 520XV), sprockets ordered from Germany BOL
19’579 25’758 a fall broke the clutch lever still rideable ๐Ÿ˜‰ BOL
19’781 25’960 rubber part of the chain roll disappeared again, WTF? maybe it’s not the drive chain that’s too loose, but the constant proximity of the chain to the chain roll due to the installed lowering links? not fixed for the moment BOL
27’921 21’742 close to 40ยฐC and no coolant in the expansion tank checked coolant level and topped it up with 1dl of boiled water (closest we could comet o distilled water) PAR
27’921 21’742 since coming down from the Bolivian Altiplano the engine started increased backfiring cleaned air filter with K&N cleansing set PAR
22’147 28’326 backfiring on deceleration increased to embarassing levels, usually when slowing down before a police checkpoint exchanged exhausts in hopes of detecting and fixing an air leak. No leak found but the backfiring stoped (and did not appear in the other bike either) PAR
22’210 28’389 29’543 regular maintenance engine oil change (incl. filter)
(15W50 semisynthetic)
23’581 29’760 complete loss of power when just starting to accelerate to enter the highway; towed the bike 10 km to the next town changed fuel to better grade, changed spark plug, inspected carburetor and finally found the signal coil on the stator at fault > new core and rewinding of stator coils solved the problem BRA
23’591 30’953 the frame’s mounting bracket for the rear rack broke (again, combination of vibrations and heavy load) welded by specialised Aluminium welder BRA
24’357 31’705 worn front tire after 27’000km (Heidenau K60) mounted new tire
(Mitas E-07)
27’956 33’383 worn drive chain, detected missing clip to the master link (so lucky we saw it in time!) shortened drive chain by one link while also replacing master link (I know it’s not the smartest thing to do, but I wanted to squeeze out the sprockets’ last drop of life) BRA
28’445 33’872 35’770 regular maintenance engine oil change (15W50 semisynthetic) BRA
29’659 35’086 rear subframe broke in three places found a skilled Aluminium welder in Sรฃo Luis BRA
29’987 35’414 after washing the bike to prepare for several maintenance jobs, it suddenly stopped running.
When checking the spark plug for moisture, we found the spark plug hole filled with water and sand!
blew out the hole in hopes to remove the sand while the sun did his job to dry the water
we cut out a small rubber apron to shield the hole from future mishaps
29’987 35’414 37’330 worn rear tires after 20’500km (!!)
(Mitas E-07)
mounted new ones (Metzeler Enduro 3)
When we replaced FYH’s tire, we found a broken nail stuck in the tube – without doing any harm (yet). So that’s our half puncture ๐Ÿ˜‰ and we learned why it’s still a good idea to use heavy duty tubes, even though they couldn’t prevent LBB’s many many flat tires…
29’987 35’414 worn drive chain and sprockets exchanged complete set (D.I.D 520V) BRA
30’006 35’433 37’330 both rear racks broke welded at the same time as LBBs subframe BRA
30’584 36’011 6th puncture, rear tire (tube had several folds, one ripped open) after being fitted to 130/80 tire, the tube must have expanded and been too large for the new 120/80 tire
mounted a new tube
30’584 36’011 37’931 when getting off the boat after 5 days on the Amazon, both bikes run 20m before stalling and refusing to start again fuel levels were quite low, so we refilled the tanks and then drained the carburetor. When turning the fuel back on, it did not flow into the carburetor and we figured the float valve must be stuck. Hammering gently on the carburetor body with the handle of a screwdriver for a while miraculously solved the problem. Thanks to Christoph for this valuable tip back in Bolivia! BRA
30’840 36’267 pressure in the front tire fell repeatedly during one day of riding. rattling the valve released more air.
Eventually I got a flat tire (no.7): the valve stem popped (not ripped) out of the tube
mounted a new tube BRA
30’840 36’267 while fixing the flat, we decided to change the tire too, even though there was still some life in it. (Pirelli MT60, 20’500km)
We were preparing for some serious mud sections on the notorious BR 319 through the Amazon region.
mounted new tire (Metzeler Enduro 3) BRA
30’919 36’346 rear subframe broke again, along the welded lines temporary fix with old tube and spannners BRA
30’919 36’346 after several mud baths the starter, horn, light switch and the head light flasher stopped working and the kill switch refused to release cleaned all contacts with water and a copper brush BRA
31’504 38’836 rear break pads reached their end of life fitted new break pads from the spares BRA
32’032 39’364 arriving at the hotel we discover that the bike is covered in oil and still leaking oil from the crank case Checking behind the sprocket guard we found the counter shaft nut completely loose. The spacer behind the sprocket slid out, causing the leakage.
This nut coming loose, is a known problem of DR-Zs and happened to both our bikes several times before (the reason we purchased our own 30mm spanner socket), but never combined with an oil leak. As the nut was stripped we purchased a similar nut and adjusted it with the help of a lathe operator. When installing the new nut, we applied some loctite to the counter shaft splines (as advocated on thumpertalk)
33’171 38’598 8th puncture, front tire (bad quality tube had a manufacturing error which caused the hole) because I wasn’t careful enough with the levers the tube got ripped close to the valve, which was not repairable. So we fitted a new tube. PER
33’171 38’598 worn front break pads fitted new break pads from the spares PER
35’179 40’606 42’425 regular maintenance engine oil change (15W50 semisynthetic) PER
35’541 40’968 master link broke while riding!
The drive chain ate the chain guard, fortunately no further damage
fitted a new master link PER
37’344 44’577 worn front break pads fitted new break pads from the spares ECU
37’344 42’771 worn rear break pads fitted new break pads from the spares ECU
38’100 43’527 45’196 worn rear tires after 8’000km (Metzeler Enduro 3) mounted new ones (Heidenau K60), which we had been carrying since Lima (Peru) ECU
38’100 43’527 45’196 FYHs rear rack broke again in two places and LBBs rear subframe is broken since the Brazilian amazon welded both the frame (aluminium) and the rack ECU
38’100 43’527 constant vibrations caused the foldable mirrors to droop a screw through the joint fixes the issue ECU
39’470 46’504 1st puncture (9th in total), rear tire (nail) fixed multiple holes with two cold patches ECU
40’146 45’573 47’194 measured valve clearance – some were too small exchanged 3 shims on each bike (both ex. and right int.) COL
40’146 45’573 47’194 checked cam chain tensioner – LBB had no clicks left, FYH 3 clicks (=limit) replaced cam chains COL
40’146 45’573 47’194 we had to drain coolant and engine oil to access the cam chains replaced coolant and engine oil (15W50 semisynthetic) COL
43’426 48’853 worn drive chain (D.I.D. 520V) exchanged drive chain (D.I.D 520XV) COL
44’001 53’064 chain guard broken welded COL
44’001 49’428 9th puncture (10th in total), rear tire (total flat over night after loosing air for 3’500km) fixed multiple holes with two cold patches COL
44’386 49’813 since Ecuador LBBs battery has problems charging in search of the problem we installed a new battery – but we quickly realised the battery was not causing the problem COL
44’984 50’411 10th puncture (11th in total), rear tire (patched tear increased) mounted a new tube COL
45’341 50’768 52’383 regular maintenance engine oil change (15W50 semisynthetic), incl. filter COL
46’157 51’584 53’194 checked valve clearance – everything ok! ๐Ÿ™‚ nothing to adjust COS
46’157 53’194 while checking the valve clearance we found a small piece of metal on the engine cover; turns out FYHs front sprocket lost almost all its teeth
we also found the clip to the master link of the drive chain to be missing
replaced front sprocket and clip COS
46’609 52’036 LBBs battery supplies too little power for the headlight (caused by a faulty stator, see below) making riding in the dark a dangerous adventure installed an auxiliary LED headlight until the stator can be fixed COS
47’224 52’651 worn rear tire after 9โ€™000km (Heidenau K60) mounted new one (Pirelli MT60), which we had been carrying since Cartagena (Colombia) COS
47’503 52’930 LBB had to work hard on the steep gravel hills of Cost Rica.
The coolant expanded so much it flooded the expansion tank, leading to considerable loss of coolant and rapid overheating of the engine.
topped up with aprox. 4dl of coolant COS
47’552 54’589 2nd puncture (12th in total), rear tire fixed hole with cold patch COS
47’921 53’348 since 2 months LBB has probems to charge the battery.
We traced the fault to a fried stator coil and once the problem became too severe (no e-starter, no light, no turn signals, no horn, …) it had to be addressed
exchanged the stator with a new one from a Suzuki GN250
the original wires including the pick-up coil had to be attached/soldered to the new stator
47’921 54’958 several times we detected a loose clip on the drive chain, it’s time to fix the issue replaced clip-type with a rivet-type master link COS
48’400 53’827 drive chain broke at the master link while riding, probably the clip fell off replaced with a new DID X-ring clip link NIC
48’845 54’272 54’272 worn front tires (LBB: Metzeler Enduro 3 after 18’000km, FYH: Mitas E07 after 24’000km) and one rear tire (FYH: Heidenau K60 after 11’000km) mounted new ones (Pirelli MT60, Metzeler Enduro 3), which we had been carrying since Cartagena (Colombia) NIC
48’853 54’280 speedometer stopped working, upon closer inspection we found that the speedometer cable must have broken nothing so farโ€ฆtime to practice speed intuition skills NIC
Trip km LBB km FYH km What happened? What did we do? Country