Front Sprocket Jammed by Caked Mud

This year’s Pune Off-Road Expedition threw a curve ball at some motorcycles. Specially those which didn’t have a sufficient gap between the front sprocket and it’s casing. Like previous years we rode through slush, muck and caked mud. But it rained lightly throughout the day. This made the caked mud soft and it didn’t jam moving parts of the motorcycles. However, this time it rained in the morning and then completely stopped. As a result the caked mud lost a lot of it’s moisture and turned hard. This led to rear wheels getting locked up. This happenned to my motorcycle as well.

I stopped a couple of times to clean out the caked mud stuck between the rear wheel and the swing arm. But much to my surprise it resulted in only marginal relief. As I kept riding the engine started feeling more and more stressed. I stopped to clean the rear wheel one last time. This time I did a through job and removed all the caked mud. But as I twisted the throttle, the RPM increased but without the corresponding increase in speed. That meant only one thing. I had fried my clutch plates. Or so I thought.

In reality, I had fried my brain and not my clutch plates. In all the confusion, it didn’t strike me to take a look at the front sprocket of the motorcycle. Turns out it was completely jammed by with hard caked mud. This put a tremendous amount of braking force on the output shaft which resulted in the clutch slipping, giving me the impression that I had fried it.

But it was a good thing that I stopped riding the trail and took the motorcycle to a local mechanic. That way I could get the problem fixed and could join my friends to complete the trail. But some others weren’t so lucky. They continued cleaning their rear wheels and revving their engines oblivious to the fact that the problem was the front sprocket. Many actually fried their clutches.

The learning for me from this experience is that when the mud begins to get harder, its best to remove the front sprocket cover, so that you can clean it along with the rear wheel. You had better be wearing proper riding boots so that you are protected from the front sprocket in case you have a spill. The easier option is ride through puddles of water whenever you can so that the caked mud starts to dissolve or at least becomes soft so as to not jam the front sprocket or the rear wheel. We didn’t have that option since the track was a steep climb and a steep descent without any water bodies along the way.

If you have other ideas, I’m all ears.