Skip to content

Bush mechanics Pt 1: Getting your bike out of the bush | Features

Suffering mechanical issues in the bush is not fun, and in some cases, it can have disastrous consequences.

Getting your bike out of the bush

Not every problem can be fixed on the trails, but fortunately there are a few tricks that can at least get you and your bike home.

Radiator damage

Many a ride has ended in an encounter with a rock or tree and a cloud of steam. If the leak is a pin hole, a tiny crack or a split, these can be stopped or slowed by pouring a few packets of black pepper into the radiator. Believe it or not the pepper somehow finds its way to the leak and blocks the hole. I know it sounds crazy but it works. The best way to keep some on hand is to grab half a dozen pepper satchels from MacDonalds and stash them in your bum bag.

If the hole is bigger or you’ve tried the pepper and it didn’t work you still have options. Products like Permaoxy from Permatex are sold in most Aussie auto stores. Permaoxy is a two part epoxy resin like Araldite but is sold in a playdough like state. Roll or wrap the two ingredients around one another, then squash them together to mix them and they are ready to use. You have to be sure the surface is clean, dry and free of oil and grease to give the epoxy the chance to bond to the alloy. Be sure you wait an hour or so until it hardens before refilling with fluids.

If the radiator is torn off or run through you may be able to re-route the water flow as long as it isn’t the cap side radiator. Block the inlet and outlet hoses to the damaged side with some tree branches shaped to size and tighten down the hose clamps. Most bikes can run happily on one radiator as long as the revs are kept down and the water can still circulate. Sometimes you can shorten the hose and then swap it around with the other hoses to fit. If it looks hopeless remember the mantra of the Marine Corps “improvise adapt and overcome.” A pocket knife, twigs, zip ties, duct tape and a MacGyver like attitude might just get you home before dark!

Flat tyres and no tubes

One ride almost ended in disaster after we encountered an area covered in thorns and we wound up with four bikes with flats and not enough tubes to go around. There was no way a new tube was going to survive the ride out through the thorns so we resorted to stuffing grass into the tyres. We simply laid the bikes over and took one side of the tyre off the rim and rammed as much grass into the tyre as possible. The more you can get into the thing the better it rides. On rear tyres, wrapping zip ties around the knobs and rim to stop the tyre spinning on the rim works. If there are not enough zip ties fencing wire can work too. If you can get enough grass in the ride is amazingly good. So good in fact, a few months and many rides later we found one of the bikes still had grass in the front when a new tyre was fitted!

Broken gear lever

What if someone snapped off a gear lever miles from home? If you’re prepared and have included a small set of vice grips in your bum bag, you’ll be able to get the bike home. If the conditions are fairly easy and mostly trail you can just use the vice grips to get the bike into second or third gear and ride it out. If there are a bunch of tricky hills and tight riding you’re going to have to shift gears to keep going. Try positioning the vice grip on what’s left of the shifter or onto the shaft itself if the lever is totally gone. Depending on the bike you can usually get it so you can shift. Having it straight up and nudging it by lifting your boot off the peg to move it works.


All of the advice and techniques related here are to be taken as potentially dangerous and should be used only as a method to extract yourself from the bush and back to safety where proper repairs can be made. Fuel and oil are flammable and every effort should be made to transport them safely and avoid any possibility of dangerous spills and possible ignition. Hot oil and coolant can cause severe burns and injury so be sure to let the bike cool down before attempting working on it and be very careful to shield yourself from any possible leaks from poor temporary repairs. Once you get your bike running be sure to ride out in a safe manner with regards to the temporary repair.

See part two of Bush Mechanics here. We tell how to deal with crank case leaks, collapsed wheel bearings and broken throttle cables.

To receive the latest news, reviews and video highlights from the world of dirt bikes, sign up to our weekly newsletter here.