Yep, it's confirmed. A few days standing out in the rain in November have wrecked my head.
I'd better clarify. While I was under orders to keep the garage clear so that the kitchen fitters would have somewhere to leave the flat-packs (after first getting it clear, in comparison to which the Augean Stables were a bit of light dusting) the poor old Sprint had to sit outside in the wind and rain. When the flat-packs were unflatpacked and installed, the garage became a kind of dumping-ground for bags of grout, fractions of floor-tile and odd bits of plastic whose purpose was never quite clear. This situation lasted for about six weeks in all, during which the weather was proper Welsh wet. The XT suffers this treatment all the time, of course, but seems to be able to shrug it off. This is one of the great advantages of using a trail bike as a drudge - they are built to get wet and mucky, and to fall over a lot, so a bit of rain and rough treatment is hardly going to upset them. Bearings are sealed, O-rings are everywhere, cables have little rubber boots on to keep the water out, and everything is designed to be as weatherproof and durable as posible. A two-wheeled Land Rover, if you like. It isn't that the Sprint is delicate (people I talk to in the forums run them year-round and to astronomical mileages) but it doesn't shrug things off like the XT does. It needs looking after.
And after six weeks of not being looked after, the steering had virtually seized. Moving the bars from side to side was like stirring a bucket full of stones. A bit of gentle toing-and-froing got it to move a bit easier, but it was clearly in need of attention. Rumour has it that the steering head bearings are not over-lavishly lubricated from the factory, so it's a failure that is waiting to happen. The schedule says to dismantle, clean, lubricate and adjust the head bearings every two years. The bike is 9 years old and there's no evidence it has ever been done, so it's not a surprise that things have gone wrong.
It was a dry afternoon here today, so I took it out for a gentle ride. Well, it started gently, anyway. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. The bike was quite rideable, but every corner was threepenny-bitted (should that be fifty-penced these days?) and cornering at speed felt none too secure. Even straight line riding was a bit weavy, but not bad enough to prevent some checking of the power curve. All in order there. So there's no putting it off or hoping it will get better on its own - something must be done. It's bang-on due for its 12,000 mile service now, and dealing with the steering head is part of the schedule, so it is now in the garage again and when I get a bit of time I will make a start. 12k is the big one, and there is lots to do. Luckily the XT is romping round like a teenager at the moment, so it's no hardship - and in fact a considerable luxury - to take the Sprint off the road and give it some proper attention while the XT continues its winter duties.
I suspect that cleaning and lubing the bearings won't be enough. They feel too far gone, so I will be ordering up a new set shortly.