With spring in the air, it may be tempting to get your bike out and on the road sooner rather than later, but it’s important to give your motorcycle a good once over before you do. Some of the tips below may seem like common sense, but sometimes it’s the small things that people tend to forget. It’s important to correct issues and concerns with your motorcycle before they become costly repairs, or worse, affect your safety. As a mechanic and motorcycle enthusiast, here’s my list of things to look for before going out for a ride.
Examine the frame regularly for cracks on the gussets, accessory mounts, and welded joints. Also, check for paint lifting which may indicate a sign of stress to that area of the frame.
- Front Frame – Look for any unwanted movement. This can be done by moving the suspension up and down while turning the handlebars left and right. It should move freely with no binding or tight spots.
- Rear frame – Raise the wheel and check for any unwanted play or movement at the mounting locations. The swingarm should not move side-to-side, but be able to freely swing in an up and down motion.
Check the levers and pedals carefully for cracks and breaks. Make sure all of the mounting locations, including the handlebar mounts are tight. Look for fraying and kinks on all cables.
Look for any loose or fraying chafing insulation, missing clips, and broken wire looms and ties. If you find any, repair or replace them. Take a look at the routing of the wires to ensure they’re not being pinched or interfere with steering or suspension movements.
Check for cracks, fading, and loose mounts and joints. When adjusting your mirrors, they should stay where you set them, but still be loose enough to re-adjust without much effort.
Make sure your lights work. It is crucial that you can see and be seen, so check the brake lights, running/passing lights, signal lights, emergency lights, high beams, and the headlamp. Checking the headlamp includes the aiming and height of it when turning your handlebars right and left.
Look for cracks or loose lenses and reflectors. If the light lenses appear to have excessive condensation, check to make sure they’re mounted tightly. Otherwise, it may be time to replace or seal them.
Examine your tires. A tire blowout can occur suddenly and without warning, so make sure your tires are in good condition for safe riding. Check tire pressure by using a pressure gauge. All tires should have the minimum and maximum pressure imprinted on the sidewall or in the owner’s manual. I verify that information with what my motorcycle manufacturer recommends. Front and rear tires may differ, and riders with passengers may require a different pressure.
Look at the tread. All tires have wear bars located throughout the tread area. If the wear bars are almost flush with the tire tread, or if there are any unusual patterns such as flat spots or cuts, it’s time for new tires.
Take a good look at your wheels for signs of damage such as missing spokes or wheel weights (whether your wheels are solid cast aluminum or spoked). Check to see if your wheels are loose by grabbing the top and attempting to move it around. If the wheels feel loose or make clicking sounds, do not ride your bike.
Inspect your brake pads to see how much is left on both the front and rear brakes. Replacing the pads is paramount to safety and will result in savings in the long run before they damage the rotor or disk.
Check the suspension system, which not only keeps your motorcycle on the road when travelling over bumps, it also gives complete control of steering and handling which is critical for a safe and comfortable ride. To check the front forks, push the front suspension down, and to check the rear shocks, push the rear down. Also, look for any odd movements and signs of oil leaks.
Verify the throttle moves freely and snaps closed when released by turning the handlebar right and left with the engine running idle. The engine should not rev higher when the handlebars are turned. If it does, it needs to be repaired immediately.
Examine your bike for any loose connections, corrosion on the battery terminals, and to make sure the battery is securely mounted. A loose battery can have a short lifespan due to it bouncing around and absorbing additional vibrations and bumps.
Chain or Belt
Look for damage to the drive belt or chain, such as fraying of the belt or abnormal wear on the chain links. If your bike uses a chain, check for buildup of debris and to see if it’s due for lubrication.
Look at your stand closely to see if there are any cracks or bends. Check the retention spring and make sure it’s in good shape and holds the stand tightly in position.
Check coolant. Some motorcycles are liquid-cooled and need special attention to coolant levels and cooling fans. Look for debris on the radiator and leaks in all hose connections. But, remember — these systems are under pressure and shouldn’t be opened when hot, so pay attention to the warning labels!
Fluids and Oil Levels
- Engine Oil – Check levels as per the owner’s manual. Look at the condition of the oil and change if required. From my experience, synthetic oils can handle higher temperatures and seem to last longer between oil changes.
- Gear/Transmission Oil – Since there are many bike designs out there, follow your manufacturer’s procedures to verify the levels and types of oils needed for your bike.
- Brake Fluid – Most front and rear brakes use a master cylinder with a glass site to see the levels. Remember – no brake fluid means no brakes, so check this regularly!
Check fuel and hoses. Most bikes require premium gas. Even though your ride may be able to run on regular fuel, you might notice poor performance and pinning sounds under acceleration or heavy loads. Before riding, check for loose fuel supply hoses from the tank to the carburetors or injector fuel trains. If there are signs of even a small leak, get it repaired immediately.
Don’t Forget Your Gear
Inspect riding gear before you head out to make sure it’s in good condition. Worn or damaged helmets, protective wear and boots could be a safety concern and could impact riding abilities.
There are a lot of things to check before heading out, but it should only take a few minutes before every ride. Safety should be your number one priority and if you check your bike regularly, you’ll also help reduce the chance of a breakdown and costly repairs, allowing you to enjoy the freedom of riding on two wheels for longer. If you are not familiar with your bike’s components, you should seek the service and advice of a professional mechanic. You should also ensure that your bike has regular maintenance for optimal performance.