Ken has been riding motorcycles for more than 30 years as a commuter, trail rider, tourer, and expert-level road racer.
This past winter has been extreme, with some of the coldest temperatures in years. These cold temps likely saw many motorcycle riders store their motorcycles under cover waiting for the Polar Vortex to retreat.
As spring transitions into summer, it’s time to dust off the bike and head back out onto the road. But, before you strap on your helmet and thumb the starter, here are my three tips for getting back on the road this summer.
Before taking your first ride you’ll need to make sure your motorcycle is up to the task. Hopefully you put your motorcycle away properly last fall, so it takes minimal effort to bring it to life. If not, you may be in for some frustrating downtime.
With the help of a motorcycle owner’s manual, someone with moderately competent mechanical skill can perform most of the tasks we are about to discuss. For tasks that are not covered in your owner’s manual, please consult your dealer’s service center. These are the eight most important things to check on your motorcycle.
One of the most common pre-season mechanical problems involves the fuel system. It is caused by riders parking their bikes without adding fuel stabilizer to the gasoline. The problem is that old fuel turns into a gooey varnish that can clog the small passageways in the fuel system. This is a significant problem on motorcycles with carburetors, but even fuel-injected bikes can be affected.
If you neglected this task you may be looking at the time and expense of a thorough fuel system cleaning. If the gas in your tank is old it’s best to resist starting your motorcycle. Instead, drain the old fuel from the tank (and drain the carburetors if applicable). This can prevent stale gas from circulating through the system. If your bike runs poorly even after draining the gas, consult a mechanic and learn your lesson by storing your bike properly next time!
Check your air filter, as rodents seem to be particularly attracted to building nests in air boxes. Remove any debris and replace the filter if it looks particularly dirty.
Tire pressure will drop significantly over the winter and nothing affects handling and wear more than very low tire pressure, so be sure to put a gauge on those stems before the motorcycle rolls out of the garage. If the tread is worn near the tread-wear indicators, or if the tires show any signs of rot, now’s a good time to replace the old tires with new rubber.
While you’re down there, check drive train wear. Sprockets should show no significant signs of hooking and the chain should not pull very far away from the back of the sprocket. Replace the chain and sprockets as a set if necessary. If all looks good, check the adjustment and give the chain a good lube. Hopefully you lubricated the chain before storage, which means no rust should be present. If this duty was neglected, give the chain a clean and lubricate it before the first ride, then perform a more thorough lubrication after the chain is warm.
Check your oil level, or better yet, change the oil and filter if you didn’t do it before tucking your bike away last fall. Old engine oil contains acids that are best removed. If your bike is liquid-cooled, check coolant levels, including the fluid in your overflow tank (see your owner’s manual).
It is important you maintain your brakes. Squeeze the front brake lever and press on the rear brake pedal to feel for a firm application. Look in the sight glass or at the brake master cylinders to see that brake-fluid levels are good and if the fluid is the color of apple juice or darker, plan on replacing it soon.
Grab a flashlight and take a close look at your front and rear brake calipers to see how much brake pad material there is remaining. Most brake pads have a notch cut into the pad as a wear indicator. If in doubt, have the pads replaced. It’s cheap insurance.
Weak or dead batteries are another common mechanical issue that can stand in the way of reviving a motorcycle after a long period of dormancy. Hopefully you kept your battery charged. If not, you will likely have to charge the battery before it will start the engine. If it will not hold a charge, a new battery is in your future.
Once your battery is good to go, be sure to check that all of your lights are operational. Check that both front and rear brake-light switches illuminate the brake light. Check turn signals, taillight, and headlights (high and low beam) to make sure they work.
Confirm that the throttle, clutch and brake (if applicable) cables operate smoothly before heading out. Finally, go around the whole bike, tightening any loose fasteners.
Now that you’ve made sure your motorcycle is ready to roll, you can think about your first ride. A word of caution before you press the starter button: spending many months in a car can cause you to become oblivious to motorcycle issues like visibility or road surface hazards.
It’s a good idea to begin your season by taking a refresher course with a local motorcycle-training program. It’s also smart to take some time to brush up on your emergency skills in a parking lot. Whether you choose to attend a formal rider course or go it alone, we recommend that every rider practice the critical skills by performing some cornering and braking drills. Here are three basic, slow-speed exercises to awaken your inner rider.
Even if you and your bike are fully ready for the new season, remember that the roads may not yet be motorcycle-friendly. Roadways take a lot of abuse from snowplows scraping the surface and from the effects of repeated freezing and thawing. Expect surface hazards during the early summer until the earth thaws and the road crews can repair the scars.
And remember that drivers aren’t used to seeing motorcycles on the road, so be extra vigilant when riding in traffic.
Study your owner’s manual and perform these routine tasks so you are prepared for the upcoming season. Also, be sure to carefully evaluate road conditions before venturing out. Taking the time to prepare for the upcoming season can ensure it is a safe and enjoyable one.
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