Warm weather is here, and for those of you who winterized your motorcycle, now is the time to give your machine a once over. Maybe the price of fuel is making that old street bike in your garage look like an attractive alternative to everyday driving. The bike has been sitting for months or possibly years and you’re ready to drag it out and start saving some gas money! What do you need to look for to make sure your bike is road worthy again?
- T - Tires and wheels
- C - Controls
- L - Lights and electrics
- O - Oil and other fluids
- C - Chassis (suspension)
- S - Side stand and center stand
“It’s All About the Ride” and the Cycle Gear Staff wants your ride to be safe and enjoyable. Come see us if you need the supplies or advice to get your motorcycle back on the road again.
Here is the Cycle Gear “Pre-Flight Checklist”. If you don’t feel comfortable checking these things yourself, take the bike to a qualified mechanic for a professional opinion.
Overall Visual Inspection
It is always a good idea to give your motorcycle an overall visual inspection before every ride. Pay close attention to anything that could pose a danger to your safety. Five minutes is all it takes to ensure that your ride is the best it can be.
As a quick guide, consider using the acronym T-CLOCS:
Tires & Wheels
Your tires are critical—they create the link that keeps you connected to the road.
Always make sure that your tires are in good condition with no cuts, cracks, bruises or bubbles. The rubber should be somewhat soft and pliable with a distinctive dark black color. If the tires look grey in any way or show any signs of aging, (small cracks on the side wall) they should be replaced.Tires have a tendency to become hard and slippery over time, especially when not used regularly. Your tires may look fine and have plenty of tread, but if your bike has been sitting for a year or more, or if your tire rubber feels non-pliable or slippery, you should replace your tires.Make sure that your wheels are in good condition. Rims shouldn’t have dents and spokes shouldn’t be loose. When the wheels are off the ground, they should spin freely.
Check your tire air pressure (with a gauge) before every ride. Measure the pressure when the tire is “cold” and adjust it to suit the load (with or without passenger, luggage, etc.). You can find recommended pressures in your owner’s manual.
Valve Stems and Inner Tubes
Rubber valve stems and inner tubes may dry and crack over time. They should be replaced every time you replace tires or if there are any signs of deterioration or cracking. Valve stems experience heavy G-forces when in motion, so don’t overlook this important part. Inner tubes should also be replaced every time new tires are installed. Inner tubes experience friction and wear that cannot be seen until the tube is removed and inspected. For this reason, you should be even more cautious with inner tubes. They should be replaced if there is any doubt about their condition.
Make sure that all controls operate smoothly with no excessive resistance. All control cables should be lubed and adjusted. Control levers and grips should be in good condition and levers should be adjusted to a comfortable position. Don’t forget about your foot controls. Make sure that you are able to shift smoothly with no binding, and that your rear brake lever is operational.
Lights and Electrics
Always inspect your braking system before every ride.
Visually inspect the brake lines or brake cables for signs of damage. There should be no leaks, bulging or fraying. Make sure that brake fluid levels are correct and that the brake lever and brake pedal have firm resistance when pressure is applied. Air bubbles and moisture tend to accumulate and contaminate a hydraulic brake system that has been sitting, so replace brake fluid and bleed your brake lines if you have any doubts. Brake fluid should be clear to light yellow in color.
Visually inspect the brake pads and rotors for signs of damage, wear, rust and fluid leaks. When off the ground, the wheels should rotate freely without excessive drag. Now would also be a good time to clean your calipers and pistons.
Drum brakes typically have a wear indicator that is located on the brake actuator arm. Check to make sure the brake pads are not worn beyond the service limit.
Seals that sit tend to dry and crack. Check your front forks and rear shock(s) for leaks. The front and rear suspension should move freely without any binding and without excessive “play”.
The drive train is another critical safety area. At best, worn parts can keep the full power of your engine from reaching the rear wheel. At worst, you might have a catastrophic failure such as a snapped chain or stripped sprocket. Keep the system cleaned and lubed to get maximum life from the components.
Always make sure that there are no obstructions to the drivetrain. Chain guides should be checked for proper alignment and wear. Chain guide rollers and rubbing blocks should be replaced if worn.
Chains and sprockets should be in good condition. Sprocket teeth should not be missing, rounded, bent, hooked or dished-out between the teeth. These are all signs that the chain has stretched beyond the service limit and is causing damage to the sprockets. Your owner’s manual may include a method of measurement for confirming the stretch and determining if your chain should be replaced.The chain should be clean of debris, well lubed and free of rust, kinks and any other visible signs of damage or wear. Always inspect the O-rings on O-ring style chains. Replace the chain (and sprockets) if any O-rings are missing, cracked or damaged.Chains and sprockets wear together and should always be replaced together. Never put a new chain on old sprockets or an old chain on new sprockets.
Always make sure that your chain is properly adjusted according to the motorcycle manufacture’s specifications. Also check the alignment to make sure that the chain and sprockets are in perfect alignment and mesh together properly. Sprocket teeth should be evenly centered between the chain rollers.The best way to check is by using a specialized alignment tool. In a pinch, you can use the graduated adjustment marks on the chain adjusters (after verifying that they’re accurate), but it also a good idea to stand behind the motorcycle and visibly verify that the chain and sprockets are aligned properly. Another method is to measure each side from a fixed point (such as the swingarm pivot) to the axle.
When you’re finished with the adjustment, always make sure nuts and bolts are securely tightened. If your axle has a “castle” nut, use a new cotter pin to replace the old one.
If the battery has been sitting and is completely dead, it should be replaced. Even if it holds a charge, it probably won’t hold it for very long and is more likely to leave you stranded. If the battery is strong enough to start the bike and/or it has been continuously charged, regularly inspect it for corrosion, cracks and any other visible signs of damage. Maintenance free batteries should be checked with a load tester. Bring your battery to any Cycle Gear store if you need help evaluating the condition.
Oil and Coolant
Always use good quality motorcycle specific oils and make sure that the oil and filter are within service limits. There should be no signs of oil or coolant leaks and fluid levels should be checked before every ride.
Make sure the radiator hoses are securely fastened and that there are no signs of damage, deterioration or coolant leaks.
Fuel will quickly lose potency and eventually turn to sludge when left sitting. This will prevent the engine from running properly or clog the fuel system.
If the fuel has been sitting for more than 8 weeks without fuel storage treatment, drain the fuel tank. If the fuel has a brown tint, it may have turned to varnish. The varnish can clog your fuel lines and carburetor jets or fuel injectors.On carbureted motorcycles, it is a good idea to remove the floatbowl drain plugs to make sure there is no accumulated sludge in the bottom of the drain plugs. Accumulated sludge is a sign that the carburetor jets may be clogged and may need to be removed and cleaned. Leaking carburetors may need new needle valves. Make sure that your fuel lines and carburetor connector boots are in good condition with no signs of deterioration or cracking. Fuel system connectors should be securely fastened. Inspect the inside of the fuel tank when drained and make sure there are no signs of rust or corrosion. If everything looks good, fill the tank with fresh fuel and consider using a fuel system additive to help further clean the fuel system.
Inspect the air filter to make sure it is clean with no signs of damage or deterioration. Air filter oil will lose the ability to trap particles over time. It is a good idea to clean and re-oil gauze and foam type air filters if they have been sitting and then again during every engine oil change. Paper air filters should be replaced if dirty or damaged.
Spark Plugs are durable. They hold up extremely well, but it is a good idea to inspect them if your motorcycle has been sitting. Make sure they are gapped according to the motorcycle manufacture’s specifications. The electrodes should have sharp edges and the ceramic insulators should not be cracked or chipped. Inspect the spark plug wires for signs of deterioration or cracking.
Side stand and Center stand
Check the spring(s) on your side stand and/or your center stand. Make sure that the bolts are appropriately tightened and that the stand moves freely. It should go all the way down and all the way up without fear that it won’t stay where you put it.
Now that you have knocked the rust off your machine, make sure you take it easy for a few miles until you work the rust out of your skills. If you have not swung a leg over in a few years you might want to consider taking a refresher course to get up to speed quicker.