For motorcycle riders, warmer days mean it’s time to ride. If your motorcycle has been cooped up inside a garage all winter, you know that there are a few things to do in order to get it ready for the road. Having a motorcycle maintenance checklist can help you make sure that you don’t skip any steps — and that you can hit the open road with complete confidence in the safety of your motorcycle.
It sounds almost stupid... but when is the last time you looked over each part of your bike? Everything on a vehicle wears gradually, making even completely gacked components sometimes difficult to notice in daily operation. Simply clicking your mindset into “spot anything unusual” mode can reveal issues that require attention — before they turn into real, ride-halting problems.
If your battery’s been on a maintenance charger, it should be fully charged. If not, plug one in now. If the battery takes a full charge, that’s a good sign — but doesn’t guarantee it won’t crap out on you halfway through your first big ride of the season.
When you go to check them out, you’ll want to roll the bike and look at the entire circumference of your front and rear tires. Ask yourself, “Are they in good condition?” Or are your tires cracked, dry rotted, or cut somewhere? Next you’ll want to inspect the tread and find your tires wear indicator. Oftentimes the rear wheel will wear faster than the front one. Don’t forget to check the pressures. Your owner’s manual will tell you the correct tire pressure for your bike.
You can check your brake pads with the tires on the ground, but it’s a little easier while your bike is still up in the air. Plus, by rotating your wheels, you can check your rotors for warping. You’ll also want feel the surface of the rotor for any scoring, and visually inspect for glazing. Don’t panic if you see some light surface rust. If your bike’s been sitting, this is completely normal and will go away as soon as the brakes are used.
If you’re wondering how to keep your bike in good condition, an important maintenance step is checking your controls regularly. Inspect your brake lever, pedal, clutch, throttle, and grips to see if they are worn, loose or out of adjustment. Also look to see if the wires are routed correctly or if they are pinched or rubbing anywhere.
This is also a good time to think about your brake pads and brake fluid. Make sure you’re changing these regularly so that everything stays in good working condition.
If you didn’t drive your motorcycle all winter, the first thing to do is change the fuel. Gasoline gets stale when it sits in the tank too long. Use a siphon pump to get rid of the old gas and then fill the tank with fresh fuel.
Just as you need clean fuel, you also need to change the oil and replace the oil filter before you take your bike out for your first ride. Neglecting this step can affect the performance and longevity of your motorcycle.
Brake juice isn’t the only often overlooked fluid to refresh. How old is your coolant? Fresh coolant should also be an every-other-season affair, although your machine’s maintenance intervals may differ (check the manual). A good flush with water, or even just a simple drain and fill will go a long way to preventing corrosion inside your cooling system. (Installing a fresh radiator cap at the same time is cheap insurance.)
Always use a new oil filter, and make sure you stay on top of fuel filter and air filter recharging or replacement. My bike calls for air filter service at every oil change (5,000 miles), and fuel filter every 25,000 miles. Check your manual or a parts diagram; you may have another fuel screen in the petcock or fuel pump pickup that needs attention, as well. Also check if your exhaust uses fiberglass packing (cotton candy shooting out your exhaust tip is a dead giveaway your packing’s toast).
The next step in routine bike maintenance is to test your lights. Make sure your headlight is working on both the high and low beam settings, do a quick check on the tail light, and test your turn signals or marker lights. If your bike is equipped with hazards, don’t forget to check those out also.
One thing people often forget when they think about how to maintain a motorcycle is to inspect the frame of the bike. Take a peek at the forks and make sure the fasteners are tight, there’s no leaking oil and that the wheel is mounted correctly. You’ll also want to check out the swingarm and make sure it’s not bent anywhere, and again that the fasteners are tight and the wheel is mounted correctly.
Don’t forget to look at the side stand as part of your proper road bike maintenance. Is it still in good condition or is cracked or bent somewhere? Make sure it’s securely mounted so that it stays up when riding. Some bikes will not run if the kickstand is down, but on others it can drop while riding and kill the engine!
Changing your spark plugs is another important step in proper road bike maintenance. If you don’t keep this part maintained, you run the risk of them burning out and then you won’t be going anywhere. When you go to put on your new spark plug, you’ll need to make sure it’s properly gapped. A gap tool makes this super easy. You can pick one up at any auto parts store.
Break out the torque wrench and hit all your critical fasteners: handlebar and triple clamps, axle bolts and adjusters, and motor mounts. Double check your oil and coolant levels. Run back through anything you disturbed during your inspection and verify you tightened everything back down. Grab a tire gauge and verify proper pressure. If you’ve had your battery charging while you checked over the rest of the bike, test your lights and horn now. Finally, fire it up and you’re ready for a shakedown run to the gas station for some fresh fuel!