We run Editor Arris’s spring motorcycle maintenance how-to every spring, in case you’ve forgotten how to get your bike running. Hope the snowbanks are shrinking wherever you’re at in Canada – Ed.
It’s that time. It’s spring. The sun is shining, the roads are snow-free(ish). Don’t you think it’s time to go for a ride? Of course, but there’s a few things you* should probably check over first.
* Assuming you know what you’re doing of course. If you don’t, or are not sure, then it’s time to pass this over to a qualified mechanic.
First things first
You’re going nowhere fast if your bike won’t start! Before even hitting the starter button, if you stuffed rags into the airbox, exhaust, etc. to keep rodents out, remove them.
Check to see if the bike fires up, and if it doesn’t do so right away make sure you’ve got the easy bases covered. Let’s start with the no-brainer stuff:
- Is the fuel petcock turned on? No? Turn it on.
- Is the kill switch in the off position? Yes? Turn it on.
- Are there burnt-out fuses? Yes? Replace them.
If this doesn’t help then you may have to do a bit of work – you did remember to take the battery out last fall, right … and drain the carbs (assuming you have carbs)?
No? Oh dear …
If you didn’t drain the carbs, then do it now (there’ll be a small screw at the bottom of each carb). The small amount of gas in each float bowl loses its combustability over time and cranking the engine only serves to coat the spark plugs in shitty gas and the thing will never start (you’ll need to remove and clean the plugs in this case). Letting them fill up with better gas from the tank will most likely prevent this.
Does your battery need a charge (the starter motor should have a healthy fast spin – no spin and a distinctive clicking sound signifies it’s almost flat)? Yes? Then charge her up, but whatever you do, don’t use a standard car-specific quick charger. A quick charger pumps in too much juice for your small bike battery and is a great way to shorten battery life. Use a trickle charger or a smart charger that powers it up slowly.
If you’ve drained your carbs and got your battery re-installed and the bike still won’t start, it might be time for a more expert opinion, though at this time of year your local dealer is likely rather busy.
Next things next
So your bike fired up and is running OK. Congratulations! There are some other things you should check over before you hit the street, though.
1) Tires: Did you wear your tires down to the cords before parking the machine last fall? You should replace those worn-out sneakers before venturing out on the streets.
And even if you’ve got plenty of life left on your tires, make sure you check air pressure – even sitting, a tire will slowly leak air.
Now would also be a good time to check your tires for flat spots or any other damage. Look over your rims and check your spokes (if applicable) too.
2) Driveline: Check your chain, while you’re messing around with that rear wheel, and eye up your sprockets. Are they worn? Replace ’em if the teeth are getting hooked or the chain adjusters are maxed out. If they’re good to go, make sure your chain slack is set properly, and give it a good lubing.
If your chain constantly needs adjusting, or it has a lot of kinks (like the one in the photo), it needs to be replaced. If the teeth on the sprockets are getting hooked or obviously worn-down, then they’re worn out. Most riders replace both at the same time.If you’ve got a belt drive, make sure the belt is in good shape. They don’t need much adjustment, but everything wears out eventually, so take a look.
Shaft drives are extremely low maintenance, but still require periodic top up. Make sure yours is good to go. If you don’t have a manual that details the procedure for your bike, try a Google search.
3) Bearings: Ensure your front and rear wheels spin smoothly and there’s no sideways play; if you feel a grumbly bearing, replace it (or it will fail at a much more inconvenient time).
Lift up the front wheel and move your handlebars from side to side as well, making sure they move freely without any notchiness (especially in the centre). Also grab the wheels and move side to side to check for any clicking in the swingam bearings.
4) Brakes: Make sure your brakes are still in good working condition – check pad thickness, and make sure brake lines aren’t cracked and degraded. If your disc brakes are mushy, it’s likely time to change the fluid. If you’ve got drum brakes, make sure the shoes are within spec, and make sure the cables/rods are in good shape. And make sure the brake lights work. Speaking of which …
5) Lights: Make sure horn, high beams, low beams, signals, brakes and any other lighting works. Remember last year, when you made a mental note to pick up a couple of spare fuses for your onboard toolkit? If you’re anything like us, you promptly forgot. So, now’s a good time to add a couple spare fuses.
6) Controls: Is your throttle sticky, or moving freely? If it’s gummed up, make sure it’s working properly before you ride. Make sure your clutch is working well, and check over your electrical switches.
7) Air filter: Clean it if it’s in good condition, or replace it if it’s looking ragged or well blocked.
8) Coolant: Got a liquid-cooled bike? Make sure your coolant is topped up according to manufacturer specs. If you haven’t changed it for a while, now may be a good time to do so.
9) Valves: If you’re due for a valve adjustment, now is the perfect time. Either do it yourself, or take it to a shop. If you’re doing this, do it before changing the oil as the motor needs to be cold for this one.
10) Oil: Unless you changed your oil before putting the bike away last fall, you should do an oil change now (run the motor for a few minutes first to thin the oil). That old stuff likely isn’t in the best shape at this point. Oh, and you might as well change the filter while you’re at it.
Be aware that some bikes, like Harley-Davidsons, have separate oil for the gearbox and crankcase, thanks to their dry sump design. If this is the case, make sure you’ve got everything topped up appropriately – but make sure you don’t have oil in the sump before you add any more, otherwise you’ll have oil spraying everywhere when you fire it up.
11). General maintenance: Make sure all the main bolts are still bolted on tight. Engine, suspension, luggage racks, windshields, skid plates, and any other added bits. You should check the torque on your axle nuts too.
Make sure you have your insurance and registration up to date and on your person.
Hit the road (not literally)
Congratulations, you’ve spent enough time looking over your bike that, if something was wrong, you should have spotted it. At this point, it’s time to go for a ride – just be careful out there, a long winter without riding will be sure to leave you a tad rusty too!
Got a tip for spring maintenance? Add it in the comments section below.