(This story originally appeared December, 2017. It’s as valuable today as it was then – it’s cold outside!)
You don’t have to just sit there and look at your bike under its cover in the garage all winter (or even worse, in the back yard!). As long as you have access to a heated workspace, now is the best time to get maintenance done on your motorcycle.
The advantage of doing it this way is two-fold. First, it keeps you busy during the winter months, instead of spending hours reading CMG and dreaming about when you can go riding again. Second, when spring actually does come around again, you won’t be wasting precious riding time on routine maintenance.
So, here are some ideas for some ways to keep busy during the off-season. You’ll thank us next spring, when you’re off riding and your friends are stuck in the garage, bleeding their brakes and adjusting their valves.
1) Driveline: Are your sprockets hooked? Is the chain loose? If nothing else, you can set proper chain tension for the spring. And if your bike uses a shaft drive, then maybe it’s time to lube the splines. Many an owner of a shaft-driven bike has been unpleasantly surprised to find out that, yes, they do need maintenance, or they can viciously self-destruct.
2) Tires: Take a look at your bike’s rubber. Are the front and rear tires in good shape, or do they need replacement? Depending on your level of handiness and your toolkit, you might be able to change these yourself. If you’re a decent wrencher, you should at least be able to take the rims off and find someone else to change the tires for you, so you’re ready to go in spring. You’ve got a few months to watch for sales on tires now, too, instead of paying top dollar when you’re in a hurry this summer.
3) Brake pads/fluid: Brake fluid is probably one of the most-neglected maintenance items for riders, and unless they’re making funny noises, you don’t see a lot of riders checking their brake pads or brake shoes that often, either. Now’s the ideal time to get them swapped out so you don’t have to wait in spring.
4) Electrical gremlins: Got a wimpy headlight, burned-out dash bulbs, or handlebar switches that don’t work, or a horn that’s dying, or … ? Take care of it now. And now is also a good time to make sure you’ve got the correct spare fuses. Check you’ve got a spare spark plug aboard, too. And if you’ve got electrical tape keeping your wiring harness together, it’s time to patch some proper connectors in there!
5) Fasteners: If you’ve got dodgy fasteners on your bike – say, chewed-up bolt heads, or grungy JIS screws, or whatever – now’s a good time to assess what you need to replace, and take care of it. The more fastidious owner might even view this as a good time to distribute anti-seize fluid, where applicable.
6) Spoke tension: Do you ride a bike with spoked wheels — a dual sport machine, an adventure bike, or even a classic Brit bike or UJM? Now’s a good time to make sure the wheel spokes are under proper tension.
7) Bearings: When was the last time you lubed your steering head bearings? Maybe it’s time to check them over. It wouldn’t hurt to check out your swingarm, and front and rear wheel bearings, either. Remember, if you have to replace them, it’s usually very affordable to buy them from a local supplier. Jot down the numbers on the bearing, or even better, take the bearings themselves into the shop, and get good-quality over-the-counter replacements. Make sure you specify you want high-quality Japanese bearings if possible, and you’ll even be ahead of the units found in the aftermarket kits.
8) Oil leaks: If you hate oil leaks, now’s a good time to take care of them. Replace those gaskets or crushed washers now that your bike is off the road for a few weeks.
9) Tool kit: Remember when we said you need a tool kit? Did you listen? If not, then now is a good time to put one together. If you did listen, then you should take it out, make sure everything’s in good shape and not rusting away, and check to see everything is there that you need.
10) Valve adjustment: Unless you’re riding a two-stroke, chances are your motorcycle will need valve adjustment every few thousand kilometres. If your machine is newer, especially if it’s under warranty, you’ll likely want to leave this to the shop. But if you’re a self-reliant wrencher, it’s worth checking when you last adjusted your valves, and if it’s time to check them, then it’s better to do it now, than mid-summer, when you could be out riding!
11) Install heated gear: There are several drawbacks to riding in the early spring: road salt corroding your bike, potential for black ice, massive potholes left over from winter. But the biggest thing that stops most riders from rolling out their bike a couple of weeks earlier is probably the cold temperature. And while you can’t do much about the climate (or can you? Depends which political party you ask … ), you can install heated gear. Sure, it costs money, but look at it this way: a heated jacket and grips (or even better, glove liners) can add two weeks to your riding season in the spring, and two more in the fall. That’s a whole extra month of riding every year, and in Canada, that’s a major win against Old Man Winter.
No heated workspace, I’m happy to wait until April.
Can you imagine trying to set valve lash at -20?
Changing fork oil and servicing suspension components can’t hurt either.