Spring riding checklist

Ah, that early spring sunset glow. The grass might not be this green where you live, but it will be. Time to get your bike ready for spring.

It’s spring! We’re into April now, and it’s time to ride!

Before you head out, you should give your motorcycle a spring check-up (or, if you don’t know what you’re doing, get a qualified mechanic to do a check-up). It’s probably been a few months since your bike has been on the road. You should make sure everything’s in order before you head back out on the street — your life might depend on it.

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 out mice, rats and other critters, remove them. Don’t laugh — this is more of a problem than you’d realize.

Check to see if the bike fires up. If it doesn’t do so right away, make sure you’ve got the easy bases covered. Start with the no-brainer stuff:

  • Is the fuel petcock turned on (if there’s one fitted)? No? Turn it on.
  • Is the kill switch or ignition in the off position? Yes? Turn it on.
  • Are there burned-out fuses? Yes? Replace them.
  • Does your bike have a kickstand safety switch, or a safety sensor that only lets the machine start in neutral?

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 carburetors (assuming you have carbs)?

No? Oh dear …

Did you remember to use ethanol-free fuel at your last fill-up? If not, you might be in for a mess, although EFI bikes seem to be better than older carbureted machines. Photo: Honda

If you have carburetors and didn’t drain them, 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 degraded gasoline and the thing will never start (you’ll need to remove and clean the plugs in this case). Letting the float bowls 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. Charge her up, but don’t use a standard automotive 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 (a Battery Tender or similar unit is a good bet here, or your local dealership might be able to help).

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.

Make sure your tires are still in good shape, with no weather cracking, and proper inflation pressure.

Next things next

So your bike fired up and is running okay. Congratulations! There are other things to 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 that might not have caused a flat last year, but is trouble waiting to happen. Look over your rims and check your spokes (if applicable) too.

Make sure your chain is clean, and in good shape!

2) Driveline: Check your chain (if you have a 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, 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 — no broken teeth, frayed edges, or squeaks. They don’t usually need much adjustment, but everything wears out eventually, so take a look.

Shaft drives are extremely low maintenance, but still require periodic tinkering. If you don’t change your gear oil, you’re running the risk of catastrophic failure. Make sure your shaft drive maintenance is on schedule. 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 with 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 them side to side to check for any clicking in the swingarm bearings.

Check out your brake system for binding calipers, worn-out pads, dirty fluid or other problems.

4) Brakes: Make sure your brakes are still in good working condition — check the pad thickness, and make sure brake lines aren’t cracked or degraded. If your disc brakes are mushy, it’s time to change the fluid (you should do this every few years anyway, so if you can’t remember the last time you did this, now’s the time). If you’ve got drum brakes, make sure the shoes are within spec, and make sure the cables/rods are in good shape (put some lube on that adjuster so you can move it when needed). And make sure the brake lights work. Speaking of which …

5) Lights: Make sure the 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 of spare fuses. If you’re really serious, you could even add a spare bulb or two.

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 lever moves freely as well, and check over your electrical switches.

Does your air filter look like this?

7) Air filter: Make sure no mice chewed holes in it, if you forgot to block off the airbox. Clean it if it’s in good condition, or replace it if it’s looking ragged or 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.

This is the big one, obviously: Make sure your oil is changed and ready for the riding season.

11) General maintenance: Make sure all the main bolts are still bolted on tight. Engine, suspension, luggage racks, windscreens, skid plates, and any other added bits. You should check the torque on your axle nuts too. Make sure there’s no loose bodywork.

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, because a long winter without riding will be sure to leave you a tad rusty too!


  1. Regarding batteries – more times than I’d care to count I’ve heard people complain that after taking out of storage that their machine won’t start. FIRST THING is to have the battery checked with a load tester. Just because it sat all winter attached to a Battery Tender doesn’t mean it has enough cold cranking amps or the capacity to hold a charge. Most auto supply stores or your local moto shop can check it for you right on the spot. The finite service life of most batteries is 5-7 years at best, any longer than that you’re living on borrowed time. It could save you the time, trouble and $$$ of having your bike towed in to a shop that is already swamped with spring rush.

  2. The spring rush to get the bike back on the road! A great article for those who didn’t store their bike properly last fall. Filling the tank, adding stabilizer, changing the oil and throwing a battery tender on before you park the bike goes a long way to avoid these problems in the first place.

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