Get Your Bike Ready For Spring!

Photo: Zac Kurylyk

Spring is here! Not the lame “astronomical spring,” which is basically meaningless in Canada. Not even “meteorological spring,” which can still mean six weeks of snow ahead. We mean REAL spring, where it’s warm just about every day, and you get the kids’ trampoline set up, you fire up the barbecue… and you get your motorcycle out for your first rides of the season.

Or at least that’s the plan. Maybe it won’t start. Even if it does start, you should always give your bike a good checkup every spring. If you aren’t mechanically savvy enough to do it yourself, you can take it to a shop, but below you’ll find a quick list of things to go over.

Did you properly store your bike when you rolled it into the barn for the winter? If you did things properly in the fall, your job will be much easier in the spring. PHOTO CREDIT: Evelyn Simak/CC2.0

First things first

If you stored your bike with rags stuffed into the airbox, exhaust, etc., in order to keep out rodents, then you’d better remove all that stuff before you try to fire up the machine.

With that done, and your battery connected, hit the starter to see if the bike fires up. If it doesn’t do so right away, check all the easy-to-solve problems first before your mind immediately races to worst case scenarios!

  • 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.
  • Is your air filter clean? No? Clean or replace it.
  • Does your bike have a kickstand safety switch, clutch switch or a sensor that only lets the machine start in neutral? Safety switches can be sticky or slightly out of adjustment, even if they appear fine.

If this doesn’t help, then you may have to do a bit of work — you did keep the battery on a trickle charger all winter, and drained the carburetors (assuming you have carbs)? Right?

No? Oh dear …

It won’t start? You remembered to turn the fuel on, right? Photo: ozz13x/CC2.0

If your bike has carburetors and  you didn’t drain them, then do it now (there will be a small screw at the bottom of each carb—be careful not to strip it). The small amount of gas in each float bowl can degrade over time and cranking the engine only serves to coat the spark plugs in junk 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 can prevent this.

Does your battery need a charge? Even if the lights all work, it could be too weak to start your bike. 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; your local dealership can help, and Canadian Tire also stocks them. Princess Auto stocks lower-end trickle chargers for dirt cheap).

An internal combustion engine needs air, fuel and spark to run, and problems usually arise over the last two items on that list. If you’ve checked your air filter, 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

Carefully examine your tires, to make sure they’re up to snuff for the season ahead. PHOTO CREDIT: Hu Nhu

Once your bike is started and running well, 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.

If you think your tires are OK for a few weeks, but not the whole season, order replacements now. Wait too long, and supply chain issues may make your desired rubber unavailable this season. And if you get your replacement tires early, you avoid a wait later in the season, so it’s a win either way.

No matter how “low maintenance” your chain is advertised as, you should clean and lubricate it regularly, including at the start of the year. Photo: BMW

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 beat. 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 inspection and maintenance to avoid very expensive repair. 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. Even if you’re between scheduled maintenance times, an early-season examination is a good idea. It only takes a minute to check for trouble.

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. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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?. Photo: Zac Kurylyk

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.

Changing your antifreeze shouldn’t take long, and is a very-overlooked maintenance item. Photo: Schekinov Alexey Victorovich/CC 4.0

9) Valves: If you’re due for a valve adjustment, now is the perfect time. Well, last winter was the perfect time, but it should be done before you start racking up more miles. Either do it yourself, or take it to a shop; it isn’t a hard job for an experienced mechanic, but noobs may find this a major challenge. Even if you’re an expert wrencher, this can be a complicated and time-consuming project that might be best farmed out. If you’re doing this yourself, 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 rack, centrestand, windscreen, skid plate, 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 oil, if you stored your bike at a dealership over the winter and they did an oil change for you, check those levels before you set off for home.

  2. If there’s any doubts about the condition of the battery (even if it shows 12+ volts with a meter) take it to your local MC repair shop, auto supply store or even CTC and have them check it with a simulating load tester. After 5 or 6 years it’s likely due for replacement anyway. Some shops have a desulphating charger that might buy you another season. It could save dragging the whole machine in as well as saving you time and money.

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