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Make sure your motorcycle is in ride-ready shape

Added April 9, 2020
A guy fixing his motorcycle

There isn’t a better time to ride right now—solo that is. Riding gives your mind a break and allows you to relax as you hit the open road. And, frankly, right now roads are a lot more open.

Considering it’s the beginning of the riding season for northern climes, your motorcycle may have been parked for months. Now is the time to get your motorcycle ready for the road, so you’re prepared to ride when the mood strikes.

Preseason motorcycle pre ride check and inspection

Even if you ride year-round, it’s important to have at least one complete spring cleaning event involving your motorcycle every year. Some riders do this before storage in the fall, while others wait until the snow melts.

Whenever you do annual maintenance, it’s a good idea to go over your entire motorcycle and inspect everything down to the kickstand, along with performing a thorough maintenance cycle, before riding into the new motorcycle season. A good maintenance habit can help avoid some expensive motorcycle repair costs.

Here’s an in-depth checklist of what to inspect:

Battery and charging system

The place to start with prepping your motorcycle for the new riding season is with the one component that stalls many season-opening rides, the battery.

Motorcycle batteries need to be maintained while your bike is in storage, even if only for a few weeks. All batteries slowly discharge when not in regular use, especially lead-acid motorcycle batteries. If you didn’t have your battery on a maintenance charger while in storage, now is a good time to remove the battery and inspect it.

After inspecting and charging, load test your battery to be sure it is strong enough to rely on. Replace it if the battery fails a load test, and it might be time to consider owning a battery booster and jump starter.

Once you know your motorcycle will start reliably, it’s time to think about keeping your motor running for the long haul.

Fresh oil and filter

The single-best investment in motorcycle maintenance is changing the motor oil and filter frequently. Every motorcycle manufacturer specifies a recommended mileage and/or time schedule for oil and filter changes, along with oil viscosity and service grade plus filter specifications. It won’t hurt your motorcycle to change the oil and filter more often.

Optimally before a motorcycle is placed in storage, the oil and filter should be changed. Doing this removes oil contaminated by corrosive combustion byproducts, which would otherwise have had plenty of time to damage your motor. Some riders also like to change the oil and filter when bringing their motorcycle out of storage.

Whether you change it before or after storage or both, check the level every ride, and watch for leaks that could have developed while the motorcycle was stored.

Fuel system and air cleaner

Ideally, we store our motorcycles with a full tank of pure gasoline and use a fuel stabilization product to prolong its potency.

If you parked your motorcycle last fall with a partial tank of ethanol-blended fuel, you need to be aware of the potential for fuel system and engine damage that tank of old fuel poses.

Motor fuel that’s blended with 10 percent or more of ethanol has a very short storage life before it degrades. Ethanol is hydroscopic, meaning it absorbs water from the air in the tank, potentially resulting in phase separation. The big risk with phase-separated fuel is that the absorbed water and ethanol settles as a layer below the remaining (now lower octane) gasoline. This layer could be drawn into the engine, causing damage. Further, ethanol can damage fuel lines and gaskets.

Inspect your fuel lines and system gaskets for signs of swelling or leaks. If you find fuel system damage and think you have a tank of degraded and possibly phase-separated fuel, it’s best to seek the services of a professional mechanic. They can repair the damage, purge the bad fuel, and process it in an environmentally safe way. Even if you stored it correctly with pure gas, remember to inspect your coolant, air intake and filter, as mice love to make nests in air cleaner boxes.

Brakes and controls

Stopping power is more important than horsepower when it comes to motorcycle safety, which make brake maintenance crucial. Inspect the brake lever, brake pads and rotors for wear and tear and smooth functioning of the caliper pistons. 

Drum brakes, which require front and rear wheel removal for visual inspection, can still be checked for stopping and release while pushing the motorcycle. Examine each control lever, cables, and hydraulic lines for function and signs of wear or leakage. Also check that brake levers activate the brake lights.

Suspension, frame, wiring harness, switches, and lights

Visually inspect the shocks, look for hydraulic leaks, and check their mounting points for signs of rust that may reveal stress cracks. Inspect the fork tubes for dirt, damage, and signs of leaking fork seals. Compress and release the forks a few times and recheck for leaks.

Check the frame from steering stem to rear license plate bracket. Look at parts like mounting brackets and mounting points or bushings, for signs of wear and potential failure. Examine the wiring harness for frayed wires or damaged insulation. Look for signs of corrosion around the battery, both wiring and battery support brackets. Check the switches and each lever on your handlebars and make sure all the lights, including high beams, and turn signals work.

Tires and wheels

Before every ride, you should check your tire pressure and inspect the tire treads and wheels for wear or damage. Your tires and tread depth are probably one of the most important pieces of safety gear on your motorcycle, as they are your connection to the road.

Roll the motorcycle forward or backward so you are able to examine each wheel and tire completely. If you find age cracking or bald spots on the tires or damage to the wheels, it’s time to call your favorite bike repair shop to come pick up your motorcycle. Never ride on worn-out tires or damaged wheels. 

Motorcycle insurance, registration, and state inspection

Most states require an annual vehicle inspection as part of licensing and registering your motorcycle, along with having motorcycle insurance. As you finish your spring cleaning, remember your bike isn’t ready to ride unless it’s registered, inspected and insured, and all the paperwork is on board and up to date.

Till next time, ride safe!

Related links:

As you get ready to ride, make sure you have another essential item ready to go as well. Here’s what you should keep in your motorcycle tool kit.

Once the bike is ready to ride and the gear is loaded, it’s time to pick out some destinations. We’ve got plenty of suggestions for the best motorcycle rides.