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How to Maintain your Bike

The Thorny World of Motorcycle Maintenance

I suppose that in the near utopian world of riding motorcycles there has to be a soft underbelly somewhere. For me this is maintenance. I am not talking about stripping the motorcycle down to replace such dark and mysterious things like a wet clutch – I just talking about the everyday stuff that saves you having to walk home from a Sunday morning breakfast run.

One of the first lessons I learnt about motorcycling is that maintenance and repair are different things. In my experience maintenance is entirely my responsibility while repair I can leave to my friendly mechanic. For example. My mechanic will gladly replace or repair my brake pads but may not add a few drops of brake fluid into the brake reservoir. He will change my oil but may not inform me that a rubber breather pipe for the oil sump is looking worn and brittle. He will fix the starter motor but may not top up the battery water in the battery. He will replace my front tyre but may not report to me that four of my spokes are loose. He will replace the chain but may not replace the rubber chain guides.

With this in mind it is you the rider who will be on the receiving end with something goes wrong when the details of regular maintenance are neglected. Here is a simple program that even the least DIY minded rider can implement and therefore keep their pride and joy on the road. This best time is before you mount your bike to go on a longer ride. This is a good time to cover the most pressing items e.g. oil, brake fluid. When you wash your bike is an opportunity to do the more detailed items. Finally the day before you take your bike in for a regular service. This is the time for a nut by nut inspection so that you can discuss your bike’s needs with your mechanic.

This program is divided into these three opportunities i.e. Pre-Ride Inspection, Pre-Wash Inspection and Pre-Service Inspection. There should become a lot of overlap as you become more familiar with your own bike – this is a good thing.

Pre-Ride Inspection

Leaks – Here your garage floor tells most of the story but also check the shocks for suspension oil. Also keep a look-out for parts of your bike that are more soiled than they should be. Sometimes a rubber overflow pipe comes loose and fluids overflow onto your frame. If you do find a leak you will need to establish whether it is oil, fuel, water or brake fluid. Bear in mind that brake fluid eats through your paintwork

Lights – Check that all lights are working i.e. indicators, headlamp (low and hi) and all warning lights in the cockpit

Tyres (tires) – Check that they have pressure. A hard kick for the rear and a thumb for the front are adequate for now. Use your own hand held tyre pressure gauge once every ten days or so. Tyre gauges at service stations are notoriously inaccurate. Also keep an eye out for cracks, tears and sharp objects in the tyre itself.

Front Brake Fluid Reservoir – Ensure that the level is correct as this is the brake that packs the most stopping power.

Chain – Is it correctly tensioned and adequately lubricated? If it needs a bit of attention you can do that when you return from your ride as it is unlikely to be that critical. If your bike has a master link check that it is good condition (endless loop chains obviously do not have a link)

Fuel – Check your odometer and/or fuel level in your tank. Also check the rubber pipes around the petcock ( fuel tap) for obvious leaks. With this information you can decide when and where you will be stopping for fuel.

Oil – Your oil level is best checked when you stop for fuel when the oil is hot (check your manual for specific instructions for your bike). Many bikes cannot accept an entire 500ml can of oil without becoming overfilled. Check your manual to find out the difference between the low level and the high level in ml. Then when you add oil you can ask the attendant to add half or three quarters of the can. The remaining oil in the can you will just have to leave behind.

Pre-Wash Inspection

Includes the items above with the extra checks outlined below

Fluid levels – Check the rear brake reservoir and the cooling system reservoir. Also the water levels in the battery. It is a good idea to buy your own battery water from a pharmacist as I have it on good authority that some service centers just use ordinary tap water.

Loose bits/missing bits – A bike vibrates a lot more than a car and many of the parts are more flimsy. Therefore bolts easily loosen on parts that are not directly attached to the engine. If this remains a problem with your bike consider fitting spring washers where you can. You can also replace regular bolts with nylocks bolts or you can add a drop of blue Lockitt ™ solution to the bolt itself. All of these will safely prevent bolts coming loose.

Corrosion – The problem with corrosion is that once it starts it is very difficult to stop. Therefore even the small hint of it should be treated immediately. Chat to your mechanic should you find any

Wheel Rims – Spin the wheel if can to check that the rim is not buckled and that it is perfectly round. Solid cast alloy wheels are prone to loosing their shape especially if they hit a pothole too hard. Spoked wheels should have all their spokes checked. Do this by tapping them with a screwdriver. If they make a high pinging sound they are fine. Loose spokes can be tightened. Spokes whose threads are stripped and therefore cannot be tightened can be replaced when you have a new tyre fitted.

Brake Pads – A quick visual inspection can tell you when they need to be replaced. The pad is made up of a steel backing plate with the pad bonded onto it. The pad part should be thicker than 1.5mm. Check your front pads carefully, as they are the ones that pack the stopping power. Brakes should release the brake disks as easily as they apply pressure

Cables/Controls – Check the ends of the front brake cable i.e. where it attaches to the front brake lever and where it ends. All you are looking for it a clean look without any little broken wires that make up the cable. Do exactly the same with the clutch cable and any other cables that have visible ends. Ensure that the action is smooth as the cable tightens and releases. If not, it could mean that the cable is breaking and needs to be replaced.

Pre-Service Inspection

Includes all of the above with the extra checks outlined below

Electrical wires – Visually inspect every electrical wire that you can see. Ensure that the insulated covering is in good condition. Wires that become chaffed can start to short on the frame leading to difficult to find problems

Rubber – Check all rubber tubes, pipes and coverings. They must be flexible and soft. Check that the ends have not developed a small split. Check that they are firmly attached. A burst or leaking pipe is not something you want on a long trip

Chain – Check the rubber rollers and guides that surround the chain. It is easy to see when they need to be replaced

Brakes – Check the action of the brake i.e. how the different parts move as you apply and release the lever or foot pedal. The entire action should be smooth. Fluid or air should not escape from any part of the mechanism. Rubbers covers should be sealed and tear free. The pads should release as easily as they apply. Every second service ask your mechanic to strip, clean and rebuild the calipers that force the pads onto the brake disks. This is more important if you regularly ride off-road as dirt gets into the calipers and begins to retard their working action.

Plastics – If you motorbike has a fuller fairing covering a lot of the engine area I suggest that you remove these and deliver your bike to your mechanic without them. This makes your discussion with the mechanic clear and unambiguous – you can point exactly to a brittle pipe or leaking connection. When you collect the bike you can then actually see the work that has been done – it is not hidden behind a plastic that you may only remove months later.

At this point you are probably thinking that the list is too long and it does not sound as easy as I mentioned in the opening paragraph. Let me assure you that once you understand this list, you will in reality check all these things easily and almost sub consciously. You will also appreciate the feeling of confidence that will come every time you get onto your bike knowing that everything is in good order and that your ride will not be broken by some unexpected breakdown at the side of the road. Every aspect of your ride will be predictable. You will also have smaller repair bills, which will be evenly spread out over the year into affordable chucks – not all in one huge bill once a year that can leave your budget in tatters afterwards.

After the service you may be thinking of getting an MOT carried out on your vechicle. There are pre-mot points set out on our site. For more MOT information follow this link.