Pre Season Bike Prep and Maintenance

March 25, 2016


It’s that time of year when winter finally relinquishes its frigid grip on our riding season, and all that is two-wheel good in the world is properly restored. Now before you jump at the first sunny weekend with dry roads, let’s take a moment to make sure your bike is up to speed. As much of a crime as it should be, your bike as probably been banished to the dark corner of your garage for winter hibernation and is in need of a good “once-over” before you saddle up. So we’re going to go over a few key areas to double check, adjust or fix, to start your riding season on a positive note.

First and foremost, avoid the impulse to fire the bike up and take it for a quick spin around the block. If you’ve conducted any winterization (fuel stabilizer, drained fluids, etc.) make sure you address those first. If you’re not too confident with your own wrenching skills, it’s never a bad idea to take your bike to a trained mechanic you trust for a quick tune up. With that said, let’s get into our first area of inspection!

If your tire looks like this... Let's just not go there.

Tire Inspection: Tires are just as important as any other part on your machine and need as much attention as any other component. Now’s a good time to replace those tired tires from last year’s abuse, as many riders like to start a new riding season with a fresh pair of hoops. However, if you think your tires have a bit of life left in them, there are a few things to look for to make sure they’re ready to roll. First thing is to check for tread wear, make sure the tread depth is higher than the suggested designation and there is no uneven wear. Next, is to look for any visible dry cracks, nails, screws, bulges, or any other evidence of ply separation or punctures. If that’s all in good order, you’ll want to check the air pressure (If your bike has sat for any period of time, it’s definitely lost a bit of air). Proper air pressure is paramount to safety, performance and longevity of your tires. Be sure they are inflated to the recommended PSI and also inspect your valve stem, valve core and valve cap. You can find more comprehensive and detailed information on our Pre-Ride Tire Inspection List.

Make sure you have plenty of pad left, plus it's a good idea to clean those brakes from time to time.

Brake Check: To go fast, you’ve got to be able to slow down. Take a look at the pads themselves, if they’re getting close to the metal, it’s a good idea to swap those out for some new pads. Good news is that brake pads are easy to install and relatively inexpensive. Moving up, you’ll want to check the brake fluid level. Most bikes have a sight in the master cylinder, so you can easily tell if you need to add some brake fluid. Check the manual, or the top of the brake reservoir cap to see if you need DOT 3 or DOT 4 fluid, it’s important that you don’t mix these two. Just a heads up, the stuff is pretty messy, so be careful not to spill!

Give the lever a few pumps and if it feels mushy or less responsive, you may need to bleed the brakes. Bleeding your brakes can be done with a few different methods, but with a riding buddy, it can be done fairly easily. Check your manual or consult a trained mechanic before you start this process. If there were any air bubbles in the lines, your brakes should feel nice and strong once you’ve bled them properly. This should be done relatively frequently, so making it a pre-season habit to bleed and replenish with fresh fluid is a good idea.

Drive Systems: No matter if your bike is shaft, belt or chain driven, you will have to care for the system to some degree.

Shaft-Drive: Like your brake system, a pre-season ritual replenishment of gear oil is a great habit. Wipe the filler cap area with a rag to prevent gunk getting into the hole before filling the compartment. Also grease any zerk fittings along the drive line and suspension with the correct grease. Shaft driven bikes are generally trouble-free, but failing to grease maintenance points and keep the oil level up to the right level can cause things to wear out much faster than normal.

Belt Drives: Belt drive systems are smooth, quiet and reliable as long as they’re clean and adjusted to the correct tension. Adjusting the tension is fairly easy; your owner’s manual will walk you through it and tell you the right specs. Frequent inspection of the belt itself is important as well and should be replaced if there is any cracking, missing teeth or frayed edges.

Keeping your chain lubricated is only part of keeping it maintained, it's always a good idea to keep it clean to.

Chain & Sprockets: Like belt drive systems, both chains and sprockets wear out. Sprocket wear is easy to spot, typically the teeth will be hooked or cupped, dulled down and sometimes even missing. A worn out chain can be identified if it has a lot of side to side slack, keeps stretching, or starts to flatten out where it contacts the sprockets and sliders. We always suggest replacing the system as a whole, for better longevity, as a worn sprocket can ruin a new chain pretty fast, and vice versa.

If both your chain and sprockets are in good shape, a quick tension adjustment and lube will be all you need. Check your manual for the right amount of tension, and adjusting by sliding the wheel forward or backward, making sure the sprockets are aligned. When it comes to keeping your chain rolling smoothly, choose an appropriate chain lube for your type of chain (X-ring, O-ring, W-ring, standard roller). With the rear wheel lifted off the ground, manually spin the tire forward and apply the lube. You don’t need to overdo it, as a little goes a long way. To avoid fling-off, clean up any excess lube with a rag if necessary. We recommend frequently checking chain tension and lubing your chain throughout the riding season.

Left:Proper oil level with good oil. Right: Milky oil is a sign there is something wrong.

Engine Oil: It’s no secret that engine oil is the life blood of your engine and if the bike has been parked for a bit and has not had a recent oil change, odds are you’re due for some new oil. Your manual should walk you through the process, indicate proper oil viscosity to run along with the proper oil filter to use (which you should make a habit of changing every oil change). If you’re up to date on your oil changes, then simply use the dip stick or engine oil sight to see if you need to top it off. While you’re down there, give the entire engine a quick inspection for any leaky gaskets, oil dripping or pooling and anything that doesn’t look right. Catching a problem early, or before you ride can save you time, money and even your life.

This radiator sprung a leak while riding. It's a good idea to take a look at your hoses before you head out.

Radiator: When your engine is working hard and getting hot, it needs a way to cool off. Too many times we simply forget to check the coolant level, so make sure you pop the cap and take a peek. If you coolant isn’t close to the opening hole- or even worse, can’t see any, top it off with the suggested coolant. While you’re giving your radiators some love, it’s a good idea to clean the outside. Cleaning the radiator and oil cooler with a bristle brush (not a wire brush) to clear debris and bugs will help keep them working at peak efficiency.

Air &Fuel Filters: If it's been a while since you changed the air and fuel-line filters, spring is a great time to do that. Some types of air filters In an engine, air is just as important as fuel, so it’s a good idea to make sure your air filter or air cleaner is as clean as possible. There are different types of filters out there, and each requires different maintenance. If your bike has a basic paper filter, it’s a good idea just to swap those out for a new one since they are usually very inexpensive. If yours still looks relatively clean upon inspection, you can knock any dirt or debris out of it and reinstall. Oiled cotton filters like K&N are meant to last a while, however, you’ll want to clean and re-oil with the proper chemicals periodically. Foam filters found mostly in dirt bikes can be reused as well. Inspect the filter and make sure the foam isn’t breaking down, and the adhesive is still holding up strong. If your filter is fine, clean and re-oil with a proper cleaner and filter oil. Given the nature of the type of riding, you should be cleaning your dirt bike filters frequently, so it’s a good idea to have a spare or two to swap in and out hassle free.

A trickle-charger like this one from Motostance is great for keeping your battery from wearing out prematurely.

Battery: Anytime you plan to store a motorcycle for more than a couple weeks it is a good idea to use a trickle-charger to keep the battery charged up and ready to go. Whether you did this or not, make sure to check your battery is fully charged before going for a ride. Nothing can mess up your plans for that first ride faster than a dead or dying battery.

Odds and EndsSometimes it’s the little things that go the longest way, and while you’ve got your bike and your tools out, there are a few small things you can do that can prevent annoying issues from arising. A good first tip is to grab a few sockets and nut and bolt (make sure everything is tight) the exposed and easy to reach hardware, and tighten anything that’s rattled loose. A few other quick but effective things you can do include lubing cables, changing spark plugs, greasing any easy to access bearings/joints, tightening spokes and checking switch gears (horn, lights, blinkers, instruments). All easy steps that can help your bike perform in tip-top shape.

Out and About: When that special first day of riding finally does come, you should be ready to ride with confidence knowing your machine is ready for the road. It’s smart to take your bike for a quick stroll around the neighborhood before your head out on the highway, so you can repair or adjust anything you might have missed in your pre-ride tune up. After that, she’s ready for a full tank of gas and a season’s worth of miles!