How to maintain your motorcycle

If you want to get the full life out of your motorcycle, then there are a few things you have to really pay attention to. I can tell you from bitter experience that my first bike, bought new, had to be sold as a wreck less than 18 months later due to lack of maintenance! Now I pay a bit more attention! Motorbike maintenance is more than doing maintenance on your motorcycle because you have to do it now, or because it is time to do it right away. Ongoing general maintenance will keep your motorcycle in great condition with little or no unpleasant surprises on the road. It will also maintain your “ride quality”. Modern motorbikes require less maintenance than they did in the 60s and 70s but they still need a lot more maintence than a car. This higher reliability also means that there are a whole bunch of motorcyclists out there who haven’t a clue how to work on their motorbikes or what really needs to be done to ensure reliability. Riders should be able to do at least baisic maintenance on their motorbikes. The more care and maintenance you give a motorbike the longer it will last. Preforming general maintenance on your motorcycle will also help you spot problems before they happen. Here is a basic list of some of the most important things to check on a motorcycle. Even doing a little can make a big difference.

Tyres

Tip: Keep a low pressure tyre gauge (0psi – 80psi) in your bike tool bag at all times. Try to remember to check your tyre pressure everytime you fill up. Keep your tyres correctly inflated. A tyre that is very under-inflated generates a lot of heat which can lead to a blow out. Tyres that run too hot also wear out more quickly. The most common cause of motorcycle breakdown is tyre damage. Purchase a good quality tyre gauge and use it regularly until you instinctively ‘know’ what your tyres feel like when correctly inflated. Use of the gauge and visual inspections must become second nature. You can actually feel the ride difference when your tyres are incorrectly inflated! Replace your tyres sooner rather than later. If tread depth is 1-2mm it is time to replace your tyres. Take a tip from the mad sportsbikers – they never skimp on their tyres as they are often all that stands between them and the pearly gates.

Brakes

Tip: Brake fluid absorbs moisture over time and becomes less effective. Replace brake fluid every one to two years and your brakes will preform the best they can. Motorcycles have two brake fluid reservoirs: one for the front, usually found on the handlebars; and one for the back. Both should be checked regularly. Topping up should only be done from a new, sealed bottle as brake fluid tends to absorb moisture over time. Beware – brake fluid, if spilt on paintwork, eats right through to the bare metal. Also check the thickness of the brake pads. If you allow them to go right down to the metal, your brake disc will be damaged due to scoring from the metal rivets, resulting in an unnecessary and expensive replacement. Fitting braided steel brake lines will increase the performance of your brakes by roughly 50%, but check your state laws as some states frown on braided brake lines for some reason and may declare your bike to be unroadworthy.

Chain and sprockets, Shaft Drives, Belts

Tip: Lube your chain after each ride, while the chain is still warm, so the oil can easily soak in and get into all the tight spots of the chain. These items that are essential to the well being of your bike. If not well maintained, you will end up spending a lot of money all too often to have them replaced. Chains: Lubricate them with a commercial chain spray every time you fill up (or at the end of each ride). Spray liberally on the side of the chain that comes into contact with the sprockets. Ensure that you spray both left and the right hand side of the chain. Position a piece of newspaper so that you do not dirty the rear wheel rim as you spray. Use a second piece on the floor to catch any drips. Wait five or ten minutes before you wipe all excess oil off the chain. This whole process is a lot easier if your motorbike has a centre stand. Spinning the back tyre will ensure that the rest of the chain is lubricated when it comes into contact with the sprocket and pinion. This is a task that is best done when you return home from your ride while the chain is still warm. Bike chains should never be tight. They must be able to sag between 3/4″ to 1-1/4″ at the mid-point between the two sprockets. This sag is taken when the bike suspension moves up and down over uneven surfaces. Shaft Drives: Even though shaft drives on motorcycles require little maintenance (and you’ve gotta love that), we would suggest replacing the shaft drive oil every time you change the oil on your motorcycle. This will lead to a very long and happy life for the shaft drive. Belt Drives: As with shaft drives, belts do not require a lot of maintenance. Everytime you change the oil on your motorcycle check the belt tension and adjust if necessary. Make sure your belt is always clean.

Fuel

Tip: Check your fuel filter on a regular basis and replace every 2 years. Fuel is quite an often overlooked as a form of preventative maintenance on a motorcycle. Both the type of fuel you use and the quality of the fuel will make a difference to how your bike performs and the maintenance required of your fuel and ignition systems. Ethanol: Very few bikes are, as yet, ready to use ethanol blended fuels like e10, so unless you are sure, stick with the non-ethanol fuels as ethanol can do a lot of damage to your fuel system. Standard or Premium? Check your owner’s handbook for the recommended fuel type for your bike. Most bikes perform well on standard fuel and higher octane fuels can clog up your engine over time. My experience has been that higher performing engines run better on ‘mid strength’ fuels like Vortex, and a few really high performing bikes prefer to run on Premium. But both cost 6-10 c/L more than standard. Check the fuel filter (if you have one) to make sure it is not clogged and looks clean and clear. Replace fuel filters every 2 years. Check the fuel lines for weather damage and cracking: replace immediately if any is found. Normal fuel only lasts (is good for) around 6 months. After this time the fuel starts to break down. Dispose of untreated fuel older than 6 months (in your tank or a can) rather than risk running it. Specially treated fuel can last up to 2 years, but is harder to obtain. Remember when parking your bike for any length of time to turn the fuel cock (fuel tap) to the off position (if you have one). This prevents fuel potentially leaking out and flooding the carbs or the engine. Fuel sitting inside the engine will leave sticky deposits.

Oil

Tip: Check your oil level when the engine is cold, before you go on a ride. If it is not at its high or max level, top it up before going out. Regular oil and filter changes will keep your engine young and healthy. Oil level. Make sure you regularly check and keep your oil level at its HIGH or MAX level. It is best to check your oil level on the centre stand or when the bike is in a level position. An under-filled oil level can be disastrous, while too much oil over the limit may flood your air cleaner with oil (it is embarassing too). You should also know the difference between the ‘low’ level and the ‘high’ level in ml – e.g. if the difference is 300ml you cannot purchase a 500ml tin and pour the whole can in! Here are some pointers regarding oil which are true for most motorcycles:
  • The bike should be level as possible
  • The oil is best inspected cold and is therefore best done before you go out on a ride
  • Be careful to not allow foreign matter and dirt to fall in during the inspection process
  • With threaded dipsticks, do not screw the dipstick in when taking a reading, just allow it to rest on the lowest thread
  • High temperatures, time, speed, heavy traffic, short trips and dust quickly destroy the quality of your oil. If you do ride in these conditions change your oil more frequently
  • I suggest changing your oil every 5000km or 6 months, whichever comes first
  • It is recommended you change your oil filter every second oil change if you are using a good quality oil filter (e.g. Your Motorcycle Manufacturer Brand). If not, change it every oil change!
  • Always use a good oil filter. It pays off in the long run.
  • Motorcycles can and do use the same oils as cars although special synthetic motorcycle oils are available. Always use the recommended oil weight for your motorcycle (e.g. 10w40 or 20w50). Older (15+ year old) motorcycles run best on regular (non-synthetic oil), while new bikes like either

Battery

Tip: If you don’t have a sealed battery, check the fluid levels on each chamber carefully. If any chamber is low, carefully top it up. Use only distilled or deionized water, NOT tap water. Tap water has minerals in it that will not do the battery any good. The humble battery is a very common cause for motorcycle breakdowns! Unfortunately they are awkward to get to and therefore do not get checked as often as they should (mine is way inside my fairing!) A battery only requires a little monthly maintenance to perform perfectly. Keep the battery charged to 100%, recharging when the lights dim on starting, the starter sounds weak, or the bike hasn’t been started in more than two weeks. Other than that, follow this simple check list every month:
  • Check the electrolyte level
  • Top up only with distilled or deionized water, wear gloves and protective glasses. Top up in a well ventilated area, Beware of fumes
  • Keep the top free of grime
  • Check cables, clamps, and case for obvious damage or loose connections
  • Clean terminals and connectors as necessary
  • Check inside for excessive sediment, sulfation or mossing
  • Make sure the exhaust tube is free of kinks and clogs
  • Replace caps firmly
  • Finish up by testing the battery with either a hydrometer or voltmeter
To extend the service life of your battery, make monthly battery maintenance part of your routine.

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