Nobody is born with mechanical knowledge. I remember when I purchased my first bike, I had no clue about motorcycles at all. It was a friend who had a bike already who came to my house and got my bike to start as I kept on flooding it. He removed the spark plug, cleaned it, dried up the piston head and started up my little two stroke 50cc. That was all new and unknown to me, since then I have learnt a lot and I am still learning.
Motorbikes do ‘speak’ to us and it’s vital that we listen!!!
Noises, vibrations, grinding, rattling, rubbing, whistling, odd smells, exhaust smokes, sudden loss of power, is the language of the motorcycle telling you to pull over, get off and take a look before it is too late. It is imperative to constantly check for faults and to understand what the bike is asking us.
Reading the owners manual (if you have it) will help developing the ability to identify components, possible faults and to know when to do a routine service. Or if you don´t have the owners manual the internet is a powerful tool to find out more about your motorbike. You won´t only be safer as you will reduce costs greatly and it will prevent you from being stranded on the road.
Brake pads are like a soap bar. They get used every time you apply the brakes and eventually will wear out. You have to replace them periodically in order to be safer on the road and to avoid unwanted extra cost.
From time to time inspect the front and rear brake pads. If they show to be close to the end or if they are gone you will listen a squealing noise meaning that the pad is nearly to the end of their life (probably it´s the wear indicator rubbing against the disk). A grinding noise on braking is usually caused by a lack of brake pad material; the pads and disk brakes are now metal to metal, with no braking material left and damaging your disc.
Also check that brake calipers, disc brakes and brake lines are all in good working order and brake fluid is at the level (see note at the end).
Check if all lights are working properly (indicators, headlight, back and brake lights, number plate light, horn and dashboard lights). If something isn´t working, check the bulbs, the connections, fuses or if the switch has some bad contact. In case the battery is low maybe it is better to replace it; if it is discharging quickly maybe you should check if it is charging properly ( A faulty rectifier is a common issue on bikes). In addition if you are just the occasional biker and your bike is not ridden regularly it is always a good idea to buy a battery optimizer and put the battery on charge the night before you ride.
Inspect the fork seals or dust seals from time to time as you have oil inside the fork. Also check if the inner forks have any dents or chips as they can also increase the chance of premature leaks and fork seal early damage.
That oil residue or a dirty greasy ring around the fork is a sign that you have a problem. Oil is getting past the fork seals and attracting dirt. You should replace the fork seals sooner rather than later as once they start, things will quickly get worse and oil will flow down to your brakes or font tyre. You really don’t want to let that happen or you will be exposed to unnecessary risks.
In modern bikes you should be able to adjust settings such as the pre-load, compression and rebound damping but if you are unknown to these don´t worry, normally motorbikes are sold already optimized for the road with a standard set up so let´s leave that discussion for a different day!
Condition: have a daily visual check on your tyres and side walls. Look out for nails, bulges, cracks and cuts. If you have a nail stuck in it, don´t remove it and take your bike to the nearest garage to repair it. As an alternative you can buy a puncture repair kit and repair it yourself in case you know how to, otherwise leave the job for a professional. Bulges, cracks or deep cuts should can indicate internal damage and should be checked immediately by a specialist.
Tread: The legal limit for minimum depth of the tread on your motorbike tyres is 1mm across 3/4 of the tread. The tread is designed to give a good grip on the wet and to prevent aquaplaning by dissipating water out of the tyre. You can either measure the tread by buying a little gauge specific for tyres or by looking at the tyre. Normally there are some bumps in the grooves indicating the wear. If your rubber starts to be close to these marks, it´s time to get a new tyre or your safety is seriously compromised, just not to mention that if you get pulled over with a bald tyre you will get a heavy fine and possibly points on your license.
Tyre pressure: Once a week check and re adjust your tyre air pressure when the tyres are still cold as riding under or over the ideal pressure not only affects handling drastically as it will damage and wear out your tyres, and may increase fuel consumption. Go to a petrol station or buy an air pump with a gauge to check this. The air pressure units can be measured in P.S.I or BAR. Be aware that air pressure varies according to your bike type, if you ride with a passenger or heavy luggage . Check your owners manual for an accurate ideal pressure for your bike or check on your bike. (Ignore the pressure indicated on the tyre wall as that valor is the max pressure for heavy loads on the bike.)
Note: When you fit brand new tyres they will need a running-in period around 100/150 miles. Pay extra care on bends, avoid excessive acceleration or abusive braking during this early stage. This should be done in order to scuff in the tyre surface and remove the superficial gum as it is extremely slippery. After that period you can start riding your bike normally.
The first sign that your chain might not be in its best state is that your gearshifts start to feel a lot less fluid than they once did. You should look at the tension of the chain. A new chain will need a slight adjustment between 300 to 600 miles as it needs to adjust to the new sprockets and after that you should check it and adjust it every 500 to 700 miles depending of how you ride. A loose chain wears out the sprockets and reduces its lifetime, or if it is too tight it can damage the sprockets teeth or the rear wheel bearings. More severe consequences include the chain breaking up increasing the risk of injury or fall. Your chain should have around half inch to one inch of slack for optimal adjustment.
Every time you adjust the chain you have also to align the rear wheel. Normally there are marks on the swing arm for a fine alignment and a nut to align, stretch or lose the chain tension as you need. If you are adjusting the chain too often perhaps your chain needs replacement or you just bought a bad one.
The chain should also be always lubricated. Inspect it and if it shows that it is dry, it should be re-greased, especially after an extended journey in the rain. Over time, oil, dust and worn materials clog together and form a kind of a paste. These will shorten the service life of the entire chain kit through increased wear. A dry and clean chain is more desirable for quality effectiveness of the chain spray. You can clean it using a brush (non metal one), a chain cleaner and a cloth. Spin the wheel while spraying the chain with the cleaner and let it actuate for a couple mins, then wipe it out with a cloth. Once this is done you can now apply the lube on the chain and lubricate it again. Don´t ride immediately and leave it to rest for at least 30 minutes so the lube will penetrate in the chain components.
If you just need to lubricate the chain, apply the chain lube after riding as the chain will be hot and the lube will adhere better and leave the bike to rest. Ideally you can do this at the end of the day when you get home.
Note: The chain and sprockets (Can be a belt or shaft but that´s different) are the final drive of a motorbike and should be checked periodically. There´s no economy at all when you buy a cheap chain as they will wear out 3 or 4 times quicker than a good one. My piece of advice is, buy a decent chain and always replace it together with the sprockets to avoid these to damage the new chain. A good chain and sprockets should last around 20/25 thousand miles easily and without much hassle depending of how you ride. Of course, maintenance is mandatory in order to get it to last.
Maybe one of the most significant motorbike maintenance points. Engine oil!!!! The oil is the lifeblood of the motorbike. It lubricates the engine protecting moving parts from wear and tear caused by friction and thereby prolongs the engine´s life. Oil also helps to cool down the engine, collects debris and prevents oxidation inside the engine internal components.
An engine running with a very low oil level will have a poor lubrication and therefore will generate more heat risking wear and tear rapidly or even a massive breakdown by seizing the engine it if runs dry. An engine with excessive oil level may affect the bike performance, it might burn together with fuel and give a sluggish feeling just not to mention that it will blow up the gaskets and consequently oil leaks will come due to too much pressure in the engine.
Due to all these reasons it is extremely important to check regularly the oil level. Some motorbikes have a glass window in the engine others have a deep stick so we can check the oil level. You should do it when the engine is cold so the oil is all in the engine pan and the bike on a flat surface or you won´t have a accurate reading.
Oil changes and the oil type are vital in order to prolong your engine´s life, keeping it running smoothly and without faults. There are different types of oils, so you need to check your bike manual in order to find which one is appropriate ( there are mineral oils, semi-synthetic oils and fully synthetic oils. Four stroke oils and two stroke oils). A good quality oil also helps prolonging the engine life.
Your motorbike manual will indicate the oil change intervals and I do really recommend any biker to stick to that. Or, if you want some peace of mind, change your oil a bit earlier, keeping it always fresh in the engine. Every bike from the little 125cc to the big 1400cc has a specific time to change the oil, again, check your owner´s manual. For example, for my bike I should change the oil every 5000 miles, however I do it every 3000/3500 miles. A broken down oil has little lubrication properties, creates more friction in the engine components which generates more heat, increases risk of damage, reduces performance and potentially the life time of the engine. ( One of my bikes has 95000 miles. The engine runs smoothly thanks to oil changes before the recommended).
Note: Worth to mention that you should change your air filter and oil filter every second oil change to keep your engine always at an optimal performance and to extend durability. If you have an aftermarket air filter element then you don´t need to replace it, perhaps just to clean it.
Apart from the oil you should check other fluids such as the coolant level and the radiator water level ( don´t do this last one after riding or you risk burning yourself.)
This is more for those who don´t ride daily and only take the bike out once in a blue moon. Nothing wrong about old petrol in a bike tank, however be aware that if you leave it for a long period of time it might deteriorate and leave some residue. That residue can go to the fuel filter so, maybe better replace the petrol filter (if the bike isn´t ridden for years). Also don´t ride with your bike near the reserve constantly as normally tanks may have some particles of dirt, rust that can go to your fuel system. If you are the occasional rider, make sure you leave enough petrol in your tank at least to ride to the nearest petrol station to then fill up with fresh petrol.
The steering has a major effect on handling and requires regular maintenance. The steering has head bearing and connects the front wheel to the rest of the motorcycle. On big bikes the brutal acceleration and slow down pressure, sometimes up to 1G forces have a direct impact on the steering bearings. If you feel and hear a knock coming from the steering or you feel weird vibrations as you ride perhaps the steering bearings need adjustment. ( It is an easy job but I do recommend a professional to do so). Now if the steering is stiff as you move it from side to side that could mean two things. The steering bearings are now gone and need replacement, or, maybe there´s a cable, wire or pipe obstructing your steering preventing its natural course.
Bolts and nuts, check mainly the joint points of the bike, fairing bolts and wheel nuts as you don’t want your wheel to come off or to lose fairing panels as you ride. Check cables such as the clutch cable as sometimes they tend to snap. Check if the throttle is working freely and optimally. Look for any visual damage such as cracks, dents, or scratches on the motorbike´s body, mirrors etc. Don´t forget to wash your motorbike from time to time, especially during the winter time (in countries like the U.K) as roads might be gritted to help de-icing. Grit is very acidic and penetrates in everything that is metal corroding it, so a regular wash will slow down that process.
On a non regular basis, every two years and for optimal performance you should replace the brake fluid and the suspension oil as both are mineral oils and therefore they deteriorate. A brake caliper rebuild is also advisable as the washers will eventually wear out, especially if you live in a country where the winters are severe. Keep an eye on the cam chain, if you listen a rattle coming from the engine could be the cam chain tensioner or the cam chain at the end of its life. If that the case replace cam chain, cam guides and the tensioner.
Note: I only mentioned aspects about basic maintenance of a motorbike, for more detailed information check your owners manual or seek advice with a professional in case you have some kind of anomaly. However, if you regularly check these points I mentioned, your motorbike should not give you much hassle!!!
Thanks for reading!!!
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