Australian Motorcyclist Magazine
FITNESS PROGRAM For your motorcycle
DROP AND GIMME TWENTY!
KEEPING YOUR MOTORCYCLE ‘FIT’ is essential to not only your safety, but the longevity of your ride. Here’s a rundown of what you should be doing if you haven’t ridden your bike for a while, and/or every couple of weeks to every month.
Wash a motorcycle
Washing your motorcycle is a great way to start your pre-ride inspection. As you clean each part, you’ll notice any looseness or wear, and removing grime will make it easy to spot the source of any leaks.
It sounds almost stupid... but when is the last time you looked over each part of your bike? Everything on a motorcycle gradually wears,
sometimes making even completely trashed components difficult to notice in daily operation. Simply clicking your mindset into “spot anything unusual” mode can reveal issues that require attention — before they turn into real, ride-halting problems.
Look for leaks. Streaks of oil and dirt down fork lowers suggest failed fork seals. Drips under the bike must be investigated. Is that coolant? Oil? Fuel? Give it a sniff, then backtrack the source. If it’s been leaking for a while, you may have to de-gunk your bike’s nether regions to zero in on the origin.
Your motorcycle might have a linkage to the rear shock. Is it due for some lubrication? Examine pivot points and moving parts for signs of wear or interference (kickstand pivots, swingarm and suspension linkages are almost universally neglected). Note any bushings or bearings due for further investigation or replacement if they are rusty, dry or even have grease leaking out of them. Turn the key. Test your lights and horn, and double check that your registration and insurance are current. Battery weak or dead? You’ll have to get the juice flowing again, then double back to check your signals.
A battery maintainer/trickle charger pays for itself in prolonged battery lifespan and time saved accessing battery terminals. If you don’t have one, install one, they’re pretty cheap.
If your battery’s been on a maintenance charger, it should be fully charged.
If not, plug one in now. If the battery takes a full charge, that’s a good sign – but doesn’t guarantee it won’t crap out on you halfway through your first big ride. Probing with a multimeter can give you a pretty good picture of your battery’s overall health (you want to see over 12.5 V DC at the terminals, key off), a battery tester that can test cranking amps against the number you punch in from the CCA rating stickered on the
battery is also another way to test what the battery condition is like. If you only have a multimeter, you can perform a few other tests besides just checking standing voltage at the terminals. Without any fancy meters at all, you should still be able to get a good gauge on whether or not your battery is beginning to bite the dust by how easily it cranks your engine over and its age. The manufacture date can also be found on the sticker, and if yours is pushing five years, you may want to start thinking about replacement. It’s better to replace a battery on your terms than to be at the mercy of a shop or dealership, and potentially adding the cost of a tow to the repair bill (ask me how I know). Clean your terminals, then coat with dielectric grease to prevent corrosion. This is also a good time to open up your fuse box and inspect your fuses. Remember to check your spares, and tuck a few extra in there if there’s room. A blown fuse is just about the most frustrating reason to have to get a bike towed.
Tyres and wheels
Check your tyres’ wear indicators, and inspect the tyres overall for excessive wear or damage. As I’m sure you know, tyres are a vital part of a motorcycle, so if there’s any doubt – replace them.
The importance of tyre condition cannot be overstated. The amount of trust required to lean into that first corner is tremendous. While age should be considered, it is by no means the only — and certainly not the most important -- factor in determining a tyre’s roadworthiness. Despite the prevailing paranoia of zealous date-code checkers, motorcycle tyres have a longer life expectancy than you might think. Tyre manufacturers consider five years to be the “sell by” date, anticipating years of service after that. So, if you get a new tyre and find it was made a year or two prior, remember it’s still got its whole life ahead of it. On a machine that is regularly ridden, you will probably never see a set die of old age. Still, you’ll want to take the manufacture date into account as you examine the rubber for dry rot, cracks, or excessive hardening from oxidation. If you do have to store tyres, wrap them in Glad Wrap plastic as it will help prolong their shelf life. A motorcycle tyre’s most honourable death is also its most common: wear. If your tyre has wear indicators, it should be easy to spot if it’s time for replacement when the wear bar (set in a sipe or groove) becomes flush with the surface of the tyre. If you do need new tyres, don’t forget fresh valve stems (or inner tubes) and balancing weights (if you plan to mount and balance yourself). Wheel weights can fall off — check that yours are in still in place. You’ll also want to check your wheel bearings, but first, you’ll need to get your wheels off the ground.
The easiest way to do this is buy front and rear stands – there’s plenty of options around and, no, you don’t need fancy knobs on your swingarm to lift the rear, there are universal rear wheel stands available.
Once you’ve elevated at least the front end of your motorcycle, you’re ready to begin. It is possible to detect badly worn wheel bearings without disassembly. First, grab the wheel firmly on each side and shake to check for excessive play (a dead giveaway your bearings are toast). If all feels tight, give the wheel a spin to check
rolling resistance. Don’t expect the wheel to spin all day with the brake assembly still in place — pads drag lightly even when not engaged, and the chain, belt or shaft final drive produce additional drag at the rear, but you should be able to tell by hand if the wheel rolls smoothly on its bearings or feels crunchy.
As you rotate the rear wheel, pay attention to your drive chain or belt. (If you have a shafty and don’t know how old the gear oil is, now’s the time to change it!) First, look for any binding, seized links, or excessive chain and sprocket wear that would indicate it’s time for replacement.
If all looks well, clean your chain with a chain cleaning solvent and brush, then lubricate it. Check chain alignment with an alignment tool (don’t just trust the hatch marks on your axle blocks or swingarm, if you have them) and measure tension with a ruler or specific gauge. Your manual will provide specs for tension and wear, so you can measure to see if the chain needs to be replaced.
If you have belt drive, look for cracking, wear, or stray cords. If the belt looks glazed, or any teeth are chunked out, replace it. Drive belts last a long time, but you want to replace one long before it’s hanging by a thread. Not only will a failed belt leave you stranded, but they have a habit of snapping under acceleration (think merging onto a highway in front of truck!).
If your belt passes visual inspection, refer to your service manual for the specs, and then check belt tension with a ruler or gauge. After any necessary adjustment, spin the wheel a few times and measure again.
You can check your brake pads with the tyres on the ground, but it’s a little easier while your bike is still up in the air. Plus, by rotating your wheels, you can check your rotors for warping, but you should be able to feel any warping through the brake lever while riding. You’ll also want feel the surface of the rotor for any scoring, and visually inspect for glazing. Don’t panic if you see some light surface rust. If your bike’s been sitting, this is completely normal and will go away as soon as the brakes are used, but I like to hit them with some brake cleaner just to make myself feel better.
Next, note how much meat you have left on the pads and ensure they are wearing evenly. Measure the remaining depth of the pad material against the spec in your service manual to be sure they’re still safe to run. Trying to use up every last bit of a brake pad is a short-sighted strategy because you risk trashing your rotors if you wear down to the backing plate, or worse, you’ll fail to stop.
Take a look at your brake lines, as well, for any signs of wear or age. Rubber brake lines don’t last that long, so even if your bike is only five or ten years old, they might be ripe for retirement. New stainless steel (braided) lines will improve brake feel and control considerably. Brake fluid is even more commonly neglected than lines. Check your manual for a replacement interval for the fluid, but those who ride hard (track days and/or fast road riding) should follow a more aggressive maintenance schedule and replace it about every other six-twelve months or any time the fluid is overheated.
Brake fluid isn’t the only often overlooked fluid to refresh. How old is
your coolant? Consider replacing it every 1-2 years, depending on use (check your owner’s manual). A good flush with water, or even just a simple drain and fill will go a long way to preventing corrosion inside your cooling system. (Installing a fresh radiator cap at the same time is cheap insurance.) Oil age is something you need to take into account as well as kilometres. If you have multiple bikes, or just don’t rack up a lot of kays, it’s good to change the oil at least once a year so you know it’s been done and you don’t have old, contaminated oil in your cases. It’s important to note that lower kilometres often equates to a lot of short rides, which means a lot of heat cycling to invite moisture condensation, and that’s what really breaks down oil. So, take type of riding into account, as well, when deciding when to change your oil.
Always use a new oil filter, and make sure you stay on top of the fuel and air filters. Check your manual.
Check your clutch and throttle for smooth operation and adjustment. Unstick your clutch and throttle cables with cable lube and a handy cable lubing tool, and adjust your push and pull cables until you have a tiny bit of slack before the throttle begins to open, and it returns to idle position on its own. If your hard clutch pull or sticky throttle can’t be lubricated away or adjusted out, look for interference on the lever or throttle tube itself or binding from improper cable routing.
If the cables are worn, replace them. Sit on the bike and make sure your mirrors haven’t come loose. Turn the handlebar lock to lock and check for cable and wiring interference or strain, and feel for notchiness in the steering head bearings. Double check that your shifter and brake pedal are where you ideally want them. You might’ve gotten used to a position that was less than ideal over time, so adjust now while you’re being critical of your entire bike. Whether you tweak anything or not, make sure both brake and shifter are tight.
Break out the torque wrench and hit all your critical fasteners: handlebar and triple clamps, axle bolts and adjusters, and motor mounts. Double check your oil and coolant levels. Run back through anything you disturbed during your inspection and verify you tightened everything back down. Grab a tyre gauge and verify proper pressure (check your owner’s manual or the decal on the swingarm for recommended pressures). If you’ve had your battery charging while you checked over the rest of the bike, test your lights and horn now. Finally, fire it up and you’re ready for a shakedown run to the petrol station for some fresh fuel! Remember to let your engine warm up before hammering down the road, and that your tyres might still be cold and slick.
There you have it - enjoy the ride. SW