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Friday, May 2, 2014

Motorcycle check-up 101: 7 tips every biker should know.

If you ride, you know that motorcycles are a lot of fun, get great fuel economy and are generally easy to work on. I love them and intend never to live without one again. Even if you don't ride, these tips can be applied to a multitude of other machines as well.

 Knock on wood: in 17 years as a rider, I have never had a serious wreck on a bike and I have never had a mechanical failure on a motorcycle ride. I never intend to. Here are 7 anytime tips to making sure your bike treats you like the safe, reliable, exciting and fun machine it was intended to be.  

Before I jump straight into the mechanics of motorcycles, I need to get a bit honest and brutal about this topic- better me than the pavement, the rocks, or other traffic. A bike only has half the wheels of a car, thus needs double the attention to make sure it is safe. 

 Unlike a car, you do not have extra tires and wheels, nor a safety cage around you for when something fails. If something fails or breaks on a motorcycle, your chance of survival is less than 25% of the same speed crash in a car. Any threats of death or dismemberment must be taken seriously- motorcycles can be dangerous. They can be wonderful liberating fun too. K, safety disclaimer done, on to the meaty bits. 

 Making sure your motorcycle is safe and ready to ride, whether its been parked all winter, or just since last week- means checking everything over thoroughly. This check-over operation is not just good for the bike, it allows you, the rider, to relax and just enjoy the ride knowing you have done all you can to make your machine as safe as it can be- and a relaxed rider is a safer rider. 
Proper adjustment and lubrication of mechanisms and controls are of utmost importance on all machines, but take on a whole new meaning when death or serious injury is the potential result of mechanical failure. A motorcycle cannot have a failure of any major system- tires, wheels, brakes, suspension, controls or engine without serious risk of bodily injury to the rider(s). Take the time before you ride to make sure you have a fun, safe bike experience.

  1) This first and most important check needs to become second nature and happen every time you approach the bike.  
Walk around the machine and check it over- does everything LOOK proper? Anything new? Any changes in appearance? Any fluid leaks on the ground or on the bike itself?  
Follow any leaks back to their source, identify it and monitor the leak. If the leak is oil from the front fork seals, they should be fixed immediately because the oil that leaks out there can ruin the front brakes. 
If your bike is chain drive, check chain tension and condition. A broken chain can kill, can shred a leg, destroy an engine, or at least ruin your ride- maintain it or replace it.  
A chain should never be tight, but never loose either- proper adjustment is critical with drivechains. I use the toe of my boot to check tension quick and easy like. Follow the manufacturers specs, but generally about 1 inch (25mm) of slop is about right for most bikes.  
The chain should always appear oily- if not, lube it. Dry, rusty chains are dangerous.  
Chains with side to side play between the sprockets of more than the width of the chain should be replaced.  
Sprocket teeth should be straight and tapered, not curved or pointy indicating serious wear.  
Change chain and sprockets BEFORE they can fail since failure can be so catastrophic.
 Generally, I lube my chains after I ride, when they are warm and dried out from riding.  
If your bike is belt drive, take an extra second to really carefully check your belt for frayed edges, cracks inside or out; looseness- again, check specs- not too tight; rock or sand damage; and check sprockets for damage or excessive polishing, pitting, cracks at the base of the teeth or out from the center.

  2) Tires, wheels, suspension: Grab the tires/ wheels at the top and push and pull against a firm hand holding the handlebars or frame. Do you feel any movement anywhere side to side?  
Do you feel or hear anything clunking or clicking indicating loose wheel bearings, suspension bushings or other worn parts?  
Are the tires firm and aired up? 
Standing over the seat of the bike and balancing it, hook your elbows under the handlebars and try to lift the bike. Again, do you feel any clicking or clunking indicating worn steering stem bearings or other possible damage in the steering mechanics.  
Do the tires have any bulges, cords showing or splits, cracks, or other signs of physical damage? 
 Are the tires getting bald and smooth?  
Inspecting the rims carefully, do you find any cracks or dents around the edges of the rim or between the spokes, or any loose spokes?  
Answering YES to ANY of these questions is an indication that something needs to be fixed before you ride. Do not ride this bike without repairing it. 
In normal operating situations, the answers to all these questions should be a resounding NO indicating all is well.  
I have seen numerous bikes that have not had recent swingarm bushing lubrication. Not only does this mean the bushings get ruined sooner, but disassembly and rebuilding are more difficult if they go unlubed for years. Check closely on your machine to see if there are grease zerks on the swingarm and suspension pivots and use a high quality grease for them if you find some.

   3) Fluids and engine: Brake fluid, engine oil, coolant if liquid cooled, and rear gearcase fluid if shaft drive are common critical fluids that need to be checked regularly and often. 
I change my engine oil at 2000 miles with high performance synthetics. 
Some bikes also have transmission fluid, two-cycle oil or hydraulic fluids to be checked. 
Know your bike, know your fluids. 
 Never assume fluid levels are safe. 
Since your life is on the line, just check the fluids often.  
Again and again I will say it: the cost of the fluids and the time to change them is nothing in comparison to a life.
Most bikes require high quality and high octane rating fuels. I have never owned a bike that did not specify fresh 91 or higher octane. Use some ethanol (not methanol) in the fuel to clean water out of the fuel tank occasionally.  
Using top quality lubricants- sometimes the manufacturers recommendations- will improve performance, lifespan, reliability, power and efficiency. Remember that the manufacturer is trying to sell machines, not help you maintain yours so you never need to buy another. 
Check the air filter and follow the manufacturers recommendations for cleaning or replacement if it is no longer useable as is.
 Brake fluid on motorcycles and ATV's should be completely flushed and refilled at the beginning of every riding season- once a year. Brake fluids are hydrophilic- meaning they like water and will draw it in from the atmosphere. Once contaminated with water, brake fluids cannot do their job properly and must be removed from service before it can corrode lines or cylinders or cause a situation of weakened braking force. No amount of water is safe in motorcycle brake systems.

   4) Controls: Make sure both brakes, clutch, shifter, choke, and all electric engine and electrical controls operate as expected and perform their task properly. Adjust and lubricate swivels, hinge points, cables, and levers to proper spec or your riding preference, whichever is safer. 
Check all of the lights and switches while the engine is warming up- better you find a blown bulb now than have a cop ruin your day with a defective vehicle ticket.  
When cable operated controls start to feel gummy or sticky when used- its time for a good cleaning. Cable cleaning can be done a number of ways- its a personal choice in some ways as to which method is best. 
I'll write a tech article soon about cable cleaning and relube. Until then you may want to pay a shop to perform that small task.

   5) When you start the engine, listen carefully for any new noises, vibrations, shimmies or rattles. 
 If it sounds or feels different from the last ride somehow, check it over carefully. Assuming everything is okay can be a deadly mistake. As you are riding, pay attention to changes in sound, feel and vibration.
 I have had bolts loosen and found them before they could fail or be lost because I felt a vibration and stopped on the side of the road and fixed it. 
 Also listen and feel closely for changes when you brake, hit rough sections of road or trail, make abrupt maneuvers, or just use the controls.

   6) Let the engine warm up. Until the engine is hot and combustion is happening efficiently, these machines will not operate properly. 
 Expecting a cold engine to run right is asking for trouble- opening the throttle to merge with traffic and having the engine hiccup can be a painful lesson. 
Allow the engine to warm slowly at high idle instead of rapidly heating of one area of the engine while others are still cold that happens from cold loading. 
Once the top of the engine (the cylinder head) is too hot to touch with bare hands, it is ready to ride. Ride gently until the entire engine is up to temp- usually a few miles. Once its warmed up and running smooth, ride it like ya stole it!! 

   7) Get good gear. Ride safe. OK, I admit, I have ridden waaaaay too fast with only shorts and shoes on hot summer days- no one can call me a hypocrite now. I have changed my views on this recently...  
Once again, whats the valuation on a life? A helmet and glasses, jacket, gloves and boots with heavy work pants still didn't stop me from making hamburger out of a section of my ass last week when I opened the throttle on my dirtbike too fast leaving a gravel intersection. I went down hard and slid 25 feet on my ass and hip. I have been walking funny, sleeping only on one side, and wincing when I put on pants in the morning. Guarantee I will wear my chaps from now on. 
The gear costs nothing compared to surgeries, disfigurement, dysfunction and inability to do what you love. The body is tender- take care of it. I have a back protector for trail rides that saved me $100,000 minimum in spinal surgery from a rock I had a hard landing on- pointy and the size of a large grapefruit- right on the lumbar spine. I might not be walking today had that rock made direct contact with my vertebrae. 
Tools are gear too- carry a basic tool kit. A couple common wrenches, a spark plug socket, tire gauge, screwdrivers, pliers, some extra parts like bulbs and fuses... you get the idea. Being stranded sucks.  
Don't forget about raingear and good glasses or goggles as well. Soggy, shivering and cold or trying to get a bug or rock out of your eye, either way, it can make a fun ride a bummer. 

  Heres hoping this helps make all your rides safer, more relaxing, and most importantly more fun for longer. I am all about having serious fun on motorcycles, but I am also all about having a safe reliable vehicle I can enjoy and know it will bring me back home after a ride. 
 Feel free to drop a comment or three if the urge strikes ya... 

1 comment:

Noah said...

Great Article and Awesome Site!

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