How to Get Your Motorcycle in Shape for Spring
Begin the riding season the right way with our handy guide.
I could hear it, but I couldn't believe it. A thunderous wave of hundreds of rumbling hoofbeats coming my way, shaking the air and making the asphalt vibrate. Buffalo? But this was Germany! And although there was still enough snow on the ground to skilanglauf to the market, the herd of happy Harley-Davidson riders signaled to me and the entire town of Katzwang that spring was here. Time to get riding!
I witnessed that unforgettable sight a few years ago. Seeing all those happy bikers enjoying the first rides of spring reminded me that the best way to get back on the road after months of hibernation is by giving my own bike a thorough checkup.
A maintenance checklist is just the ticket. It's a guideline to help you go through the various systems in your bike and make sure they're ready for the long riding days ahead. It helps if you settled in your motorcycle properly for the winter. Not all of us are that conscientious, of course. But we can learn better habits, starting with this springtime maintenance guide.
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Estimated Time Needed: If you're really thorough, expect these services to take you at least half a day.
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Overall overhaul
Motorcycle Maintenance Safety
Just as you need the proper gear for riding, sprucing up your motorcycle for the beginning of the warmer-weather riding season also requires the correct equipment.
- Eye protection. Get carburetor cleaner in your eye once, and you'll remember safety glasses forever after.
- Gloves. There’s no need to ruin your manicure. Disposable nitrile gloves will keep your paws clean, and they have a good grip for shop work. These are also latex and powder-free.
- Coveralls. Keep your riding clothes nice. Throw on a pair of roomy coveralls before you get elbows deep in your motorcycle.
- Microfiber towels. These are for cleaning up your ride at the end. Don't use them for oil, gas, or other liquids from your bike.
- Disposable shop towels. These are much better for cleaning up spills and solvents.
- First-aid kit. Get one that mounts on the wall of your garage and forget about it. The idea is that you'll never need a first-aid kit unless you don't have one.
Before you get down on the ground next to your bike or begin any repairs, make sure it is secure on the center stand, paddock stand, or lift and not just on the side stand. Make sure you’re safely away from moving cars and motorcycles, as you’ll probably need to sit or lie on the ground to perform some of these tasks.
Motorcycle Maintenance Checklist
Each one of these tasks requires a separate set of tools and parts. The included links go over every task specifically, including the equipment necessary. If you're unsure what your particular motorcycle requires, consult your owner's manual.
Drain and Replace Fuel
Old gas really sucks. It gums up your bike's works, and ethanol in the fuel can damage your fuel intake components. You can drain the old gas either with a siphon or by undoing the fuel line from the carburetor or before the injection system. I usually just add that small amount of gas to my car. My Camaro will hardly notice a little old gas in an almost full tank.
Once you've filled your bike's tank with fresh petrol, go ahead and replace your spark plugs. New plugs are a small price to pay for a fresh start.
Batteries are meant to last about five years, but there are a bunch of reasons they may not make it through the winter. Check the voltage on the battery and either recharge it or replace it. If your current battery is in good shape, clean the terminals and apply some dielectric grease. Take this time to also check your fuses.
The perfect time to pump fresh blood into your bike's veins is at the beginning of the long riding season. Check other fluids, such as brake fluid and liquid cooling system. While you're at it, go ahead and change out the air and fuel filters if you haven't already done so.
Adjust Your Chain
Your chain (or whatever final drive your bike uses to get down the road) needs some attention right about now. Cleaning and lubing your chain come right after checking it for slack.
Inspect the Tires
Tires are so much more important to your safety on a motorcycle than a car, which is really saying something. When you pull out your bike from storage, check the sidewalls for dry rot or cracks. Measure your tread depth in case it's time for a new set. If all else looks good on the pair you have, use a tire gauge to see if you lost any air over the long cold months.
Cables can become slack and useless if they're under stress for a long period. Check your clutch, brake, throttle, choke, and any other cables for responsiveness and any frayed bits. Now is a good time to also check your brake discs or drums as well as the lights and the horn.
Wash That Bike
You're not done yet. It's time to break out the fresh jar of elbow grease. Show off your motorcycle's best side by taking pride in its appearance. Be careful with soap and water near the engine and electronics. My favorite motorcycle cleaner is Motul's Wash & Wax. Just spray it on and buff it off with a clean microfiber. You can use it on your seat, paint, brightwork, headlight glass, any part of the bike you want to shine up. Oh, and it has a very pleasant smell.
Extra Tips for Spring Motorcycle Maintenance
- While you're getting your bike together, it's also time to inspect your riding gear. Make sure you're outfitted properly for the changing weather of the new season.
- This goes double for melon protection. When was the last time you gave your helmet a close inspection? You might be riding with out-of-spec headgear. Make sure to check the dates and condition of your helmet and come to the roadways prepared.
- If you have long gaps in your riding time — say, during the frigid winter months — it's worth going over riding basics to get your groove back. Take it easy on your first few trips out, until you and and your motorcycle are properly reacquainted.
- Are your tags up to date? Don't let law enforcement pour cold water on your good time. Make sure your license, registration, and insurance are good to go before you ride away.
- While we're at it, now's a great time to review the fastest and safest way to transport your motorcycle. Managing editor Jonathon Klein has got you covered there.
When it's time to get down to business, check out this video by our friends at RevZilla. They've got excellent tips on springtime motorcycle maintenance, and the video is less than seven minutes long.
FAQs About Motorcycle Maintenance
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q. What can I do to keep my bike's battery charged?
A. You need what we like to call a trickle charger but is also known as a battery maintainer. The best way to keep your battery charged is to attach separate leads to each battery terminal that are sure to stay there, even while you ride. When you get home, you can quickly link the leads to the trickle charger and forget it. We selected a few of our favorite battery maintainers here.
Q. I'd love to refresh my bike, but I don't have one. Where can I find the best used motorcycles?
A. The Drive wants to get you on two wheels, shiny side up. Here are our top choices for finding your first or next motorcycle.
Q. Can I just pay a shop to do this?
A. Sure. A lot of us have more money than time, and that's when professionals can really come in handy. Rather than rushing through your motorcycle maintenance, ask your riding buddies (or any helpful-looking riders) for a referral to a trusted shop for your specific ride. If you've got an older motorcycle, chances are the dealerships won't be your best bet. Look for smaller reputable shops with mechanics who have experience with your make and model and the time and patience to go through it skillfully.
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