Imagine spending a long vacation ride with friends. You plan so far ahead and have everything already set up on your journey when the worst possible scenario happens: Your bike stops running in the middle of the trip. In the event of a breakdown, going home with a non-functioning bike can be expensive and time-consuming.
Working on and maintaining your motorcycle is as important as the skill involved in riding it. Nothing is more frustrating than spending so much time and effort on your machine, only for it to leave you stranded on the side of the road and forced into doing the walk of shame to the nearest gas station.
With that in mind, here are five key points of inspection for all motorcycle owners out there. These motorcycle components are often overlooked by riders, especially newbies. Make sure to check them before hitting the road to ensure a hassle-free riding experience.
1) Engine oil
This liquid component is the lifeblood of the motorcycle. It lubricates hundreds of internal bike parts and prevents all those metal from rubbing together. Like blood, oil also has another purpose: It carries sludge, carbon deposits, and metal particulates away from moving parts and into the oil filter.
Air-cooled engines demand high viscosities to resist the excess heat from the engine. Old flat tappet, pushrod engines need zinc additives to combat wear, and most modern engines with integrated transmission designs have their specific needs. With the multitude of different engine oils available on the market, it’s daunting as well as confusing picking the right stuff for our bikes.
My suggestion is to keep it simple and always use the recommended type and viscosity as stated in your bike’s manual. The amount of sludge and other contaminants suspended in the oil will eventually overwhelm its lubricity, so follow the oil-change intervals as recommended by the manufacturer, and always check your oil level before and after a ride.
Don’t forget to check engine parts for possible oil leaks, too.
2) Ignition system
Electronic systems on modern bikes are relatively bulletproof, but sometimes, connectors work themselves loose or corrosion eventually affects some components.
Ignition-system failures are sometimes just the result of an ignition coil or the CDI unit having its plug loosen up. The insulation of ignition wires breaks down with age and will start shorting to the engine case when old and spark plugs need to be replaced every so often (check your manual for the recommended interval).
Pull your plugs before a long journey, and learn to read your spark plugs. It’s indicative of the engine’s health and invaluable in detecting problems before they occur.
3) Fuel system
Gasoline is a relatively unstable chemical. With the addition of ethanol in our fuels, gasoline has a tendency to absorb moisture and deposit it to the bottom of the gas tank—which is bad news for the fuel pump that is submerged there. When left for extended periods of time, it turns bad and causes varnishing, which then clogs up carburetors and sticks up the injectors. Remember, too, that gasoline loses its octane rating as soon as it is pumped into your tank.
Let your engine run for at least a few minutes every week. Having gasoline flow through the system ensures that no deposits build up. Constant use of your motorcycle should be considered as proper maintenance.
The drivetrain transmits power from the transmission to the wheels, so it’s important to always keep this system in good condition. In a motorcycle, it consists of the chain and the sprocket.
The chain needs to be constantly checked for proper lash, and regularly cleaned and lubricated. Maladjusted or excessively dirty chains will cause excess power loss and accelerated wear. Worse, there’s a possibility for it to break or snap while moving at high speed.
These comprise the brake and clutch lever and pedals. It’s important to check the free play on your controls to ensure they’re properly adjusted, especially with bikes equipped with aftermarket levers. I have seen my fair share of improperly adjusted controls that resulted in burned-out clutches and brakes.
Also, check the throttle, clutch, and brake cables. Make sure they don’t bind or get pulled too much. A broken throttle or clutch cable is seldom repairable on the roadside and would mean an untimely end for your ride.
Motorcycling takes a great deal and concentration. Ensuring that your motorcycle is in tip-top condition gives you peace of mind and allows for a safer, distraction-free experience. Always remember: Know yourself, Know your bike, know your ride.