The top 9 things you should be doing every year to maintain your motorcycle

Essential motorcycle maintenance girl fixing bike

As someone who is passionate about your bike, you probably get some sick pleasure out the methodical tinkering and routine maintenance of your prized machine. I know I do!

We’re going to show you the top nine things you should be doing to your bike each year to keep it in tip top running condition and not to mention, make sure it's safe to ride so you can ride with confidence.

1. Visual inspection

The first step seems like a no brainer but is often missed. Taking a walk around your bike to get a bird’s eye view of its overall condition is the critical first step and should really be done before every ride. Everything on your bike is subject to wear and tear and we often don’t notice the gradual breakdown of components unless we take the time to look.

The theme here is to keep your eyes open for anything unusual. Specifically looking for leaks, streaks, and drips and then following them back to their source can uncover issues that may go otherwise unnoticed.

Check over pivot points that are subject to constant movement and therefore are prime candidates for wear. Any bushings or bearings getting worn and need attention? This is a great time to familiarize yourself with the locations of any zerk fittings and hit each of them with a grease gun.

Finally, make sure that your registration and insurance is up to date. 

2. Oil, fluids, and filters

This takes us to the bike's fluids. Engine oil, trans oil and coolant are literally the lifeblood of your machine. It goes without saying that changing the engine oil at least once per year- if not more depending on your mileage- is critical to minimize wear and build up in your engine. Oil age is also an important factor in determining the need to change the oil. Always use a new oil filter after changing the oil. 

Inspect your fuel and air filters at least once each season. Check for any plugged up screens in the petcock or fuel pump. If your bike uses fiberglass exhaust packing, be sure to check and refresh this regularity as well. It’s not a bad idea to replace the packing when you replace the air filter. 

Refreshing your bike’s coolant should be completed every other season. You can go as far as a water flush but even just a simple drain and fill can keep your cooling system corrosion free. It’s a good idea to also install a new radiator cap with each flush and fill.

For fuel, it’s a good idea to add a fuel stabilizer when you know your bike is going to be sitting for an extended period. If your bike has carbs, you can also drain them to avoid sludgy build up. It goes without saying to use the correct fuel for your bike. Check the service manual for any specifics here. I always try to avoid fuel with ethanol in my old Yamaha to help keep the fuel system clean.

3. Tires and wheels

We rely a lot on our bike’s tires. Maintaining and inspecting them regularly is absolutely imperative. The first step is to keep the pressures to spec. Following that, inspect for excessive wear and damage such as bald spots, sidewall bubbles, or any other anomalies that indicate unsafe riding. Many tires have wear marks that show when it's time to replace. 

New tires aren’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of a tire failure.

Next, it’s a good idea to inspect the wheel bearings each season. Get the wheel off the ground and give it a spin. Does it spin freely and smoothly? Does your wheel have any side to side or front to back play? If your wheel feels bound up, crunchy, or sloppy it’s probably time to replace the bearings. 

4. Brakes

While your bike is still off the ground, now is a great time to check the brakes. Inspect the rotors for any damage, glazing or warping. Feel the surface of the rotor and you spin the wheel. It should feel smooth and flat. 

Next, take a look at your brake pads. Check for excessive and uneven wear. Measure the thickness of the pad and reference your manual to know if it needs to be replaced. Running your pads too thin can at best damage your rotor or at worst fail when you need to stop.

From here, check the brake lines for any cracks, bulges, or general wear. Finally take note of the brake fluid level. You’ll also want to check the manual for the brake fluid replacement interval and to reference the type of brake fluid to use. 

5. Chain and sprockets

From here, rotate your rear wheel and check the chain. Look for binding, seized chain links, or excessive wear. Take a look at your sprockets and check for excessive wear here too. If all looks good, clean the chain with a solvent and brush, then lubricate. 

If needed, it’s best to replace both sprockets and chain at the same time. The chain and sprockets wear together as they work to transfer ponies and torque to your rear wheel. You may think you are saving money by replacing one worn component at a time, but really you are only subjecting your new part to more stress which will wear it out faster.

Making sure chain slack is within spec is also important. A chain that is too tight or loose will end up causing headaches. Check your manual for the specs here. Chain slack should always be checked with the bike on the ground and a rider sitting on it.

If you have a belt drive, inspect the belt for any cracks, wear, or frayed cords. The belt should not be glazed or damaged in any way. Replace it if you see any of these things. You should also check the belt tension. Using a gauge is the best way to go here and is well worth the investment.

Maintenance for a shafty is basically inspecting all of the parts for wear and slop, and changing the gear oil.

6. Battery

A good battery when well maintained can last you several seasons. The best thing you can do to maintain the life of the battery is to hook it up to a trickle charger when you know it’s going to be sitting for awhile. But there are some more things you can do to make sure it won’t die on you in the middle of the season.

Check the battery with a multimeter with the key off. It should read 12.5V. If applicable, having a battery tester that can check cranking amps will go a long way in determining the health of your battery.

You can get a good feel of the life of your battery by how easily it starts your bike and it’s age. The battery’s manufacture date can be found on a sticker stuck to the battery. At about five years, you may want to start thinking about replacing it.

This is also a good time to open up your fuse box, inspect your fuses and make sure that you have some spares on hand.

7. Cables and controls

Check your clutch and throttle for smooth operation. It’s a good idea to periodically clean and lube the cable housings to avoid sticky controls. Adjust the cables to make sure you have a little play before the throttle and clutch lever actually pull and/ or push the cable.

Make sure the cables aren’t bound up anywhere and that they are properly routed. Be sure to replace any worn cables. Sit on the bike and turn your bars lock to lock and make sure the controls function throughout the full range of motion. This is also a great way to check that the head bearings are in order. Any stickiness or notchy feeling is an indication of worn head bearings.

Double check the indexing of your shifter and rear brake lever. Make sure they are comfortable and easy to operate. 

8. Deep clean

My favorite part. Give your bike a deep clean and shine. Grab some rags, brushes, degreaser, and a bucket of water and get to work. Clean all of the nooks and crannies. As you clean, keep your eyes open for anything that looks out of place. Finish up with some wax and polish.

9. Final check

Break out the torque wrench and check all of the critical fasters. Handlebar clamps, triple clamps, axle bolts, and motor mounts. Make sure any retaining clips and pins are present and intact. 

Double check oil and coolant levels. Run through anything you disturbed during your inspection and make sure you’ve tightened everything down. Finally, fire it up and take it for a shakedown ride to the gas station to get some fresh fuel. Let it warm up some before more spirited riding.

Now you can enjoy your ride with full confidence that your bike is in tip top shape.

Let 'er rip!


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