End One Motorcycle Ride, Safely Begin the Next

Prepare for your next ride before you finish parking your bike on this one. It's safer and much less trouble when something does go wrong.

Every ride starts before the previous one ends. Or that's my experience. The end of a ride plants mental seeds that will grow on the next one. I'll often make a mental note to try doing something differently. It might be a new way of sitting when I brake or a change in my routine as I approach intersections. I might have noted something that I let distract me. On the next ride I'll try a new approach and see if it seems to be an improvement.

In addition, there is the motorcycle itself. The final few miles of the ride is the time to consider what I need to do to make it ready for the next outing. Every ride changes the bike in some subtle way. Brake adjustment or clutch engagement point changes. A chain gets stretched a bit, introducing some driveline slop. Maybe the steering head bearings have gotten slightly notchy or the throttle cable has developed some slop. Because these changes happen gradually, there is time to adapt to them, but the end of the ride is the time to note that these things need to be adjusted. These problems should be fixed, not accommodated. The best time to do so is right after the end of a ride, so the bike is ready next time your want to drop onto it and pull the trigger.

My routine for ending a ride of any length includes filling the tank (to prevent corrosion from getting a foothold inside the tank) and lubing the chain at the gas station. Chains are best lubed when hot, and the few blocks from fill-up to garage gives the lube a chance to get spread to where it's needed, into the nooks and crannies of the chain and over the surfaces of the sprockets.

Unless I will ride in the next two or three days, I turn the petcock off a block or two from home to burn the fuel out of the float bowl and prevent it from leaving varnish deposits there.

But the most important part of the transition from this ride to the next comes when I shut the engine down. Every manual has a pre-ride checklist, but manuals never mention that the best time to perform that checklist is right after the previous ride. That way, if you find something wrong, you can either fix it before the next ride or at least know that the bike has the problem before you commit to riding it.

If you mentally checked the bike as the ride played out its last few miles, you already have a list of things that are OK or need attention. Maybe the rear brake cable needs a slight tightening or you heard that rattle that indicates that a certain bolt is loosening again. As you ride and become intimate with a motorcycle, you discover items that aren't listed in the Periodic Maintenance charts that also require regular attention. Fasteners with an auto-loosen function can be sedated with self-locking nuts, safety wire or Loc-Tite, but there may be issues that aren't as easy to fix permanently and must be checked.

Not all problems make themselves known to the rider from the saddle. A dead taillight bulb or an oil leak won't reveal themselves unless you look for them. Take a minute or two to check for such problems before you put the cover on and walk away. Because wheels and tires are critical items, you need to lift the wheels off the floor. I used to use a lever-type jack on bikes without centerstands (which includes all but a couple of cruisers). My recent acquisition of a Sears Craftsman Motorcycle Jack (see the review in the "Accessories and Gear" section of the site) has made that the support device of choice when doing my post-ride check. I stop the bike just outside the garage, roll the jack under from the right side and have the bike up in the air a few seconds after rolling to a stop. With the wheels off the ground, I can rotate them and make the all-important check for nails or other debris stuck in them. I can also check the spokes for tightness and the belt or chain for problems. Having the bike up in the air gives a better view of components on its lower half, including potential oil-leak sites. Since the bike is level, I can easily check oil through the sight window or pull the dipstick. With the front end off the ground, it's easy to grab the front and shake it to see if steering head bearings of other front end items are loose.

One thing I do not want to check at this point is precise tire pressure. Pressure should only be measured when cold, since pressure increases in warm tires. Of course, you can detect if they are way too low now.

When I have completed this post-ride check (which takes less than two minutes from when I pull to a stop) and made any adjustments or repairs, I know that the bike is either set to go when I'm ready or what I need to do to get it ready. If you only ride on weekends, you have all week to get any problem handled.

Art Friedman

_If you have questions or comments about this article, email the author at _ Art.Friedman@primedia.com _or at _ ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com.

_For more information on safe-riding equipment, strategies, techniques and skills, see the _ Street Survival section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

_Wouldn't you rather find a problem well in advance than out here on the road or even as you are preparing to leave? Do it with a post-ride check. _Photo by Henny Ray Abrahms.