On The Road Again After Winter

Maintenance tips for getting back on the road after the long winter months

Lube parts of your motorcycle before the riding season.
It's worth taking the time to lube the moving parts of your chassis—steering head, swingarm pivot, drive-shaft spline and wheel bearings. It's one less thing to worry about during the riding season.Cruiser

If your bike has spent a long winter’s night out of service, consider the following points when you get it ready for the road. We focus on items that may require special attention after extended storage, and things which should get attention now to avoid interrupting the riding season. Your owner’s manual will have a checklist for a standard service.

Valves: The manual says to adjust them when the engine is cold. When will it be colder? Give the cam lobes a shot of oil (the old stuff has long since run off) when you are done. Torque the cylinder head too.

Battery: If it spent the winter well charged, as with a Battery Tender or a regular trickle charge, then it's probably ready to go. Give it a regular service (fluid level and slow charge) and send it on its way. If it was neglected all winter, give it the same service and check it (Click HERE for battery tips). If it comes out looking a bit sickly, replace it before it causes problems. Be certain the vent tube is connected and properly routed.

Oil: If you changed the oil immediately before you stored it, it's probably ready to rumble. However, fresh oil can get contaminated by water, which will give it a milky appearance when it's first run. If you didn't change oil before storage, replace it now. Otherwise, those normal contaminants have been joined by a measure of water, a recipe for corrosion. Change the filter unless the oil was fresh. Use a torque wrench on that drain plug.

Fuel: If you left your tank full (a good way to avoid rust), the fuel has probably stratified. Drain the tank completely. (Pour the old gas in your car—or your neighbor's.) This is a good time to clean your fuel filter and look inside the tank for rust. If you didn't drain your carb float bowl(s), pull them off now and take a look. If the inside has something that looks like varnished cottage cheese, you probably have clogged jets too. Carb cleaner might help, but you might need new jets and a professional de-clogging as well.

Engine: A shot of oil in each spark plug hole followed by a couple of spins of the engine with the plugs removed will protect the cylinder walls and rings during those first few revolutions. When you pull the plugs, check the gaps too. If you haven't serviced it during the winter, the rest of those engine service items (air filter, carb synch, drive-line fluids) should be attended to as well.

Brakes: This is a good time to install fresh fluid—after your old stuff has been soaking up water all winter and is at its spongiest. You definitely should do it if you skipped it last year. Check the pads or shoes too. If they are "sort of" thin, get new ones now.

Suspension and steering: Prop the front wheel off the ground, sit in front of the bike and grasp the fork lowers. Move them forward and back to feel for steering-head looseness. Have you changed fork oil recently? Is a fork seal leaking, even a teensie-weensy bit? If so, take care of it now.

Finish protection: This is a great time to pull things apart and thoroughly wax everything you can get your fingers and cotton swabs on. Remove any corrosion, and put on a nice thick layer of wax or other appropriate protectant (leather dressing for saddlebags, etc.) to preserve it during the riding season.

Routine stuff: Before riding, you should check over all those normal pre-ride items: tire pressure and condition, wheel true, spoke tension, wheel bearing condition, control function and adjustment, lights, sprocket and chain condition. Look for leaks anywhere there is fluid. Take time, and a couple of wrenches, and check the tightness of every fastener you can reach. Pay particular attention to anything that can hurt you—brake lever pivot bolts, axle nuts, drain plugs. Your owner's manual will have a complete list of points to check before riding. Or if you don't have one (ask your dealer or the manufacturer), you can use the T-CLOCK checklist created by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation as an outline. (T-CLOCK stands for Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights and electrics, Oil and fluids, Chassis, Kickstand.)

Spares kit: If you haven't done so already, why not make up a spares kit for on-the-road problems you are capable of handling yourself? This might include fuses, chain master link, tire tubes, headlight bulb, instrument bulb, a bit of wire and some nuts. You might include a first-aid kit, too, with an eye on abrasions, insect stings and other on-the-road adventures. Put it all in a package that you can take with you when you are traveling farther than the county line.

Have a great riding season!

Related:

For more maintenance tips, click HERE.