Prepping Your Bike for Spring

Take it out of that long winter hibernation and be ready to ride

For a variety of reasons, usually weather related, the majority of us are forced to store our motorcycles for some portion of the year. Depending on the climatic conditions, that can mean anywhere from a few weeks to several months or more of downtime. I’d like to think that most of you make an effort to winterize your rides before abandoning them to a cold winter’s nap, but even if you put it away wet, you still owe your bike a new season prep. Here’s what to do, now that spring has sprung.

Preparing your motorcycle for spring
The carb drain screws can be a headache to reach, but if the bike has been sitting for more than a month or two, every effort should be made to drain the stale gas from the float bowls.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Squeeze the Juice
Start by yanking the battery out and giving it the onceover. Exercise some common sense here. Essentially, a battery is little more than a plastic box filled with highly corrosive acid and explosive fumes. To avoid fireworks, disconnect the ground (-) terminal first, followed by the positive terminal (+), and then remove the battery from the bike.

Wash the battery with cool water and any type of grease-cutting soap or a 1:1 mix of baking soda and water. Any corrosion at the terminals can be removed with a small wire brush or sandpaper.

Check the battery water level—if it’s low, top it off with distilled water, available at any grocery store. Place the battery on the charger and charge it at no more than 1/10 of its rated amp hour capacity. If the battery shows signs of sulfation, indicated by gray or white deposits in the cells or a refusal to take a charge, replace it. Before reinstalling the battery, rinse it with cool water to remove any acid vapor pumped out of the vent during the charging process. When reinstalling the battery, pay careful attention to the routing of the vent hose, making certain it’s not pinched or routed near the chain.

Preparing your motorcycle for spring
The plug on the right is used but serviceable; although the new one on the left is cheap insurance.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Don't Be Fuelish
The fuel system is next on the agenda. Remove any mouse nests or wildlife refuges from the air filter housing. Inspect the air filter and clean or replace it as necessary. All fuel injected bikes (and some that aren't) have a fuel filter placed somewhere between the fuel tank and the injector or carburetor. If you can't remember the last time you changed it, or it's close to the recommended replacement interval listed in your owner's manual, now is the time to do it. In most cases, carburetor float bowls will need the mung drained out—mung being the technical term for the concoction of stale gas, water, dirt and bugs that has been drifting around all winter. Locate the carburetor drain hose(s) and place a drain pan underneath. Loosen the carburetor drain screws located at the bottom of the float bowl; leave them open until the bowls are completely drained.

On some bikes the carburetors and drain screws may be difficult to reach. In all honesty I recommend draining the float bowls, but if the bike ran well when you put it away and it’s only been sitting for a month or two, chances are it will be fine. Like the Brits say, “suck it and see.” If there are problems down the road, you can always come back to them. Lastly, if the fuel in the tank is more than three months old, drain it and refill the tank with fresh gas.

Preparing your motorcycle for spring
Change the oil and filter as a matter of course.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Bridge The Gaps
When it comes to getting the bike back on the road, two gray areas are valve adjustment and spark plug replacement. If your bike is due for a routine valve adjustment, and you have the ability and tools to adjust them, by all means do it now. If not, it's certainly not a strict requirement. The same goes for the spark plugs. Modern bikes have a much better plug life than their predecessors. By the same token, plugs are much dearer than they used to be, and quite frankly many are replaced well before their time. My recommendation is this: Your manual will list a replacement interval. If the plug has less than half the mileage listed and is not likely to reach the replacement mileage in the near future, I'd leave them alone, especially if there were no problems when the bike was stored. Obviously, if the plugs are due for replacement or if the bike was hard-starting or running poorly, they should be removed, inspected and replaced as necessary.

Preparing your motorcycle for spring
Brake fluid doesn't have to be this clean, but it should be close. Top off all reservoirs to the full mark.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

The Oily Truth
There are two schools of thought when it comes to changing engine oil. School one says the engine should be good and warm before you drain the oil so that all those nasty dirt particles become suspended in the oil and readily drain out. School two says all those particles are trapped in the filter and laying at the bottom of the sump. Why redistribute them throughout the engine? Personally, I've tried it both ways and would be hard-pressed to find much difference. If you subscribe to school number two, go ahead and change the oil and filter. If you're a number one type, you'll need to wait until you get the bike running. Shaft-drive bikes, and/or ones with a non-unit transmission, should have secondary oils changed as well.

If you’re riding a water pumper, check and top off the radiator, using a coolant specified for motorcycle or aluminum block engines. Give the oil level a last check, especially if you elected to warm up the engine before changing it, and then light the fire. It may take a few stabs at the starter to get her going, especially if you’ve drained the float bowls. If your bike has a vacuum-equipped fuel valve, don’t forget to turn it to the prime position. Let the bike warm up for a few minutes while you check for any fluid leaks.

If the engine refuses to start or won’t run on all cylinders, some troubleshooting will be in order. Troubleshooting is outside the scope of this article, but suffice to say you need compression, good quality fuel and a spark before any engine will run.

Preparing your motorcycle for spring
A quick wrench-check now can save a lot of grief down the road.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

Only A Wrench Away
Now that we've breathed some life back into the old gal, it's time for a safety check. Starting at the front of the bike and working your way to the rear, wrench-check all nuts and bolts. If you find any loose ones, tighten them to the correct torque. If you have no torque wrench or aren't sure of the torque specs, snug the bolts down until you can get the bike to a dealer.

Tires should be inspected and the air pressure adjusted. If the tires are worn, replace them ASAP. If your bike has spoked wheels, give each spoke a tap with a screwdriver. A clear ring indicates a tight spoke and a dull thunk means it’s loose and needs to be tightened. Grasp each wheel at a 90-degree angle to the axle and try to rock it back and forth—movement indicates loose wheel bearings. Hold the front brake on and watch the steering head as you rock the bike back and forth. Any movement or clunking indicates loose steering-stem bearings. Investigate before riding the bike any further.

Rotate the fork from left to right. If the fork feels like it’s hitting detents along the way, the steering head bearings are dented and need to be replaced. Take a look at the fork seals. Oil on the fork tubes means it’s time to replace the seals.

Next, take a gander at the brake wear indicators and replace the pads or shoes as needed. The rear shocks should be oil-tight and resistant to movement in both directions. If they come up short on either score, it’s time for new ones. Holding the rear wheel in the same plane as the swingarm, try to pull the wheel towards you and then push it away. If the swingarm moves, it’s time to adjust or replace the swingarm bearings. While tugging on the swingarm, inspect the chain and sprockets or drive belt for wear and proper adjustment. Lubricate the chain as required. The control cables are often overlooked, so make sure they have the correct free play and move smoothly. Adjust and lubricate them as required. Make certain that all of the master cylinders are full—the fluid should be up to the level and clear. If the stuff looks like mud, plan on changing it soon. Lastly, check any and all lights and don’t forget the horn. At this point, assuming all went well, you’re ready to wash and wax the bike and ride off into the sunset.

Preparing your motorcycle for spring
Excess cable free play can be removed at the adjuster.Photography by Mark Zimmerman

One last thing: If you haven’t been on the bike in a while, take it easy at first. Rusty reflexes, sandy roads and overenthusiasm can lead to disaster. Just like your bike, your brain might need a little spring cleaning in preparation for that first ride.

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