Every winter seems to get colder, darker and longer than the last. But finally, the warmer weather and longer days are on the horizon, meaning motorcyclists up and down the country are itching to get out for their first proper Sunday blast of the year.
Before you throw your leg over your motorcycle though, there’s a few checks you need to do to make sure your bike and equipment is in good condition. Here’s some top tips on how to prepare for your summer of riding.
Tax, insurance and MOT
An obvious one, but first thing’s first, ensure your bike is still legal to be on the road. It’s easily overlooked among the excitement of getting out on two wheels again as the weather perks up.
A common issue for bikes after not being used over the winter months is a flat or dead battery, meaning your bike will struggle to start, or won’t start at all. If you haven’t had it on charge throughout winter, it’s not too late to buy a trickle charger and give it a boost before your first ride.
Check your fluids
Running out of oil does a good job of ruining your engine, so always check your engine oil level before your first ride of the season. Modern motorcycles have a site glass for checking the level, which should read between the minimum and maximum markings. This is very important, and should also be done on a regular basis.
You also need the ability to stop now and again when you’re out for a ride, of course, so checking you have enough brake fluid in the reservoirs is key. The front brake reservoir is usually positioned on the bike’s handlebars, and the rear brake reservoir located near the right foot peg, and the fluid needs to show between the minimum and maximum markings.
Check the brakes
You’ve already checked your brake fluid level, but another important step is making sure your brakes are in good nick. Firstly, roll your motorcycle forward and apply the front brake, feeling for any excessive travel or stiffness on the brake lever, unusual play or sponginess. Do this again, but apply the rear brake feeling for the same issues.
After that, take a good look at your brake discs, checking for any warps or corrosion, and that the brake pads have plenty of meat left on them. If the brakes are cable operated, ensure the cables haven’t become twisted or damaged, and have free movement.
Chain tension and wear
Your motorcycle’s chain is one of the most important components, as it transfers the engine’s power into drive at the rear wheel. If it’s in bad condition and doesn’t have the right tension, it can cause serious damage to the chain, sprockets and gearbox, and the chain could ultimately break.
When checking the tension of the chain, put the bike on its main stand or a paddock stand so the rear wheel is free to spin, but keep the bike turned off. Use your owner’s manual to understand what the chain tension should be, and move the chain up and down at the point in between the front and rear sprockets to ensure it’s correct. After correctly adjusting the chain, make sure the rear wheel aligns with the front wheel, then check for wear by spinning the rear wheel by hand and looking for any signs of damage on the chain.
You also need to keep the chain adequately lubricated to maintain its good condition. Apply proper motorcycle chain lubricant by spraying it on the chain as you’re turning the real wheel, and wipe off any excess that may have gone onto the bodywork.
Check your tyres
Arguably the most important pre-ride check, and one which should be done regularly, is checking the pressure, tread and general condition of your tyres. Your motorcycle’s specific front and rear tyre pressures can be found in the owner’s manual, and should be checked by a reliable pressure gauge when the tyres are cold for an accurate reading.
Motorcycles over 50cc legally need to have 1mm of tread depth across three quarters of the width of the tread pattern, and visible tread for the remaining quarter. But regardless of the law, if your tyres are nearing that level of baldness, it’s time to think about getting a new set of rubber. Motorcycles up to 50cc need to have all grooves of the original tread pattern clearly visible. When inspecting your tyres, also look out for any lumps, bulges or tears which indicates they’re not fit for the road.
The credit card-sized contact patch between your tyres and the road is the only thing keeping you upright, so making sure your rubber is in tip-top shape is a must.
Check your steering
Something that shouldn’t have deteriorated after being unused for a few months, but good to check before your first ride in a while nonetheless – especially as it’s quick and easy. All you need to do is roll the bike forward for a few meters on full lock one way, then do the same but on the opposite lock. Listen for any unusual noises, and feel for anything unexpected through the handlebars.
Lights and reflectors
Being seen on a motorcycle is a challenge which faces all riders. A vehicle can pull out on even the most experienced of riders potentially causing an accident, so ensuring your headlight, main beam, indicators and brake lights work, and reflectors are clean, is a necessity. If you’re on your own and need to check your brake light, reverse the bike close to a wall or another surface and apply the front brake, then the rear brake, and make sure you can see the red light appear on the surface when the brakes are applied.
Finally, check your riding gear
Last but not least, ensure your protective gear hasn’t deteriorated over winter, and it all still fits correctly.
And you’re ready to go! Complete with peace of mind that your motorcycle and equipment is in good shape. The sun and open road awaits – enjoy your summer of riding.