Motorcycle maintenance checklist | Pre ride bike check
Do you inspect your bike before or after every ride? A vast majority of riders don’t, so the real question is, should we?
Back in the day, as riders, we were used to our bikes not being mechanically reliable, however, with new technologies, we nowadays have motorcycles doing scheduled maintenances every 10.000 miles, proving that we are now at a stage of high reliability.
That, however, may be a misleading sales pitch.
We are not saying that you shouldn’t trust your manufacturer's maintenance intervals, far from that.
However, fulfilling scheduled maintenances alone should not stop you from actively keeping an eye out on your bikes working condition.
A motorcycle, unlike a car, has most of its mechanical parts out in the open and no matter how much better technology gets, that specific point will likely not change over time, which brings us back to mechanical reliability.
Yes, our engines will most likely do way more than 10.000 miles without a glitch, and our brake pads might even last two visits to the shop before needing replacement, but what about everything else?
A loose mirror can be a minor hassle if it’s a bit lose and vibrating a bit, as it can generate a crash if it gets too loose and starts spinning or flies of the bike.
A cable that is a bit stiffer than it was initially can be just a nuisance, as it can also be an indicator that that specific cable will not reach the next maintenance date.
With that is mind, it is our responsibility as riders, to make sure that not only our bike reaches the hands of the mechanic, but also that we won’t need the hands of a doctor.
A pre-ride check every time we take the bike out, although undoubtedly the safest approach, might be a bit overkill, however, a simple – and fast – weekly inspection will go a long way into making sure you will always be riding your bike in its best form, but also into making sure you are riding the safest bike you can.
Every time an airplane lands is submitted to what its called a GVI – general visual inspection.
This inspection is supposed to be precisely what the name states.
Something fast, without taking anything part, and that allows the technician to have an excellent idea of the overall state of the machine.
On planes, there is a checklist that needs to be fulfilled, and on that list, the technician will find all the parts of the plane that not only require testing but also the ones that are more prone to damage.
If those are ok, its safe enough to assume that the remaining ones that are less prone to damage and more trustworthy will also be ready to go.
If we apply the same reasoning to bikes, we can assume that our mechanics will do the schedule maintenances, where they will dive deeper into the less prone to damage parts, leaving us, the riders, with the GVI responsibilities.
So what should we, as riders, be looking for?
With our years of not only riding bikes but also of fixing them, we developed a pre-ride checklist that you can follow.
1 – Bearings:
A bearing is something that can break/seize at any time; however, it's relatively easy to keep an eye out.
With the bike on the center stand and the wheels off the ground, wiggle your wheels at a perpendicular angle from the rotation direction.
If the wheels have lateral movement from the rotation direction, you might have a damaged bearing in your hands.
Although there are other bearings on your bike that you need to pay attention to, like the steering neck and the swingarm, those you tend to feel the degradation as you ride.
That may come as squeaking on the swingarm, or as a less than laser sharp handling on the front.
2 - Tires:
Cracks, dryness, punctures, and pressure are things that take you seconds to check and are of crucial value to your safety.
When checking the tires its also an excellent time to see the general health of your rims, and if you are running spoked wheels, the tension of your spokes.
Grab any wrench or even your keys, and gently tap the spokes.
They will have a sound. If the sound is similar on all of them, you can assume that they are all with the same tension, if some sound different, you may have loose spokes.
Do a spoke check as soon as you grab your bike from the shop and memorize the sound.
Assuming your mechanic did a good job and verified the spokes tension, you now know your spokes “base tone”.
3 – Controls:
Operate your controls one by one.
Accumulations of dust, grease, or just normal wear and tear may be enough to get a control working at a less than optimal standard.
No one wants the bike not to start because the ignition button got stuck. Trust us. We’ve been there!
4 – Levers and pedals:
Like the controls, levers and pedals are also prone to seizing or less than optimal functioning.
It's not a bad policy to clean and spritz their pivoting points with chain lube when you lube your chain.
5 – Cables:
Although many new bikes use ride by wire technology, even those still have cables, electrical cables!
Mechanical ones like throttle and clutch cables need lube, and the wiring ones, those need to remain isolated.
The worst troubleshooting to do on a bike? Electrical failures due to broken cables!
6 – Lights:
Testing blinkers, brake lights, and drivings lights will take you 30 seconds to check.
7 – Fluids:
Not only of gas do bikes live.
Engine oil and brake oils are also a reality.
Make sure that your engine oil level is on point – especially on bikes known to have oil consumption – and look at your brake oil color.
Light and clear is good, dark and opaque means that its time for an oil change.
8 – Brakes:
A quick wiggle on the brake disks will let you know if they need to be retightened, and as for pads, check your oil level.
Brake oil works on a closed system, meaning that if there are no leaks, your oil level will only go down as the pads get worn out.
Instead of finding yourself in super difficult positions to check the pads directly, check your brake oil levels.
If its close to empty, it means you should bend over and check the pad itself as it will be time for a change.
If its full and you are not adding oil every time the level goes down - as you shouldn't - then you can ride away knowing your pads are still in working order.
9 – Hoses:
It is not common for hoses to break or leak, regardless if they are of fuel or oil, however, it is possible.
A quick GVI of their general condition and routing will allow you to check for bends that will lead to a crack or prevent a free flow of fluids, and to check for dangerous dryness of the rubber.
When checking for that, don’t forget to look at the banjos, the metallic parts at the ends of the hoses.
Those are usually carved into the hose, and over time can generate leaks on the union.
If you run braided steel hoses as many brake lines do, check for broken wires along the hose.
10 – Chassis nuts and bolts:
With a flashlight, go around the bike and pass your hand along where your light is shining.
If anything is loose your eye or hand will catch it, and if there is a leak anywhere, the light will reflect it.
These 10 steps may seem like a daunting task for the many riders, however, in less than 5 minutes you will have your GVI done, and you will have achieved a safety level above average.
Never forget, you are the one driving. Your safety starts with you every time you sit on your bike, not with your mechanic every 10.000 miles.