By PHILIPPE DEVOS
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, March 23, 2018
If you stored your motorcycle properly at the end of last season, there should be very little to do before your first ride this spring: Remove the trickle charger or reinstall the battery you kept charged in a warm, dry place.
Ensure the tires are properly inflated and the rubber is still in good shape.
Undo the measures you took (such as mothballs, dryer sheets) to dissuade rodents from making their home in the air filter, tailpipe or other crannies.
Take the bike down from the stand that kept the wheels off the ground so the tires didn't form flat parts.
Check that oil, coolant and brake fluid are at the proper levels, start it up and ride carefully.
Your skills will be a little rusty, other drivers will not be expecting motorcycles yet and there is lots of slippery sand, gravel and salt left on road surfaces, plus huge new potholes.
But if you haven't touched your bike since your parked it after your final ride last season or, like me, you bought a used bike with an uncertain service history over the winter, you'll have more work to do.
And there's help if you want to wrench beyond your current skills.
The owner's manual is a good place to start. The shop manual for your bike is even more informative. The internet has as much good advice as bad.
There are also do-it-yourself motorcycle workshops. At places such as Moto Revere in Toronto, DIY mechanics have access to a fully equipped motorcycle garage with lifts, professional-quality specialized tools, cleaners, lubricants and helpful advice to take on any job, plus a fresh cup of coffee. Moto Revere also offers lessons in everything from regular maintenance to finicky electrics.
With or without help, here are the basics you probably should have done at the end of last season, plus some beyond-basic tasks to consider.
CLEAN UP YOUR ACT
Basics Wash your bike with a bucket and sponge, not a power washer. The up-close, hands-on approach will force you to notice missing parts and maintenance issues that need attention.
Beyond basics The engines and carburetors of older bikes can use a cleaning, too. Many bike restorers swear by a product called Sea Foam, which can be added to the the fuel tank, engine oil or directly into the carburetor. Just follow the instructions.
FLUIDS AND FILTERS
Basics Change the oils and oil filters.
Some bikes have more than one oil filter. Some have separate engine and transmission oils.
If you left old fuel in the tank without adding a stabilizer, drain it out. If your bike has a carburetor, drain the fuel from there, too.
Add fresh fuel with the highest octane available.
Check and adjust the tension in the drive belt or chain, unless your bike is shaft-driven. If you have a chain, it should also be cleaned and lubricated.
Check the air filter and clean or replace it, as your particular bike requires.
Check coolant and brake fluid levels, and top up if needed.
Beyond basics All the fluids in your bike will need to be replaced eventually.
Beyond coolant, brake fluid and the oil in the engine and transmission, there might also be oil in your front forks, rear shocks and drive shaft (if your bike doesn't have a chain or belt). Check your manual for when to change.
Basics Charge the battery. If it's been left in the cold for months without charging, there's a good chance it's toast. If it won't turn the engine over, charge the battery as fully as possible and take it to any mechanic or auto-parts shop, where they can test it and probably sell you a new one.
Beyond basics If the battery is done, consider replacing it with a compatible lithium model.
They're twice the price or more of conventional batteries and are best with specialized chargers that are also more expensive, but they're more powerful, more resilient to cold and neglect and it's the cheapest way to bring your bike down in weight, which is the enemy of speed and agility.
WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
Basics Ensure the tires are at the recommended pressures. The correct pressures are shown in the owner's manual and marked on the bike (likely on the swingarm or frame), not what's marked on the tire itself, which is the maximum for that tire and usually much higher than the pressure at which the bike will perform best. Front and rear tires often require different pressures.
Beyond basics If the treads are worn down near the tire-wear indicators or the rubber is cracking, it's time to buy new. It's cheaper to take only the wheels to the shop than the whole bike, if your skills go that far, but don't extend to replacing the tires yourself.
With the wheels coming off, it's a good time to check the wheel bearings. If they don't need replacing, they can always use a fresh dose of waterproof grease.
This is also the time to tighten spokes if your wheels have them and remove any wobbles in the rim. Both of these tasks can be done with the wheels on the bike, too.
Basics Most brake pads have one or more indicator grooves that disappear when there are two millimetres or so of material remaining. If you can't see the grooves any more or there's less than 2 millimetres before it's down to the metal, it's time for new pads.
Beyond basics The owner's manual will tell you how often your bike needs fresh brake fluid. But if your brake fluid looks like old engine oil, a change is overdue.
If the fluid is fresh, but the brakes are still spongy, the brake system may need to be bled of air.
The brake calipers can also be taken apart, cleaned and lubricated. Best done before they seize up.
Basics Check the throttle, clutch, hand and foot brake and adjust as needed to ensure they fully engage with no more than the maximum required free play.
Check that the tail, brake, signal and licence-plate lights work as well as the headlights, high beams, horn and engine shutoffs on the handlebars and in the kickstand.
Beyond basics Lubricate any cables, which may include throttle, clutch, choke, hot start and speedometer.
MORE BEYOND THE BASICS
The front and rear sprockets on a chain-driven bike can suffer from teeth that are broken or become hook-shaped instead of straight. Replace if you see either of these conditions.
There are more bearings to check, lubricate and replace if worn in the steering head, swingarm, shock linkage and shock mounts.
The owner's manual will tell you how often the engine valve gaps need to be checked and adjusted if they fall outside the specifications. If you're going to tackle one job inside the engine, this is where to start.
Before I found a DIY shop such as Moto Revere, I cursed my way through the basic mechanical duties of motorcycle ownership performed in my driveway using mismatched tools with my bike perched on a milk crate. But this spring, I found myself looking forward to evenings and weekends at the shop taking something apart for the first time and getting it back together in better shape.
Now that my new-to-me bike has been fully refreshed for the season, I'm going to miss the satisfaction of knowing what I accomplished to get grease stuck under my fingernails.