Tips on How to Get Your Motorcycle Ready for Spring

Motorcycle Maintenance

Here are some tips for motorcycle users.

disconnecting the battery for motorcycle maintenance


Your first stop should be the battery. When disconnecting the battery, remove the negative side first, then remove the positive side to avoid creating a spark.

Internal-combustion engines need three things to run: compression, spark and good fuel. Presumably your bike was running when you parked it. That being the case, and given that sudden, spontaneous losses of compression are rather rare these days, at least while the bike is parked, we’ll assume the compression is up to snuff. Of course, if there is any doubt, a compression test should be your first order of business before proceeding.

Top off battery with distilled water and charge - motorcycle maintenance


Top off the battery with distilled water and give it a nice slow charge to bring it up to sniff before trying to start the bike.

drain carburetor - motorcycle maintenance


Locate the carburetor’s drain screw and drain any stale fuel into a suitable container.

Before your ignition system can generate any kind of spark you’ll need to determine the battery’s condition. Inspect the battery case for any signs of damage. If the case is cracked or leaking around the terminals, it’s done for. If the battery has a clear plastic case, you can get some idea about its overall condition by examining the plates. If they appear buckled or contaminated by gray, crystal-like deposits (sulfation), the battery’s shot and should be replaced. Check the battery’s electrolyte level. If it’s low, top it off with distilled water. Tap water contains minerals that will shorten the battery’s life. Never add acid. Ensure that the terminals are in good shape, and remove any corrosion that may have formed. A small, stiff brush and a solution of 50/50 water to baking soda should do the job nicely. The battery top and case should also be washed down with cool water and a mild detergent to remove any road grime or grease. Make certain the battery is fully charged before reinstalling it. You can use any type of charger you like so long as you charge the battery at no more than one-tenth of its rated ampere-hour value. If your bike uses a conventional battery, consider it fully charged when a hydrometer test shows a specific gravity of 1.26 to 1.27 at 80 degrees F, or when a voltmeter reading shows at least 12.6 volts across the terminals. Maintenance-free batteries can only be tested with a voltmeter. Normally these batteries will show 13.0 volts when fully charged. Before replacing the battery, give it a final rinse with cool water to remove any acid that may have vented during the charging process. Install the cables positive side first, then install the ground, and give them a light coat of dielectric grease or petroleum jelly to prevent corrosion. Lastly, check the vent line and make sure it’s unobstructed and routed well away from the chain and any chrome.

Check air filter - motorcycle maintenance


Check the air filter for debris. If it looks as clean as this one, you’re good to go.

In theory, spark plugs shouldn’t deteriorate while the bike sits. But worn, high-mileage plugs or those carbon-fouled from lots of short trips or slow-speed riding will cause hard-starting. Since for the most part spark plugs are relatively cheap, my advice is to replace them or at the very least inspect and clean them before trying to start the bike.

oil and filter change - motorcycle maintenance


Looks as if it’s time for an oil and filter change. At least the level is correct.

Stale gasoline creates all sorts of problems. If it sits too long the lighter portions evaporate and leave behind a varnishlike substance. Varnish looks great on woodwork, but it’s not so hot as a fuel. It also tends to plug up carburetor jets and passageways. Although modern gas stores a lot better than the old mixes did, if it’s more than 90 days old, I’d recommend draining it from the tank and float bowls. In fact, if the stuff is more than six weeks old, I’d drain it from the carburetors before even trying to start the bike. A word to the wise here: The stuff may not work real well as a motor fuel, but trust me, it’ll burn just fine if it contacts an ignition source. Dispose of the old gas with caution. By the way, right about now would be the perfect time to replace any fuel filters or clean any petcock screens. Since air filters make a perfect winter hiding spot for all sorts of small critters, give the filter box the once-over before buttoning everything up. If there is any evidence that it’s been used as a creature condo, give it a thorough cleaning and replace the filter.

master-cylinder level - motorcycle maintenance


A slight drop in the master-cylinder level is nothing to worry about, but it does indicate some pad wear. Check the pads before topping off the fluid. If the fluid is really grungy it should be replaced.

tire pressure - motorcycle maintenance


I’m thinking that 16 psi is a little tight. Tires normally lose some air pressure over the winter. Air them up and inspect them for wear or damage before entrusting your life to them.

brakes - motorcycle maintenance


A quick glance will let you know whether the brakes have any life left in them.

chain maintenance - motorcycle maintenance


Check and adjust the chain, and give it a good douse of your favorite goo.

With a hot battery, clean plugs and fresh fuel you’re almost ready to light that candle. But before you do there are still a few minor things to look at before they create major problems.

Be sure to check all the fluid levels. If any look particularly murky, or if you can’t recall when they were last changed, do it now, especially the engine oil and the filter. If you’re riding a water pumper, this also means checking the antifreeze, the brake fluid, and in some cases the transmission, primary case and rear-drive oil levels.

axle-nut cotter pins - motorcycle maintenance


While you’re down there, make sure no hardware has gone missing, particularly things like axle-nut cotter pins.

adjust cables on your motorcycle


Cables develop free play so slowly you may not even realize they’re going out of adjustment. Check and adjust them before putting the bike back on the road.

lubricate your cables - motorcycle maintenance


A shot of lubricant won’t hurt your cables. (Check your owner’s manual if there is any doubt, though; some cables are Teflon-lined and shouldn’t be lubricated.

Take a moment to examine the chassis. Check the tires for pressure and condition, check the brake pads or shoes for wear, and it won’t hurt a bit to adjust the drive chain and give it a shot of your favorite lubricant. Give the hardware the once-over. Nuts and bolts tend to loosen over time; a half-twist with a wrench will put them right. Cables should be checked and free play adjusted as needed. Check all the lights, adjust the mirrors and blow the horn. If all is right, you should be good to go. But remember to take it easy during that first ride. Chances are good that your riding skills have gone a bit stale over those cold winter months as well.

This article was originally published in the June 2004 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.