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General Motorcycle Maintenance
Modern bikes require less maintenance than they did in the 60's
and 70's but they still need a lot more maintence than a car. This
higher reliability also means that there are a whole bunch of
motorcyclists out there who haven't a clue how to work on their
bikes or what really needs to be done to ensure reliability.
Motorcyclists should be able to do at least baisic maintenance on
The more care and maintenance you give a bike the longer it will
last. Preforming general maintenance on your motorcycle will also
help you spot problems before they happen.
Things to Check Regularly
Tip: There are dozens of parts on a motorcycle that could be
checked on a regular basis and there is nothing wrong with check all
those parts. But try to slim the list down to the most important
items so you still have time to ride.
Here is a basic list of some of the most important things to
check on a motorcycle. Even doing a little can make a big
Battery, Oil, Tires
(tyres), Brakes, Chain and sprocket (Shaft Drive, Belt Drive) and
Fuel (Gas, Petrol).
Tip: Keep a low pressure tire gauge (0psi - 80psi) in your
bike tool bag at all times. Try to remember to check your tire
pressure everytime you fill up for gas.
Keep your tires correctly inflated. A tire that is very
under-inflated generates a lot of heat which can lead to a blow out.
Tires that run too hot also wear out more quickly. The most common
motorcycle breakdown is for tire damage.
Purchase a pencil-type tyre gauge and use it regularly until you
instinctively 'know' what your tyres feel like correctly inflated.
Use of the gauge and visual inspections must become second nature.
Replace your tires sooner rather than later. If tread depth is
1-2mm it is time to replace your tires. Take a tip from the mad
sportbikers and the canyon racers - they never skimp on their tyres
as they are often all that stands between them and the pearly gates.
Tip: Brake fluid absorbs moisture over time and becomes less
effective. Replace brake fluid every one to two years and your
brakes will preform the best they can.
Motorcycles have up to two brake fluid reservoirs, one for the
front, usually found on the handlebars and one for the back. Both
should be checked regularly. Topping up should only be done from a
new, sealed bottle as brake fluid tends to absorb moisture over
time. If your brake pads are thin and due for replacement. Beware -
brake fluid, if spilt on paintwork eats right through to the bare
Also check the thickness of the brake pads. If you allow them to
go right down to the metal your brake disc will be damaged resulting
in an unnecessary and expensive replacement. Fitting braided steel
brake lines will increase the performance of your brakes by roughly
Chain and sprockets, Shaft Drives, Belts
Tip: Lube your chain after each ride when the chain is warm so
the oil can easily soak in and get into all the tight spots of the
These items that are essential to the well being of your bike. If
not well maintained you will end up spending a lot of money all too
often to have them replaced.
Chains: Lubricate them often with a commercial chain spray
everytime you fill up for gas. (or at the end of each ride). Spray
liberally on the side of the chain that comes into contact with the
sprockets. Ensure that you spray both left and the right hand side
of the chain. Position a piece of newspaper so that you do not dirty
the rear wheel rim as you spray. Use a second piece on the floor to
catch any drips. Wait five or ten minutes before you wipe all excess
oil off the chain. This whole process is a lot easier if your
motorbike has a centre stand. Spinning the back tyre will ensure
that the rest of the chain is lubricated when it comes into contact
with the sprocket and pinion. This is a task that is best done when
you return home from your ride while the chain is still warm.
Bike chains are never taut but must be able to sag between 3/4"
to 1 1/4" at the mid-point between the two sprockets. The sag is
used when the bike suspension moves up and down over uneven
Shaft Drives: Even though shaft drives on motorcycles
require little maintenance we would suggest replacing the shaft
drive oil every time you change the oil on your motorcycle. This
will lead to a very long and happy life for the shaft drive.
Belt Drives: As with shaft drives, belts do not require a
lot of maintenance. Everytime you change the oil on your motorcycle
check the belt tension and adjust if necessary. Make sure your belt
is always clean.
Tip: Check your fuel filter on a regular basis and replace
every 2 years.
Fuel is quite an often overlooked as a form of preventative
maintenance on a motorcycle.
Check the fuel filter (if you have one) to make sure it is not
clogged and looks clean and clear. Replace fuel filters every 2
Check the fuel lines for weather damage and cracking, replace
immediately if any is found.
Generally untreated gas only lasts (is good for) 6 months. After
this time the gas starts to break down. Dispose of untreated gas
older than 6 months rather than risk running it. Treated gas can
last up to 2 years.
Remember when parking your motorcycle for any length of time to
turn the petcock (fuel tap) to the off position. This prevents any
fuel potentially leaking out and flooding the carbs or the engine.
Tip: Check your oil level when it is cold before you go on a
ride. If it is not at its high or max level top it up before going
Regular oil and filter changes will keep your motorbike young and
Oil level. Make sure you regularly check and keep your oil level
at its HIGH or MAX level. It is best to check your oil level on the
bikes centre stand or when it is in a level position. An under
filled oil level can be disastrous while too much oil over the limit
may flood your air cleaner with oil. (it is embarassing too).
You should also know the difference between the 'low' level and
the 'high' level in ml e.g. if the difference is 300ml you cannot
purchase a 500ml tin and pour the whole can in!
Here are some pointers regarding oil which are true for most
- The bike should be level as possible.
- The oil should best inspected cold and is therefore best done
before you go out on a ride.
- Becareful to not allow foreign matter and dirt to fall in during
the inspection process
- With threaded dipsticks do not screw the dipstick in when taking a
reading, just allow it to rest on the lowest thread.
- High temperatures, time, speed, heavy traffic, short trips and
dust quickly destroy the quality of your oil. If you do ride in
these conditions change your oil more frequently.
- I suggest changing your oil every 2-4000km or 3-6 months,
whichever comes first. (I change mine every 2,500 km).
- It is recommended you change your oil filter everyother oil change
if you are using a good quality oil filter (e.g. WIX, Your
Motorcycle Manufacturer Brand). If not, every oil change!
- Always use a good oil filter (WIX brand from UAP/NAPA is a
- Motorcycles can and do use the same oils as cars although special
synthetic motorcycle oils are available. Always use the recommended
oil weight for your motorcycle (e.g. 10w40 or 20w50). Older (15+
year old) motorcycles run best on regular (non-synthetic oil), while
new bikes like either.
Tip: Check the fluid levels on each chamber. If any chamber is
low, carefully top it up. Use only distilled or deionized water, NOT
tap water. Tap water has minerals in it that will not do the battery
The humble battery is a very common cause for motorcycle
breakdowns! Unfortunately they are awkward to get to and therefore
do not get checked as often as they should.
A battery only requires a little monthly maintenance to perform
perfectly. Keep the battery charged to 100%, recharging when the
lights dim, the starter sounds weak, or the battery hasn't been used
in more than two weeks. Other than that, follow this simple check
list every month:
- Check the electrolyte level
- Top up only with distilled or deionized water, wear gloves and
protective glasses. Top up in a well ventilated area, Beware of
- Keep the top free of grime
- Check cables, clamps, and case for obvious damage or loose
- Clean terminals and connectors as necessary
- Check inside for excessive sediment, sulfation or mossing
- Make sure the exhaust tube is free of kinks and clogs
- Replace caps firmly
- Finish up by testing the battery with either a hydrometer or
voltmeter. To extend the service life of your battery, make monthly
battery maintenance part of your routine.
Use only distilled or deionized water, NOT tap water. Tap water
has minerals in it that will not do the battery any good.