motorcycle maintenanceA motorcycle is more than just a hobby, or even a way of life. For many motorcyclists, their bikes are also major financial investments. Fortunately, today's motorcycles are better than ever, boasting designs, materials, and mechanics that are unquestionably superior to and more reliable than their predecessors. Thanks to the quality of modern machines, with the right care and maintenance, motorcyclists can keep their bikes looking and running just as beautiful as the day they rode them off the lot.

Sensible Storage

Proper storage is a cardinal rule of motorcycle care. After all, it's much easier—and much less expensive—to prevent damage to a machine by storing it correctly than it is to repair a bike with faded paint or rusted components.

The ideal way and place to store a motorcycle is underneath a cover in a garage, carport, or other parking spot with a roof. However, if that's not possible, covering the bike and parking it in the shade is the next best thing. Just make sure that however the motorcycle is stored, it's protected from the elements. Leaving a bike uncovered in the sun, rain, snow, sleet, or hail can wreak havoc on its performance and appearance.

Clean and Pristine

A rider often takes great pride in a motorcycle's appearance, cleaning and waxing it regularly to keep it looking sharp. A filthy bike isn't getting the love and respect it deserves, and this neglect can have serious consequences over time. For example, dirt, rust, gunk, grime, and debris can build up on the motorcycle's surface, scratching the paint and making it difficult to see the instrument console or lights. Particles can also get into the bike's nooks and crannies, promoting the formation of rust that causes components to fail prematurely.

To keep a motorcycle as clean and pristine as the day it left the factory, wash it at least once a month with a high-powered pressure washer. However, avoid using the pressure washer to clean around the steering-head bearings, swingarm, suspension linkages, and wheel bearings so that water doesn't get damage these areas. Follow the wash with a high-quality wax, applied according to package instructions.

Give the bike a quick wipe down after each ride to keep it looking great between monthly washes.

Basic Motorcycle Maintenance

Before completing any type of motorcycle maintenance, it's always best to consult the owners' manual for that particular model, as it will let motorcyclists know the timetable of what to inspect, clean, replace, adjust, and lubricate.

As a general guideline, the following maintenance should be performed once a year or once every 6,000 miles, whichever comes first:

  • Tires. Check tire pressure and tread; look for cracks or penetrating objects; watch for deterioration of the side walls; and replace tires before the wear bar indicators are visible.
  • Wheels. Inspect wheel spokes and alignment; check wheel bearings for play; and make sure the wheel seals aren't leaking.
  • Oil. Replace both the oil and the oil filter.
  • Brake pads. Inspect brake pads once a year or once every 6,000 miles, and replace if necessary.
  • Engine. Inspect and wrench-check the engine and frame bolts.
  • Lubrication. Check the steering-head bearings, swingarm, suspension linkages, wheel bearings, controls, and cables, if necessary.
  • Chain. Consult the owners' manual for the recommended chain tension and adjust as needed. Clean the chain with a cloth dampened with kerosene when performing regular maintenance.
  • Spark plugs. Check for spark plugs that are dirty or corroded, and replace them before they fail completely, if possible. When replacing spark plugs, screw them in by hand to avoid over tightening.
  • Air filter. Clean or replace a dirty air filter, and make sure it's properly oiled and fits correctly.
  • Valve adjustment. Follow the schedule outlined in the owner’s' manual for valve adjustments to avoid burned valves, reduced performance, and engine failure.

Pre- or Post-Ride Inspections

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) recommends that a motorcyclist inspect his bike before or after each ride, so it's ready the next time he wants to hit the open road. The MSF developed the T-CLOCK mnemonic technique to help bikers remember to check the following categories:

  • T – Tires and wheels
  • C – Controls
  • L – Lights and electrics
  • O – Oil
  • C – Chassis
  • K – Kickstand

Ride It Right

Though some bikers live by the "ride-it-like-you-stole-it" philosophy, that's the last thing motorcyclists should do if they want to keep their machines in good condition for years to come. Instead, treat her like a lady: accelerate smoothly, and use the clutch and brakes conservatively to ensure continued performance.


James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.
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