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Keep your motor running
Every spring, motorcycle service shops are swamped by riders who want to get their bike out on the road as quickly as possible. If your bike needs maintenance, it’s best to get it to the shop as early in the spring as possible, advises Ken Livingstone, Sr. Service Technician with GP Bikes in Ajax, Ontario.
For your bike’s spring tune-up, there are a number of things you can check and do yourself. Plus, don’t overlook your own tune-up; your riding skills might have gotten rusty over the winter.
A checkup for your bike
Shaking off the rust
A checkup for your bike
Based on Ken’s extensive experience, here’s how to ensure that your bike is safely ready to roll once it’s out of winter storage.
Tires: Proper tire inflation is of utmost importance, especially in spring. Ken suggests that “you should set pressure to the lower side of the manufacturer’s recommended rating. For cooler spring temperatures, you want the tires to be a little softer. This will allow them to warm up for better traction.” Also inspect your tires for wear.
Oil: If you didn’t do this in the fall, change your oil and oil filter. When it sits for long periods of time, old oil causes condensation that can corrode moving parts. Ken recommends synthetic oil and uses it in all the bikes he owns. Synthetic oil holds its properties better than natural oil. However, note that it’s better for newer bikes than older models.
Fuel: Your fuel should also be as fresh as possible. Use a brand of premium fuel that doesn’t contain ethanol. If you didn’t drain the old fuel before storing your bike for the winter, put some automotive fuel injection cleaner in the tank, says Ken. It will help clean out any sludge that has collected.
Battery: Make sure you have a fully charged battery for spring. The best batteries only last 3 to 5 years, even when they’re perfectly maintained. Also, check all your lights (indicators, brakes, headlight), too. “Drivers have enough trouble seeing bikes as it is,” Ken says.
Brakes and clutch: Drum brakes have an indicator to remind you when it’s time to replace them. Disc brakes are a little harder to check, but should have at least 1/16" of material on the pad. Keep track of when you change your brake fluid — it should be changed every 3 or 4 years. And check your clutch lever for proper adjustment. Most manufacturers recommend 2-3 mm of free play.
Steering and suspension: Try walking your bike and then pump the front brake. “If you feel any kind of a ‘clunk,’ it could indicate loose steering bearings,” Ken cautions. Also suspend the front end and move it left and right. If you feel any “notchiness,” that could tip you off to the same problem. For proper suspension settings it’s best to refer to your bike owner’s manual.
Drive chain and levers: Some parts will require lubrication. First, Ken typically removes most of the debris from chain-driven bikes with a wire brush. Then he wipes the chain with oil and applies chain lube. Next, lubricate the brake and clutch levers and throttle cable with a light oil. On sidestand pivot points you can use a light engine oil.
Bath time: Washing your bike cleans it up and lets you get a good look at it. “Dirt will hide problems and create problems,” says Ken. He recommends commercial degreasers for the engine and chassis, followed by washing with good old hot, soapy water and waxing of all the painted parts.
Shaking off the rust
Once your motorcycle is ready for the road, are you? Chances are your riding skills have gotten a little rusty over the winter months.
If you’re a member of a motorcycle club, your club likely holds a skills refresher session early in the spring, which you should take advantage of. But if you’re not, here are some ways to shake off the rust.
“Anyone can ride fast,” acknowledges Michael Raber, a senior rider training instructor who conducts spring warm-ups for the Ontario Road Riders Association. “But it’s the slow-speed riding skills that are important. To ride slowly, you have to know how to use all the controls on your motorcycle.”
To get back into the rhythm of riding, Michael recommends you try practising these basic moves that are taught in rider training courses for beginners.
Counter-steering: Take some water bottles or tennis balls with you to a vacant parking lot and place them like pylons about every three metres apart. Then slowly ride between them without putting your foot down on the pavement. Don’t touch your front brake, keep your eyes up, and look in the direction of where you want to go.
Braking: Once you get comfortable again with the five primary controls (clutch, throttle, rear and front brakes, and gear shifter), practise braking. Accelerate and use both brakes to smoothly decelerate. Then practise stop-and-go situations.
Stopping on a curve: “A lot of collisions occur because motorcyclists don’t know how to properly stop on a curve,” says Raber. “This may not be something you want to practise on your own unless you know the theory behind it.” The key is to apply both brakes and ease off the throttle to reduce the motorcycle’s lean. Apply more pressure as you slow down and straighten the handlebars.
Turning in limited space: It can be a challenge to smoothly negotiate a U-turn. Avoid the tendency to look down when you perform this exercise. Instead, look in the direction you want to go. While turning, apply the rear brake, keep the clutch in the friction zone, and roll on the throttle.
Taking care of your bike’s spring tune-up — and your own — will go a long way to helping you have a safer, more enjoyable riding season.
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