Bike Prep - For the New Season

Text: Andrew Westlake • Photography: Andrew Westlake

They say the best time to plant an oak tree is 40 years ago. And the best time to prepare your bike for this season was the end of last season. We'll be covering that in a later issue of RoadRUNNER, but let's assume you parked your bike when the weather turned last year and haven't touched it since. Where do you start?

  1. Battery. Before you start the bike, remove the battery and recharge it. Reason: If your battery wasn't "trickle" charged over the winter, it will have discharged up to 50 per cent. Trying to start your bike with the battery in this state may damage it. On modern bikes it may upset the computer, preventing starting anyway. Best to start with a fully charged battery.
    While the battery is out, clean the terminals.
  2. Adjust your tire pressure: the tires will have lost air over the winter. Check treads for wear and punctures, and, if you ride infrequently, check sidewalls for cracks. Many punctures are caused by a nail picked up in or around the garage. Any splits or punctures and your tire will need changing. Check wheels for dings or cracks; for spoke wheels, check spoke tension. Each spoke should "ring" when tapped with a small wrench. If any spokes are loose or broken, have a competent wheel builder adjust or replace them and realign the wheel.
  3. Remove the brake disc pads. This provides an opportunity to check the brake calipers for leaks and/or seizure. Road dirt and (especially) salt can cause corrosion of the inside of the wheel cylinder. Check for smooth operation by pushing the pistons back into the cylinders a little way. Reassemble the disc pads, replacing them if worn. Refer to your owner's manual for wear specification.
    Brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air, especially if your bike is stored outside or in a cold environment. Replace fluid at least every two years regardless, and though it's not a difficult job, don't tackle it if you're unsure. Brakes are important! Whether you're changing the fluid or just topping up, always use new brake fluid as specified for your bike (DOT 3, 4 or 5) from a sealed container.
  4. Check controls and cables for condition and smooth operation. Lubricate if necessary, and adjust and/or tighten linkages (rear brake and gearshift, for example). Check coolant level on liquid-cooled bikes. Refer to your owner's manual for top-up procedure and fluid change intervals.
  5. Check final drive components. If your bike has a chain, check for wear. If you can pull the chain away from the rear sprocket, replace it, and the sprockets as well: putting a new chain on worn sprockets will just wear the new chain faster. Don't ignore this check: A broken chain can lock the back wheel, potentially throwing you off the bike, and may damage engine components.
    If your bike has belt final drive, check the belt for fraying or other damage. If you've got shaft drive, check the oil level and condition. Top up and/or replace according to your owner's manual.
  6. Replace the recharged battery, but don't start the engine yet. Oil will have drained away from engine components, and starting in this state will greatly accelerate wear until oil has fully circulated. Check the level according to your manual and add oil if necessary.
    Use the kickstand interlock or kill switch so you can spin the engine on the starter without it firing, for at least as long as it takes to extinguish the oil warning light. My Sprint ST will do this on the center stand with first gear selected and the clutch disengaged.
  7. If your bike's been stored some months, the gas may smell stale. Top off with fresh gas as soon as possible. If your bike has a fuel valve, turn the valve to the "prime" position for 30 seconds or so. This bypasses the vacuum shutoff, allowing fuel to fill the carburetor float chambers and facilitate a quicker, easier first start.
  8. Start the engine and allow it to warm up to normal running temperature. Unless you changed the oil right at the end of last season (always a good idea: it helps prevent internal corrosion), you should change the engine oil to flush condensation from the engine. Run the bike at least long enough to get the oil to operating temperature. This will boil off any residual moisture.

With this done, you're ready for the road. Good riding!