How to Maintain a Motorcycle

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

In the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, author Robert Pirsig wrote that "the place to improve the world is first in one's own heart, head, and hands, and then work outward from there." So consider this section the first step toward a better world. Motorcycles require maintenance, just like cars, but, in the case of motorcycles, the stakes are a bit higher. Fail to maintain your car and you may end up stuck on the side of the freeway. Fail to maintain your motorcycle and you might find yourself on the side of the freeway.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Tires

Make a habit of checking your tires before every ride. You don't have to get out the pressure gauge every morning to zip two miles to work, but a quick visual inspection can alert you of likely failures before they occur. Look for punctures like nail or screw heads and shiny shards of glass, and also for bulges or cracks that may turn into holes or slices at high speeds. Air expands as it heats, so if you do check your tire pressure, it won't be the same in your garage as it is on the road. Plan on about 5 percent increase in tire pressure once you're riding. If your tire pressure increases by more than 10 percent while you're riding (stop and check it quickly!), carry less stuff or slow down! Likewise, underinflated tires create more friction against the pavement, which in turn generates more heat, which can result in blowouts. Have a look at the treads—as with car tires, when you rest a penny with Lincoln's head down into the tread of a motorcycle tire, the top of the tread should extend past the president's hairline. Also eyeball the wheel for missing spokes and the rims for sharp cracks and dents. Even a small imperfection in a wheel can weaken the integrity of the system.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Brakes

Braided steel brake lines last longer than plastic-sleeved brake lines and include less play in the system, leading to faster and more durable braking. If you have plastic, consider replacing with steel. Frequently check the lines for kinks, abrasions, and tears, and keep an eye on your brake pads. Letting the brake pads wear down can lead to warped rotors and a much more expensive repair. Motorcycles usually have two brake fluid reservoirs, one for the front brakes and one for the back. Look for the front reservoir in the handlebars and the back reservoir under the saddle. Check them both to ensure that fluid is up to the fill line.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Chain

It's not difficult to lubricate the chain—just spray it with commercial lubricant. It's best to lubricate at the end of every ride, when the chain is warm. Otherwise, get in the habit of lubricating the chain when you fill up with gas. Spray additional lubricant on the side of the chain that runs against the sprockets. It seems as if the chain should be tight but that's not the case—it needs to sag ¾" to 1¼" to accommodate the movement of the suspension. Make sure the chain has this much play.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Oil

Too little oil and your bike can seize catastrophically. Too much oil and you can go smoking down the freeway. Check your oil frequently to ensure that the level is always at its maximum—in addition to keeping your bike running smoothly, oil can be indicative of bigger problems. Basically, if you don't know your oil level, you can't be sure you're safe on the road. Always check your oil with the bike sitting level. Note that a motorcycle's oil needs to be changed much more frequently than a car's oil—adhere to the manufacturer's specifications, and when in doubt change the oil at least every 2,000 miles.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Battery

Car batteries have reached the point of having little required maintenance. Not so with motorcycle batteries. You still need to check the fluid level in each cell, preferably every month. If the level is low, use distilled water to top it off. Also make sure the terminals remain clear of rust and grime and check the cables for loose connections.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Inspections

Your motorcycle uses less gas than your car but requires more frequent maintenance. Call it a wash? In any case, your bike should be professionally (or very competently DIY) inspected every 3,000 miles.

Cleaning

Keeping your car clean is primarily an aesthetic choice, but keeping your bike clean is a safety requirement. Clean the headlights regularly to keep them de-bugged and de-tarred—WD-40 works for this job—and try oven cleaner to remove leather boot marks from exhaust pipes (okay, that one is just aesthetic). Unlike on a car, do without the tire polish, as it can compromise the tires' grip (on a motorcycle you're likely to use the rounded sides of the tire more than a car might).

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Fuses and Wiring

Extra fuses should be kept clipped next to the old ones. You may notice the need for a new fuse when your horn refuses to honk . . . or your bike refuses to start. Periodically check the integrity of the fuses to nip these problems in the bud. Likewise check the integrity of your electrical wires. The wiring in your bike shouldn't give you problems—but it almost certainly will, at some point. That's doubly true if you roll down the road with loose connections or wires poking from their sheaths.

How to Maintain a Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson, first conceived of in 1901 by William S. Harley, is one of just two American motorcycle companies to survive the Great Depression.

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