Routine Motorcycle Maintenance

Avoid Surprises On The First Ride Of The Season

When it comes to breaking out your ride for the new season, you might as well start at the heart. Check for clean and tight terminals-even the latest AGM batteries can do well with a top-off charge, load testing, and using a multi-meter for a quick charging check. Consult the shop manual for actual specs on your particular model.

The next priority is stopping after you start out. So a serious inspection/replacement of pads and calipers is in order. Now is the time to upgrade or swap pad compounds as well, as long as you take it easy for the first few miles.

It's worth checking to see if you've got a clean air filter, not to mention using a little carb cleaner and a rag on that grimy backing plate and intake as well...

...but nothing like, or as important as, a thorough so-called "5-quart" oil change/flush. The major purpose of this change/flush is to get any and all contaminants out of the entire engine oiling system. That starts with dumping the old "goop," like this.

The way it works is this: top off the engine oil but leave the filter off, and simply keep adding oil while the engine idles until the new fluid runs out clear and clean.

Naturally, as soon as that happens you shut things down, top off the sump/tank, and then finish up with a new filter.

You can pour a quart or so of detergent oil straight through to initially flush a "wet" box, but you should plan to fill the trans, ride 100 miles or so, then dump and refill again just to be safe.

Much the same can be said of primary fluid. It doesn't work as hard as motor or gear oil, but it's damned susceptible to condensation all the same, which isn't healthy for chains, clutch plates, or much of anything inside the primary.

Frequent cleaning and lubing of the clutch and throttle pays major dividends in the delicate interface between you and your Harley.

Fresh spark plugs, properly gapped, coated with anti-seize, and installed with a torque wrench, are nice springtime treats for the motor-especially if you've been out in the garage firing up the ol' beast from time to time but not riding it for weeks or even months.

Inspect the rubber! That means footpegs, brake hoses, oil lines, drive belt, and (it should go without saying) tires. After all is seen to be well, whip a good gauge on the tires to ensure proper inflation pressures.

Before you blast off, double-check the operation of all the lights and the horn, too.

Brakes and FluidBrake fluid has a life, and it dies. This is particularly true of late-model Harleys that have switched to "organic" DOT-4 fluids, but even traditional DOT-5 gets contaminated and tired as time goes on. All too often this vital fluid isn't even checked properly, let alone changed on a frequent basis. Since-more than any other system on your scoot-you bet your butt on good brakes, it only makes sense to maintain them, including the pads. It only takes a minute or two to determine if there's crud and corrosion on the backing plates or at the hose joints...so do it!

Tire Condition and PressuresIf a machine is not in regular use, the tires deteriorate at an alarming rate. A plain old pressure (check when cold) and tread-depth check is one thing, but "weather checking" for cracks in the sidewalls is another-they can render a tire unsafe and useless. (If you have any doubts in this area, please get second opinions from a dealer or tire supplier.)

CablesTo ensure smooth clutch operation, the best thing you can do is to lube the bejesus out of the cable. Ideally, this should be done when you park the rig in the autumn, but for Pete's sake be sure to do a thorough job of it when you get ready for this season. The same thing is true-more so, in fact-for throttle cables. These slender cables are the basis for your most intimate contact and fundamental control of your machine. Yet all too often they get crudded up or even rusty after weeks of inactivity. Ten minutes spent lubing and adjusting before your first ride can make light-years' worth of difference all season!

Fork Seals and SuspensionWe hope they've never frozen to the fork tube during the worst of winter, but, like tires, they're perfectly capable of cracking and deteriorating. Leaks are bad for at least two reasons: poor suspension performance, which you can ill afford on roads freshly pot-holed or recently frost-heaved; and potentially slippery surfaces on the bike or the pavement that shouldn't be. Since rear shocks have seals, too, it makes sense to have a look at them, but mainly you want to check the air shocks if your machine is so equipped. Those narrow hoses have fittings that can shrink, crack, or fail, so it's best to discover these problems in the garage or driveway rather than out on the road, when it's too late to do much to fix it.

Belt, Chain, Sprockets, and PulleysYeah, they are tough and pretty impervious to injury these days, but if you don't check you can't be sure-and can you honestly remember them being clean as a whistle when you parked for the winter? Mostly what happens with crud and contamination left between the belt and pulley is premature wear, but any undetected bit of shrapnel can cut your ride short. Clean and lube the chain, and check the sprockets and chain for any unusual wear patterns.

BatteryThe days of checking specific gravity with a battery tester, then adding distilled water with an eye-dropper, might seem like a scene from the Dark Ages with the advent of tough glass-mat (AGM) batteries. But did you know that 90 percent of "broken down alongside the road" misfortunes still come down to electrical problems? Probably more than 70 percent of those can be attributed to improper (or nonexistent) battery maintenance. These days maintenance is easy-do load tests and make damn sure all the cable connections are surgically clean and tight!

LightsOK, this one is pretty obvious, but over and above (literally) the headlight, taillight, and turn signals are those little lamps we often call "idiot lights," as well as the ones that light the gauges at night. You might as well make sure they all work in case you get caught out after curfew. Dressers have additional bulbs to bear in mind, in everything from the saddlebag rails to the fender tips.

Oil-Especially Engine OilSpring "cleaning" for an engine, transmission, and primary practically mandates fresh fluids (of the correct type for the task at hand), and-perhaps even more importantly-checking for condensation hiding inside those vital areas. Open the primary inspection covers and wipe the inside of the outer primary with your index finger. Feel anything moist? Even garage-kept scooters occasionally surprise their owners with a little muddy brown mix of oil and water that has accumulated during months of inactivity. If it's happening in the primary, it pays to check the oil tank/sump and the transmission case as well. Flushing these components and frequently refilling them with fresh lube is easier and better than rebuilding them after corrosives have gotten into bearings and rollers. Another tip is to pay less attention to mileage and more to condition when it comes to oil-change intervals. Short hops are harder on oil than long rides, so check all your vital fluids every second or third fuel fill-up. If your engine's oil looks dirty or smells bad, or if condensation rears its ugly head in the trans or primary, it's time to change it, regardless of mileage.

Even if your spring service work is strictly DIY, checks like these are essential. Since two heads are better than one, whether you talk to a dealer or a knowledgeable buddy, it's good to get a second opinion. Another perspective never hurts when you're trying to see if you've remembered and done everything the scooter needs for the first ride of the season.

EquipmentThe motorcycle isn't all there is to it, after all. Ensure that you thoroughly check your riding gear and safety equipment before putting it to use for the new riding season. Pay particular attention to helmet straps, visors, and face shields. Damage is easy and fairly cheap to fix as a rule, and where face shields are concerned, it's more important to see well than to look good.

If you have protective clothing (leathers, chaps, gloves, boots, and such), now is the time to clean them and rub 'em down with a good leather treatment. Then wear it all, even if your intended journey is only a short one. You might find that you're a lot rustier than the sled or your apparel after months out of practice. And accidents and incidents can and do bring a quick end to the beginning of even a short ride.

Luggage and AccessoriesUse common sense when loading your machine or fitting additional accessories. When big loads are carried, you should travel at a much lower speed than normal and try to keep as much of the weight as possible between the tires, not hanging off the ends of your scooter. Don't forget to set tire pressures higher, as recommended by the factory for passenger or load carrying.

RiderSpeaking of payloads-as with any other activity, to be proficient you need to acknowledge that preparation and practice are worth their weight in gold. So consider riding an appropriate "maiden voyage" route on your own, or with one close buddy, avoiding group riding at first.

Don't take on too long a journey too soon-avoid demanding routes or speeds until you re-familiarize yourself with the controls and handling of your bike. Historically, lots of fatal and serious-injury accidents take place early in the biking calendar. Remember, risk-taking is amplified by poor preparation, whether mental or mechanical. Think of your quality of life and how easily it can be destroyed, not to mention the people around you who need you to come home safely.

When you move on to the tranny, take a little time to eyeball the dipstick and filler neck for globs of this muddy-looking stuff, which is really the result of water condensation mixing with oil. This is bad. Arguably the worst water trap on the motorcycle is the transmission case (although the late-model box isn't nearly as bad as the one on the four-speed trans). With a number of needle bearings on the shafts and ball bearings in the box, to say nothing of potential loss of the case hardening on the gears, moisture damage is hard to underestimate over time, particularly if your Harley winters outdoors.