It’s the all too familiar story in Autumn/Winter when the dark nights and colder weather arrives… Our bikes get mothballed through the darker months as we concentrate on hibernating ourselves – often hidden under a cover at the back of the garage and mostly forgotten about as we binge on Netflix to suppress those winter blues… (Yes, we all know that there’s a hardy bunch of bikers out there that will ride all year – and big respect to those of you who do!).
As the weather starts to brighten up and the snow and ice melt away – the beginning of Spring welcomes us and has us itching to get out! This also, however, marks the first time in months that many motorbikes will have seen the cold light of day after their hibernation over Winter. As tempting as it is to grab your lid and get straight out there – there will be several things to check on your bike before its (and your) first ride of the season. Here is our handy guide of the main points to check in preparation for another year of riding…
The first thing to do is to remove any covers, sheets and stands etc that have been used for storage and get the bike out into the open. Put it on its side stand or its paddock stand and give it a good once over in the daylight… This is a perfect way to re-acquaint yourself with your bike after some time away. Are there any leaks, any loose bodywork etc, any half-finished jobs that you didn’t finish over the winter?
Forgetting something as simple as tyre pressures is one thing we have all been guilty of it in the past I’m sure! It’s always best to try and keep your wheels off the ground when storing a bike, but if you can’t, then keeping the pressures correct is even more important as the tyres can deform from standing over time. Check the tyres tread for depth, cracks and anything stuck in the tyres – the sidewalls should also be checked for cracks too…. Give your wheels a spin – they should turn freely and there should be no play in the bearings, they should spin true. If you have a classic bike, or an adventure bike with spoked wheels, always give your finger a rub over the spokes, just to check there are no loose or broken spokes…
When a bike has been stored for a while, or laid up over winter, the brakes can sometimes be a sticking point (especially if the bike wasn’t completely dry before being put away, or there is damp where the bike’s being stored). Roll the bike forwards and backwards and check the operation of the brakes. If they do not release freely, then more investigation is required…. If the brakes are a little sticky, then you will need to check the caliper pistons or pad slides for signs of corrosion etc and if there is, then these will need cleaning with brake cleaner and re-greasing. If the brakes are free, a good place to start is to check the hydraulic system for leaks. All dry, then how does the lever feel? Brake fluid can absorb moisture over time, so if the lever feels spongy, it’s time to change your brake fluid. Final checks include your pads and discs. If your brake pads are low, then now is the ideal time to change them. Give your discs a quick glance over to make sure there are no cracks, excessive wear, or obvious warping.
Another area we are all guilty of overlooking is our chain and sprockets! Is your chain sparkly clean, or does it look like it’s been at the bottom of the ocean over Winter?! First thing to do is turn the rear wheel and make sure your chain runs freely over the sprockets and that the tension is correct, then adjust if required. Are there any tight spots in your chain? If so, there is a chance that with a good clean and lube, they may free up, but if not, you will need a new chain. This is also a good time to check the condition of your sprockets to make sure there is no excessive wear, or “hooked” teeth on them (if you are replacing your chain however, it’s always best practice to change the sprockets at the same time). Once any adjustment or replacement has been done, then make sure you give them a good clean and a good lubricating with a good quality chain lube. Some of us are more fortunate to have a bike with a shaft drive – which saves us cleaning and adjusting – although it is always best after a lay up, to check the system for leaks and to check the levels too.
Steering & Suspension
The first obvious check for the suspension is purely visual – making sure there are no leaks around the rear shock (or shocks) of your bike and that the forks look dry. Check the fork action by pumping them up and down to make sure the action is smooth and not sticking, whilst checking the fork seals are dry and not leaking, before checking the rear suspension the same way to ensure a smooth action on the suspension. Turning the bars side to side, lock to lock should be a smooth action with no notchiness (that could indicate worn head bearings), you should also grab the fork bottoms and try to move them forward and back… Any movement or clunking could indicate worn or loose head bearings.
Controls & Handlebars
By now we have checked our brake hoses and levers for leaks and operation, so that just leaves the handlebars to check. A quick left to right, lock to lock sweep will show us if anything is catching or stopping the bars from turning. The throttle should be smooth and open and return freely and if your bike has a cable clutch, the lever action should be smooth too. Make sure all cables are well lubricated and re-apply if necessary.
Before even trying to start your bike, you need to check that the fuel is in good shape. Stale fuel can cause havoc when trying to start a bike for the first time in a while… The easiest way to do this is to fill your tank before laying the bike up and adding an additive to “stabilise” the fuel over winter. If you have stale fuel in your tank, then the easiest solution is to drain the fuel and refill the tank with fresh fuel (if the bike is still a little lumpy, then a dose of fuel system cleaner should sort things out). If your bike is liquid cooled, then it is definitely worth checking the level with the bike cold then top-up or change as necessary (if it us due to be changed). The last major fluid to look at is the oil… if it has been serviced recently before being laid up for Winter, then it should be ok, but if it hasn’t been changed for a while, then now would be the perfect time for a fresh filter and fresh oil.
The last piece of the jigsaw is a decent battery! Most of us now have a battery conditioner in the garage hooked up to our bikes to ensure the battery is tip top for spring. If you have no power in the garage, then it is definitely worth removing the battery from the bike (if you can) and to keep it in the house on a conditioner. If you’re battery is 100% or has been left all winter with no charge, then a trickle charge may revive it, but its more than likely you may need a new battery. A fully working battery is probably the most important thing at this time (bar fresh fuel maybe), as you want to make sure the engine turns over quickly enough to start, whilst giving plenty of juice to the ignition and the other bikes electrics (there is nothing worse than tripping over jumps leads and slave batteries trying to get your bike to fire!).
Once you have gone through all the checks above, you are good to go and start the bike. A word to the wise though…. It’s pointless giving the bike fistfuls of throttle straight away, that will possibly do more harm than good… Once the bike starts, let it settle into a nice steady idle and let everything warm up slowly together. As the bike is warming up, it gives you plenty of chance to check all the lights work, horn, instruments etc. You can also spend 5 minutes going around all those fairing fasteners to ensure everything is nice and tight.
Once your happy the bike is running okay and everything is tight, give the bike a good thorough wash. To cleans off any dirt, dust or protectants that were on your bike and gives you a nice clean bike that you can re-apply your favourite polish or sprays to.
One last part that needs a quick refresh and a go-over is…. Yes, YOU!! It’s probably been 4-5 months or even longer since we last rode our bikes, so we need to make sure our riding gear is up to scratch, a clean helmet and visor and that it all fits well (especially after Christmas!). If you’re in need of a few new bits, shop our motorcycle clothing range here.
Once we are happy with our riding gear and our bike, it’s time to take to the road! After a couple of short rides to blow the cobwebs away, you‘ll be back in full-swing and planning that summer vacation to the alps, or the long weekend around the North Coast 500! That day you spent making sure everything was okay with your bike will seem a lifetime ago once your back on 2 wheels and that feeling returns – It really is like riding a bike!