Pre-Ride Checks For Pros
Riding a motorcycle is the closest thing to flying without actually getting off the ground, except you don’t fall as far if something goes horribly wrong. Because the stakes are higher up in the wild blue yonder, pilots perform pre-fight checks on their planes before every takeoff. But just because it’s only a few feet from the saddle of your bike to the ground instead of a few thousand is no reason not to give your bike a quick once-over before every ride.
That’s a true statement, but let’s be realistic. If you commute on a bike, chances are that time is of the essence. Even the most anal-retentive riders won’t commit this whole list of inspections before every ride. Instead, you’ll be forgiven if you at least walk around the bike once before you free up and depart. Use the following list to help guide your gaze.
To backstop that effort, take time each week to work this list fairly thoroughly. Make it your Sunday-evening routine, preparing for the week ahead; or maybe it’s your Friday afternoon deal in preparation for a weekend of riding. Either way, make regular inspections part of your routine.
Now, what to look for:
Tires. Check the air pressure first. You can let 1 psi on the low side slide, but not 2. Find the tread-wear indicators built into some of the sipes near the center of the tire; if they’re even with the tread surface, the tire’s shot. Nails, screws, and other sharp things can hide in the sipes as well as the tread surface. If they’ve been there long enough to wear down the shiny heads they’ll be hard to see, so look closely, especially at the rear tire, which often catches whatever the front tire runs over and kicks up. Cracks or splits in the sidewalls? It’s time to re-tire.
Wheels. Tap the spokes with a wrench and listen for a ting. If you hear a thunk instead, the spoke could be loose. Cracks in your cast wheels? Park it, you’re done for today. Check the axle nuts and bolts while you’re in the neighborhood.
Oil. You need to check the oil level cold before you head out, of course, but be sure to follow the manual’s recommendations here. Some bikes, even those with center stands, are supposed to be checked level on both wheels. (Smart owners check that once and note how the level changes with the bike on the center stand or on a track-style stand.) Look around the engine, and on the floor under it, for leaks. If the headers run under the engine, take a knee and look for scorched oil that dripped onto them and burned off before it hit the ground.
Coolant. Bright green drops of coolant under the bike are hard to miss. Before you find out where they’re coming from, wipe them up off the floor, especially if you have pets that come into the garage. Coolant made from ethylene glycol is sweet-tasting, and poisonous if ingested.
Suspension. Fairings sometimes make it hard to see the fork tubes, so wipe your finger on them to check for leaky seals. Dings in the tubes’ chrome plating can nick the seals. Rear shocks live in a more friendly environment than fork tubes, but don’t last forever. They’re sometimes hidden deep inside the frame, so use a flashlight to inspect them for leaks.
Final drive. Most chains use O-rings to keep in the factory-installed grease. A dull reddish flm of rust on a link means its O-ring is a no-ring. If the chain adjusters are all the way back, the chain’s probably worn out; ditto if you can grab a link on the back of the rear sprocket and pull it away from the teeth more than half a tooth’s distance. Gear oil leaking from a shaft final-drive unit is a show-stopper.
Lights. It’s hard enough to be seen in traffic without burned-out lights. Check the headlight, turn signals, and brake lights, hit the high beam, and honk the horn. Instrument lights are hard to see in daylight, so check them before you open the garage door. With the engine running fick the kill switch off and on. Don’t forget to look for a burned-out licenseplate light.
Accessories. Aftermarket parts like racks and windscreens come loose sometimes. Torque-check the bolts now and then, and give each add-on a tug or a tap before every ride— especially items bolted directly to the engine. Accessory nuts and bolts aren’t always topshelf, so upgrade to better ones. Loctite is your friend. As are nylon-locking nuts. Snug the straps on tank bags and soft saddlebags, and secure or cut off any excess that could get tangled in the rear wheel or sprocket.