(Deals Gap Photo by Darryl Cannon, Powerhead Productions)
*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat, March 24, 2010
as "Yee Haw, It's Springtime and a Man's Fancy Turns to Motorcycles"
Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Ahhh! Sunshine, warm days, soft breezes, clear roads…all welcome signs that winter is finally behind us and another motorcycle riding season beckons.
Most of us have watched our bikes sit idle in the garage since October or November. It’s likely that the engine hasn’t been started but once or twice, if at all, during that time frame. Before you give in to Spring’s seductive caress, there are some things that you should do first.
Clean it up good. Not only will it look better, but getting the winter’s accumulation of dust and…whatever…off the machine will make it far easier to spot any problems.
Charge the battery. And if your battery is more than three years old, replace it. While original batteries may last five or six years, most mechanics recommend replacing aftermarket units after three years, regardless of how good they may seem to be. Unlike a car, battery failure will kill an engine, even in mid-ride. This has happened to me twice (yeah, I’m a slow learner), both times far from civilization.
Change the fluids. Oil changes are no brainers, but don’t forget the other fluids, such as brake, clutch, any other hydraulic fluid, as well as radiator and final drive, if applicable. Most bike manufacturers recommend this be done every two years or 20,000 miles. If you decide to do this yourself, make sure you bleed the air completely out of those systems, especially the brakes. Air in the lines will keep your brakes from operating. Not a good thing to happen when you’re approaching a stop sign.
If your bike is chain-driven, check the chain for condition, lubrication (if required), and proper tension.
Check your tires. Take a good look at the tread. If it looks thin, or completely bald, replace the tire. On a wet road, thin grooves won’t displace the water, and you’ll end up hydroplaning. Make sure your pressure is where it needs to be. The rated pressure for each tire is printed (in very small print) along the inner part, or “bead,” of the tire. Also, if your bike is older, check the tires carefully for any signs of dry-cracking. When a dry-cracked tire goes, it doesn’t deflate. It explodes. Not a desirable outcome, by any measure.
Lights! Check all your bulbs and make sure they’re working. If any of the lenses are cracked, replace them. A cracked lens lets in humidity, and sometimes water, which could cause a bulb to shatter, and possible short out part of your system. Also, get a spare. It never hurts to carry an extra headlamp bulb on the bike.
Check those lines. Exposure to bitter cold can shorten the life of fuel and brake lines. Look them over carefully.
Look at the pipes and boxes. As silly as it sounds, you should take a good look inside your exhaust pipes and air filter boxes. If you didn’t seal those apertures when you put the bike away, then there’s a possibility that a mouse may have taken up residence. Yep. Happened to me. BMW K75RT. Critter raised an entire family in there and fed them by gnawing on the air filter.
Finally, take it slow and easy at first. As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as the second coming of Miguel Duhamel or Valentino Rossi, we’re all going to be rusty after a 4-to-6 month layoff. Allow time for the rust to come off your skills, and those essential safety habits, including your traffic instincts, to return. You don’t want to spend a whole riding season in traction.
Have fun, but do it intelligently, always remembering how mortal we all truly are.