From the J&P Cycles Blog Archive

Every rider should have a pre-ride checklist every time their bike hits the highway, but how many of us really do it every time?

Here are the top ten things an average rider can, and should, do regularly.

Especially if you're one of the many who don't make a comprehensive pre-ride check every take off. All you need are some hand tools and basic mechanical ability on a Saturday morning before you head out.

Check The Fluids (the bike's - not the brew in the cooler)

Start with the engine oil. If it's been a while since you've ridden, start the engine and let it run for about 5 minutes (fast idle is best - around 1,500 rpm). This allows the oil pump to return any oil to the tank that may have seeped past the check ball in the pump. This also allows the oil to warm up slightly, giving you a more accurate check. Oil expands with heat, and your oil level will rise as the bike warms up. Check the oil in the correct position, with the bike on the side stand or upright, as recommended by the factory. Next, check the transmission oil level, following the correct procedure for your model. If your scooter has a wet clutch, check the primary oil level.

Check The Battery

While you're checking fluids, don't forget the battery. New H-D's use a sealed battery, but older bikes still need your attention. Remove the battery for a thorough inspection, checking for corrosion at the terminals, and cracks or leakage around the case. Make sure the vent hose isn't cut, pinched or plugged. Verify that it's routed correctly, away from chains, belts and exhaust pipes. The end should hang down about 1" to 2" below the frame of the bike. Finally, check the fluid in each cell. This is easy to do since most batteries have a translucent case, but you might need to shine a flashlight through the case to see the level clearly. If needed, add distilled water, being careful not to overfill. Never add tap water - it contains too many minerals and will damage the plates. Reinstall the battery, and apply a sealer to the terminals (plain old chain lube works great) to prevent corrosion.

Check The Rear Drive Belt Or Chain

As chains and sprockets wear, they develop tight and loose spots. Find the tight spot in your chain before you check it. If you adjust it in a loose spot it may bind when it rolls around to the tight spot. To check for excessive wear, push up with one hand on the lower section of the chain, removing all slack. Then, with your other hand, grab the chain halfway up the backside of the sprocket by the side plates. Try to pull the chain away from the sprocket teeth. If it pulls away by more than half the diameter of the roller, you should replace the chain, the rear drive sprocket and the transmission counter sprocket as a chain and sprocket set. Installing a new chain on worn sprockets will cause the chain to wear prematurely. Lube your chain, but ride the bike a few miles first. This allows the chain to warm up and expand, permitting the lubricant to reach critical parts inside the rollers. For belts, make sure the tension is correct for your model. Then inspect the belt for rocks and tooth separation. Have a friend roll the bike slowly as you watch for foreign objects embedded in the belt. If your bike has high miles, or if you live in a dusty, sandy climate, be sure to check the rear sprocket. There should be no noticeable wear in the teeth. Use your finger to feel for worn sprocket teeth and, if you find any, replace the rear sprocket ASAP. Worn sprockets are the main cause of belt failure.

Take A Close Look At The Tires

Make sure the air pressure is correct for the tire type and riding application - solo or two-up. Check the tread for nails or screws. Again, enlist the aid of a buddy to roll the bike as you inspect the tire tread. The tire's tread should have at least 3/32" depth at the thinnest part. Most motorcycle tires have safety bars incorporated into the tread pattern. As the tire wears down, the safety bar will cause the tread pattern to appear smooth all the way across in swath about two inches wide. Watch for weather checking and cracks in the tread or sidewall area.

Check The Air Filter

If it's been a while since your bike has had a major service it may be a good idea to inspect the air filter. Remove the cover and filter element. For foam or K&N type filters remove the element from the screen, wash it out with hot, soapy water and blot it dry. Then apply the correct filter oil (don't over do it - too much oil is as bad as none). If you have a paper filter and it's dirty or contaminated with oil or water, replace it. You can not clean paper filters.

Check The Cables

Check your throttle and clutch cables' adjustment. Excess slack can cause riding problems or contribute to an accident. While you're at it, lube the cables. Dry cables increase effort and are the number one cause of cable failure. The best way to pressure lube cables is with a good, quality cable lubricant and cable lubing tool - the type that clamps over and seals the end of the cable housing while allowing the cable itself to pass through. A can of lubricant is connected to the tool with a capillary tube. When actuated, the entire cable housing can be filled with lubricant.

Check The Lights

Check the operation of headlights, taillights, brake lights, turn signals, etc. It might save you more than peace of mind ("Honest, officer, I didn't know my taillight was out."). Don't forget the little things, like speedometer lights and high beam indicator light, too.

Check The Brakes

Take a few minutes to inspect brake lines and pads along with brake fluid levels. Make sure the lines show no evidence of cracking or leaks at fittings or junctions. Brake pads should never have less than 1/8" of material on either pad. Then look at the disc. If it shows heavy grooving, scoring or cracks, replace it along with a fresh set of brake pads. When checking brake fluid levels, be sure to clean around the reservoir cap before removing it to prevent contamination. Use the correct fluid for your application (all H-D's 1977 and newer, plus older models that have been updated, require DOT-5 fluid). Remember, brakes are the only line of defense between you and that pickup truck running the stop sign half-a-block ahead.

Tighten Up

Nuts and bolts are the most neglected area of maintenance. Depending on what your ride is, and how you ride, you may never have problems with fasteners coming loose. On the other hand, if you have something like my old '98 Sidewinder, the ever-present bottle of Loctite and torque wrench become a weekly ritual. Pay close attention to front and rear motor mounts, top motor mount (especially on Softails or older 4-speeds), exhaust system and shock absorber mounts, sheet metal (gas tank and fenders), belt/chain guards and, oh yeah... mirrors.

Check The Spokes

Last, but not least, check for loose spokes (unless you have mag wheels, of course). Put the bike on a lift and rotate the wheel, using an appropriate spoke wrench. This is also a good time to inspect the rim for excess runout. If you're really techy, mount a dial indicator on the bike close to the rim. Otherwise use a pointer (an old coat hanger works well for this) anchored to something solid on the frame, swingarm or front end. Tighten only the loosest spokes - no more than a quarter turn per adjustment. Over-tightening spokes will cause unwanted offset in the wheel, not to mention creating a bind on other spokes. Wheel spokes tend to stretch over a period of time. When new, they find their "sweet spot" as the spoke ends and nipples seat into the hub and rim, allowing spokes to loosen. After the break-in and a good spoke tightening/truing process they continue to stretch, so the spoke tightening and truing should be done yearly or every 10,000 miles.

If you do one or two of these every Saturday, you can probably put off cleaning out the attic or painting the kitchen for at least five months!