Bringing the Motorcycle Back To Life

With soaring fuel prices, it's not just SUVs that are biting the dust. No, in some cases, even economy cars are being forsaken for the motorcycle. That's because motorcycle engines and parts, properly maintained, can get anywhere between 40 and 60 miles a gallon. That sounds pretty good in an economy where four dollars for a gallon of gas has become the norm.

With that reality, new bike sales have risen as much as half a percentage nationwide since last year. It's not just new bikes that are hitting the road, though. Many people are pulling out their old motorcycles, dusting them off and getting them tuned for more use in the coming year. 

There are some basic maintenance checks a motorcycle owner can do to get their bike ready for the road once again.

Check Fuel
If you used a fuel stabilizer before you put the bike into storage, the fuel is probably okay. If not, though, it's probably a good idea to drain your old fuel, including tank, fuel lines and carburetor as applicable, before you run the engine and put new fluids in. You should also remove the spark plugs and put some oil into the spark plug ports so that you lubricate the cylinder walls before you start the engine.

Check Oil
Did you change your oil before you stored your bike? If so, good. Even if you did, check to make sure levels are okay. If you didn't, conduct an oil and filter change now.

How Is Your Battery?
Check leads for corrosion and make sure the battery is completely charged and will hold a charge. If you're at all unsure of how healthy your battery is, get it replaced.

The All-Important Chain
Because your chain transfers power from the engine to the rear wheel, it is very important that it be in excellent shape. To check its viability:

  • Grasp the chain at a point midway between the front and rear sockets and tug up and down. You should be able to move it about one inch in either direction from the center.
  • Next, inspect both your front and rear sprockets. The teeth should be in good condition. If they are worn, there's probably a problem; the chain will also likely show signs of wear. If the teeth have grooves or "waves" in them or they show other signs of wear, you will probably need new sprockets.
  • Check your chain, too, by turning the rear wheel or rolling the bike forward. Check every single section of the chain. It should move about an inch. If it moves more, you'll need to tighten the chain, and if it moves less, it's too tight and you will need to loosen it. If the links themselves are too tight, you might need to replace the whole chain.
  • Wipe off any dirt with a clean towel. Make sure you thoroughly lubricate all sprocket teeth and links, turning the wheel or rolling the bike forward as necessary to reach everything.
  • Your chain should be well lubricated; if your chain has rubber parts to it, make sure that you use an approved cleaning agent to clean the sprockets and chain; some solvents should not be used with rubber. When finished, wipe off the excess lubricant with a clean rag.
  • Move your rear wheel and axle forward or backward to set the chain tension properly. Once the tension is right, make sure both sides of the axle are aligned properly before you tighten things up so that sprockets and chain won't wear out too soon. Tighten the axle nuts and replace the cotter pin with a new one if needed.


Fluid Levels
Check fluid levels for the brake and clutch, and check coolant levels, too, as necessary. For brake fluid, use new and use the same brand as you used last time.

Tires and Suspension
Ideally, you should have kept weight off your motorcycle wheels and suspension during storage. Inspect everything thoroughly before you take your first ride. If you kept your bike stored upright on a kickstand, make sure your tires aren't cracked, marked, or flat. In addition, check to make sure tire wear and air levels are good before you ride.

Miscellaneous Pointers
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a checklist that you can go through before you ride, every time. The PDF version is available here:

If your bike has been sitting for a while, you should also let it idle for a few minutes before you ride so that all fluids circulate properly and everything is primed to work.

In addition, you need to be roadworthy yourself. Practice riding your motorcycle someplace out of traffic, such as an empty parking lot, until your skills are up to speed. Remember that the most important safety feature on your motorcycle is you. Be ready to ride, in order to be safe.

The above tips on preparing your older motorcycle for the road should have you up and running very quickly.

~Ben Anton, 2008