When a car breaks down, whether it’s the result of a mechanical failure or just a flat tyre, it’s usually pretty uneventful.
The car rolls to a stop, the driver curses and calls for roadside assistance.
Bikes are perhaps a bit more like aircraft. When something goes wrong, both risk hitting mother earth. Whether the breakdown is mechanical or perhaps due to tyre problems, bikes don’t always just roll to a stop. Imagine negotiating a turn at speed on your bike and having the engine fail and the rear wheel suddenly lock up. The result could be more ‘rolling through the scenery’ than rolling to a stop.
Of course with good maintenance, motorcycles very seldom suffer any sort of catastrophic failure. They’re even less likely to when riders carry out basic checks on a daily or weekly basis. So here goes…
Motorcycles, aircraft, same same right?
Every day, tens of thousands of Australian commuters set off in their cars oblivious to the fact that their tyre pressures are all over the place. Many can’t tell the difference anyhow and most have no idea what the correct pressures should be. The fact is, tyre pressure variation is much more difficult to feel in most cars than it is on motorcycles.
Motorcycle tyres are miraculous things, sticking bikes securely to the road at ridiculous speeds and angles. But there’s always a price to pay. Motorcycle tyres are expensive, they generally wear faster than car rubber, and the handling of many motorcycles can be dramatically affected by pressure variations of just a few pounds per square inch. In fact even kilopascals can make a difference. (Sorry…). What’s more, motorcycle tyres can lose significant pressure over a fortnight and sometimes just a week. It’s worth keeping a very careful eye on your tyres. Every day or at least every tank of fuel:
- Check your tyre pressure with a quality gauge of your own. (Don’t trust service station gauges – constant abuse by dozens of drivers every day mean they are often incorrect).
- Check for unusual or uneven wear or damage. (Remember that commuter’s tyres normally wear more in the middle and that on heavily crowned roads, the right shoulder of the tyre will wear more quickly).
- Check for cuts, missing chunks of rubber, nails or screws in the tread.
Very few motorcycles carry spare wheels. Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you suffered a flat? Compact patch kits are available that can often get you safely to a dealer who can permanently repair, or fit a new tyre. Keep one under your seat. You can view some examples here.
The difference between a well worn tyre and a new one read to hit the tar. Which one would you trust?
Motorcycle engines are high-performance machines that are remarkably reliable – but a lack of oil will kill any engine. Most motorcycles have an oil level viewing window on one side of the crankcase with ‘low’ and ‘full’ markers easily visible. Manufacturers generally recommend the bike be held upright and level while checking this, so don’t have a heart attack if you can’t see any oil in the window while your bike is on its side stand! Have a helper hold the bike level if you need to. Topping up is generally easy with just the correct oil for your bike and a small funnel. Weekly checks on your oil level are good practice and can spot engine problems before they get out of hand.
Brake fluid and pads
Fluid levels are easy to check via the windows or indicators on the brake fluid reservoirs for the front and rear brakes. Level is important, cleanliness is, too – clear, green or amber are okay, but murky grey or black fluid needs changing! With a torch and some squinting, wear on your brake pads is easy to spot and well worth checking regularly – badly worn pads can damage your discs, which are often expensive to replace. We have a full tutorial on brake maintenance here.
Black is a great colour for things like coffee and my soul...but not so much for brake fluid.
You wouldn't wear your joggers if they looked like this, so why wouldn't you replace your motorcycles worn brake pads?
Drive chain and sprockets
We’ll risk upsetting the shaft-and-belt crowd for a moment and assume your bike has a drive chain. Drive chains on motorcycles take an incredible punishment and will deliver significantly longer life if they are properly adjusted and lubed – they should be checked at every tank of fuel. Look for the Bikebiz full Blog tutorial on adjusting your drive chain right here.
- Shiny is bad – lubricate your chain regularly and remember that during a wet ride, the combination of water and a heat will effectively wash all the lube from your chain. In winter you might need to lube daily.
- The best time to lube your chain is immediately following a ride – the warm chain will best absorb the lube. Put the bike on a stand, rotate the wheel and spray chain lube onto the entire run of your chain. (And other parts of the bike, the floor and possibly your boots).
- Ensure you are cleaning your chain a minimum of every 3rd time you lube it - you don't want any dirt or grime stuck in the chain, it will just assist in wearing your chain and sprockets down.
- Cut the slack – your bike’s swingarm should be marked with how much ‘slack’ your chain needs, although it is normally 25-30mm. Remember to measure while you are seated upright on the bike.
- Front and rear sprockets should be in good condition – sharply pointed, hooked or missing teeth are bad and can be dangerous, leading to chain derailment. While the rear sprocket is usually easily visible, you may need to remove a cover to inspect the front (‘countershaft’) sprocket.
Maintaining your chain is the most basic of motorcycle maintenance.
You don't want too much slack in your chain...quick and easy to check but vital.
Levers and controls
All of your hand controls should be smooth to operate and your throttle, when opened and released, should snap closed briskly. Dry control cables and lever pivots accelerate wear and tear. Lube cables and pivots and adjust your controls if needed. This should be checked weekly. Look for the Bikebiz Blog tutorial on adjusting and maintaining hand controls here.
Foot pegs and foot controls
Down at road level, these can take a beating. Every week check that your pegs are in good condition and that foot pedal controls pivot easily without binding or squeaking. A quick squirt of water dispersing spray or all-purpose lubricant can be helpful here.
Lights and indicators
While lights and indicators are no more likely to go wrong on a bike than they are on a car, the consequences if they ever do can be far worse, so check these tank of fuel. Lights and indicators are a no-brainer. Be sure that your brake light functions properly using the front brake lever and the rear brake pedal independently. Any problems can usually be fixed simply with bulbs or fuses.
So there you have it. All of these checks are easy to do and if you make a habit of running through them before starting your bike and while it’s warming up, you’re more likely to spot problems before they get out of hand. A few minutes is all it takes, so what’s stopping you?
Until next time, enjoy the ride!
Click here to read Chapter 3 - Workshop Wisdom