Pre-season preparations for your motorcycle

Posted by Jeff Legrand on 14, Apr 2015
Jeff Legrand


Check, 1,2….Check Check.

Ok, we’ve probably all heard a roadie somewhere hollering into a microphone with just that phrase and wondered “Why? Why is he saying that over and over?”.

Well, it’s because he wants to know that the microphone is a- working, b- set up correctly and c- ready to be used by the performer. Which isn’t unlike what Canadian riders should be doing as winter starts to wind down and our toes, roads, and motorcycles start to thaw out.

For those of us without the benefit of heated underground or garage parking, storing a motorcycle for the long winter is often a rather depressing thing, but hopefully we’ve all taken the time and effort to store our machines with clean oil, a full tank of fuel with a suitable conditioner/stabilizer in it, and some kind of cover, ANY kind of cover. Not that your bike isn’t designed to be exposed to weather, of course it is. However, Canadian winters can be insidious…. Snow falls on your machine, settles in for a long rest, and then along comes a nice sunny day which melts it, allows it to run down into the nooks and crevices of your machine… where it freezes and expands, which can cause all kinds of nastiness.

Regardless if it’s covered or not, in a heated garage or the old garden shed or just under some kind of breathable tarp, the toughest part of bringing the bike out of winter storage is patience. The ice and snow start to go away, the roads clear up, and then that first warm day hits… and we want to run outside, throw the battery in the bike and go for a RIP! If you’re one of those with a heated garage or parking, and you’ve been tinkering and upgrading all winter, you might be good to go. However, for those of us who have actually had to store our machine, untouched and frozen solid, this could be a horrible idea. Winter is hard on machinery, and so is sitting idle. Before your throw a leg over it, before you even put the battery back in and fire it up, there’s a bunch of items I’d like to recommend you do. The entire process can take a couple of hours, but the little problems you find and fix now can save you a tonne of headaches later!

So, let’s go through it….

The sun’s out, the weather’s nice, and I know it’s riding time, or very nearly. This is where I stare at the bike battery on the shelf, stored in out of the freezing cold and say “soon, buddy”, and throw it on the trickle charger for a nice, long charge. Then, it’s out to the bike shed to tear the cover off of the bike and let that big ole’ grin split my mug. Ahhhh she’s a beauty. First things first, I gather the important things- a few tools like wrenches, screwdrivers, and allen keys, a flashlight, a few rags and the radio. Gotta have tunes, man! The very first thing I’ll do is a good looking over. My eyes have missed this beast, let’s get a good look- tires look ok? Not flat, not weather checked? No leaks or obvious puddles under the bike (I park mine on a tarp so that if it DOES leak, it’s easy to see, and it doesn’t contaminate the ground). Nothing that should be attached to the bike is lying on the ground beside or underneath it? I have actually gone out and uncovered it to find that both pieces of glass from the cheap aftermarket mirrors I’d added had simply fallen out! I used better glue putting them back in.

If your winters are anything like ours in Alberta, SOMEHOW you still end up with a fine layer of dust on the machine, even if it’s covered. I agree that it’s annoying, but it’s also useful in that it’s generally very evenly distributed… look for leak trails, traces or animal marks to give you a hint that something might be amiss. It usually only takes a few minutes for the first look see, and then you can move on to actually prepping your machine for that all-important first ride!

First things first- fluids. Again, I store mine with the tank as full as I can, with a good quality fuel stabilizer/conditioner in to keep moisture out and fuel quality in. First look is to make sure the fuel’s all still there, for obvious reasons like leaks.
Engine oil, of course should be stored clean and up to full, and it should be at the same level.

Brake fluid should be up to level and CLEAR… something often overlooked is the fact that brake fluid should not be yellow or brown or any other colour- it should be clear or very close to it. If it’s discoloured, it’s contaminated or old- swap it for new. I replace the brake fluid every 2-3 year regardless- it’s a cheap preventative maintenance item and gives me peace of mind.

Engine coolant (if you have it) should be right up to level and brightly coloured- if it’s muddy or murky looking, ditch it for new. Headlight fluid- if you have some, you have a bigger problem, fix that leak! Once you know that the lifeblood(s) of your machine are all up to snuff, you can move on through the process.

For myself, when I park it, it’s parked- my yard/alley is such that once winter hits, it’s pretty tough getting the bike out, so that’s where it sits. Not much has been moved on the bike for a good while, so I like to test everything that moves that I can without it running. I move all the controls and make sure they function correctly and without any binding. Lubricate throttle, clutch, speedometer and choke cables with a good quality cable lubricant. Make sure the pedals move correctly, the floorboards (if you have them) the brake levers, put a little lube in the locks (NOT something like WD, which collects dust and can absorb water. I use a proper Teflon or silicone based lock lubricant. ) and work everything back and forth a bunch of times just to make sure it’s freed up. Some clutches can even stick a bit after a long period of sitting, so pay attention to what you feel when you pull that clutch lever in the first time- it should be the same, smooth clean pull that you’re used to, it shouldn’t “break free” or catch at all. If it does, consider giving that part of your machine a better looking-at. As well, check that the proper free-play exists with the lever released.

Then I just start at the top and work my way down- checking over every inch of the bike. At all times I keep my eyes open for evidence of mice or other living creatures, and if I find any I start REALLY looking closely at everything chewable!
Hoses all in good shape and clamps tight, mirrors on tight and in good shape, tire tread and inflation, driveline condition (belt tension and alignment, shaft free-play and lubrication, chain condition, tension, and lubrication). If you have rubber motor mounts, give them a looking-over. Brake pads or shoes should be checked for condition, as well as the discs, rotors, or drums they work with. Look for signs of unusual rubbing or wiggling that you maybe didn’t see last fall. Check that your spark plugs and wires in good condition, there are no loose wire connections, hanging or dangling bits that shouldn’t be, and I like to leave the spark plug wires disconnected… which I’ll explain.

At this point, I’ll usually stick the battery back in, freshly charged and ready to roll. I’ve left the spark plug wires disconnected because the engine has been sitting idle for some time. I use a semi-synthetic oil that is pretty good at leaving some film on all the parts and seals over the winter, but I still don’t like to just fire it up after an extended sit. After putting the battery in, I like to flip that ignition, listen for the fuel pump to spin up (fuel injection), and then just turn it over for a few seconds, 3 or 4 times, to get the oil moving and a coating on everything. Then, with that done, I’ll check every light and electrical item I can without the bike running, and then reconnect the plug wires for the moment of truth- which isn’t QUITE yet.

I personally like to let that oil rest on the parts and seals, etcetera for a while, so this is the point where I take my tools and just check every fastener or other item that I haven’t touched yet, and just give it a quick tweak to make sure it’s tight. Torque wrench on things like wheel nuts, screwdrivers where appropriate, I start at the top/front, and work my way down. This process doesn’t take all that long, and it is that last good thorough once over before firing it up. Some folks think this part is a bit OCD, but I can’t say how many times I’ve gone to check something and said “well now, how did THAT get loose???”

And now it’s time…. Spark that baby up and listen to her purr. Let it idle and give it one more really good eyeball and listen for leaks and problems, rattles and loose bits.
If your spring is like mine, even after it warms up, you’re never going to get that cooling fan to come on at idle when it’s only 10C… so I guess it’s time to head out for a ride!!

After a thorough pre-season inspection and all kinds of love and fluids, you can head out knowing you’ve done everything in your power to make sure that your machine is ready and safe to ride. My first trip is a gentle one, always with my eyes and ears on full alert for anything to be out of whack like odd vibrations or noises, and of course watch that darn road gravel and sand!

Before long you’ll feel normal again, your heart rate will go down, your stress level will lower, your breathing will become even and steady- because you’re riding again. All is well.

Rubber side down, friends. Happy spring!

You will also like: Put your safety first this riding season! 

Motorcycle Motorcycle Maintenance


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