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Five basics to check on your motorcycle

Checks to make in under an hour this weekend

YOU don’t have to be mechanically-minded to be able to carry out some basic checks on your motorcycle – it gives you an excuse to get out in the garage and play with it (your bike, that is) even when you’re not riding, and adds to peace of mind.

For these checks you don’t need to disassemble anything or start messing with specialist tools either – they’re just things that we should all be doing, but that MOT failure statistics suggest that perhaps not everyone pays attention to. Do all this stuff once a week.

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1: Tyres: pressure, safety and tread

EVEN if your toolkit is sparse a tyre pump with a pressure gauge is pretty vital. You’ve probably got one, so use it.

Pressure gauges on garage forecourt pumps are notoriously inaccurate, so doing your pressures at home is worthwhile. And while you’re at it, have a good look at the tyres themselves. Any cuts in the tread or sidewalls? If so, are they superficial or deep? Also, spotting a nail in your tyre in the garage is annoying and disappointing, while finding out about it on the road when the air rushes out can be lethal.

You’ll also be keeping an eye on tread depth – make sure you take measurements (you can use a special gauge or just a coin) in several places both across the tyre’s width and around it’s circumference to make sure it’s wearing evenly.

2: Fluids: oil, brake fluid, coolant

YES, it’s the oldest one in the book. Check your oil. Modern motorcyces don’t tend to use too much, which lulls us into a false sense of security – it’s better to find out the level is dropping via the dipstick or oil level window than leaving it until the oil pressure light comes on and the engine starts to be at risk.

Make sure you know how it should be done on your bike, too. Some need to have their levels checked on the sidestand, some need to be held upright or on the centre stand. Get it wrong and you won’t get the right reading.

Oh, and look at the oil’s colour, too. If it’s still clean and amber, that’s great. Black isn’t so good – it might be worth thinking about getting it changed (or changing it yourself if that’s your thing).

While we’re thinking of liquids, check the brake fluid level and make sure it’s not too dirty either, and where applicable do the same to the clutch fluid.

Finally, on water-cooled bikes, check the coolant level and colour. It should be up to the mark and both look and smell like antifreeze. You could even invest in a hydrometer (anti-freeze tester) to check that the mixture is right – they only cost a couple of quid from Halfords.

3: Chain: tension and condition

IF you’ve got a shaft-drive motorcycle, ignore this, but if it’s chain (or belt) driven then it’s well worth keeping an eye on the tension as that’s your biggest clue to when it’s wearing out.

Your owners’ manual should give specifics for your particular make and model, but on all chain-drive bikes you’ll want to check that there’s just the right amount of slack - usually around an inch of up-and-down movement in middle of the bottom run between the front and rear sprockets.

Check the tension several times, moving the rear wheel (or rolling the whole bike) a bit between each one until you’ve tested the whole chain. That way you’ll spot any tight spots early on. Ideally, the tension won’t change between each test.

This also gives the perfect opportunity to lubricate the chain and sprockets all the way around, using the lube of your choice, and to check for any obvious rust or damage to the chain before it becomes an issue. Any problems, change the chain or get an expert to have a look – it’s not worth risking a breakage.

4: Lights

SOUNDS stupid, but a vast number of MOT fails are the result of inoperative or ill-aimed lights. So check them regularly.

It takes seconds to make sure the headlight is working – dipped and main – and don’t forget the tail light and numberplate lamp while you’re at it. Make sure the indicators flash properly and the brake light works – test it using both the front brake lever and the rear brake pedal, it should operate from both. Bulbs cost pennies but blow fairly often, so just keep an eye on everything. You don’t want to find out about a faulty brake light when a car rear-ends you.

5: Brakes: discs and pads

IT’S funny,  bikes are often sold on the basis of their spandangly Brembo radial calipers and floating discs, and yet the buyers who are so tempted by this kit then don’t keep them working as well as they should.

Now you can get all anal about it, with dial gauges to test for warpage and vernier calipers to check disk and pad thickness. Or you can have a very close look, which will still be a vast improvement on doing nothing at all.

Check the discs for corrosion and, perhaps most importantly, cracks. Most modern bikes have flashy drilled, floating discs – you want to check the both the hangers and the discs themselves for any damage. Cracks often start from the drilled holes on the disc, so look carefully for any sign of two holes being joined by a crack, or a crack running from one of the holes to the edge of the disc.

While you’re at it, run your finger over the disk to check that it isn’t getting too badly ridged. At bit of undulation is OK, but if the ridges start getting too high it’s probably time for new discs and pads.

Speaking of pads, have a close look at the visible edges of them: it should be quite clear if the friction material is wearing thin. Any damage at all on the brakes is worth investigating further – either by taking them apart yourself if you’re confident or by getting a garage to take a squiz.

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