Get your bike ready to ride

Spring is in the air! Or trying to get in the air, if you’re in the more northern latitudes. But we know we are close to warmer temperatures, and we’re going to want to get the motorcycle out and go for a ride. So it’s best to get started now and prepare yourself and your bike for the season. I know it may still be cold or rainy for some, but don’t procrastinate about getting ready now.

There are plenty of practical reasons to get started now. This is the perfect time to look through the various manufacturer’s accessory catalogues, for those chrome parts and farkles you wanted to add on last year. Remember that new seat you’ve been thinking about ordering, with the piping to match the color of your bike? Now there will be plenty of time for it to arrive before your first ride. Or that new exhaust system? Don’t wait until it’s on back order. So, get out your pen and paper, and start by making a list of what you’ll need to order. Then get out your owner’s manual to look at the recommended maintenance schedule to see what service items you’ll need to address for the mileage on your bike. You may be able to do some of those things yourself, but some may require a trip to the dealership or local trusted shop. Make your appointment now, so you won’t have to wait 3 weeks to get your bike in when you could be riding it this spring.    

Next, go out to the garage, uncover your sleeping beauty, and go through an inspection check list from the ground up. Check off the things you accomplish as you go along or add items to the list of things that you’ll have the dealer do for you.


First inflate both tires to the recommended pressure. (recheck the pressure the next day to make sure they hold their air). Then carefully inspect the side walls for any signs of cracking, or dry rot. Check the tread wear bars. If they are near the surface, it’s time to order a new set. Don’t try to get the last few miles out of a set of tires. Worn tires are more prone to blow-outs, punctures and hydroplaning in wet conditions. Change them now for a safe trouble-free riding season.


If you have wire wheels, check the spokes to make sure they are all tight. Take a wrench and lightly tap each one. A tight spoke will give off a bright “ping” sound.  A loose one will give off a dull “thunk” sound. Use a proper size spoke wrench and gently tighten each spoke. Never over-tighten or force it!

Front Fork

Put the bike on the centerstand, or jack up the front end so the front wheel is off the ground. With the handlebars, move the fork from side to side to make sure it moves freely. If not, check to see if there are any cables causing the problem. If there is no cable dragging, you may need to adjust or replace the bearings. Next, check to see if the fork seals show any leaks.

Rear End

Jack up the rear end so the tire is off the ground. Try moving the wheel from side to side. There should be no free play or wobbling. Next check the rear shocks for leaks. If your bike is chain driven, inspect the chain carefully, lube it, and adjust as necessary. If it’s a belt drive bike, check to make sure it properly tensioned, and no cracks or unusual signs of wear. Check the fluid level for a shaft drive bike and replace the fluid if it’s is gummy or discolored.

Brake Pads

Check the wear indicators on the pads and replace them if they’re close to their life expectancy. Brake pads are cheap, and like tires shouldn’t be worn down for the last few miles. Also inspect the rotors and make sure the retaining bolts are tight.

Exhaust System

Check the system for any cracks, especially on the underside of the system.  Make sure all mounting brackets and clamps are tight.


If you haven’t removed the battery for winter storage, it’s a good time to remove it now. Remember, NO SMOKING or open flames near the battery! Clean off the case, check it for any cracks, and top off the electrolyte level with distilled water. If the terminals look corroded, or have gunk built up on them, make a paste of Baking Soda and water and apply it to the terminals. Then use a wire brush to remove gunk. Next, put the battery on a slow trickle charge for 24 hours. Before reinstalling, check to make sure nothing can come in contact with the terminals to cause a short.

Also, make sure you properly connect the vent hose and see that it is properly routed and away from any hot or moving parts. Always connect the positive (+) terminal first, then the negative (-) terminal. As with tires, don’t try to get the last few starts out of your battery. A battery will never go dead in your garage on a Monday night when you just want to run down to the corner for a Slurpee. It will fail you late on a Sunday afternoon when you are miles away from home on a deserted road. It’s cheaper to replace it now and save yourself the aggravation and cost of a tow truck to get you home.

Roadside Coverage

Speaking of tow trucks, now is a perfect time to make sure you have some kind of coverage in case you ever need to have your motorcycle towed because of a breakdown. Often your motorcycle insurance company will offer that coverage for a fee. But you can also check out becoming a member of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA). A $39 membership automatically gets you towing and roadside service as part of the deal. Add in the monthly color magazine, and all the other discount benefits of membership, and that’s about the best money you can spend on the sport. If you are already a member, you should investigate saving a few bucks if you pay to have that coverage on your cycle insurance policy.

Spark Plugs 

Remove the plugs and inspect the tips. With a file, you can gently remove any carbon build up or better yet, replace them altogether, especially if they have more than a few thousand miles on them. Make sure to check the gap, even on new plugs, before you reinstall the plugs.

Front Brake Master Cylinder & Controls

Check the brake fluid level, and if the fluid itself is the color of root beer, it’s time to change it. Also, check the brake lines for cracks, and all hose connections for leaks. Adjust the free play on the brake lever, and lube if necessary. If you get a spongy feeling from the front brake lever, or rear pedal, you may have an air bubble in the brake line. If the fluid isn’t discolored, you can just bleed the lines.

Rear Brake Pedal

Make sure it operates smoothly, and adjust the height if necessary. Check the fluid in the master cylinder and replace if necessary, as with the front master cylinder.

Clutch Lever

Adjust any free play, and lubricate to make sure it operates freely.

Throttle Control

Check and adjust any free play, and make sure the throttle springs back easily and smoothly.

Fuel Tank 

Hopefully, you used a gasoline stabilizer when you put the bike away for the winter. If not, you’ll have to treat the old gas with Star Tron Fuel Saver, to recondition the fuel. If you have a petcock screen, clean that off. Check the fuel lines for cracks and check all fittings to make sure there are no leaks.

Carburetors & EFI

If you didn’t drain the carb float bowls before storage, drain them now, and spray some carb cleaner into the bowls. It’s not a bad idea to run some carb cleaner through the first tank of gas, or fuel injector cleaner if your bike is EFI.

Air Filter 

Inspect the air filter and clean it. If it’s grungy, replace it.


Assuming your battery is charged, turn on the power and check that the headlight is working, for both high and low beam. If you have passing lamps, make sure those are functional. Check the taillight, and make sure that the front and rear brakes actuate the brake light. Check that both the front and rear turn signals are operating properly. If you have other electrical accessories, like a radio, music player or GPS, make sure those are in good working order.

Cooling System

If you have a water-cooled engine, check the coolant level, or flush and replace the coolant if necessary. If your engine is air cooled, change the air around the cooling fins. (Just kidding – I wanted to make sure you’re still paying attention.)


Once you’ve gone through the entire check list, it’s time to take the bike out for a test ride. Remember, it will take longer in colder weather to get the tires up to proper operating temperatures, and if you haven’t ridden in a while, TAKE IT EASY. All you want to do is get all the fluids hot, and make sure everything is working and running properly. No Banzai runs. Keep the bike running for at least 30 minutes. This helps evaporate any moisture or condensation that might have accumulated in the engine compartments.

I like to change the oil and filter after the shakedown run, even if I changed it before I put the bike away in the fall. Oil has a tendency to absorb moisture if left for a long period without being run up to operating temperatures. Remember, if you change the fluids (any fluids) yourself, make sure you dispose of them in a responsible, environmentally safe way. NO dumping them down the storm sewer!

The last thing you’ll need to do is to give your ride a good top-to-bottom wash and detail. Everyone knows that a clean bike runs better than a dirty one. And as a practical matter, if the bike is clean, it is much easier to spot and trace any fluid leaks that may occur.

Now the only thing left to do is to watch the weather forecast for those soon-coming nice days. Remember to keep the rubber side down, and have a great, safe riding season.

Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman


Cycle World Athens


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *