Motorcycle Maintenance For New Riders
Motorcycle maintenance can be daunting, especially to new riders or to those who have never done it before. It’s a task that has to be done regularly to preserve the bike and all it’s components and ensure that they all operate correctly, but does it need to be as much of a daunting task as it is made out to be? Of course not! With a little bit of time and a little bit of perseverance, servicing your own motorcycle can not only be completely worthwhile but also rewarding.
There may be parts of the general service routine that you already know, so we have broken the list down into sections of key components.
Chain and Sprockets
Chain and sprockets are the most common drivetrain set up for motorcycles and need regular maintenance and upkeep to ensure that they stay properly adjusted and lubricated to make sure the rider is safe and the vehicle is operating safely. These are an often overlooked maintenance part but possibly the one of the most important factor in terms of rider safety.
Maintenance of the chain and sprockets is sporadic and effective maintenance differs between bike and chain manufacturer. Every week or so, you should check that there is enough tension in the chain and that there is adequate lubrication. To check tension, lift the chain (under the swingarm) and measure how far it lifts from it’s lowest point to it’s highest point – this is how much slack/play is in the chain. Chain slack differs between bikes so it is always best to check in your users manual but the general rule of thumb its 20mm (2cm) of play. This means that from where the chain rests, to as high as you can lift it should only be a difference of 20mm.
If the chain is too tight this can lead to it breaking/snapping under acceleration, which of course isn’t preferable. If the chain is too slack it can jump off the front or rear sprocket which can cause the rear wheel to lock whilst you are riding. This is why regular checks (weekly) on chain tension is very important, eventhough it is a regularly overlooked maintenance point.
Checking the chain is adequately lubricated is fairly straight forward – simply inspect the chain and ensure that it doesn’t have any dirt build ups or debris and that it is still clean but lubricated. If it needs a clean then use a suitable chain cleaner (for example Motul Chain Clean) and a motorcycle chain brush to clean off all debris and dirt build ups. Make sure the engine is off and spin the back wheel manually to clean the entire chain. Once cleaned, use your preferred chain lube/wax/oil (we use XCP Chain Lubricant although Motul Chain Lube is another popular choice) and make sure you coat the sides and the middle of the chain evenly. Again, turn the wheel manually – either on a paddock stand, centre stand or alternatively you can spray the chain and the push the bike forward – rinse and repeat.
Another often overlooked regular maintenance point for new riders and drivers everywhere, is to check the oil level and condition present in the engine. The oil level is detrimental to the longevity of the engine, running no oil can lead to a fairly fast demise of the engine resulting in – typically – a seized engine. Running to much oil can destroy rings and gaskets. Old, worn or fouled oil cannot lubricate the moving parts of an engine as well as new oil, which in turn can damage the internal components.
So how do you check? Make sure the bike is level, either on a paddock stand, centre stand or having a friend hold it up right. The two ways of checking now depend on your engine: If you have a sight glass (a small rounded glass near the bottom of the engine on the side) then you will be able to see a “lower” and “Upper level”, you want the oil to be towards the upper line but not above. If you do not have a sight glass, then you will have an oil dipstick. Simply unscrew the oil cap and you will notice a long measuring stick on it, near the bottom you will have a line which indicates that the oil is full. Similarly with the sight glass, you want to oil to be near but not above the line.
When checking the oil, make sure to check its colour and consistency, oil should be an almost opaque bronze/brown colour – this is good oil. Oil that is very dark, black or thick in consistency is old and fouled and should be replaced. Remember that when changing oil, drop the oil completely, replace the filter and then fill to the correct level with new oil that is rated for your particular bike.
It is worth noting, that should you need to top your oil up – always top up with the same oil that it already has inside. For example, do not mix synthetics and semi synthetic based oils together. If you are unsure about what was used previously, now is the time to do a complete oil change and remember to order a new oil filter (don’t worry it is a very quick job!)
Spark plugs are integral to the running of your engine, these (as the name suggests) create the spark enabling the fuel to ignite inside the combustion chamber. With fouled spark plugs the engine can experience a weak spark or no spark at all which will stop the engine from being able to run. As a rule of thumb the spark plugs should be checked every 2500 miles and replaced every 5000, these will vary depending on your motorcycle so it is always best to check your owners manual.
The condition of the spark plugs will tell you how your bike is running whether it’s running lean (too much air, too little fuel), rich (too much fuel, too little air) and even whether there is oil present in the combustion chamber which would indicate worn piston rings. The chart below shows all potential conditions that spark plugs can be observed as, which will help you check how your engine is running.
If the condition of the spark plug is fouled, rich or lean – it is time to replace the plugs. On the white porcelain will be the spark plug code (for example CR8E) this is what you will use to purchase your new plugs as each plug is different to another. Each of the letters and numbers correspond to a certain design feature, as an example we will use an NGK spark plug: CR8E. The first letter is what shell the plug uses (C is 10mm thread with 5/8″ hex), the second letter is the construction (R indicates a Resistor), the number is the heat range (between 2 and 12 with 2 being the hottest), and the final letter is reach (E indicates a 19mm reach.) You can get longer spark plug numbers in which case the next letter is your firing end construction(copper/iridium/Gold Palladium etc) and the final number will be the gap. Long story short – make sure you get the right ones!
An air filter in a vehicle, does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s job is to filter any dust and dirt from the air the engine is bringing in. The air flow is essential to the engine as it needs air to allow the fuel to combust. Think about the old style candles where you put the cap over them and they go out due to being starved of air – if an engine cannot get air efficiently, it cannot burn the fuel and in turn, cannot run. Another example of how much the air is needed is that for every 1 part fuel, the engine will need 14.7 parts air i.e.. if the engine takes 1 gram of fuel, it will need 14.7 grams of air.
During your regular maintenance you should check that the air filter is clean with no dirt build ups and that it can still allow enough air through and into the engine. If it has excessive dirt or dust build up, of which you cannot clean off then it is time for a new filter. As a rule of thumb the air filter should be changed every 7500 miles or 18 months, but make sure to check your owners manual as distance and times will vary between manufacturers and models.
Brakes are a part of the bike that need no introduction, these are an incredibly important part of the bike that ensure that you and everyone around you is safe.
So how do we check that the brakes operate and are maintained correctly? The first thing to check is the operation of the levers, ensuring that they are safe to use and that they do not lock the brakes immediately but with a strong pull (or push for foot levers) can stop the bike effectively.
For hydraulic brakes (those with discs) if the levers feel soft or spongy, or if they cannot effectively stop the bike they may well need bleeding – this is a process where you fill the lines with brake fluid and remove the air from the lines, if you are unsure on how to do this then we strongly recommend taking the vehicle to a reputable garage to have this fixed on your behalf. With hydraulic brakes you will also need to check the condition of the discs and make sure that they are not warped, scored or have a lip on the edges as this will show that you need new ones. Check the brake pads for wear, they usually have wear indicators on them but if they do not then you will be able to measure the depth of the pads and ensure they are correct for the manufacturers specifications. Finally, for hydraulic brakes, you will need to check the colour and consistency of the brake fluid – a very dark colour will indicated that the brake fluid is bad and will need rebleeding and changing, also ensure to check that the hoses are not cracked or leaking anywhere.
For drum brakes (those without discs), ensure that the brakes operate correctly, if the levers have a lot of play in them before the brake actuates then you can adjust this to be a little stronger – if you run out of adjustment then it may be time for new brake shoes.
For all brake systems, if you are ever unsure about how they work or how to maintain or service them – make sure to take them to a garage to be repaired as the brakes could eventually end up saving your life!
Tyres are another often overlooked check, they require very little maintenance and so usually get left. There are only two checks to do on tyres and they take around 2 minutes to complete. Firstly, ensure that the tyre (including sidewall) show no signs of splits, cracks or any nails etc). After this, ensure that the correct tyre pressure is present, you can do this at a petrol station if you do not have a compressor at home. The tyre pressure will be written on the side of the tyre usually and will tell you how much it should have in it, it is vital to the handling of your motorcycle that these are kept correct.