Motorcycle riders understand that their chosen sport carries an element of danger, but as any dedicated rider will tell you, the sheer joy of piloting a two-wheeler through a twisty back road more than makes up for the risk. Still, this doesn’t mean that you should take unnecessary chances.
That’s why new riders especially should consider completing an approved motorcycle training course to learn to ride defensively. Even more experienced riders will benefit by taking a little time each spring to shake off the cobwebs of a long Canadian winter with a few practise sessions before jumping back in the saddle. It can also help reduce the cost of motorcycle insurance.
Equally as important when it comes to reducing risk is performing regular safety checks and keeping your motorcycle properly maintained. With riders preparing to hit the road for the start of another riding season, now is the time to complete a thorough check on your bike. Here are seven of the most critical areas of your bike to look over as you get ready for another summer of riding:
1. Fluid Levels
Engine oil is the very lifeblood of your motorcycle, and you should do a quick check before every ride. To check the engine oil level, your bike will likely have either a sight glass near the bottom of the crankcase or a dipstick connected to the oil filler cap. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you are reading the oil level correctly and add oil to top up as required. Be sure to also look under the bike for any evidence of an oil leak. In most cases, an oil leak means you need to replace the gaskets around the crankcase.
If your motorcycle is liquid-cooled, check the coolant level to ensure there is sufficient coolant to prevent your engine from overheating. On the subject of coolant, when was the last time you changed it? If you can’t remember when the radiator was last flushed and filled with fresh coolant, now is a good time.
If your motorcycle has a shaft-drive as is common with some of the larger cruisers and touring bikes, check the level of the gear oil in the hub assembly. That typically involves removing a bolt from a check hole to verify that the gear oil level is even with the bottom of the check hole. Again, if it has been some time since you changed the gear oil, drain and replace with fresh oil.
Take a moment to think about how important tires are to your safety while riding. After all, they are the only contact you have with the road surface, and all your inputs, including braking and turning, are transmitted through your tires.
That is why proper tire inflation is so vital to your safety. If you do not already have one, get an accurate tire pressure gauge so you can check your tire pressures before each ride. Recommended tire pressures can be found in the manual that came with your motorcycle or on the tire itself.
Next, carefully examine the tire for overall wear to make sure you have sufficient tread to help you maintain grip and traction in the rain. Look for any cuts or abrasions that could cause the tire to fail. If your tires are worn or look compromised in any way, change them now rather than risking a dangerous blow out on the highway.
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3. Maintain Your Chain
For those with chain-driven bikes, make sure the chain is adjusted correctly based on the manufacturer’s specification. A loose chain could get tangled in the running gear causing a lock-up of the rear tire throwing you out of control. A chain that is too tight can lead to excessive wear on the sprockets and even damage the engine. Be sure also to properly lubricate the chain before setting out.
Your front brake provides considerably more stopping power than your rear brake, but you want to check that both front and rear brakes are operating properly. If you have disc brakes, make sure the brake pads have sufficient life to see you through the riding season. If not, consider changing the pads now so you can ride all summer with no problems.
Also, make sure the brake fluid level falls within the minimum and maximum indicators on the brake level reservoir. If the fluid is dark in colour, or if the brake lever feels “spongy” when you activate either the front brake lever or rear pedal, moisture could have worked its way into the brake lines over the winter. If this is the case, you need to have the system drained and filled with fresh brake fluid before you start riding.
It is important to keep your battery charged over the offseason, and many riders now use a “smart” charging system that is hooked up to the battery for the entire winter. These chargers allow the battery to drain to a certain level and then bring the battery up to a full charge. This cycle is repeated continuously to keep your battery in a ready state. Others opt to remove the battery from the bike and place the battery on a trickle charger every few weeks.
If you have an older style “wet cell” battery, you may need to add a little distilled water to top up the battery cell. Modern gel cell batteries, on the other hand, are mostly maintenance free, and must be kept charged over the winter.
When it comes to motorcycle safety, the adage “see and be seen” most definitely applies. Motorcycles have a much smaller profile than cars, so your bike’s lighting system must be working correctly to help drivers see you.
Test that your headlight is functioning in daylight mode as required by law when the engine is running and make sure that both high beam and low beam are working. Your taillight must also be on when the engine is running, and the brighter brake light must be activated when you engage either the front or rear brake.
Also, the indicator lights must be operating to signal your turns. Note that for some models, your front indicator lights double as additional running lights.
7. Safety Gear
Once you are sure that your motorcycle is in tip-top shape and ready for the new riding year, spend a few minutes looking over your protective gear. If your helmet is more than five years old, considering replacing it with a new model. Over time, the protective layers can break down and compress, which reduces the effectiveness of your helmet to protect you in the event of a crash.
How about your gloves? Any rips and tears? If so, get a new pair as even in a low-speed slide, your hands are very vulnerable to severe friction burns. A sturdy leather jacket is also highly recommended, but many lightweight textiles with integrated hard plastic “armour” are growing in popularity. Many riders also wear reflective or high-visibility vests to help make them stand out in traffic.
Whether you’re a new or experienced rider, make sure you have the right insurance coverage you need. There are questions every rider should ask their broker or provider when buying motorcycle insurance to find out what your options are.