Motorcycling hints and tips

Advice from AA motorcycle patrol Stewart Topp

The AA has 50 patrols on motorbikes in six major cities who use their bikes in all but the worst conditions

The AA has 50 patrols on motorbikes in six major cities who use their bikes in all but the worst conditions

Hello, here is my list of items to check before planning a trip, especially if your bike has been stored off the road during the winter.

Starting up


If the petrol in your tank has been sitting for many months, it may be wise to drain the tank and fuel lines – and carburettor if applicable – before running the engine again.

Also make sure your battery is fully charged, and don't ride the bike until you're confident it will hold a charge. Motorcycle batteries tend to lose life quickly, especially in cold weather, and they are the second most common cause for motorcycle breakdowns. Unfortunately they are awkward to get to and therefore do not get checked as often as they should be.

If you kept your battery trickle charged or hooked up to a maintenance charger, it's probably in good shape. But check the leads and terminals for corrosion, and make sure they're tight. If your battery isn’t a sealed one, make sure it’s topped up.

Checking the engine oil

Always refer to the handbook for your machine before checking your oil. Here is a basic guide.

  1. The bike should be on a flat level surface.
  2. The oil should not be inspected cold, so after an initial check it's best done when you stop for fuel.
  3. Do not allow foreign matter and dirt to fall into the sump during the inspection.
  4. Unscrew the threaded dipstick on the side of the crank case, and the high / low markings should be visible on the dipstick. Remember, do not screw the dipstick in when taking a reading.
  5. For bikes with a sight glass rather than a dipstick you are OK if oil is visible; there may not be 'high' or 'low' markings on the glass.

Tyres

visual inspection of your tyres before every ride is a good habit

Checking your tyres only takes a few minutes

Your tyres keep you on the road, therefore a thorough visual inspection of your tyres before every ride is a good habit. I have often found screws and debris embedded in my tyres during my pre-shift bike inspection; with little or no loss in pressure these could have been undetected for many miles if unchecked. Checking your tyres only takes a few minutes but could save your life. Maintaining accurate tyre pressure is also an important part of bike maintenance, and you should check your pressure at least once a week. Check pressure when cold using the manufacturer's recommended psi bar pressure. A tyre that is very under-inflated generates a lot of heat which can lead to a blow out. Tyres that run too hot also wear out more quickly.

Chain

Motorcycle chain maintenance is a crucial part of safe riding. Without proper inspection and maintenance the chain can fail and damage your motorcycle, or worse it can become a dangerous projectile. You should inspect your chain every 500–700 miles, or roughly twice a month.

Keeping your chain lubricated will prolong its life. Spray liberally on the side of the chain where it comes into contact with the sprockets. Ensure that you spray both left and the right hand side of the chain. Position a piece of newspaper so that you do not get dirt and grease on the rear wheel rim and the tyre as you spray. Wipe all excess oil off of the chain. This is a task that is best done when you return home from your ride while the chain is still warm.

Brakes

Visually inspect your brake pads and replace where necessary. Motorcycles also usually have two brake fluid reservoirs, one for the front, usually found on the handlebars, and one for the back, usually tucked away somewhere under the saddle. Check both regularly.

Topping up should only be done from a new, sealed bottle as brake fluid tends to absorb moisture over time. If your brake pads are thin and due for replacement, do not top up the reservoir – replace the pads first and the level in the reservoir will rise automatically. Beware – brake fluid spilled on paintwork eats right through to the metal.

Lights

Check your lights before every journey you make. Many road accidents involving motorcyclists occur because another road user didn't see them, so it’s vitally important that your lights and indicators are in good working condition. Remember, when checking the brake lights operate both the front and rear brakes consecutively.

Motorcycle controls

Check the pedals and levers are not broken, bent or cracked, and all their mountings are tight and secure.

Cables – check there are no frayed ends, kinks, sharp bits, and check they don't interfere with the steering head, and that all wire supports are correctly in place.

Hoses – check for leaks, cracks, deterioration, bulging, chaffing and replace if necessary.

Throttle – ensure it moves freely, and snaps back into the closed position.

Check your motorcycle stands

Inspect the centre or side stand – ensure it is in good condition, and is not bent or cracked. Check it holds the motorcycle securely.

Other checks

Inspect the frame for corrosion or damage, check the saddle for rips and tears and make sure it's securely mounted. Check your foot rest rubbers and replace where necessary as these will help to prevent your boots from slipping.

Time for some new kit

Thoroughly inspecting your crash helmet is important, as it may have received a few bumps and knocks last season when it slipped off the handlebars outside that seafront cafe. If this is the case you should consider buying a replacement, as more serious damage is not always be visible to the naked eye.

Never buy or wear a second-hand helmet, as you may not see if the protective material inside the helmet is damaged.

Wearing the right attire is just as important as servicing your motorcycle.

To protect yourself from injury and stay comfortable, invest in good quality clothing. This should include:

  • Visor with pin lock or anti fog system or alternatively a pair of goggles.
  • The jacket purposely designed for motorcycling with shoulder, elbows and back protection.
  • Trousers purposely designed for motorcycling with knee protection.
  • Motorcycle boots
  • Motorcycle gloves or gauntlets