Author: Phil West Posted: 14 Mar 2016
For those of us less hardy and who haven't ridden all winter long (respect to those who did), as the weather cheers up and the threat of snow and ice dissipates there are those who are itching to get out. However, if your bike(s) have been covered up through the winter, here's a handy guide to preparing not only your bike but also yourself for the first ride of the year.
First, give it a quick once over
Remove any cover or blocks used during winter storage, any plugs or rags from the exhausts or air intakes, put it on the side stand and give your bike a good once over. Look for any leaks anywhere there is fluid and, if there has been, you’ll need to either tighten the fasteners or replace seals.
Are the controls OK?
Check for smooth throttle, clutch and brake lever operation and they’re well lubricated. Re-lube if necessary. Also examine the cables and hoses for any cracks or kinks.
What about the wheels and tyres?
Check the tyre pressures. Also, if your bike has not been parked on paddock stands or moved during winter the tyres may have deformed. Check for any crack on the sidewalls. You’ll need to replace the tyres if any are found. With the wheels, meanwhile, check that they spin freely and true and, if wires, check the spoke tension.
How about the brakes?
When laid up for a while calipers can seize and the fluid can absorb moisture (making them spongy). First check visually, then check their operation at walking pace, pushing the bike around. If in doubt, top up or change the brake fluid and bleed the system. Check the pads and/or shoes, too. If they’re approaching their wear limit now is a good time to change them, and give the discs a once over for cracks, wear or warping.
What’s the condition of the drive chain?
While you’re down at the rear wheel check the drive chain for slack and adjust as necessary. Also check for any tight spots. They can usually be manipulated and lubricated free but if not you may need a new chain. And while you’re at it inspect both front and rear sprocket for excessive wear in the form of missing, worn or ‘hocked’ teeth. Finally, thoroughly lubricate the chain.
Suspension and steering
Again, smooth operation is important. Smooth operation. Check for any lateral looseness in the steering head by grasping and trying to move the fork bottoms. If there’s any movement or clunking from the steering head it’ll need to be adjusted/tightened. Check, too, that the fork action is smooth (by pumping them) and that there’s no leak through the fork seals. Finally check that the rear shock(s) is also secure and operates smoothly by pumping the rear end.
Now, onto fluids…
If liquid-cooled, check the coolant level. Remove the radiator cap when the engine is cold and check the level is above the minimum required. Also check that it is clean. Dirty coolant can clog channels so if not clean flush out and replace.
While we’re on about fluids, check the engine oil. If you changed it before winter you’re probably OK. If not, it’s probably a good idea to change it otherwise it may have become contaminated with water, which is a recipe for corrosion. Also double check the sump plug is torqued correctly.
Don’t forget the other fasteners
Sump plug apart it’s sensible to spend a few minutes checking all the other fasteners (or at least as many as possible) for tightness. Adjust where appropriate.
Now, the fuel…
Before starting up, you need to be sure the fuel is OK. Ideally you put some fuel additive or stabilizer in the tank before laying the bike up for winter. If not, it might have gone off which can lead to the injectors (or jets on carbed models) becoming clogged up. Look inside the filler cap for any gunk. If in doubt, drain and refill with fresh fuel. (After starting, if it runs rough a new filter and cleaning the injectors/jets may be required…)
Right, nearly time to power up…
We’re getting close now. First, though, we need to check the battery. Ideally this would have been kept charged up on a trickle charger such as an Optimate over winter. If not it may need a little TLC. If not a sealed type check the water level and top-up (using distilled water) plus clean the terminals with a wire brush and then grease. Hopefully a slow charge will then bring it back to life. If your battery still then struggles to turn the engine over or quickly loses charge you may need to replace it.
Start it up
Time to start – but gently now. Some advice removing the plugs and giving the bores a squirt of oil before re-starting. When you do start though give it a chance to warm up properly then, once warm, adjust the idle speed if necessary.
Now, check the remaining electrics
During this warm-up is also good time to also check the rest of the electrics, such as the headlamp (low and high beam), indicators, brake lights, horn and all instruments for correct operation. Be prepared to replace any bulbs or fuses as necessary.
Give it a good clean
When all is OK this is a great opportunity to give your bike a thorough spring clean. Remove any corrosion and clean off any inhibitors you may have applied before the lay-up. You can also put on a good coat of wax on the paint to preserve it during the riding season.
OK, you’re just about ready for a test ride but first, make sure all your paperwork’s up to date – road tax, insurance and MoT all up to date. It’s easily forgotten over the winter lay-off.
Check you, too
Just as importantly, before you set off on that first ride, give your riding gear a thorough going over (clean the visor etc.) and that it all still fits comfortably (in case you piled on the lbs. over the winter!).
And off you go!
But a final word of advice: Don’t go for a long ride straight away. Instead take a short ride first around the block, both to check over the bike and for you to familiarize yourself to it. It’s always best to start with a gentle ride to get back in the swing!
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