Servicing your bike during winter

Stop putting off those jobs, get in the garage and sort your bike over winter!
Oh the weather outside is frightful, yet inside your garage it is delightful. With nowhere else to go, get the tools out and go, go, go!

Why not take advantage of the cold weather by treating your bike to some much needed love? A few easy to do maintenance tasks will make your bike feel like new next time it leaves the garage. As always, if you are unsure then leave the job to a professional, however these few jobs are relatively simple to accomplish to a competent DIYer.

Changing your brake fluid sounds difficult, but it's not, and the difference you'll feel will amaze you.
Brake fluid swap

When was the last time you changed your brake fluid? Can you even ever remember doing it? Swapping brake fluid sounds tricky but is actually a very simple job as long as you have the correct tools. The first thing you need is a brake bleeder. You can buy a dedicated one for about £50 but a cheaper option is to use some old battery over-flow tube and a hypodermic syringe. Pop into your local chemist and ask to buy one, you may get a shifty look, especially when you say ‘as big a one as possible’, but it is only a few quid. Also try farm shops, the syringes they use on horses etc are massive!

Ok, armed with your syringe first of all put an old cloth or rag around the brake master cylinder. Modern brake fluid isn’t overly corrosive so you don’t need to be too scared of spilling it, but it is always best to be safe than sorry. Undo the top of the reservoir and carefully pour some new fluid into it, not too much, keep it clear of the top. On the caliper you should see a bleed nipple. Using a ring spanner if possible put it on this nut and then fix the tube and syringe to the nipple. Ok, let bleeding commence!

Loosen the bleed nipple and then suck some brake fluid through using the syringe. Not too much, be careful not to suck the reservoir dry. When you have pulled some into the syringe tighten the nipple, carefully remove the syringe and empty the fluid into a jam jar. Now top up the reservoir and repeat the process until clear, fresh brake fluid is pulled through. Simple! If your bike has twin calipers then use exactly the same tactic for the other caliper.

Once you are happy both calipers are running on clean fluid check the nipples are tight and the reservoir is at the correct level and then replace its lid. Check the brake lever has some resistance (your brakes are working!) and finally it is a good idea to put a rubber band on the brake lever overnight. This will apply light pressure to the brake, opening the piston and allowing any trapped air to escape.

When dealing with brake fluid always use fluid to the correct specification from a sealed container and it is a good idea to wash any areas down with warm water where the fluid may have spilled. While you are looking at your brakes check the pads for wear an why not swap the brake lines for braided steel items? Fitting brake lines is as simple as swapping the fluid, just make sure you use new copper washers.

Clutch fluid swap

As with brake fluid, very few riders ever think about swapping their clutch fluid. If your bike has a hydraulic clutch, changing its fluid is exactly the same technique as changing brake fluid. Some clutches don’t have a bleed nipple, but you can buy a replacement banjo bolt with a nipple in it for around £5 to make the job easier next time.

Changing your oil and filter is one of the best jobs you can do for your bike 
Oil and filters

Changing a bike’s oil and filter is a very easy job, however it is one that can easily go wrong! Before you even consider starting make sure you have the right tools – a filter removal device, various sockets and torque wrench are essential – and also enough oil and a new copper sump plug washer.

With the fairing removed (if you bike has one) first of all clean the area around the filter well with some de-greaser. Now start the bike and run it for a few minutes to get the oil warm and allow it to flow better. Now check in the owner’s manual how much oil is in the sump and ensure you device for collecting it is big enough!!! This is a very common mistake…

This done, and being careful not to burn yourself, undo the sump plug and let the oil drain into the container. An old oil can with one side cut out works well as an oil collector. Take the sump plug, check the magnetic end to see if there are any worrying bits of metal (most plugs have this feature) and place it on the top of the new can of oil. Forgetting to put it back in and then pouring £50 of synthetic all over the floor is irritating! Now go and make a cup of tea.

Why take a break at this stage? Motorcycle sumps are often made of aluminium while sump plugs are steel. Aluminium heats up and expands faster than steel and so if your engine is warm and you screw in the plug it can cause the sump to crack when it all cools down and contracts to too tight a fitting. Yamaha R1s are notorious for this.

Ok, with the engine cool remove the filter using a filter tool. Don’t shove a screwdriver through it, buy a proper tool, they are only about £10. Look in your manual to see if there are any other filters to clean and if so do this. Ok, now it’s time to reverse the process.

First of all take the sump plug, fit a new copper washer and torque it in place. ‘Charge’ the new filter with fresh oil and wipe a bit of oil around the seal before screwing it in place and torquing it up. OK, now carefully pour the new oil into the engine using a funnel. Having read your owner’s manual you should know roughly how much oil it takes, but don’t just pour in five litres, there will be some oil left in the engine. It is always better to ‘top up’ rather than ‘take out’ so take your time. When you have reached the required level replace the  oil filler cap and give the bike a quick once over.

Before running the engine allow it to turn over a few times with the kill switch in the off position then fire it up. With the bike ticking over have a very careful look around for any oil leaks, if all is well then stop the motor after a few minutes and check the level gain. If all is well take it for a brief run, just a few miles, and return home and check the oil again – if it is safe and none of the warning lights/headlights/indicators etc are connected to the fairing this can be done with it removed, if not then re-fit the fairing. If all is good then congratulations, you have saved yourself about £60 – job well done.

Copper slip fasteners

This is a ten minute job that really does pay dividends in the long run. Fairing fasteners are seldom removed yet when it is time to take them off the chances are they will be seized solid in place. This winter spend ten minutes removing each fastener, one at a time, and dabbing a little bit of copper-slip on the thread. It is oddly pleasing to do and very rewarding when in a year’s time you can remove them again with out an almighty struggle that results in you rounding the heads off!

Sort your suspension over winter and have your bike handling like new come spring!
Get your suspension re-freshed

This isn’t a job for an amateur, however when done it will transform your bike’s handling. A suspension refresh, which involves stripping it, changing the oil and if required putting in new shims and springs, will turn an ill handling dog into a race bred greyhound. Costing less than £250 for each end, not only will your suspension work like never before, it will also be tailored to your own individual weight and riding style. Also, when apart, take a few minutes to grease the shock linkage, a notorious weak spot on all bikes that often seizes solid. Can you remove the forks and shock yourself? It’s not an overly hard job to do, but does require a stand such as an Abba one that allows you to support the bike without using the swingarm. Or you could just hang it from the garage rafters…

Changing coolant

Like brake and clutch fluid, when is the last time you changed your coolant? Manufacturers generally recommend flushing out your coolant every two years as it can become contaminated with rust and other nasty things. As with the oil and filter the first thing to locate is a big enough bucket to catch the coolant, although coolant is less irritating on the floor than oil. Now with the bike cold and if possible upright on a paddock stand, release the radiator’s pressure cap and then the radiator drain plug. The coolant should flow out, but you may need to also remove the reservoir as well to completely clear the system.

Flushing the system simply involves attaching a garden hose to the radiator and allowing clean water to flow through the system at low pressure. When the water comes out clean the system is flushed. You can also use special flushing compounds.

To refill the system simply re-fit the plug and pour the correct mix of coolant into the radiator slowly so the air bubbles can escape. Re-fit the cap and after shaking the bike to encourage air bubbles out start the engine and allow it to run for a while. When the radiator is cool again release the pressure cap to allow any trapped air to escape and after a quick check for leaks you are away. When the bike is apart spend a bit of time getting the dirt and bugs out of the radiator, a clean radiator is far more efficient than one caked up with grime.

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