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Save money maintaining your motorcycle

While the old adage "if it aint broke, dont fix it holds, its the thorough checking that it aint broke that counts. Many modern bikes have very long service intervals, and are vastly more reliable than machines of the past. But dont let this make you complacent, regular checks are essential to the well being of your bike and yourself.

Easy scheduled maintenance

Doing the simple work yourself not only keeps your bike running well and safely, it saves you money - especially if you choose pattern service parts as an alternative to their hard to get and expensive Genuine counterparts. Often made in same factory as the originals, pattern service parts are generally as good as or better than original equipment.

While these recommendations are applicable to most motorcycles, always check manufacturers recommendations for correct service intervals for your machine.

Daily checks

  • Lights, indicators and horn

  • Speedometer

  • Tyres and tyre pressures - valve caps that indicate correct pressures are available

  • Fluid levels - oil and coolant if applicable. Quality synthetic oil should be used for newer performance bikes, semi-synthetic for older bikes. A specific quality motorcycle oil like Rock Oil should always be used

  • Chain - if youre doing 100 or more miles per day this should be lubricated and adjusted as necessary

  • Steering Does it operate freely without notches and uneven feel? Does it interfere with the operation of any cables at full lock?

  • Kill switch functionality

  • Side and centre stands - do they return to their correct position for riding?

  • Brake hoses - can you see any chafing or banjo bolts causing weeping?

Weekly or 200 miles (whichever is sooner)

All the above, plus:

  • Check oil level - does it require topping-up?

  • Check tyre pressure - check with an accurate gauge

  • Check battery - if not maintenance-free, then check electrolyte level and top up with distilled water if necessary. If you have an alarm or immobiliser fitted it may be worth giving it a charge (this is especially true if the bike is not being used regularly). The best solution is getting an intelligent charger, and having it plugged in permanently whilst the bike is garaged for any period of time. A battery left uncharged will have a shorter life

  • Check control cables - lubricate as necessary

  • Check brakes - pads and disks should be checked for wear and replaced if necessary; check and top-up fluid. Adjust drum brakes as necessary

  • Make a full visual inspection - check for loose nuts & bolts and spokes if applicable. Fork seal leaks and any other oil leaks.

Monthly or 1,000 miles (whichever is sooner)

All the above, plus:

  • Check spark plugs - clean and adjust or replace, anything other than a light/medium brown deposit may indicate problems

  • Check control cables - adjust free play

  • Check Idle speed - adjust as necessary

  • Lubricate control lever pivots

Every 3 months or 2,500 miles (whichever is sooner)

All the above, plus:

  • Change oil & filter

  • Change air filter

  • Check wheel and steering head bearings - grease and replace if necessary

  • Check exhaust system for leakage

Every 6 months or 5,000 miles

All the above, plus:

  • Adjust carburettor synchronisation - if applicable

  • Check overflow pipes - replace any that are blocked or missing

Every 12 months or 10,000 miles

All the above, plus:

  • Replace spark plugs

  • Check suspension linkages - for play, replace linkage, bearings, bushes as necessary

Laying up a bike over the winter:

  • Regularly charge the battery - better still, invest in an intelligent charger

  • Leave on the main stand - if your bike doesnt have one, kits are available for most bikes. Or invest in at least a rear paddock stand to get the weight of the bike off of the tyres, which should be kept correctly inflated

  • Consider draining the petrol as this can deteriorate over time and can, in extreme cases, evaporate leaving a nasty deposit which can block the carburettors. At least turn off the fuel tap and run the engine until the float bowls are empty. Fuel stabilisers are available that can help with this

  • Wax well and lubricate - all parts that generally need lubricating. Make sure the bike is completely dry, then cover with a dust sheet and keep somewhere dry, preferably not in the same room as a tumble drier or other condensation causing machinery. If you have to keep it outside, then invest in a good quality, breathable waterproof cover and cover the exhaust outlets with plastic bags

A quick guide to some common service parts:

  • Brake pads - Generally for road use brake pads are available in two types: GG and HH, related to the friction coefficient of the braking material. HH offers more stopping power for a given force on the brake lever than the GG. But that doesnt make HH pads better - its more a matter of balance, taste and riding style.

    Some people find HH pads too grabby, especially on lightweight machines. Dont fit HH pads to the rear of bike and GG to the front, this will make the overall braking balance too rear biased, which isnt good. However many people find the reverse: HH on the front and GG on the rear very comfortable and effective.

    Many newer sports bikes should only use HH pads, so check the manufacturers specifications. A noticeable downside to using HH pads is that they tend to wear the brake rotor more quickly.

  • Chains and Sprockets - theres a lot of misleading information given about chains and sprockets (sometimes even by manufacturers promoting their own products), whether X-ring lasts longer than O-ring, or whether one manufacturer is better than another.

    Its actually a question of your riding style, how much use your machine gets, your weight, if you lubricate and adjust the chain correctly, the weather and road conditions. Suffice to say, if you pull wheelies, weigh 35 stone, dont oil or adjust your chain and only ride on wet salted roads your chain wont last very long! That said, if you dont do many miles in a year, you may find that an X-ring will last you longer than an O-ring - or if you ride like Barry Sheene, why bother buying an expensive heavy chain that will cause extra drag?

    On a modern sports bike fitting a new chain and sprockets could give you 8bhp over the old ones, sometimes more, possibly about the same as an expensive go faster ignition system, and itll make the bike feel like new.

Engine maintenance is very bike specific so oil pumps, valve clearances, ignition timings etc. are not mentioned here; refer to manufacturers guides, and if in doubt dont trust the geezer down the pub who used to have moped in the 70s, seek expert advice.


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