Tune Up for Spring and a New Riding Season
It’s time to thaw out your motorcycle and get ready to ride
Have enough of winter yet? I have. I’m done with trudging through snow and slipping on frozen sidewalks; I’m finished with seeing my breath vaporizing in front of me; I’m tired of fierce winds causing tears to form and quickly freeze on my eyelashes. If you’re like me, you’re ready for spring to arrive, and with it, a brand new riding season.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with year-round sunshine and warm temperatures, you’ve probably had your motorcycle in storage for the last few months. Many riders decide to pay a dealer or garage to store their motorcycles over the winter.
Other riders prefer to take care of the winter storage themselves and save some money. This is a good option for motorcyclists who like doing their own maintenance and have a place to keep a motorcycle for a few months. We’ve previously published a guide on the topic, offering tips on preventing corrosion, treating the fuel system and keeping a battery charged through the winter.
But what do you do in the spring to get your motorcycle up and running for a new riding season? Motorcycles are meant to be ridden, and even if you took great effort to maintain your motorcycle over the winter, it will take a bit more preparation after sitting idle for a long period of time.
Most garages and dealers who offer storage can perform a spring checkup before you drop by to pick it up. Those who prefer to do their own spring maintenance can get reacquainted with their motorcycle after several months apart.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s “T-CLOCS” inspection checklist is a good place to start. T-CLOCS (which stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Stands) is a pre-ride inspection process the MSF advises all riders to perform before going out for a ride. Its principles also apply to preparing a motorcycle for a new riding season.
Tires and Wheels
Inspect the tires and wheels for any signs of wear or damage. Inflate the tires to the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure and make sure there is plenty of tread to provide safe grip in the miles ahead. Make sure there are no flat spots on the tire, especially if the motorcycle has been left standing on its tires all winter.
Remember to check the wheels as well. If your motorcycle has spoked wheels, make sure the spokes are not bent or loose. Inspect cast wheels for any cracks or dents. Raise each wheel off the ground and spin them, making sure they’re in good condition.
Levers and pedals should move with the right amount of tension. Control cables should be well lubricated and free of kinks or fraying, while brake hoses should be free of cuts, bulges or leaks. Turn the handlebars in both directions to make sure they do not interfere with the routing of all cables and hoses. The throttle should also move freely and snap closed when released.
If you took care of your battery over the winter, it should be fully charged and ready for use. The terminals should be clean and free of corrosion. If applicable, check the electrolyte levels. If the battery uses a vent tube, ensure it is properly routed and free of kinks.
With the battery installed and in working order, turn on the motorcycle’s lights and turn signals and make sure they work properly. Don’t forget to check the rear signals including the brake lights. Make sure the brake lights activate when you apply either the front or rear brake levers.
Oils and Fluids
If you stored your motorcycle properly, you should have filled the fuel tank and added a fuel stabilizer before putting it away. This ensures the fuel will not evaporate and leave behind a sludge that could gum up the fuel lines or injectors/carbs. Carbureted motorcycles should have a petcock located on the left side under the seat that need to be switched to its ON or PRI (for Prime) position to get the fuel circulating through the system again.
Whether you changed the oil or not before putting a motorcycle into storage, you may consider doing it again. This isn’t always necessary, but starting a new riding season with fresh oil – free of contaminants and moisture – is the best option. The oil filter should also be changed if it wasn’t already done before the winter.
Finally, make sure to top off all other fluids including brake hydraulics and coolants.
Inspect the frame for any cracks or signs of damage. Straddle the motorcycle and bounce a few times to make sure the front and rear suspension systems offer smooth travel and damping.
If your motorcycle is chain or belt driven, make sure they have the correct amount of tension and seat properly in the sprockets. Belts should be free of cracks and not show any fraying. Drive chains should be lubricated and free of kinks.
Finally, check for any loose or missing fasteners. Nuts and bolts should be tightened to the correct torque level while retaining clips and pins should be in place and intact.
Both side stands and center stands should deploy and retract without excessive effort. Check their springs to make sure stands stay in place.
Check Your Riding Gear
Motorcycles aren’t the only things that need a spring tune-up. While your bike’s been sitting in storage during the winter, your riding gear has likely been stowed away in a closet all that time. Before you go out on your first ride of the season, make sure your equipment is also in good condition.
Most helmet manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every two to four years, even if there are no signs of damage. A helmet’s protective elements, including the impact-absorbing liner, can weaken under normal wear and tear and may not provide as much protection as a new helmet. Helmet makers are always trying to develop new materials and designs, so a new helmet may be stronger and lighter than your old lid.
Check your leather riding gear before you plan to go for your first ride. Leather can get stiff and may even crack if it has been neglected. Treat leather materials with conditioner to keep them clean and supple. Poorly treated gloves may be uncomfortable to wear and can affect your ability to control your motorcycle.
Shake Off the Rust
And don’t forget about your most important piece of riding equipment: you. If you haven’t been riding for several months, it’s natural to be a bit rusty. Before you go out for your first ride, set aside some time to practice basic riding skills, preferably in a closed environment such as an empty parking lot. It may take you some practice to regain your muscle memory and get used to good riding habits such as keeping your head up, looking ahead to where you want to go and checking your blind spots. If it’s been a few years since you’ve taken a rider training course (or if you’ve never taken a course at all) consider enrolling in one to brush-up on your skills.
Before you hit the road, make sure your documentation is in order. In many states, the DMV will send you a notice at least a month before your vehicle registration needs to be renewed. In some states, license plate stickers are up for renewal on or around the owner’s birthday, but other states have different rules. New legislation in Maine, for example, dictates all motorcycle registrations expire on March 31.
Your motorcycle insurance should also be up to date before you go out on public roads. Some insurance companies allow you to suspend your coverage over the winter. If your insurer provides this option, make sure you re-enable your coverage. The start of a new riding season is also a good time to shop around for a new insurer to find a company that offers the coverage you want at a good rate. Many companies offer free online quotes, making it easier than ever to find the best rate.
Once you have everything in order, it’s time to hit the road. But remember to stay extra vigilant. Drivers in other vehicles may not be used to sharing the roads with motorcycles and scooters, so give yourself extra space and stay alert.
Streets may not be in excellent condition in the spring. Keep an eye open for gravel, sand and salt, and other detritus left behind by melting snow banks. Potholes are also more likely to form in the spring as the extra moisture from rain and melting snow weakens the asphalt.
As always, stay alert and ride within your limits so you can safely enjoy the new riding season.