Basic Motorbike Maintenance
Do you want to get the most out of your motorbike? The answer is simple…YES! You will save time and money by doing your own personal motorcycle maintenance and it couldn’t be easier. Just by doing this, you are also ensuring the bike is much safer to ride. Having to book your bike in at the local dealership just to check the tyre pressures, oil level, or chain tightness is an effort when you could have done these jobs yourself easily.
It is always worthwhile to read the bike’s manual first so you can understand the manufactures settings, fluid levels and other adjustments that are needed. You will also learn what tools may be required whilst you are undertaking any new tasks. It is important to understand torque settings so that you will ensure that any nut or bolt is tightened to the correct tightness. The owner’s manual will also point out the whereabouts of things like the spark plugs, filters and oil fill and drain points. This will leave you being able to identify the products like engine oil that is recommended by the manufacturer.
The service history of the machine is essential to the value of the motorbike and it is always advisable to keep this history by using main dealers. But if you are doing some of the maintenance yourself, it would be worth buying the main manufactures recommended parts. You will need to keep all the receipts as a record of the maintenance of the bike – this really helps!
Maintaining the tyres should be done on a very regular basis as they are one of the main elements of ensuring the rider’s safety. Tyres should be checked for wear and any damage that they may have incurred over time.
Pressures should be checked on a regular basis. Over-inflated or under-inflated tyres can be dangerous and can cause unnecessary wear which you don’t want. You should check each tyre for wear. The tread depth can be measured and ensure the tread depth hasn’t fallen below the legal limit that is 1mm in the UK. Sometimes a tyre will have a wear limit marker than could be used for reference. Check the tyres for any damage, chunks or rips in the rubber, any foreign objects that are stuck in the tread.
Check your manual for the pressure settings for your tyres first. The motorcycles tyre pressures can be checked with a pressure gauge that most local petrol garages have available for you to check and inflate them if required at the same time. Simply unscrew the cap located on the tyre valve, attach the air pipe, set your target pressure, and the machine will do the rest.
Changing Engine Oil
Your engine oil and oil filter should be replaced on a regular basis. Check your service book, and this will indicate how often this required by your manufacturer.
First, you will need to warm the engine. This will make the oil a lot thinner and will drain a lot easier. With the bike on the main stand and the engine off, use a suitable tray under the motorcycle. Remove the drain plug and then the oil filler cap.
Once the oil has drained, then remove the oil filter. This will unscrew from the engine block. Wipe away any excess oil with a rag, renew the fibre washer on the drain plug. Next, replace the drain plug and torque the drain plug to the specified torque setting outlined in your manual.
Replace the filter with new, apply a smear of fresh oil around the filters seal before you fit it. Replenish the oil using a funnel and the correct engine oil. The motorcycle filler cap sometimes has a dipstick attached to it. You will need to fill the oil to a level between two markers that are on the stick.
You may have a sight glass with an oil level indicated on it. Once you are satisfied you have the correct level, replace the oil filler cap.
Check Fluid Levels
It is always best practice to check any fluid levels whilst the motorbike is on level ground and sitting on its main stand.
- Brake fluid/clutch fluid: typically found dotted about the motorbike, small plastic see-through pots that have marked indication for required levels. Top up as needed with the recommended fluid. Low oil can sometimes be a sign of a small leak or wear in the brake pads. Check regularly to see if you have a problem.
- Engine oil: check the oil level using the dipstick or sight glass as described previously.
- Engine coolant: ensure the engine is cool for this operation. Find the expansion tank for the cooling system; generally, it is found at the front of the motorbike above the radiator, a plastic tank with a coloured fluid in it, typically blue or sometimes pink, ensure the fluid is between the lines, replenish as required by removing the filler cap (do not try this with the engine hot). You may need a funnel as they are generally hard to access.
Chain Tensioning & Cleaning
There are many different colours of drive chain available, with gold being very popular with most motorcyclists. Not only does the chain have the main function, but it can also enhance the look of the bike too.
The newer chains that are used on motorcycles today are generally of the “O-ring” type of chain. This type of chain has small o rings inside the roller that keeps the lubrication within the roller. This means less maintenance is required and longer life of the chain – bonus!
When you are going to work on your chain, it would be preferable and easier to place the bike on the main stand or paddock stand so the rear wheel will be able to spin freely as long as the bike is in neutral gear. First off, we will need to clean the chain. You should purchase a good quality chain degreaser. Then spray the cleaner onto a rag, then wipe the chain with the degreaser on it whilst turning the rear wheel slowly by hand, being careful not to trap your fingers. You can remove any stubborn dirt or grit with a chain cleaning brush if you have one.
Once you are satisfied that it is clean, it is essential to re-lube the chain. This will prevent the chain from rusting, aid the lubrication to the sprockets and also extend the life of the chain. To do this, you will need to have a good quality chain lube and rag available. Some people just spray the lube directly onto the chain, this can be a bit messy, and you may have too much lube applied that splatters all over the wheel soon as you start riding. Alternatively, you can spray the lube into a rag, then apply the lube on the rag directly to the chain in a similar fashion that was used to clean the chain. Continue to apply lube until your happy there is enough lube on the chain.
Tensioning your chain can be done easily. You will need to read the owner’s manual first as every bike is different, this task should be completed whilst the motorbike is on the main stand. You will need some spanners and a rule and a marker pen. You will need to know what free-play is required, and this will be found in the owner’s manual, or sometimes it can be found on a sticker that is on the swing arm of the motorcycle and usually is around 25mm. Firstly, we need to know if the chain requires tensioning and, if so, by how much. You will need to put the rule in the middle of the lowest part of the chain, mark the rule with the pen, then lift the chain up with your finger and mark the rule again. The distance between the two lines is the free-play or slack in the chain. If it is greater than the desired free-play stated in the manual or sticker, you will need to tension the chain. You will need to slacken (not too loose) the central axle nut that can be found at the centre of the wheel. Now loosen the wheel adjusters locking nut equally by a quarter of a turn.
Next, you have to slowly tighten the adjusters equally on each side, a quarter of a turn each time. This will keep the wheel straight. Keep re-measuring the free-play and adjusting the tensioners until the desired measurement is met. The tensioners usually have incremental markings on them, so you will need to check that both sides are equal. Once you are satisfied that the tension is correct, and the tensioners are identical, you will need to lock the tensioners and re-tighten the axle nut. Turn the back wheel a few times and then recheck the tension. You have now successfully cleaned and tensioned your chain.