The Great Dust Off
This time the weatherman was right. The last hard freeze/snowfall/treacherous downpour of the winter has happened. You wake up and hear birds singing. Green shoots are peeking through frost-hardened ground. It’s definitely almost time to ride.
But is your bike ready?
Where you go from here depends on what you did to put it away for the off season. Did you change the oil? Treat the fuel? Put the battery on a charger? We bet you’re wishing you did.
Regardless of what you did last fall, here are a few basic steps to take before you pull your gear out of the basement and hit the road for the first time.
- Clean your bike. Yeah, you probably gave it the once over before you threw a cover on it but now’s the time to give it a thorough wash and wax. Take your time and think about looking closely at and touching pretty much every part of the machine. You’re not just cleaning, you’re looking for pieces that might have been dislodged, rusted, corroded, or frozen in place. Simple curiosity can make a big difference here.
- Even if you put your bike on a Battery Tender over the winter, take this time to make sure the battery is connected and fully charged.
- Now, double check the mechanicals, including the brake system and all fluids. Make sure the oil level is right, the coolant is topped off, and the brake fluid looks more like a fine blonde ale than Aunt Jemima’s.
- Test your accessories. Do you heated grips still get hot? Is that GPS working?
- Fuel. If you did the right thing at the end of last season–filled the tank to the brim with treated fuel–you don’t have to do anything here. If you, um, forgot…then your best tactic is to remove as much fuel from the tank as you can. Drain the fuel through the petcock for carbureted motorcycles or siphon it through the filler for fuel injected bikes. Do not start the engine. Use a flashlight and a mirror to check the tank for rust or debris as best you can. Completely refill the tank with fresh fuel. You’re trying to minimize the ratio of bad fuel to good; chances are there’s still a little old fuel sloshing around in there.
- If you have a chain-drive bike, double-check the chain tension. If you put the bike away “wet” now is the time to clean the chain (kerosene is usually recommended, though WD-40 will do in a pinch), lubrication, and properly tension it. Look for kinks and broken rollers. If spinning the back wheel makes a sound like dragging a logging chain through a steel-drum factory, you probably need to work on the chain a bit more.
- Double check the controls and steering. Listen for any creaks or groans in the steering head as you swing the bars left and right, and test each control (brake, clutch, throttle) for freedom of movement.
- Turn the bike on and check all lights for proper function, including the instrument backlighting. Set the clock while you’re at it.
- The first start of the season shouldn’t be a big production. Use your usual routine for starting a carbureted bike, giving it only as much choke as you need to. For fuel injected bikes, turn on the key and listen for the fuel pump to prime. Keep your hand off the throttle and hit the starter. Resist the temptation to rev the bike. Instead, listen for unusual noises. Some engines will clatter a little on the first start of the season, but if the noise persists past the first few seconds, stop the engine and investigate further. Let the engine warm thoroughly, shut it down, and then check the oil level and spend a few minutes with a flashlight to look for any new leaks.
- Finally, check tire pressures and spend a little time looking carefully at the tread and sidewalls for cracks or other forms of deterioration. It’s not uncommon for tires to change color with exposure to the atmosphere, but bright blue or chalky gray aren’t good colors for tires. (Unless they started that way.)
The last part of this puzzle is you. Be aware that, depending on where you live, the roads might be in much worse shape than when you parked the bike. And you might be a little rusty too. It’s smartest to plan a couple of short hops before you decide to ride a couple of states over to celebrate spring. There’ll be time for that.