Top 10 Motorcycle Maintenance Fails


1. Not Maintaining Proper Tire Pressure

Motorcycles, cars, trucks, you name it—there are millions of vehicles out on the road with under-inflated tires, which reduces gas mileage and makes the tires run hot, shortening their life span. (You can also over-inflate tires, but it’s less common.) Some people check their tire pressure before every ride—not a bad idea, especially if you’re on a multi-day tour—but do it at least once a week or at every fill-up. Check your tires when cold, use your own tire gauge (keep one in your toolkit or saddlebag) and follow inflation guidelines printed on the VIN plate on your bike or in the owner’s manual. When checking tire pressure, also inspect for foreign objects that may be stuck in your tires and for signs of wear or other damage.

2. Wasting Money on Premium Fuel When Your Bike Doesn’t Need It

Your bike’s owner’s manual  or a sticker on the fuel tank will tell you the minimum octane fuel (PON, or pump octane number) that your motorcycle requires. Many of today’s motorcycles require premium fuel (typically 90 PON or higher), but some modern motorcycles and many older ones require only regular fuel (usually 86 or 87 PON). Running lower-than-recommended octane fuel is very bad; it can cause detonation (knocking) and potentially damage the engine. Running higher-than-recommended octane fuel wastes money at the pump (don’t fall for the gasoline companies’ marketing about high-octane fuel being “better”; it won’t boost performance and the EPA requires all fuel grades to have engine-cleaning detergent additives), and it can reduce gas mileage.

3. Not Regularly Checking and Changing the Oil

All internal combustion engines have reciprocating metal parts that require proper lubrication to reduce friction and heat. Some engines, especially older ones with worn seals, gaskets and piston rings, will consume oil, either by burning it up in the combustion chamber or simply leaking out. Get in the habit of checking your oil level—some motorcycles have sight glasses, others have dipsticks—every time you fill up the gas tank. And refer to your owner’s manual for the recommended oil change interval (in miles and/or months). Oil filters collect dirt, debris and metal particles, so make sure to install a new oil filter when you change the oil

4. Forgetting to Clean, Lube and Adjust the Chain

If your motorcycle has chain final drive, neglecting to clean, lubricate and adjust the chain is asking for trouble. (Drive belts don’t need to be lubricated, but they should be regularly inspected for wear and proper adjustment.) If you have an older bike it may have a non-sealed chain (which requires more care and maintenance), but most contemporary motorcycles have O-ring chains, which have small rubber O-rings between the link plates and rollers that help keep lube in and dirt out. Most owner’s manuals recommend lubricating the drive chain every 400-500 miles, but if you ride in wet or dirty conditions, you should lube the chain more often, perhaps every day. If possible, before adding lube, clean the chain with a non-wire brush and mild soap. Lubricate the chain after a ride, when the chain is warm, to help the lube penetrate the small spaces between the O-rings, plates and rollers, and use a dedicated motorcycle chain lube, such as Spectro Oils Z-Clean Chain Lube. With the bike in neutral and up on its centerstand or a rear-wheel paddock stand, spin the rear wheel forward and spray the lube on the top of the lower chain, just before it comes in contact with the rear sprocket. Wipe off any excess and spin the rear wheel a few more times to help the lube work its way in. Once the chain has been cleaned and lubed, check for proper chain tension, make any necessary adjustments and check the chain and sprockets for wear.

5. Not Using Fuel Stabilizer or Draining the Carbs During Short-Term Storage

Those of you with fuel-injected bikes, count yourselves lucky and move on. But if your motorcycle has carburetors and it sits for more than a couple of weeks between rides (hello, winter!), it’s teeny-tiny jets and other parts can become clogged or gummed-up by old fuel that breaks down over time and creates sticky varnish. Regularly using a fuel stabilizer such as StarTron and draining the carburetor’s float bowl after a ride when the bike will be parked for a while (the easiest way is to turn the fuel off and let the bike run in neutral until it conks out) are the best ways to protect your carbureted fuel system against the scourge of today’s ethanol-blended gasoline.

6. Forgetting to Lube and Adjust the Throttle, Clutch and Brake Cables

The control cables that actuate the throttle, clutch and brakes are absolutely critical components that are often overlooked, a simple matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” A sticky cable that doesn’t move back and forth properly can be dangerous, and a broken cable can leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. According to Motion Pro, which makes a wide variety of motorcycle tools, cables and controls, motorcycle control cables should be lubricated and adjusted at least once per riding season and more frequently for dual-sport and off-road bikes that see much more wear and tear.

7. Not Using a Battery Maintenance Charger

Even if your bike is parked safely in the garage, over time its battery will self-discharge. Allowing the battery to discharge can lead to sulfation—the build-up of lead sulfate crystals—which can result in a loss of cranking power (your bike won’t start), longer charging times and, ultimately, shorter battery life. The best way to keep your motorcycle’s battery healthy is to use a smart maintenance charger such as a Deltran Battery Tender. It has “microprocessor controlled power electronic circuitry” which enables it to perform and control various charging functions, including battery testing, bulk charging and float/maintenance charging to keep the battery in optimal condition.

8. Not Checking and Changing the Final Drive Oil

Many touring riders love motorcycles with shaft final drive because of their cleanliness and low maintenance. Although heavier than chain final drive, shafties don’t fling chain lube onto the swingarm or rear fender and they don’t need to be adjusted or replaced like chains and sprockets. But the gears inside shaft drives are lubricated with oil that needs to be checked regularly (in case there are leaks or it has become contaminated) and changed according to the recommended service interval in the owner’s manual. Most riders go a long  interval to easily forget about or ignore Checking the final drive oil. The consequences can be very costly—replacing a damaged final drive is much more expensive than replacing a chain and sprockets.

9. Not Changing the Brake Fluid

This is another one that’s easy to overlook. Hydraulic brakes work extremely well, especially modern triple-disc systems with ABS, but for brakes to work properly the hydraulic fluid must be changed regularly. Glycol-ether (DOT 3, 4, and 5.1) brake fluids are hygroscopic, which means they absorb moisture, which contaminates the fluid over time. Most motorcycle owner’s manuals  recommend changing brake fluid every two years and replacing the brake hoses every four years. Sticking to these service intervals, as well as checking and replacing your brake pads as needed, are critical for the safe and optimal operation of your motorcycle.

10. Not Reading the Owner’s Manual

There are a lot of references to this list because your motorcycle owner’s manual is an important source of maintenance information. Very few people read their owner’s manual cover-to-cover, but it’s a good idea to at least flip through it and become familiar with its contents. Most owner’s manuals have sections on safety, general information, specifications, routine maintenance/adjustment, troubleshooting, warranty information and a maintenance/service log. Your owner’s manual contains information about proper tire pressure, fuel type, checking and changing oil, load capacity, suspension settings and much more. If possible, keep your owner’s manual on your bike (under the seat or in a saddlebag), sealed in a durable plastic bag. Buying the service manual for your particular model is also a good idea; keep it in your garage with your tools for handy reference.
Michael Theodore
National Road Captain

Ready Or Not Here Comes That Car.


Will the car pull out and try to pass the line of bikes? How far will the driver make it before the passing zone runs out? Which riders will he try to squeeze between when it does?

It’s easy to become complacent when riding behind other riders. There doesn’t seem to be the same sense of urgency to actively scan the road or look to the mirrors as when we ride solo. Instead, while riding in a group, eyes tend to fixate on bikes ahead, and when we slip into “follow” mode, it’s easy to settle in, let down our guard and let others lead. That’s about the time, at the first hint of a passing zone or straightaway, an impatient driver from behind swoops out and passes, surprising the daylights out of us. That effect repeats one after another as the car blasts by each unsuspecting rider in line. It gets particularly interesting when the overtaking driver suddenly realizes he can’t pass all of the riders before the passing zone ends.

How can we minimize risk in these scenarios? By taking an active role and riding our own ride, even when following others. Make the dashed lines of every passing zone a mental trigger to consult the left mirror. Always know if there is a driver behind you. Pick up on aggressive behavior; if a vehicle approaches quickly or tailgates, expect them to abruptly overtake at the first opportunity as your first defense. When riding curves, make a point to check mirrors as you slow and at the moment the road straightens again, and look for that driver to pop out and pass. Is your group about to make a left turn? A mirror and head check could save your life if that driver pulls out to pass just as you all begin to exit left. Expect them, look for them and plan for them. Because, whether you’re ready or not, here they come!

Michael Theodore
National Road Captain