It’s the start of a new year and after the holidays, money is always a bit tight. It might mean you may have to cut back on some non-essential luxuries, but that doesn’t mean your motorcycle has to suffer in the process. Here are six ways to improve your bike for free.
Winter’s nearly over so you’ve cleaned and dried your motorcycle. It looks like new and is ready for that first ride of spring. Tempting though it is, don’t just jump on it and blast up the road. Here are six things that RideApart recommends you do first, which are all free and will keep your bike looking sharp and performing well.
Check and Double Check
Go over your bike with the proverbial fine toothcomb and check all of the components. By that we mean check everything that you can see. Don’t just look at them, touch them and check all the fixings too, even the nuts and bolts. See if any are loose or move and keep an eye out for anything that is cracked or broken. It’s better to find out while your bike is still in the garage rather than 250 miles down the road when you’re are lost in the middle of nowhere.
Get the WD-40Out
We accept that there are different and divided opinions on the use of WD-40 and what it may, or may not do to some of the parts on your bike. But we’ve always found it to be effective, providing you use it in small amounts and stay well away from the tires, brakes and any rubber parts.
WD-40, used sparingly, will protect and give a good slippery coating to any surface it comes into contact with. Just be smart on how you use it. It works well on cable coverings and makes them slide against each other. It also helps with moisture resistance for connectors and switchgear. You may try giving you bike’s ignition key a squirt too and the barrel lock. It will make them work seamlessly.
Any motorcycle is going to ride better if the wheel alignment is correct with the back wheel following the trail of the front. With a bike’s front wheel clamped by the forks it’s really a matter of checking the rear is running true and for that you need a pair of straight edges. A couple of aluminum strips are best for this, like you would use in a doorframe, but check they are both straight and not bent. The process is simple. Using both strips (one on each side of the bike) clamp one end to either side of the back wheel so they touch the front and rear outer edges of the tire.
With the front wheel straight and the bike upright, measure the gaps between each side of the front wheel and adjust your rear wheel accordingly so the gaps are the same on either side.
You should be checking both of your bike’s tires on a regular basis. Some people do it on a ride-by-ride basis, others once a week, or there are some who do it when they remember. A minimum of once a week would be our recommendation as you’d be surprised at how quickly a motorcycle tire can lose pressure. Just a few drops in psi really can make a big difference in a bike riding nicely or feeling odd. If your motorcycle has sat around idle for a couple of months because of winter, now is the time you should be checking your tires and their pressure.
If you can get your bike off the ground on a motorcycle lift, look at the tire tread depths and the examine sidewalls. If you don’t have access to a lift that will mean getting down on your hands and knees and looking at the exposed tire tread. Make a mark with a piece of chalk where you have inspected and move the bike around and re-check the next section of tread on both tires. Look for bulges or cuts and anything that looks suspicious. If you’re unsure, get an expert’s advice. It’s not worth the risk as motorcycle tires are the only things separating you and your bike from the road.
A bit like tires, motorcycle chains are often taken for granted until they go wrong and very occasionally they can and do go wrong. But with a bit of time and effort you can minimize the very unpleasant experience of a chain breaking on you as you accelerate hard to overtake a slower moving vehicle.
Above all a motorcycle chain needs to be clean and well lubed. Physically inspect your bike’s chain and look for wear, or anything that looks out of the ordinary. It needs to be well oiled both on the outside and on the inside and most importantly it needs to be correctly adjusted.
If a chain is too tight you potentially can wreck the bike’s gearbox, wheel bearings and sprockets. But too loose is just as bad as well and just as dangerous. It’s not that hard a job to adjust a motorcycle chain and you can find some good advice on YouTube. The important thing is to check your chain and if you are still unsure, or don’t like the look of something, seek professional advice from a dealer.
Grips, Pedals and Levers
Your motorcycle’s throttle can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If you don’t look after it, chances are one day you could regret not paying attention to it before. The twist grips action should always be light with not much free play. With the engine turned off, open the throttle wide and then let it go. If it’s working as it was designed, it should snap back faster than you can blink.
If it doesn’t you need to check that the grips is not catching on the bike’s switchgear or handlebar end. You can lube the cable inners with a silicon spray and make sure the insides of the twist grip are really clean and lightly lubricated.
Now’s also a good time to also check the pedal set-up on your bike and to make sure that everything is where it should be and that you really are comfortable. The brake pedal should sit right under your toes. If you have to bend your ankle to reach it then it’s too high and needs adjusting. Undo the pinch bolt that holds the brake pedal on and move it clockwise or anticlockwise a couple of splines (depending on whether it’s too high or too low).
The gear shifter can also be adjusted to suit your riding style, but bear in mind you should always be able to change gear without having to move your body position. This means the best set up should see the tip of the gear lever sitting just over the tip of your toes. You can alter this in the same way as the brake pedal by undoing the pinch bolt and moving it left or right on the splines.
The final thing you can do for free is making sure the levers on your bike’s handlebars are set up so you are comfortable and relaxed when riding.
Get on your bike and put both hands on the grips. Extend your fingers in a straight line. If the levers are in the optimum position your fingers will be resting on the top of the levers and you should be able to draw a hypothetical straight line right down your forearms to the tips of your extended fingers.
If your levers are too high your wrists will bend up, if they’re too low your wrists will bend down. If you don’t make some changes you’ll probably end up with cramps or numbness in your hands.
Adjusting a bike’s levers is simple. Slacken off each lever’s pinch bolts and rotate the clamps a few degrees either way until you have found the best set-up that suits you and is comfortable.
These suggestions are not an alternative to proper maintenance on a motorcycle, nor will they necessarily prevent costly repairs, but they do work well as an interim money-saver.