6 Ways To Improve Your Bike For Free

How To -


6 Ways To Improve Your Bike For Free

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.

6 Ways To Improve Your Bike For Free

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.

Wheel Alignment

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.

Tire Pressure
Tire Pressure

Tire Pressure

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.

Motorcycle Chain
Motorcycle Chain

Chain Check
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.

Motorcycle Lever
Motorcycle Lever

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.

Motorcycle Pedal
Motorcycle Pedal

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.

  • Tyler Thomason

    Brace yourselves, the WD40 argument is coming

    • Zach

      I use WD40 exclusively on my chains, and I get 20k+ out of them all while making them appear clean at the same time. My sprockets even look brand new and all it takes is a good spraydown every 200-400 miles. Don’t do this if you have non-O-ring chains though.

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        You mean don’t do this if your chains DO have o-rings. WD-40, or “Water Displacement, Solution 40″ will dry them out. And all other rubber bits as well.

        • Zach

          There have been experiments with Nitrile O-rings soaking in various chemicals and then testing them for breakdown/absorbency after the fact. WD40 had no measurable impact on the O-rings, and I can’t find anything indicating that WD40 dries that type of rubber either.

          Have a look at this thread: http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=345397

          • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

            I use WD40 to lube/clean my chains and have for 10 years. Never had an issue. You just need to use it very sparingly (it’ll fling off if you leave excess on the chain) and do it frequently. What I do is spray some onto a cloth and rub the chain down with that cloth. Keeps it clean, rust free and there’s no lube gunk all over the place or excess on my wheel.

            • hunkyleepickle

              Thats a never ending issue for me living in the constantly wet pacific northwest, is the creeping bits of rust on my chain. I clean and lube it regularly, and my chain is definitely not old (6000km), but i just it just wants to creep back in there anytime the bike sits for more than a day or so in the winter. Would WD40 do anything for this, or am i just fighting a losing battle. Great article btw!!

              • Ben Mcghie

                Grease or a real chain wax that you have to brush on.

                It’s the only way I can go more than 200km without rust spots here in Vancouver, BC.

            • Gordon Pull

              Just started doing this as well. Wheels stay clean, chain stays clean, and no stretching. I’m staying this route.

            • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

              If it works for you it works for you. I’ve seen chains explode with rust dust and always assumed it was because wd-40 works too well at removing all lubricants and drying out rubber. I stick to kerosene for cleaning gunk off my bike.

          • Braden

            While I appreciate the scientific lengths taken in the study, I don’t see a comparison between it and real world conditions. Soaking the O-rings for 24 hours in various solutions in a pillbox is vastly different from O-rings getting repeated exposure over thousands of miles/hours, huge variations in temperature from the chain heating and cooling, and all of the dynamic forces placed on the rings and chain through its use. Not saying I necessarily disagree with the results, but I feel the findings only indicate how well O-rings hold up to brief exposure sitting in a pillbox and little else.

          • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

            If you read part two of that study it shows WD-40 reduces the tensile strength of orings by 20%. Not really a scienific study of what o-rings do on a chain while you ride but it’s something.

    • Aaron

      I use WD-40 on my metal parts of my dirt bike/quad. Keeps it like new. I also use WD40 to clean my chain before I put my chain wax on. WD40 is great for everything BUT lubrication.

    • Piglet2010

      WD-40 is great for cleaning off asphalt cement.

  • Brian

    Here’s a simple one, ask yourself if, what, and when any or all of the various hydraulic fluids have been changed or addressed? Chances are, seasonal sitting does in fact factor in as a portion of wear as some fluids do different things with time as well as usage( like absoption of moisture if it is hydroscopic, like brake fluid for example). Taking those moments before you hit to open roads for the year/seasons to assess or even reassess what services you have done and when so that you can not only factor in when your next potential services should be ( whether in terms of milage or in terms of timetable/timeframe) but also start to budget for the resources to be able to take care of them in a timely fashion.

  • ThruTheDunes

    When I used to ride ATCs, we would rotate the bars up for better ergonomics. At 6’3″, I was the short one, my buddies were 6’5″ and 6’11″, so you can see why this was needed.

    In all the discussions on bike setup I have read here on RideApart, I don’t recall this being suggested. Is this not a good idea for onroad bikes for some reason? (I ride an F650 one-lunger)

    • Ben Mcghie

      In my experience, not too many bikes have bars that could be rotated to a better angle. By that I mean they are already as high as they will go.

    • socalutilityrider

      I’m 6′ 4″ and my stock bars are rotated as high as they will go already on my Vstrom. There are not a ton of options for us tall guys, sure there’s risers, aftermarket bars, peg lowering kits, etc, but bikes are engineered precisely and too much mucking around with the ergos will adversely affect handling. Just wish some of the frames were bigger to start with and “lowest seat in it’s class” and whatnot from manufacturers wasn’t a thing.

  • 80-watt Hamster

    “Winter’s nearly over…”

    “If your motorcycle has sat around idle for a couple of months because of winter…”

    Sure, rub it in, why don’t ya.

    Signed, a frozen resident of the Great White North whose bike has been in storage for three months and will remain there for at least another two

    • hunkyleepickle

      Thaaaaats a shame. Ought a come out to the west coast, weather is wet and mild, and the bikes still going strong! Just kidding, i feel sympathy for the rest of the country!

    • Jeremy

      We’re not shoveling sunshine, here in AZ.

    • Sparky

      It was -4F yesterday where I live and I rode to/from work. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…….

      • 80-watt Hamster

        Believe me, I’ve thought about it, albeit briefly. “If the snowmobile guys can handle it, I should be able to right?” ‘Cept I didn’t hone my skills sliding around in the dirt to be able to catch myself if I start to lose it, and the streets are NEVER clear enough of snowpack, frozen exhaust drip, and ice (both black and glare) to feel even remotely safe taking to the streets between the first hard freeze and the first decent thaw.

        • Piglet2010

          Here in Iowa we currently have about 80% clear pavement, with just enough icy spots to cause a nice high-side.

    • Cody Blank

      It lightly misted here in LA last night and it was appauling. I felt the pain you guys feel… I had to put on a lightweight warm liner underneath my suit on the street on my way home last night!


    • Mr.Paynter

      What is Winter?

  • Chester Nodier

    What’s that chain on? It’s unlike any drive chain I’ve ever seen.

    • Marc Contevita

      Yeah, I thought the same thing too.

  • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

    Helpful hint: Lemon Pledge works great at giving the plastics a quick clean. Also keeps road goo, salt, and bug guts from sticking.

    • Alex

      “We need more Lemon Pledge…”

    • Tom Gabriele

      Agreed. Works great as an alternative to the “one step waterless wash and wax” type products. Easy to apply and buff, not heavy, doesn’t built up, prevents static cling of dust, gives you a layer of wax protection, and can be used on virtually any part of the bike (besides the obvious like tires).

      And it seems to be better than anything else at cleaning bugs off windshields and headlight lenses.

  • Jono

    … or live in Sydney and ride every day, any time of year =P

    I’m just fooling, good article guys.

  • Nick Fragedakis

    What bike is that with the picture of the sprocket and chain? And what brand sprocket is that? Looks amazing!

    • Pablo Perez

      I was about to ask the same. That’s some gorgeous bike porn right there.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      I think it’s just a ‘Shop.

      • Aaron Averett

        It could be just a shop, but Ducati and MV Agusta both offer several models with an outboard rear sprocket like that. Maybe an aftermarket sprocket on one of those?

    • WheelieGood13

      Everything in that pic is hot, the frame, wheels, swingarm, etc. Very nice.