How to maintain a motorcycle

Adventure 3 min read

Motorcycle maintenance can be easy, even with the electronics that newer models have. But it still takes some elbow grease, says John Bloomfield, a rider coach and lead mechanic for the Motorcycle Training Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Bloomfield has more than four decades of experience with motorcycle maintenance. “Taking apart things is easy,” he says. “It’s putting them back together and making sure they work — that’s the test.”

The instructors at the Motorcycle Training Academy teach students to run through a motorcycle inspection checklist from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Known as T-CLOCS, the comprehensive list covers systematic checks for tires and wheels (T), controls (C), lights and electrics (L), oil and other fluids (O), the chassis (C), and stands (S). Using the T-CLOCS motorcycle maintenance list as your starting point, here are Bloomfield’s suggestions for motorcycle care.

Motorcycle maintenance checklist

1. Check the manual

“The motorcycles I own, I go out and buy the actual manual that belongs to them,” Bloomfield says. Even if you need to pay extra for a hard copy, it’s a reference worth having, especially for bike-specific repairs. The manual should also have a service checklist based on mileage.

2. Inspect your bike

Do a T-CLOCS visual inspection whenever you get ready to ride, Bloomfield advises. That means walking around the motorcycle, looking at each main item on the motorcycle maintenance checklist. “Visually inspecting your motorcycle before you throw your leg over it is something that should just be natural,” he says.

As far as a motorcycle maintenance schedule goes, Bloomfield recommends doing a thorough T-CLOCS inspection seasonally. This inspection entails moving carefully through steps like checking the brake pads and discs for wear, making sure battery terminals are clean and tight, and looking for paint lifting off the frame. If you store your motorcycle for the winter, Bloomfield suggests doing a complete motorcycle maintenance check once before you put the bike away and then again if you’re riding your motorcycle in the winter and after taking it out in the spring. He does a thorough T-CLOCS inspection four times a year as a year-round rider.

3. Read your tires

The life expectancy of a standard motorcycle tire is roughly three to five years, Bloomfield says. But “new” is relative. “A lot of folks that sell tires — motorcycle or vehicle — will try and sell you the older ones off their shelves, so they’re not stuck with them,” he cautions. Older motorcycles tires break down faster. If yours are more than five years old, even with a fair amount of tread left, start looking for new ones.

To find out when the tire was manufactured, Bloomfield says to look for a four-digit code along the side, often near where you’d find the tire size or the air pressure specification. Since the date may not be obvious, do an online search for your tire’s brand and type to interpret the four digits.

4. Ask a pro

For motorcycle repairs, Bloomfield suggests taking your bike to the shop if there is an active warranty, electrical issues, it needs tire replacement or there is oil disposal.

If the bike is still under warranty Bloomfield suggests taking it to the pros for motorcycle repairs. But for his bikes that aren’t, he’ll do as much of the work on them as he can. However, there are times when a motorcycle owner might still get stuck. Electrical problems like finding a short can quickly become frustrating — even if you’re like Bloomfield and have a tuning program on your computer. “Unless you’re really good with electronics, that’s a good time to take it into a shop,” he says.

Another task might be tire replacement if you don’t have a proper way to do it yourself, Bloomfield says. However, you could save money by removing the tire, taking it to the shop, letting the pros change it out, and then bringing the new tire back to put on your bike.

“You should be able to change [the] oil,” Bloomfield says. “It’s an easy thing to do, but a lot of people either don’t have a place to do it or a proper way to get rid of the oil.” Come up with a plan before you start. Ask your local automotive garage or repair shop whether you can bring in old oil for them to dispose of safely with theirs.

5. Ride your bike

Once you’ve done the basic T-CLOCS motorcycle maintenance checklist, your motorcycle should be warmed up. Then take it for a spin at least 10 to 20 miles from home, Bloomfield says. Check it at different speeds, varying your ride with some curves. “There are certain things you’re going to feel at lower speeds and other things you’ll feel at higher speeds,” he says. “You’ll know if it feels right.” After returning, once the bike cools down a bit, recheck your fluids.

Whether you’re new to motorcycle riding or an experienced rider, keep yourself and your bike protected with motorcycle insurance. Learn more about how motorcycle insurance works or Progressive’s motorcycle insurance coverages.

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