Performing maintenance checks on your motorcycle can feel intimidating and time consuming, especially if you’re a beginner. However, these basic steps can not only make you become one with your bike, but save you lots of time, money, problems, and potentially injuries in the long run. There’s no need to pay a technician hundreds of dollars in labor fees when you can keep your bike in tip top shape with this regular inspection checklist.
THE MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) has issued a popular checklist using the acronym TCLOCS:
T – TIRES & WHEELS
C – CONTROLS
L – LIGHTS & ELECTRICS
O – OIL & OTHER FLUIDS
C – CHASSIS
S – STANDS (Some will write the acronym TCOCK with a “K” replacing the “S” for KICKSTAND, but it represents the same thing)
The MSF acronym is a great way to remember the steps involved, but this list is a great tool to keep handy for important information and instruction.
For most of the items on this list, I recommend inspecting after a ride so your bike is warmed up. However, for tires, it is best to check when they are cold as heat will increase tire pressure.
• Check air pressure. Fill as needed to recommended PSI.
• Check tread for wear. Tread depth should be higher than suggested designation.
• Check for visible dry cracks, chicken strips, uneven wear, cuts in sidewalls, nails, screws, bulges, ply separation or punctures. If you find anything on this list, you should replace your tires.
• Inspect valve system, core, and cap.
• Check spokes to see if they need tightened.
Click Here for more details on tire inspection.
Don’t wait until your brakes are screeching at you to check your brakes. Your ability to slow down and come to a complete stop is not something you want to gamble with on a motorcycle.
• Check front and rear brake pads. Most will have an indicator line on the pad to inform you when you need to change. The general rule is if the pad is wearing close to the metal it’s time to change. It is easy and inexpensive to change on your own. Note: if one side of pad is drastically more worn than the other, then you might need to rebuild the caliper with a seal and piston kit.
• Check brake fluid. Most bikes will have a sight in the master cylinder to easily know if you need to add fluid. Refer to your manual or the top of the brake fluid reservoir cap to find out if you need DOT 3 or DOT 4 fluid. It is important not to mix the two.
• Squeeze brake lever to feel that pressure is normal. If it is not responsive, you may need to bleed the brakes. Consult your manual or a trained mechanic for this process. It is a good practice to occasionally bleed your brakes and replenish with fresh fluid.
Click Here for detailed steps to bleed your brakes.
Whether you have a shaft, belt, or chain drive system on your motorcycle, you will need to inspect it regularly and maintenance as needed.
• Shaft Drive: It is a great practice to replenish your gear oil at the start of each riding season. Before filling, wipe the cap area to prevent contamination. Grease any zerk fittings along the drive line and suspension. Shaft driven bikes are generally trouble-free, but failing to grease maintenance points and keep up the oil to the right level can cause it to wear out.
• Belt Drive: Belt drive systems are smooth and reliable if they remain clean and properly adjusted. Inspect regularly for cracks, damages, missing teeth, or frayed edges. Replace if damaged. Owner’s manual will instruct you on adjusting the belt to the correction tension.
• Chain Drive: Chains and sprockets wear out over time. Check sprockets to see if teeth have become hooked, cupped, dulled down, or missing. Check the chain for slack, stretching, or flattening out where it contacts the sprockets and sliders. If any part of it is worn, it is best to replace the entire chain drive system. If it’s in good shape, check the tension. Owner’s manual will guide youth through the appropriate amount of tension for your chain. Adjust by sliding the wheel forward or backward, making sure the sprockets are aligned. Keep chain lubed with premium chain lubricant. To apply lube, lift rear wheel and manually spin the tire forward and apply the lube.
Click Here for more detailed information on belt and chain maintenance.
Oil is the lifeblood of your engine. I’ve seen service technicians charge up to $100 for an oil change. It’s not that hard to learn to do this yourself. Your manual will walk you through the process, as well as indicate the proper oil viscosity to run along with the appropriate oil filter to use.
• If you’re up to date on your oil changes, check your oil level using the dipstick or engine oil sight to see if you need to top it off. Fill with less than required amount of oil, button up the bike, and start it. Let it run for a few minutes and then turn the bike off. Check oil while engine is hot and add more as needed.
• Give the engine a quick inspection for any leaks or oil dripping.
• It’s a good practice to check all your fluid levels such as primary and transmission oils and coolant for liquid cooled bikes. Give your radiator and oil cooler a good cleaning with a bristle brush.
• While looking over your motorcycle, check for any loose nuts and bolts that might need to be tightened.
Air is just as important as fuel to an engine, so you want to make sure your air filter is clean. I recommend purchasing an aftermarket air cleaner with a cleanable, reusable air filter.
• If your bike has a paper filter, it is a good practice to replace with a new one when it gets dirty. They are generally inexpensive. If it is still relatively clean, knock out any dirt or debris and reinstall.
• Oiled cotton filters like K&N are designed to last longer. Periodically clean and re-oil with proper chemicals.
• Foam filters, found mostly in dirt bikes, can be reused as well. Check the foam for deterioration. If it looks good, clean and re-oil with cleaner and filter oil. Dirt bike filters need to be cleaned regularly, and I recommend stocking a spare to swap out as needed.
BATTERY AND ELECTRIC
I’ve been stranded in the middle of nowhere with a dead battery, and let me tell you, it’s not fun.
• Check to make sure your battery is fully charged before you ride off into the sunset.
• If you store your motorcycle for more than a couple weeks, it’s a good practice to connect it to a battery tender. This keeps your battery fully charged and ready. If your battery won’t hold a charge, it’s time to get a new one.
• Check electrical functions, such as instruments, horn, headlight, brake lights and turn signals.
• Check spark plugs and replace as needed. Your service manual will suggest replacement intervals. Inspecting spark plugs can reveal the health of your fuel system. When you have properly balanced fuel system, the spark plugs should have a slightly brown base. If you notice a white, powdery base then your bike is running lean (not enough fuel). If you see a black, oily base then your bike is running rich (too much fuel).
You should now be ready to fuel up and hit the road! Make these steps part of your routine and you should get maximum enjoyment out of your motorcycle.