The sun’s shining here in northeastern USA, and more importantly the last winter salt has finally been rained off the road. Motorcycle season hath begun. Time to blow the dust off your bike, or if you ride a temperamental jalopy like I do; execute the complex ritual of revival.
The hardest part of every motorcycle season is starting it. You’ve got a million things to do and your car’s getting you around just fine. The bike’s just so comfortably tucked away, holding up all those garden tools and old blankets. You know, it’s gonna be a busy summer with the kid’s camp and the new puppy, and your cousin’s coming over for dinner in two weeks. Maybe you should just sit out this season...
DAMMIT MAN! That was a test. If you already sighed sadly and tabbed back to PornHub you failed with flying colors.
Look, if your bike was running last summer, you’ll probably have it running and revving again in no time. If not, well, we can work with that too.
For those of you who are tough enough to ride all year, good on ya. Those who live in permasummer and never have to worry about tires going square or mice taking refuge in your airboxes... I hate you. But I’ll be joining you soon.
For everybody else, here’s a primer on how to get your bike back in action after a season of neglect.
First: Reintroduce yourself to your bike
Easy now, don’t want to startle it. I mean, the mice that turned your airbox into a hotel... yes, scare the shit out of them. But the old bike, she’s a fickle creature my good man. Treat her flippantly and the only way she’s leaving your driveway is on the back of a pickup truck to your local motorcycle shop. Wake her up easy. Be tender. She’ll appreciate it.
And seriously, watch out for those mice. The bastards bite. Ask me how I know.
‘Did my tires look like rejected donuts last year too?’
A few months of static storage (even in the cold) is not enough to ruin most street tires, unless you have some crazy R-compound stuff which you would have put on display in your living room anyway.
But it is likely that your tires could could use a poost of air, and what better time to check for cracks, cuts, screws, and dry rot than while you’re piddling around with everything else?
Get your compressor and pressure gauge, set appropriately, and beam both wheels with a good flashlight as you visually inspect and listen for leaks.
Next: Stripping it down
Get your tools in order and start pulling off your fairings if you’ve got ‘em. Naked bike? Well then, this step’s done for you.
Ogle your bike. Ignore the dust and bird poop on the fuel tank and look deep. Sexy, isn’t it it. A thorough visual inspection gives you the chance to fall in love with your motorcycle all over again, and gives you the chance to detect and obvious leaks, chewed wires, or new rodent nests you’ll be taking for an express tour around town shortly. Now’s a good time to pop up the fuel tank and check for any more errant rodents and clean things out of the airbox.
Then: Start pulling levers
You’re finally ready to reach out. Make contact.
Gently but firmly test the brakes and clutch. Move the bars back and fourth. Throw your leg over. Bend yourself back into your riding position and remember all the awesome times you’ve had. Feels good, doesn’t it? Hope you brushed the soot off the seat first. No? Sorry. Never go into the garage with fancy pants on.
If your clutch is stuck but the lever works, you can try holding it open with a zip-tie. Seems a little abusive to me, but that’s what the Hayne’s Manual to my ‘91 GSX-R suggests. Give a Google before you give it a shot.
Take a closer look at those brakes though
Did the brake lever and pedal feel firm like they should, or sort of mushy and vague? Don’t forget; these little things are gonna be all that’s between you and flying face-first into the rear window of a Toyota Sequoia the first time you hit a stoplight.
Peek at the pads. On most bikes I’ve screwed around with you can visually inspect the pads just by looking parallel with the rotor. See your service manual regarding what yours are supposed to look like specifically.
Brake fluid leaks should have been apparent in your overall inspection, but take a look at the level and color in the front (usually on the handlebar) and rear (near the rear shock or battery) reservoirs. Is it between “min” and “max?” Cool; is it amber and clearish or black as a good cup of coffee? Like motor oil, brake fluid goes from light to dark with age, and you should think about changing it every 3,000 miles or so.
“Hey, while you’re down there...”
You chain should have some slack in it, just not to the point where it’s a droopy jumprope. Check the manual on your machine’s specifics; but I bet it’s not more or less than 1-to-2 inches of play.
If it’s looking a little lose, you can extend its life by pulling the wheel back a bit. That’s not shadetree shit; it’s how your bike was designed to cope with the unavoidable fact that chain will stretch with usage. There should be little marker nubs on each side of the axle and some kind of system that makes alignment easy. Keep in mind: minute adjustments will make a big difference.
Be very vigilant of the rear tire’s alignment if you do need to adjust the chain; make sure you reset the axle bolt to the factory-specified torque when you’re done and corroborate your eyeball-impression with what the setting looks like on the equipment. Eventually you’ll get to the end of the adjustment zone; that means it’s time for a new chain. Which also means it’s time for new sprockets. They ride together, they die together– a new chain on the old sprockets could make it wear weirdly and screw up the engine output shaft.
If your bike’s propelled by a belt, inspect visually but they’re meant to last a long longer. With a driveshaft... you’re probably good to go.
Going to gas town
The combustibility of gasoline starts to wane after a few months as it oxidizes. Eventually it turns to a Vaseline-like substance that will plug up the tiny holes feeding fuel to your motorcycle’s engine and make it impossible to start. Not really an issue if you only drydocked your bike for one winter... but did you add some kind of stabilizer to counteract that before you put the bike to bed?
I use some Kool-Aid colored crap called Sta-Bil, which my friends have warned me causes catastrophe when mixed with modern ethanol-blended fuel. I’ve never had a problem, but do your due diligence.
Time for: Electricity
If you’re badass enough to have a kickstart bike, you probably just beasted through the snow all winter and have so much chest hair you don’t need to ride in body armor.
The rest of us need to make sure batteries are topped up before trying to restart thing. Many motorcycles don’t have an off-switch for the headlight, but I like to make my own (by pulling the headlight fuse) to maximize power to the starter.
Not enough electricity in the starter motor can cause it to get stuck. Too much? Don’t worry about too much. Not gonna happen. But don’t put your headlight fuse back in while the bike’s running either unless you want to see sparks.
Look at those lights while you’re at it
If you’re doing a quick ride around the block to clear the cobwebs, going out in the daytime without lights isn’t the end of the world. But it’s so much safer to go out with increased visibility, so you’ve gotta promise you’ll at least look at all your lights to see if they’re working.
No? Chances are the old-ass bulb finally blew. Then try the fuse. Battery connection maybe? If all that checks out and you’re still running dark, those bastard mice may have made a nest out of your wiring rig... time to start tracing it.
Finally: Fire it up
Wait! You didn’t try to start it yet, right? Okay, good. Because you can’t just crank down on the “run” button and hope for the best.
Get your hands on the choke; that little lever on the carb that forces your engine to drink more gas and less air. You’re gonna want to drown that bitch for the first firing of the season.
Those of you fancy enough to have fuel injection systems... go ahead and skip this step and screw yourself.
Since I’m sure you drained the carb float bowls before you put the bike away, you’re gonna have to prime it a little to get it roused. Yeah, you should be fine with four-month-old gas and don’t worry, you shouldn’t have to manually pour gasoline into the carbs.
The fuel petcock (giggity), which is where the fuel comes from as soon as it spouts from the tank, probably has a primer setting that will gravity-feed gas into the carb. Get ready to run this sucker. Slip the lever into “prime” and after three seconds or so hit the starter.
Did you forget to turn the killswitch to “run” again?
There we go! Now stand back and listen to that baby purr.
Turn the choke off as soon as you can. Gah not yet, your bike will tell you when by spiking the RPMs at idle.
And now: The shakedown ride
Easy there Rossi, just because you got ‘er started first try doesn’t mean you can grip it and rip it and come back in one piece. You’ve got all season to practice your stunts, take this first ride real easy.
I like to leave my machine as naked as possible, slap a seat on the back, and take about ten miles worth of laps around my house before leaving toward outer reaches of the county. It’s easier to look for leaks and listen to rattles, and I’m close to home if something drops out the bottom.
This also guarantees I don’t have any major problems on my first ride. My old bike likes to behave when it knows it can’t ruin my day too badly, and I bet yours is much the same. That’s why I don’t ride out of walking range from base camp until the thing’s making all the usual noises and I remember how to ride again.
Now bring it on home, park, and have yourself a beer. Even if nothing went wrong you’ve certainly earned it. If you’re on eBay looking for a new wiring harness to replace the one the varmints ate, I won’t judge if you’re halfway through a cold six.
But I hope you did make it back. I hope you get a lot of good miles under two tires this year. And I hope you’ll join me enjoying the hell out of a brand new motorcycle season.
Now to wake up the rest of my fleet...
Images by the author
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.