July 14 2010 by Jason Fogelson
The "good old days" of roadside repairs and home engine rebuilds are behind most of us nowadays. Motorcycles are better, more reliable, and more complicated than ever before. Guys out on old Knuckleheads used to ride with tool kits, spare parts and mechanic's wire in their saddlebags. Today, I'm more likely to head out on the road with just my cellphone.
Despite increased reliability and robust build quality, modern motorcycles still require maintenance and attention in order to remain trouble free. I've put together a few tips to help you organize your maintenance, and keep you on the road more than beside it.
First and foremost, every motorcyclist should own a shop manual for their bike. Not the flimsy little "owner's manual" that came with the bike when the salesman handed you the keys, but a genuine repair manual. Harley-Davidson publishes one for every bike it builds, and so do most other manufacturers. If your bike isn't covered, there is probably a Clymer or Haynes manual that will do the trick.
Make sure that you are doing a "pre-flight" check every time you take your bike out of the garage. Check the oil level, coolant level (if water-cooled), and inspect your brakes. Check the tire condition and inflation. Give your bike a good walk-around before mounting and taking off for a ride, and look for loose fasteners, wires and cables.
Keep your bike clean, and cover it between rides. Dirt is a big enemy when it comes to the health of your bike. Washing and detailing your bike is a great opportunity to take care of the little problems that might become big problems if left unchecked.
Set up a regular schedule for oil, filter and other fluid changes. It's a good idea to change your oil and filter every 3,000 miles or every six months, whichever comes first. Other fluids, like brake fluid and radiator coolant, should be changed according to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule -- one thing that you will find in that flimsy little owner's manual.
There's no shame in having a mechanic perform routine maintenance on your bike. Better to pay a qualified professional to change your oil and filter than to leave the task unattended.
Just don't neglect the inspection part of the journey. Learn how your bike looks and feels when it is in top condition, and your inspections can be a quick and efficient part of your maintenance.