Thursday, March 6, 2008

On winter bike maintenance...

So what are some items that riders should look at over the winter? What type of maintenance should typically be carried out, in order to ensure a happy bike and owner come spring?

Well, you'll find that the answer to this will pretty much vary with the owners. I know that many folks store the bike and don't give 'er another thought until the first warm day rolls around. Then they get all in a huff when their bike won't start or run.

This list is not exhaustive by any means and I'm not telling anyone how to suck eggs here. This is a list of what I do during the winter months, as well as some type of explanation as to why I do it. Please bear in mind that this is on the whole, for bikes that are stored inside.

Initial prep for storage:

- The bike should be washed thoroughly and dried, before being stored.

- The gas tank is filled and fuel stabilizer added. ("Stabil" is available from Canadian Tire). The stabilizer will prevent the fuel from breaking down and forming sludge or varnish deposits in your fuel system. These would impede the flow of fuel and result in a bike that will neither start nor run. The reason for filling the tank is that it leaves less air in it. Less air means less chance of rust developing. The bike is then run to ensure the fuel/stabilizer mixture makes it's way into the carb/throttle bodies. If your bike has a carb, run the bike with the fuel shutoff lever switched to "off". This will ensure that most of the fuel in the float bowl will be used up. If your float bowl has a drain screw (and most of them will...), make sure you drain it before you store the bike.

- I then place my bike on a lift. I obtained mine on sale from Canadian Tire for the modest sum of $69.00 and it is well worth every cent of that price. Even if you were to buy these at full price (about $124.00...), they are still a deal. I place mine on the lift as it decompresses the shock springs (your shocks will last you longer...) and gets the bike off the tires (no flat spots come spring). It also makes it very easy to work on the bike, compared to sitting on an inverted milk crate. Your back will thank you... If you don't have a lift, simply placing a piece of carpeting under each tire will prevent the developing of flat spots.

- I remove the seat, the gas tank and the side covers. This will allow me access to all those normally hidden areas that we never seem to get to during the riding season. Next are the spark plugs. These are removed, inspected and cleaned. If deemed serviceable, I will gap them as per the bike's specs then wrap them in a shop cloth and bag them. I will then 'fog' the cylinders with oil, to ensure that they and the piston tops have a protective coat on them, preventing rust. Aerosol cans of 'storage oil' are widely available and do the job in seconds. I then plug each spark plug hole with a bit of shop rag.

- Some riders remove the battery altogether. If you are storing the bike outside, I would certainly recommend that you do so. I have a set of connectors hooked up to my battery, so I can recharge it simply by plugging in a cable. I normally leave the battery in place, but do check the connectors to ensure they're tight. I clean them off and apply a fresh coat of dielectric grease to ward off any corrosion. I charge the battery every two weeks, using a battery charger intended specifically for motorcycles. So... your bike is now pretty much ready to sit for a spell.

Routine maintenance over the winter.

So now that your bike is ready to be laid up, what are you going to do to ensure it's ready for another season? Just because you've got her ready for storage, doesn't mean your end of the bargain is done. Your ride provided you with many enjoyable miles last season, so it's time for you to reciprocate. Here is a short list or things to take care of, to keep your bike looking and running it's best:

- Air cleaner: Disassemble this and clean it out. Replace your air filter if required, or I recommend that you switch to a K&N air filter, which you can wash, re-oil and re-use for ages. Your bike won't work right if it can't breathe. In order for the carb to deliver the correct fuel/air mixture and not run overly rich, your filter needs to be clean and unobstructed by insect bodies, dirt, road grime, etc...

- Controls: Disconnect and remove your clutch and brake lever. Clean them out and add some fresh grease so their operation remains silent and effortless. By checking mine this year, I discovered that my clutch lever's brass bushings were worn down to a dangerous level. I was able to order replacement parts (and some spares...) and take care of this situation before the riding season started. Imagine being in the middle of a trip and having your brake or clutch lever go south on you... Your rear brake pedal and gear shifter linkage no doubt have a grease fitting on them. Ensure you clean out all the old crap and grit, before adding fresh grease to them.

- Frame, wiring harness, suspension: Get a bucket of warm, soapy water and spend some time washing those areas that the sun never sees. Those areas under the fuel tank and behind the side covers... now is the time to clean them up. Dig out all the dirt and crud that's found a home there. Dirt retains moisture and is the leading cause of rust for your frame and your electrics. While you're there, check all your electrical wiring and connections. Make sure they're cleaned up and give them a shot of dielectric grease as well. The same goes for those chassis grounds which are bolted directly to the frame. Check for tightness, rust or galling. Clean them up and dab them with grease as well. 90% of all electrical problems on a motorcycle are caused by faulty connections or bad grounds.

- Pop the back wheel off. You'll be surprised how much bad stuff you'll find there, between the wheel itself, the swingarm and your terminal drive link, whether it be a chain, a belt or a shaft drive. While I have the wheel off, I will clean it thoroughly, check the bearings and seals and refresh any grease that needs to be there. I will also clean up the rear brake rotor and disassemble the rear brake caliper. I will also do the very same thing with the front wheel. Check the tires themselves to determine if they might do you another season or if replacing them now, will save you from having to do so halfway through the season.

- Lights: Many fixtures are supposed to be water-resistant on a bike. The lights, to name but one of them. I make it a practise to take the front covers off the lights and have a look around in there. Invariably, some water finds it's way in there, along with dust and grime. So I clean it out, wipe down the inside of the lens as well and remove the bulb. I service the base of the bulb, check for burnt spots and coat the base with dielectric grease before re-installing it. Even the simple act of removing the lenses allows me to check the state of the mounting screws, as I won't wait until a screw rusts in place before replacing it. Ever had the head of a rusted screw snap off? Now there's some fun...

- The paint: Every painted surface is thoroughly cleaned, dried and waxed. I try to put on a minimum of 3 coats of wax during the storage period. It doesn't hurt, believe me.

- The chrome: Again, washed, dried and polished. Mother's makes a very good polish for chrome and metal. A metal sealant applied afterwards is a good way to protect all that work. This would also include pegs and/or floorboards, whichever you happen to have. Take them right off. Don't forget to add a coating of grease to the clevis pin before remounting them.

- Fluids: I will religiously change out the engine oil and filter (10W40), the final drive fluid (90W) and the brake/clutch fluid (DOT-4). I normally also inspect the rad coolant levels. There are different schools of thought when it comes to when to change the engine oil. Some will advise you to change it when you store the bike. These are the same people who will tell you to change it again in the spring, before you take the bike out. To me, that doesn't make sense. I might be able to see that if the bike stays outside (which I would never consider doing...), but certainly not if the bike remains inside. Change it out once, either before putting the bike away, halfway through the winter or just before spring. But do change it!

- Cables: This is an optimum time to check out your throttle, clutch and choke cables. It is also a good time to actually remove your throttle grip, so you can clean the inner sleeve and the handlebar itself. You pretty much have to in order to lubricate the cables, so why not while you're at it. I use a liquid teflon lubricant for this and it provides me with a butter-smooth throttle response. Also give a shot of cleaner/lubricant to the throttle body or carb return springs.

- Seats and backrests: For the leather parts of your bike (or pseudo-leather), it's also a good time to clean them up as well. This goes for your saddlebags too, if you run with a set of these. Armor All is a good protectant for the bags themselves, but always check with the manufacturer before using it. I know this should go without saying, but I'm gonna say it anyway: "Do NOT use Armor All on the seat of your bike!!" Not on the saddle OR the P-pad. The reason why should be self-evident. I have known individuals (newbies) who have actually gone and done this... once. If after cleaning them you really want to use a leather/pleather preservative, check with the manufacturer to see what they recommend.

The little extra bits.

- Add-ons: I'm not one to stick something on my bike, simply because I saw it on another bike or because they happen to make it for my type of bike. There are however the odd items which either catch my eye, or whose need manifests itself as a result of a specific road trip. These are the answers to the question: "Wouldn't it be nice if we had...?". Winter is the perfect time to source out, order and install these items. Whether it's an upgrade or a custom replacement part. Your bike is your canvas. You start with the base model and can take it anywhere you want from there. I have a master list of modifications I intended to make, even before I had purchased the bike. I complete one or two items a year, sometimes more, depending on cost and availability. Many of these changes have occurred during the winter period. Not too many people are rich enough to do everything at once, so accept that this will be a slow process. This is good as it gives you time to think about what you want to do and why.

So there you have it. As I said, not an exhaustive list but something to perhaps get you thinking. When spring rolls around, Baby will be ready to begin another season of fun and travel. I will thunder her up, secure in the knowledge not only that she looks great, but that I don't have to worry about how she'll perform out on the road, whether I'm heading off to work or to the Tail of the Dragon.

All the steps which I've mentioned here can be accomplished with a decent set of normal hand tools. We're not talking Snap-On, Gray's or Mac here. The one tool you will need and should already have by now, is the maintenance manual for your bike. I'm not talking about that lame little User's Manual you got with your bike... I'm talking about an honest-to-God, bona fide maintenance manual, that shows you how to maintain, disassemble and re-assemble your bike. If you don't have one, get one. Another "must-have" tool here, is a torque wrench. Actually, you will need two of them. One with a 3/8" drive (for 90% of your bike's fasteners) and one with a 1/2" drive (for the bigger fasteners, like wheel nuts, etc...). Both Canadian Tire and Sears have excellent quality, totally affordable, click-adjustable torque wrenches that no rider should be without. If you have some degree of patience and if you can read, you will soon be able to acomplish most routine maintenance tasks. Besides, you'll gain a deeper understanding and respect for your ride and save yourself thousands of dollars in shop fees. What greater incentive do you need...?

Maybe at some point, I'll get around to covering what would make a good "beginner's tool set", for someone who rides... Ya never know.

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