Make Your Motorcycle Last Forever

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund

Motorcycles are made better than ever. Their design, materials and machin-ing are more accurate and precise - and reliability is greater than it's been before. To that end, here are some tips on how to keep your motorcycle going as long as you want and save money too.

The three basic tenets to ensure a bike's longevity are: Store it properly, maintain it well, and don't ride it like you stole it! Clean and wax it regularly. When it's parked, keep your motorcycle out of the sun and weather. Use a cover, park it in the shade, or preferably under a roof.

Before riding, tick off a pre-ride checklist. Check tires, fluid levels, lights, controls and fastener tightness. Follow the service and maintenance guidelines in the owner's manual, keep a maintenance log book and save receipts. If you plan on doing your own maintenance, obtain either a factory service manual or an aftermarket manual.
Ride defensively and sanely. Using the clutch and brakes conservatively and accelerating smoothly will help make a bike last longer. And it may seem obvious, but don't crash! Take advanced rider training, improve your skills and avoid taking chances that may lead to an accident.

Break it in Properly

The most critical miles for your motorcycle are the first few thousand, so treat it right during them for long life. Follow the break-in guidelines in the owner's manual and have it serviced after about 600 miles.

Lubrication

Depending on the bike model, the steering-head bearings, swingarm, suspension linkages and wheel bearings may need to be lubed, along with various controls and cables. Slowly turn bearings by hand, checking for rough spots, binding and looseness. Inspect (and repack and adjust serviceable-type) wheel bearings at least once a year. To keep water out, avoid using a pressure washer to clean around these areas. And don't forget to check your fork oil and change it every few years.

Final Drive

Depending on what kind of final drive you have, you'll need to monitor chain and sprocket wear, belt cracking and tension, or the rear-drive housing. Keep chains clean, lubed and properly adjusted. Usually when the chain is worn out the sprockets are too, and should be replaced. If a chain breaks it can take out the engine cases with it, so don't ignore it. Shaft-drive bikes also have an enclosed final drive which should have the oil checked regularly and changed according to the maintenance schedule.

Transmissions

The transmission and primary chain cases on some motorcycles have separate oil supplies and need to have the levels checked and lubricant changed separately. Some primary chains also need to be adjusted. Check your bike's service schedule for intervals.

Brakes

Washing bikes and riding or parking in rain leads to external corrosion of brake parts that lead to dragging, wear and overheating. Remove calipers occasionally - during brake replacement and tire changes, for example - and clean and inspect for corrosion, sticking or leakage. Apply special caliper grease sparingly to sliding parts.

Brake fluid absorbs moisture and this lowers the fluid's boiling point, which will cause internal corrosion of calipers, master and wheel cylinders, and ABS components. Brake fluid flushing is critical for hydraulic brake components and fluid should be changed and the system bled about every two years.

Valve Adjustment

Many motorcycles require valve adjustment, so check the maintenance schedule. Failure to perform valve adjustments can result in reduced performance, burned valves and engine failure, so don't ignore it.

Oil & Filter

Overlooked maintenance can lead to deterioration, breakdowns - and warranty denial if damage results and you can't prove required services were performed. Follow the manufacturer's recommended service schedule, or even more often if you ride short trips or in harsh or dusty conditions. Many riders delay oil changes, and some who change their own oil overlook other services on the factory recommended list. Items such as control-cable inspection and lube and clutch-cable adjustment should be done during an oil change. And if you really want to make your bike last, switch to premium motorcycle synthetic oils and fluids, which provide superior lubrication.

Clean the Air Filter

If your air filter is missing, loose fitting, dirty, or in some cases not properly oiled, you could be allowing dirt or grit to grind away in your engine. Again, follow the maintenance schedule and if you ride in dusty areas clean or replace the filter more often.

Coolant

Liquid-cooled motorcycles use ethylene-glycol coolant, which contains additives that deteriorate and become acidic after several years. This causes rust and corrosion and erodes metal in the engine and cooling system, leading to overheating, water pump failure and costly repairs. Drain, flush and replace coolant every two years and use a 50/50 mixture of anti-freeze coolant and distilled water.

Tires

Tires are essential to safety. Before every ride check tire pressures when they are cold and inflate them to the recommended pressure listed in the owner's manual. Carry a quality air-pressure gauge because the ones at gas station pumps are often broken or inaccurate.

Replace tires before reaching the wear-bar indicators. Tires also deteriorate over time and even though the tread looks fine, aging, sunlight and ozone cause cracks in the sidewalls. Also, when the treads have flattened from too many miles straight up, it's time for replacement.

Batteries

Batteries are often difficult to access and therefore get ignored until there's trouble. Conventional batteries with removable caps require frequent replenishing of electrolyte with distilled water and letting the level get too low reduces capacity and kills batteries. Eliminate this problem with a sealed, maintenance-free battery. Batteries also get ruined when they are allowed to discharge during storage. Use a maintenance charger to keep it ready to ride. If batteries are left in service when they are weak, the constant recharging needed puts heavy demand on the charging system, which can cause premature failures of stators and regulators.

In closing, take care of your bike and it will take care of you. I have one motorcycle that's 45 years old, and it still runs like new - and yours can too!