Motorcycle Checklist: Before You Ride
Most of the controls and accessories on a motorcycle have some leeway in positioning and adjustment. The mirrors can be rotated and tilted. Often the horn button and kill switches can be positioned closer to your thumbs. The seat can be taken to an upholstery shop for removal of some of the foam padding if you're a bit short-legged for your bike. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you're comfortable on the motorcycle for the long haul as your life may depend on it.
Suspension and tire adjustments are often overlooked but can contribute greatly to safe motorcycle operation. Many of the final settings in this area are going to be your decision, but the recommended starting points can be mentioned here.
Most road machines call for 22 to 30 psi (1.52 - 2.07 bar) with a few pounds more in the rear than in the front wheel. Start with the recommended pressure for your machine. For every 40 pounds over 140 pounds (63.5 kg) your machine is to carry, increase the pressure by 1 psi (.07 bar) up to the manufacturer's recommended top limit. It is not difficult to stop at a gas station and put in a little more air when you're riding two-up, and it's a great deal safer. (Don't forget to let the extra air out again after your passenger has gotten off.)
Do not ever trust the air gauges at a service station. Buy a quality tire air pressure checker and keep it in the bike at all times.
Another consideration when carrying a passenger or a heavy load is the rear spring rate setting. On many bikes the rear shock-absorber springs can be preloaded by a stepped, rotating collar. Twist this collar to compress the spring when you are carrying extra baggage or a passenger. You should have a special wrench in your tool kit with which to turn this collar. Some modern suspension systems have different mechanisms, but the bottom line is always the same: rear spring rates are adjustable, so adjust them!
Just like a pilot, you should use a "pre-flight check list" before starting a motorcycle. This list includes:
- Gas level and quality
- Oil level
- Cable adjustment and condition
- Brake adjustment
- Chain adjustment and condition
- Tire condition and inflation
- Lights and horn
- General (frame, oil leaks, etc.)
Here are some questions to ask yourself during this check:
- Have you got enough gas? Is it fresh? Is there water in it? Gas over three months old often is too stale to run an engine, and tanks left unfilled that long are often subject to condensation.
- Is there a sufficient level of clean oil in the engine or oil tank?
- Do the cables pull smoothly with the proper amount of adjustment? Are any of the strands of the inner cable frayed? Is the cable lubricated?
- Does the rear brake work when the bike is rolled along manually? Is it adjusted properly?
- Is the chain oiled? How is the adjustment?
- What is the tire pressure? Do wheels and tires have any visible cracks or flaws?
- Do all lights and turn signals work properly? Is the horn working well?
- Is there anything on the motorcycle that is loose, bent, missing, or leaking that might cause unsafe riding?
- Are you drunk or stoned? Then toss your keys away!
If you've gotten through this check list and discovered no problems, you're ready to start the engine.