6 Things You Should Check Before Ride a Motorcycle

Motorcycles require more upkeep than cars. This has always been the case, and it is still a fact of motorcycling life, even with the technological advances you learned about in Anatomy of Motorcycles. The consequences of a systems failure on a bike are much more severe than they are if something goes wrong with your car.

Take a blown tire, for example. When a tire blows on your car, you can have difficulty controlling it. When the same thing happens on a bike, the danger level increases exponentially.

The best way to avoid a catastrophic failure is to inspect your motorcycle on a regular basis. Some items need to be checked more often than others : some should be checked each time you go out for a ride. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) uses the "T-CLOCK" method to help remember what to check during the pre-ride inspection :

T = Tires and wheels

C = Controls

L = Lights and electrics

O = Oils and fluids

C = Chassis and chain

K = Kickstand

This method is useful, but I’m going to present a simpler one, because I’ve found that by making the pre-ride inspection too complicated, you encourage riders to ignore the whole thing completely.

I try to check all the items on the T-CLOCK list fairly regularly, but to be honest, I don’t check them all every time I ride. A lot depends on the bike I’m riding; for example, if I know that a bike doesn’t use oil, I might only check the oil once a week. If the bike is an oil burner, I might check it in the morning, then check it a couple more times as the day progresses.

I’ve found that the cables and other controls on modern bikes seem to need less attention than those on older bikes : I might go a couple of weeks without attending to my cables and controls, depending on the conditions I’ve been riding under. As for chains, I prefer shaft-driven bikes, so I can eliminate that messy procedure entirely. I do check for loose bolts in the chassis and make certain the spring is attached to the kickstand each time I ride. The two things I consider absolutely essential to check before each ride are the tires and lights.

Checking the Tires

I check the air pressure in my tires each morning before I start my bike. I keep an air pressure gauge in my jacket pocket, and I check the tires when they are cold (when the air inside them warms up, which it does very quickly while you ride, the pressure reads higher). Not only is riding with the proper air pressure in your tires safer, it makes your tires last longer. Check your owner’s manual to find the proper airpressure level for your motorcycle.

Whenever I check my air pressure, I also look over the tires themselves to check their wear, and also to look for any abnormalities, like bulges, damage to the carcass, and cracking in the sidewalls, as well as to make certain I haven’t picked up a nail or a chunk of glass. I will not ride on a tire I have any questions about.

The best way to avoid a blowout is to keep a close eye on your tires, changing them as soon as they wear down to an unacceptable level, and to make certain they are free of debris, like nails or other objects that could puncture the tire.

At the same time I check the tires, I make certain the bolts holding the axles in place are tight. Probably the one thing worse than having a flat tire would be having a tire fall off completely.

Looking at Lights

Your lighting system is fairly simple to overlook, but it can get you into a lot of trouble. If your brake lights aren’t working, you can end up with a Chevrolet enema before you even get out of town. Bikes stop more quickly than most cars, and car drivers, by and large, don’t give themselves enough room to stop when they’re following you. Brake lights are not much protection to keep tailgaters from embedding themselves into your nether regions, but they are all you have (at least until someone designs an anti-tailgating device that uses a 70mm cannon mounted on your saddlebag).

Motorcycle headlights and tail lights seem to fail more frequently than their automotive counterparts, probably because of increased vibration. Since most motorcycles only have one headlight, if it burns out, you will be up the creek when the sun goes down. It’s a good idea to check both the high beam and low beam of your headlight when you check your tail light and brake light.

This might seem like a lot of preparation before you can ride, and it is, but the consequences of being unprepared on a bike are just too great. Learn the controls of your motorcycle. Memorize them and test yourself on them. In an emergency situation, your life can depend on your split-second reactions. You can’t afford to lose any time in reacting because you had to think about where a control was: That microsecond can cost you your life.

And internalize the habit of giving your bike a preride inspection. You might feel tempted to skip it when you’re late for work or trying to get to a movie on time, but the possible consequences of some sort of failure of your motorcycle could be so severe that you might never see a movie or be able to work again. Take a few minutes to check over your machine before you take your life in your hands. Those minutes may add years to your life.