How many times have you encountered fellow riders pushing their motorcycles along the side of the road? More often than not, the likely cause of their bike's breakdown is something they didn't check before departing. Many of these could have been avoided had the rider done a simple pre-ride inspection.
What is a pre-ride inspection?
A pre-ride inspection is something that every rider should do before starting his motorcycle and hopping on. This is a list of things that should be inspected which may indicate a possible problem. Checking some of these items before even starting the bike can help avoid problems or issues that could cause further damage or even accident.
To make it simple and easy to remember, we've compiled a simple checklist of what to look at. Inspect these before riding out, whether it's a simple trip to the nearby store or a ride to the provinces that could take hours of days on the road.
Assuming that your motorcycle is maintained in accordance with its manufacturer-recommended preventive maintenance schedule (PMS), which can be seen in the Owner's Manual, we have listed a simple 6-step process for checking your motorcycle, which you can remember with the acronym: T-COLLS. Some of our readers may even find something to snicker about. Yet kidding aside, the easier it is to remember, the better. The best part is, it takes less than 2-minutes.
T – Tires
We hope that as a motorcycle rider, you already understand that the condition of your motorcycle's tires are crucial to your riding safety. After all, they are the only contact patch between your motorcycle and the road.
Check that the tire pressure is within the recommended PSI or BAR reading set by the manufacturer. To do this, you will need a tire pressure gauge. They're not that expensive, worth the investment, and are an indispensable tool to bring along on rides or keep at home.
If you're unsure of what your tire pressure should be, you can find the recommended tire pressures on a sticker on the swingarm (underbone or standard motorcycle), or underneath the seat or near the step board (scooters). If you can't find the sticker, they're also listed in your motorcycle owner's manual.
Besides the pressure, you also need to visually inspect your tires' condition. Visually check for any object that is lodged in the grooves or may be puncturing your tire's surface. Remove as necessary. For larger objects that may have punctured the tire all the way through, use your judgement whether to remove them or not. If your tire is tubeless, most of the time it will be able to hold some air pressure, as long as you don't remove the object that punctured it. If it appears tricky to remove or could leave you with a flat if you do, go to the nearest vulcanizing shop to have your tire fixed.
Besides foreign objects, check for any irregularities like uneven tire wear, bulging, or exposed inner tire material. These are symptoms of a tire nearing the end of its life, or with damage that makes riding unsafe. Tires with these issues should be replaced immediately.
C – Chain (or drivebelt)
Use three fingers on dirt bikes to check the chain for slack.
A well-maintained motorcycle chain goes a long way. If taken care of, your motorcycle's chain can last for years, reaching or even exceed the manufacturer's recommended replacement interval. This is why it's important to check it regularly. Besides making sure that your bike's chain is well lubed, look for obvious signs of wear and tear like corroded links and broken or missing rollers.
Before checking, it's important to understand some key components.
The components of a regular chain link are the inner and outer plates; a pin that links the plates; bushing; and a roller. O-rings or X-rings are sometimes used to seal these links. These are usually made of rubber and create a barrier between the outer and inner plates.
What to look for:
Checking your motorcycle's chain is quite easy. You don't really need to be an expert to easily spot any signs of wear and tear. Just look for the obvious signs like lack of lubrication, slack, and wear and tear.
You can check if your bike's chain is too slack or too tight just by inserting your fingers at the middle point between the front and rear sprockets. As a general rule, proper chain slack should be about two-fingers wide for standard bikes. It's about three-fingers for dirt bikes.
There's too much slack if your fingers lift the chain. It's too tight if it is hard to insert your fingers. Lots of slack can cause the chain to jump off the sprocket's teeth, leaving you with no power. If this happens while you're rolling, it could cause a serious accident. If the chain is too tight, the movement of the suspension and swing arm over bumps could put too much strain on the chain and break it. Obviously, this is also a serious problem and could cause an accident.
Scooters, on the other hand, use drive belts that are typically sealed and hidden from view. Just follow your manufacturer-recommended drive belt replacement interval (generally every 18,000 to 20,000 kilometers) and you should be fine.
O – Oil
Your motorcycle's engine oil is very important for a lot of reasons. Primarily, the engine oil lubricates the parts inside the combustion chamber, as well as the crankshaft. It also helps in keeping the engine from overheating.
To inspect its condition, check if the oil is at the right level. Put the bike on its center stand (if it has, side stand if not), and unscrew the oil cap to pull out the dipstick. Wipe it off first with a clean rag. Then dip it in again but do not screw it in. For most motorcycles, the oil level should be in between the minimum and maximum markers.
For some motorcycle models that have an oil level window, just have the bike stand up straight (with the help of a friend) and look to see if the oil is at the right level.
It's important to note that it's normal for most small-displacement motorcycles to consume oil. Most small motorcycles consume about 1% of the total engine oil capacity per 1,600 kilometers. That being said, don't be surprised if you see the oil level drop since the last oil change. Chances are, all it needs is just a little top-up and you'll be all set until the next oil change. Not sure when that should be? You can find the recommended schedule in your owner's manual.
L – Liquids
Most motorcycles with radiators have a coolant reservoir with level indicators.
If your motorcycle is water-cooled, it has a radiator. It uses water or coolant to keep its temperature in check. The coolant reservoir may not be visible or readily accessible. In sportbikes, it may even be hidden behind some fairing. Check your manual for its location and how to remove fairing if necessary.
Once you've found it and can see the markers, make sure the coolant is at the right level (between the upper/max and lower/min marks when the engine is cold). Though coolant is rarely lost or runs out, checking the levels may let you know if you've got a leak and could potentially have overheating problems. It is better to have a bottle of coolant standing by at home in case it needs a top-up. If coolant is not available, distilled drinking water (NOT mineral) sold at convenience stores (Absolute or Wilkins) are good alternatives. Distilled water is pure and does not have any minerals that could corrode your motorcycle's cooling system over time.
Look for any oil marks or dripping oil
Besides coolant, you should also check on other liquids your bike uses. Check reservoirs for signs of spillage or leaks. Visually check the ground around where you park your motorcycle for any stains, puddles of liquid, or oil dripping from the engine or shock absorbers. These are tell-tale signs that some of these parts have broken seals or pipes and might need some fixing. If your fuel gauge is broken, you may also want to visually check if there's enough gasoline in the fuel tank.
L – Lights (and bolts)
How often do we see fellow motorcycle riders with busted head or tail lights? Quite a lot right? Don't wait 'till you have to ride at night with no lights to replace your bulbs. It's dangerous and you could be slapped with some hefty fines.
Check your motorcycle's lights before you even ride out. Start the engine while on the center stand and see if the headlight and signal lights are working or aligned properly. For the tail light, besides the light itself, you'll also want to check if it works when you step on the brake. Just put the back against the wall and you'll be able to judge by the reflection if it's working or not.
Obviously, change any of the bulbs that are busted. If you're not sure how to access the bulbs, the owner's manual should have a handy diagram on how to get to it.
Since checking the lights requires you to walk around it, also take this opportunity to visually check for any loose bolts. Pro tip: you can mark your motorcycle's bolts with a white marker or chalk. Draw a line across the head of the bolt. Make sure the line also touches the surface the bolt is on. Check that the line on the head of the bolt is aligned with its edges on the surface.
S – Side mirror
Last but not the least, check that the side mirrors are at the right angle before twisting that throttle. Better to adjust it while you're at a standstill than later on on the road. Adjusting your side mirrors while riding is dangerous and may cause an accident.
The ideal angle of the side mirrors may differ from one rider to another. So just adjust it to whatever you're most comfortable with but still gives you a good view of the road behind.
Ready to roll
This little pre-ride checklist may seem tedious and unnecessary, but when done religiously, it can actually save you from trouble. Doing these simple steps might save you the hassle of pushing your bike for miles due to a flat tire or breakdown that could have been prevented had you spotted the warning signs before even starting your journey. All it takes is less than 2-minutes, as opposed to hours waiting for help.