Get your motor runnin’: Spring motorcycle tips

Andy Mikonis
Chicago Tribune

As the days get longer, the urge to twist the throttle gets stronger. But before you get back in the saddle, take time to be sure you and your motorcycle are ready.

The best way to prepare your ride for the season is to have started last season with a trickle charger and fuel stabilizer.

“If you didn’t do the prep you may find that you have a weak battery come springtime, and that won’t start the bike,” Scott Lunt, co-owner of Acme Cycle, an all-brand service shop in Chicago, said in an email. “Additionally, fuel that has not been stabilized will lose some of its ability to ignite. Now you have a weak battery and reluctant fuel.”

Battery: If it doesn’t turn over, you may not need a new one.

“The best option is to get a Battery Tender to gently charge the battery overnight,” Lunt said.

Resist the urge to clip on the jumper cables or booster; a fast charge can be detrimental to the life span of a depleted battery, and the abrupt shock may not be the best thing for delicate electronic components, either.

Fuel: Most modern gasoline blends contain ethanol, which can evaporate and leave deposits. Further, additives and water will separate over time. “If you only have a little fuel in the tank, add fresh fuel and swish it around,” Lunt says.

Or drain the tank and fill with new fuel.

Oil: If you have been good about your storage methods and it’s time to fire it up, most experts agree it’s time for an oil change. Intervals are based on both mileage and elapsed time.

“You should change the oil to get rid of the oxides; even if you never rode it, exposure to air compromises the oil’s components,” said Jude Gonzales, owner and lead instructor at Motorcycle Riding’s Cool in Chicago. “There are a number of other things in it besides lubrication.”

Tires: If you are a more casual rider, your tires might age out before the tread wears down. Check that date code stamped on the side of the tires.

“There’s no way to tell exactly how long a tire lasts,” said Tom Sullivan, public relations manager at Michelin. “After five years or more in use, your tires should be thoroughly inspected at least once per year by a professional.” Ten years from the date of manufacture is the most a tire should be used, regardless of wear.

Spot check: Give your bike a careful washing and inspection. See if anything has been leaking. Gonzales recommends the Motorcycle Safety Foundation walk-around checklist with the handy acronym T-CLOCS. This stands for Tires and wheels, Controls, Lights and electric, Oil and other fluids, Chassis and Stands.

Don’t forget to inspect your gear to see if anything needs repair or replacement, especially the helmet. “Each manufacturer has an expiration date when a helmet should be replaced,” said Gonzales.

Rider: So we’ve covered options for getting the motorcycle ready, but what about the rider?

“Most of us don’t ride all year,” Gonzales said. “These are physical skills and they tend to atrophy without use.”

It’s all about making an “honest appraisal” of your experience and skills, said Gonzales, as well as where you will be riding. Having been a consultant to law enforcement and expert witness in accident cases, he has seen motorcyclists who “overestimated their abilities.”

There are a number of resources where one can get professional riding instruction in a controlled setting. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation is best-known for providing a curriculum for riders of all levels.

More than 400,000 took MSF courses nationwide last year, according to Scott Mochinski, supervisor of the Harper College Motorcycle Safety Program, in suburban Chicago.

Courses are a mix of classroom time discussing strategies for dealing with various situations, and riding exercises practicing such things as braking, cornering and evasive maneuvers. A strong emphasis is placed on where you should be looking, because where you look is where the bike is going to go. Motorcycles and helmets are provided for basic and intermediate courses, while advanced course students bring their own.