Big Motorbike Maintenance

10 Things You Should Never Do To Your Motorcycle

If you’re new to motorcycling, congratulations: you have started on a long and rewarding journey. But there are also pitfalls that are all too easy to fall into but which you should really avoid, if at all possible.

Not all of them are obvious and some of them take a little time and care, but all of them are based around protecting your investment as well as making sure you’ll enjoy all of your hours spent in the saddle, in the knowledge that you’ve done everything in your power to look after your bike. The modern motorcycle might be so technical that many of its systems are out-of-bounds to anyone except a trained technician, but that doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t a lot of small things you can do yourself to maintain both the bike and its value.

Related: 10 Tips For Proper Motorcycle Group Riding Etiquette


10 Ignore Your Chain

The chain takes the drive from the engine and transmission to the rear wheel and is therefore vitally important as the last link in the equation of actually riding your bike. A chain, however, is completely exposed to the elements – water, dust and other grit – and will not only wear itself out quickly but also the sprockets, if it isn’t maintained properly. Every bike has a pre-determined chain tension that must be maintained if things are to run smoothly.

Normally, this is measured with the bike on its wheels – not the center stand – and seeing how much slack the chain has in a vertical movement halfway between the two sprockets. Too much, meaning the chain is too loose, or too little, meaning the chain is too tight, is not good for the health of the whole driveline. A chain needs to be regularly lubricated, especially in winter or after riding off-road, after which excess dirt should be washed off first.

9 Give Your Bike A Flashy Paint Job

Custom paint job on a motorcycle

Custom paint job on a Suzuki Hayabusa

We know: you have a strong personality, and you want the world to know about it. The easiest way to do this is to have your bike painted in a design that reflects your personality: your interests, where you are from or your favorite sports team. However, unless you intend to keep the bike for the rest of its natural life, altering a stock production bike’s appearance is going to bite you hard when it comes time to sell it on or trade it in for a newer model, especially if there are plenty more of the same model that haven’t been molested. Another red flag with painting a bike is to hide the fact that it has been crashed and repaired, especially on bikes with lots of bodywork, such as sport bikes, which are more likely to have been crashed in the first place.

8 Over Tighten Bolts

We’d always encourage everyone to try and work on their own bike. OK, maybe not a full engine rebuild, but there are plenty of small jobs the inexperienced enthusiast can perform. One of these is actually really important: going over the bike occasionally with a set of spanners to make sure everything is tight and as it should be. This actually serves two purposes: not only are you making sure everything is tight, but you will also spot anything that might be wrong with another component before it fails while you are on a ride.

But beware: one thing you must never do is over tighten bolts. Each bolt has a torque setting, so it can do its job properly. Over tighten the bolt, and it could not only fail with disastrous results, but it could strip threads, damage bolt heads, so you’ll struggle to get them out again or snap the head off completely. Buy a torque wrench and use it.

Related: 10 Tips For Riding Your Motorcycle In The Winter

7 Leave Your Bike Dirty In Winter

Snow covered motorcycles
Wikimedia Commons

Snow covered motorcycles

Yeah, it might look super cool to have a completely filthy bike in winter, as if you are saying, ‘Look at me: I ride all through winter,’ but actually, you are killing your bike. In the Northern Hemisphere, winters can be long and dark and plummeting temperatures will bring out the salt and grit from storage to be spread on the roads to keep them ice free.

Salt is murderous to both metal and non-metal parts on your bike: leave it sitting there too long, and you’ll hardly recognize your bike when it comes time to wash it all off. This will decimate its value when it comes time to sell it. Washing your bike doesn’t have to take long: hose it down, give it a wash with car shampoo (that won’t damage the surface of the paintwork) and rinse it off: 15 minutes max. Prevention is the key here, so give the metal and chrome parts of the bike a dose of anti-corrosion spray. It might make dirt stick, but underneath, all will be shiny and new.

Stripped Bolt Head
Draper Tools

Stripped Bolt Head

We’ve encouraged you to maintain your own bike which you will find a rewarding thing to do. However, if you are serious about carrying out even the most basic of maintenance jobs, make sure you have the right tools for the job. In this case, ‘right tools’ means the most expensive you can afford.

There are two reasons for this: firstly, an expensive tool is a quality tool which will last you for a lifetime. Secondly, an expensive tool is an accurate tool so when you need a socket to fit a 12 mm bolt, you know that the socket is 12 mm, not 11.9 mm or 12.1 mm. This means that it will fit perfectly and will not damage the nut, bolt or screw you are trying to remove or tighten. ‘Right tool’ also means exactly that: don’t be tempted to use vice grips in place of a wrench or socket – it will only end in tears and an expensive repair bill.

5 Ride With Worn Or Incorrectly Inflated Tires

Your motorcycle has been configured within a certain set of parameters, at which it will work perfectly and as the manufacturer intended. Step outside these parameters, however, and you are not only compromising your motorcycle but also possibly your life. Two of the most important parts on your motorcycle are the tires. Because there is such a small contact patch of rubber onto the road on a motorcycle, they have to work as close to their design parameter as possible.

This means not only having a decent amount of tread but also being at the correct pressure. Under-inflation can lead to instability when braking, cornering or even when riding in a straight line. Over-inflation gives an even smaller contact patch and reduced tire life. It takes a couple of minutes to check the pressure when you fill up with gas. Invest in a screw on right-angle adapter for the tire valve: it will make the job even easier.

4 Park It Just Anywhere

Parked Motorcycles
Wikimedia Commons

Parked motorcycles

It takes a few seconds to kick out the side stand and lean your bike over, but it will cost a fortune to repair it if it falls over. Take time to find a level, hard surface to park your bike. Use a kick-stand puck if the ground is soft to prevent the foot of the stand from sinking into the ground. If you park the bike with it facing downhill, leave it in gear, so it won’t roll forward off the stand. But, most of all, park your bike in a well lit, open and busy area, especially at night. Thieves love a quiet spot in which to work so don’t give them the satisfaction of parking your pride and joy in one.

Related: 10 Top Tips To Help Prevent Your Bike Being Stolen

3 Think You Know Everything

Motorcyclists learning to ride
Harley Davidson

Motorcyclists learning to ride

We are a proud race, and we hate to ask advice from anyone because we are afraid they might laugh at us for not knowing what you think should be obvious. That’s rubbish. If you don’t know how to do something, from strapping on luggage to adjusting your chain, ask, because the consequences of getting something wrong could involve injury to you, your pillion or another innocent road user.

It is our experience that any motorcyclist, if approached for advice, will be only too happy to help and pass on hard-won experience without expecting you to make the same mistakes. It’s all part of the brotherhood of motorcycling: you have chosen to ride and that sets you apart from all the car drivers who have never given their mode of transport a second thought. We are special and what makes us so is because we’ll look out for each other.

2 Sell The Original Parts

Full Exhaust System studio shot

Full Exhaust System

There are mountains of after-market parts for virtually every single bike that has ever been sold and the temptation to personalise your bike is hard to resist, even if it is a sticker kit and not a full race exhaust system or a set of carbon rims. The important thing to remember here is, when you have taken something off your bike, something that it arrived with from the factory, don’t be tempted to sell it, especially if you know you won’t be keeping the bike for more than a couple of years, because that’s just what you do.

The next owner might not appreciate the modifications your have carried out and might want to put it back to standard. If your bike comes with all those original parts, then it will be a whole lot easier to sell. Also, if you must modify your bike, try and do so with bolt-on parts that require no further modification to the bike other than removing one part and bolting on another, meaning the operation can be easily reversed.

1 Let Anyone Ride Your Bike

Motorcycle wheelie riding shot

Motorcycle pulling a wheelie

The sure way to not only lose friends but also possibly your bike. You are super proud of your bike and you want all your mates to admire it, not just for the way it looks but for the way it goes as well. The temptation here is to throw the key on the table and invite all and sundry to ‘have a go’ on it. Don’t! Just don’t! Even if they are fully insured to ride your bike, it doesn’t mean they can actually ride it, in terms of skill.

Also, Murphy’s Law states that, if something is going to go wrong, it will go wrong while someone else is riding your bike. It doesn’t even have to be their fault! It’s your bike: you spent your money on it and you have full rights to decide who rides it. If that’s no-one other than you, then that’s all right: your friends will just have to buy their own if they want to ride one that badly. And, if they are true friends, they’ll understand.

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