Keeping your motorcycle or scooter clean is an integral part of being a safe, smart, and responsible rider. Maybe you don’t care in the slightest about sparkle and shine. Maybe you do. It doesn’t matter. The reason for maintaining a clean machine is far more utilitarian than that.
Cleanliness is next to safetyness
While we’re cleaning our motorcycle, our scooter, our pride and joy, we are as up close and personal with it as we will ever be — hands on, inches away, scrutinizing every detail, noticing every blemish and imperfection — which makes this devoted act of moto-love the ideal time to perform a routine safety inspection.
… and we should do that, why?
Dirt compromises safety
That thick layer of grime and bug guts splattered all over your bike may be a hard earned badge of honor and cherished souvenir from a great ride, but beyond that it’s bad news.
Accumulated dirt compromises rider safety. It increases maintenance costs, shortens the life expectancy of your motorcycle, hides mechanical issues like fluid leaks, loose bolts, cracks, and other potentially serious problems, and over time will work its way into seals and bearings causing premature wear and potential catastrophic failure. Not to mention dirt becomes harder to remove the longer it stays on your motorcycle.
The good news is that for the cost of a bucket of soapy water and a few minutes of your time all this bad stuff can be avoided.
There’s no better time to safety inspect your motorcycle than while you are cleaning it.
Inspect while you clean
While you’re busy cleaning away all that muck and road slime to reveal the beautiful motorcycle that lays beneath, make a point to safety inspect your bike at the same time. Is there any physical damage? Fluid leaks? Cracked hoses? Loose nuts and bolts? Chain slack good? Are the headlights and turn signals all working? How about tire inflation and tread wear? Did you pick up any nails during the last ride? There’s no better time to inspect your bike than while you’re cleaning it.
How to perform a Routine Motorcycle Safety Inspection
With a little planning and a minimum of effort you can perform a quick and easy motorcycle safety inspection while you clean your motorcycle. It’s super simple. Just pay attention, look for a few specific things, and you might spot something big before it causes injury or damage. Better still, you might spot something small before it becomes something big. But most important is you will spot anything there is to spot BEFORE you saddle up to go get your motorcycle dirty again.
Here are a few things to look for while you clean.
Chain and sprocket care
Every time you wash your motorcycle you should clean, lube, and inspect your chain. Even if the chain is not particularly dirty, water and cleaning products wash away chain lube, so at very minimum that lubricant must be replaced.
Inspect the chain for any bad links and for correct slack adjustment. Is it within spec? Has the chain stretched? If so, now’s the time to adjust it or make plans to replace it. At the same time check the sprockets for wear. If you need a new chain you’ll likely want to replace the sprockets too.
Look for fluid leaks
Pay attention to exactly what it is you’re cleaning off your bike. Is it just plain old dirt? Or is there oil or some other fluid mixed in with it? Is there something making the dirt stick to a particular area of the bike? Is it near a gasket or seal? Inspect the area. Look for signs of fluid leakage there and anywhere else on the bike too.
Check for fluid around your forks seals. Is there any sticky residue present? If so, this may be a sign of a leaky fork seal. Clean away any trail dust and road muck around the seals and inspect them to be sure. Using a fork seal cleaning tool to remove any grit that might have worked its way in to the seals can often fix the problem. Better still, give your fork seals an occasional maintenance cleaning to help avoid getting the problem in the first place.
Check all fluid levels
When the cleaning’s done inspect all fluid levels and top up as needed. Engine oil. Gear oil. Brake fluid. Coolant. A low fluid level can indicate a leak somewhere. Is it loose hose? A failing gasket? Look for signs of leakage or anything else that perhaps is not as it should be. Whatever is causing the leak, find it and fix it before your next ride.
Check for anything loose
While you’re wiping down your bike, feel around for anything loose. Body panels, hoses, clamps, bolts, fasteners, screws, luggage racks… does anything move under your hand? Are all your accessories still firmly attached? Panniers and top case still fastened tight? Riding on dirt and even regular everyday urban travel will vibrate things loose. Give everything a wiggle and make sure it’s as tight as it should be. Tighten (re-torque) as needed.
Check that all torques are still in spec
Even if a bolt does not feel loose to the touch it’s torque could still have loosened out of spec. This can be invisible to the eye, or as obvious as a fluid leak around a gasket or seal. Either way, loose bolts will continue to loosen. So every once in a while, especially after a long or particularly rough ride, grab your torque wrench and sockets and put them to good use. Do a quick lap of the bike and correctly snug up everything to spec.
Most motorcycles only use a few different socket sizes. Once you’ve done the torque-check routine a couple of times you’ll find it can be finished very quickly. You’ll also become familiar with which bolts tend to most routinely vibrate loose. A few drops of Loctite on these can work wonders.
Check the wheels and tires
While you are cleaning the wheels be sure to inspect the rims for damage. The tires too. Check that tread wear is within spec and that there are no nails, rocks, cuts, gouges, or other damage that might lead to a flat or blowout.
Also, since your motorcycle has been sitting still while being cleaned your tires are most likely cold. That makes this the perfect time to whip out your tire pressure gauge and portable tire inflator and make sure your tires are correctly inflated.
Lastly, if your motorcycle has spoked wheels be sure to check the spokes. A quick tap and ping with a spoke wrench is all it takes to hear if a spoke is out of adjustment. Adjust as needed.
While you’re inspecting the wheels and tires don’t forget to inspect the brakes and give the brake pads a quick look over. Most brake pads have wear indicators. Make sure your pads have plenty of life left in them. If the wear indicators are getting thin make plans to replace the pads soon. It is much simpler (and much cheaper) to replace your brake pads when needed than it is to replace both your brake pads and your brake discs. Be proactive.
Also make a point to check brake fluid levels and that the brake lever and brake pedal are correctly adjusted, well lubricated, and functioning as they should be.
Lube me up baby
Washing a motorcycle removes grease and lubricant. Be sure to re-lubricate cables, levers, pedals, etc. (And your chain too of course). It only takes a few seconds and makes using your clutch or brake or throttle feel so good…
Look at that body… (hubba hubba)
Last but not least, check out that beautiful body. Body panels are vulnerable to everything the road or trail has to throw at them — rocks, stones, and all other kinds of debris. Over time attachment points can vibrate loose too. While you are cleaning be sure to inspect all body parts for cracks or other damage and double check all fasteners remain torqued to spec.
A cleaner motorcycle is a safer motorcycle
Inspecting all these things while cleaning your motorcycle may sound like a lot to do but you’d be surprised how little time it takes. Most of the inspection points only take a few seconds to do and the more you do them the faster they become. After a couple of times it will become a habit. A very good habit.
Ride safe. Have fun.
Products mentioned in this article
- microfiber towels
- quick detailer spray
- automotive soap
- microfiber sponge
- motorcycle wax
- leather conditioner
- car wash bucket
- wrench set (Metric or SAE)
- socket set (Metric or SAE)
- hex socket set
- torque wrench
- spoke wrench
- fork seal cleaning tool
- cable luber