Motorcycle Check: Safe Start into the Season

With those first rays of spring sunshine, there’s no stopping most bikers. Before the first ride with the motorcycle, however, a thorough equipment check is required. But the rider should also get in shape beforehand. Motorcycle expert Achim Kuppinger from DEKRA explains what’s important at the start of the season.

Eine Probefahrt mit vorsichtigen Bremsmanövern zeigt, ob die Anlage zuverlässig arbeitet. Foto: DEKRA

A test drive with careful braking maneuvers will show if the system works reliably. Photo: DEKRA

When the sun gains strength in spring, many bikers once again dream of the perfect union between man and motorcycle. So go hop on the bike and cheerfully turn that throttle? That wouldn’t be a good idea until it’s clear whether the bike has survived hibernation unscathed. “This is a question of safety,” knows Achim Kuppinger, motorcycle expert at DEKRA. The technology of the machine must be up to date. It’s important to check safety-relevant parts such as brakes, steering, engine and drive, wheels, and lighting. These tasks won’t give an experienced motorcycle mechanic any trouble. He can replace brake pads in the same jiffy in which he installs an ABS control unit. However, if you have less talent, knowledge, and resources, and on top of that you’re on the road with a newer motorcycle, you should limit yourself to a thorough visual inspection. If you discover defects, it’s time to turn to the expert at the workshop.

The key question is whether the motorcycle starts at all

If you give your beauty a proper basic cleaning to start, you’ll get a good overview of its general condition and road safety. The tires need to be in good shape for the driver to trust them with his life in the turns. “Even if the law only requires a minimum of 1.6 millimeters, this includes a tread depth of at least three millimeters and, of course, the correct tire pressure,” explains DEKRA expert Kuppinger. In the event of damage, cracks, punctures, or dents, or if the tires are older than six years, he advises replacing the tires. The crucial question for the beginning of spring is whether the motorcycle will start at all when the biker turns the ignition. The chances are good if the battery has spent the winter on battery conservation (charger). Otherwise, it’s a good idea to charge the battery overnight so that there’s enough power to start the next day. “If the bike is equipped with on-board diagnostics, you should check the function of important safety systems such as slip control and ABS,” says Kuppinger. Error messages from the vehicle’s electronics are then once again a job for the specialist workshop.

A well-functioning brake system is your life insurance

It’s easy to check the engine oil and coolant levels. Traces of oil on the engine indicate a leak. The owner of a bike with a cardan shaft transmitting power to the rear wheel is in the clear – cardan drives are durable and require little maintenance. The chain, on the other hand, requires more attention. It should be neither too tight nor too loose on the sprockets and, above all, well lubricated. The brakes should also be in top condition at the start of the season. For Achim Kuppinger, checking the brake system and brake fluid is an absolute must. A test drive with careful braking maneuvers will show if the system works reliably. Kuppinger recommends changing the brake fluid every two years at least, unless the manufacturer requires an annual change. Last but not least on the checklist are the function of lights and turn signals. If the side stand switch, emergency stop switch, and horn are also working properly, the bike is well prepared for the beginning of spring.

A safe driver needs to be mentally and physically fit

The biker himself should also get fit for the motorcycle season in advance. If you hop onto the saddle with tired bones and stiff joints, you’ll hardly be able to react fast enough in an emergency. But even on the track, the unity between man and machine is slow to emerge. “It makes a difference whether I accelerate from zero to one hundred in ten seconds with a car or in three with a motorcycle,” reports motorcycle expert Kuppinger. Especially after the winter break, estimating speed isn’t easy. Kuppinger advises motorcyclists to also prepare mentally for the start of the season and to expect mistakes by other road users, especially when overtaking and changing lanes. In his view, safety training offers the optimum preparation for the new season.

Gerade nach der Winterpause ist die Einschätzung der Geschwindigkeit nicht einfach. Foto: DEKRAWichtig ist ein Check der sicherheitsrelevanten Teile wie Bremsen, Lenkung, Motor und Antrieb, Räder und Beleuchtung. Foto: DEKRADie Reifen sollten gut in Schuss sein, wenn der Fahrer ihnen in der Kurve sein Leben anvertraut. Foto: DEKRAWer seinem Motorrad eine ordentliche Grundreinigung spendiert, hat einen guten Überblick über den Allgemeinzustand. Foto: DEKRABei Auffälligkeiten wie Beschädigungen, Rissen, Einstichen oder Beulen rät der DEKRA Experte zum Tausch der Reifen. Foto: DEKRAFehlermeldungen der Fahrzeugelektronik sind ein Job für die Fachwerkstatt. Foto: DEKRA

Checklist – Fit for Spring

Tires and wheels

  • Check tire pressure and adjust if necessary
  • Check tread depth (minimum 1.6 mm) and look for cracks
  • Break in newly mounted tires carefully for the first 200 km – risk of slipping
  • Check axle nuts (safety)
  • Check if cover caps for valves are present

Engine and gearbox

  • Check mounting and leaktightness
  • Check oil levels
  • Increased engine oil level indicates leaking carburetor or fuel valve

Springs, shock absorbers, and steering system

  • Check adjustment of shock absorbers and springs
  • Check for tight fit, possible breaks, and leaktightness
  • Check ease and freedom of movement of steering with front wheel raised

Brakes

  • Check brake pad thickness
  • Check brake hoses for freedom of movement, cracks, leaktightness, and chafing points
  • Check fluid level in expansion tanks
  • Replace brake fluid every two years or according to manufacturer’s specifications

Power transmission

  • Check chain or belt slack according to manufacturer’s specifications
  • Don’t set chain too tight
  • Lubricate chain
  • Check fuel line for leaks and chafe marks

Electrical system

  • Operational check of lighting equipment
  • Check battery connections for corrosion

Rear view mirror

  • Check proper adjustment and fastening
  • Check glass for damage

Protective equipment and driver

  • Check helmet visor for scratches
  • Check reference to ECE standard
  • Waterproof protective clothing, gloves, boots
  • Ride defensively – especially on the first tour
  • Attend safety training or riding technique training
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