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The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s “T-CLOCS” inspection checklist is a good place to start. T-CLOCS (which stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Stands) is a pre-ride inspection process the MSF advises all riders to perform before going out for a ride. Its principles also apply to preparing a motorcycle for a new riding season.
Inspect the tires and wheels for any signs of wear or damage. Inflate the tires to the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure and make sure there is plenty of tread to provide safe grip in the miles ahead. Make sure there are no flat spots on the tire, especially if the motorcycle has been left standing on its tires all winter.
Remember to check the wheels as well. If your motorcycle has spoked wheels, make sure the spokes are not bent or loose. Inspect cast wheels for any cracks or dents. Raise each wheel off the ground and spin them, making sure they are in good condition.
Levers and pedals should move with the right amount of tension. Control cables should be well lubricated and free of kinks or fraying, while brake hoses should be free of cuts, bulges, or leaks. Turn the handlebars in both directions to make sure they do not interfere with the routing of all cables and hoses. The throttle should also move freely, and snap closed when released.
If you took care of your battery over the winter, it should be fully charged and ready for use. The terminals should be clean and free of corrosion. If applicable, check the electrolyte levels. If the battery uses a vent tube, ensure it is properly routed and free of kinks.
With the battery installed and in working order, turn on the motorcycle’s lights and turn signals and make sure they work properly. Do not forget to check the rear signals including the brake lights. Make sure the brake lights activate when you apply either the front or rear brake levers.
Remember to switch your petcock back to ON to start the flow of fuel. If you stored your motorcycle properly, you should have filled the fuel tank and added a fuel stabilizer before putting it away. This ensures the fuel will not evaporate and leave behind a sludge that could gum up the fuel lines or injectors/carbs. Carbureted motorcycles should have a petcock located on the left side under the seat that need to be switched to its ON or PRI (for Prime) position to get the fuel circulating through the system again.
Whether you changed the oil or not before putting a motorcycle into storage, you may consider doing it again. This isn’t always necessary but starting a new riding season with fresh oil – free of contaminants and moisture – is the best option. The oil filter should also be changed if it was not already done before the winter.
Finally, make sure to top off all other fluids including brake hydraulics and coolants.
Inspect the frame for any cracks or signs of damage. Straddle the motorcycle and bounce a few times to make sure the front and rear suspension systems offer smooth travel and damping. If your motorcycle is chain or belt driven, make sure they have the correct amount of tension and seat properly in the sprockets. Belts should be free of cracks and not show any fraying. Drive chains should be lubricated and free of kinks.
Finally, check for any loose or missing fasteners. Nuts and bolts should be tightened to the correct torque level while retaining clips and pins should be in place and intact.
Both side stands and center stands should deploy and retract without excessive effort. Check their springs to make sure stands stay in place.
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And in today’s increasingly dense traffic, even when motorists do see riders, some may not demonstrate sufficient respect for them for one reason or another. It may be conscious or unconscious on their part, but either way, your life and welfare could depend on it.
Because of these and other realities, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has evolved a system for managing the many risks riders face. The system is based on the premise that you are the one most responsible for your own safety. As a rider, it is your job to look out for yourself, and not fully trust others any more than you have to. No one has your best interests at heart more than you.
The word “SEE” is an acronym for a learned process of seeing, assessing, and responding to traffic, the road, and more. It stands for “Search, Evaluate, and Execute.”
Whether riding an interstate highway, suburban street or backcountry road, your goal is to visually recognize anything that could affect your control and safety. The idea is to consciously recognize not only what’s right in front of you, but to also look 12 seconds ahead, and be aware of what’s 360 degrees around you as well.
You do this partly by scanning your mirrors, looking side to side, and doing “head checks” as needed to monitor blind spots, or when changing lanes. Some mirrors are convex, and do not accurately portray distances. Looking directly where you are going or at what is coming your way is safest.
The categories of things you continually look for are:
1. Traffic control devices and markings
2. Road characteristics and surface conditions,
3. Other roadway users.
You need to effectively process the visual information you are continually taking in. The MSF recommends, “To get the best results, predict the worst possible outcome." This does not mean you ought to be paranoid, but it does mean anticipate and be ready.
For example, if you are going through a four-way stop, and a car in the road perpendicular to you is about to cross your path, realize the car might run its stop sign through without stopping. Or if someone is tailgating you, assume they could rear-end you if you fall or must hit the brakes. And if you are taking a blind curve, you might anticipate fallen gravel or a driveway with a car backing out just around the bend.
For these and innumerable other potential scenarios, the SEE system advocates you “evaluate” the three main categories you recognized in your “search,” as follows:
Traffic control devices and markings - Remember the car blowing through a stop sign example? Motorcyclists need to be extra aware that just because there are traffic control devices or markings on the road, it does not mean everyone will obey them. What are the potential hazards that you might therefore have to deal with in a moment’s notice?
Road characteristics and surface conditions - Is the road hilly, curvy, two-lane, four-lane, lined with driveways, or likely to have wildlife like deer darting out in front of you? Further, “reading” the pavement quality is an essential learned skill. Is the road gravelly or smooth? Is it full of patches and potholes? Is there tar covered cracks? Is the road asphalt or concrete? Are there rain grooves in it? Are there signs, posts, guardrails, or other objects that you could crash into?
Other roadway users - Becoming “street smart” on a motorcycle means learning to anticipate and be ready to compensate for other drivers’ potential errors in judgment.
Overall, “evaluating” is about developing excellent on-the-fly judgment. In doing this, you must take into consideration your own bike handling skills, your bike’s capabilities and limitations, and the big picture on roadway or traffic conditions.
Always think of having a safety cushion in time and space. In other words, give yourself enough physical distance, and time to react.
Here is where being “assertive and proactive” come into play. As you “search,” you may “evaluate” a risk. Maybe it is someone on a cell phone not looking and turning left in front of you at an intersection. What do you do?
You may have less than a second to do whatever it is, so being decisive is key.
Motorcycles are not the only things that need a spring tune-up. While your bike’s been sitting in storage during the winter, your riding gear has likely been stowed away in a closet all that time. Before you go out on your first ride of the season, make sure your equipment is also in good condition.
Helmets contain many components to lessen the force of impacts on your brain. Carefully inspect your lid to make sure it's in good shape and still fits snugly on your head. Consider treating your skull to a fresh one.
Most helmet manufacturers recommend replacing your helmet every two to four years, even if there are no signs of damage. A helmet’s protective elements, including the impact-absorbing liner, can weaken under normal wear and tear and may not provide as much protection as a new helmet. Helmet makers are always trying to develop new materials and designs, so a new helmet may be stronger and lighter than your old lid.
Check your leather riding gear before you plan to go for your first ride. Leather can get stiff and may even crack if it has been neglected. Treat leather materials with conditioner to keep them clean and supple. Poorly treated gloves may be uncomfortable to wear and can affect your ability to control your motorcycle.
And do not forget about your most important piece of riding equipment: you. If you have not been riding for several months, it’s natural to be a bit rusty. Before you go out for your first ride, set aside some time to practice basic riding skills, preferably in a closed environment such as an empty parking lot. It may take you some practice to regain your muscle memory and get used to good riding habits such as keeping your head up, looking ahead to where you want to go and checking your blind spots. If it’s been a few years since you’ve taken a rider training course (or if you’ve never taken a course at all) consider enrolling in one to brush-up on your skills.
Before you hit the road, make sure your documentation is in order. In many states, the DMV will send you a notice at least a month before your vehicle registration needs to be renewed. In some states, license plate stickers are up for renewal on or around the owner’s birthday, but other states have different rules.
Your motorcycle insurance should also be up to date before you go out on public roads. Some insurance companies allow you to suspend your coverage over the winter. If your insurer provides this option, make sure you re-enable your coverage. The start of a new riding season is also a good time to shop around for a new insurer to find a company that offers the coverage you want at a good rate.
Once you have everything in order, it’s time to hit the road. But remember to stay extra vigilant. Drivers in other vehicles may not be used to sharing the roads with motorcycles and scooters, so give yourself extra space and stay alert.
Streets may not be in excellent condition in the spring. Keep an eye open for gravel, sand and salt, and other detritus left behind by melting snowbanks. Potholes are also more likely to form in the spring as the extra moisture from rain and melting snow weakens the asphalt.
As always, stay alert and ride within your limits so you can safely enjoy the new riding season. Don’t forget to consider a rider refresher course!
Every 10 degrees in temperature change results in about a 1 pound change in your tire’s pressure. When it cools down, you will lose pressure; when it heats up, you will actually gain pressure. Even checking your pressure one afternoon and coming out the next morning can result in a 3-5 lb loss.
Also, your tires lose pressure over time. Every 30 days, you can expect to see, in average temperatures, a loss of about 1-2 lbs in your tires.
Heat cramps are painful, involuntary muscle spasms that usually occur during heavy exercise in hot environments. The spasms may be more intense and more prolonged than are typical nighttime leg cramps. Fluid and electrolyte loss often contribute to heat cramps. Muscles most often affected include those of your calves, arms, abdominal wall and back, although heat cramps may involve any muscle group involved in exercise.
If you suspect heat cramps:
Heat exhaustion is a condition whose symptoms may include heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, a result of your body overheating. Causes of heat exhaustion include exposure to high temperatures, particularly when combined with high humidity, and strenuous physical activity. Without prompt treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
If you suspect heat exhaustion:
If you are with someone showing signs of heat exhaustion, seek immediate medical attention if he or she becomes confused or agitated, loses consciousness, or is unable to drink. You will need immediate cooling and urgent medical attention if your core body temperature or higher.
Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys and muscles.
Symptoms of heatstroke include:
If you suspect heat stroke: