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How to tune up your motorcycle for your upcoming road trips

Prepare your motorcycle for unforgettable road trips with these tips

Man working on a motorcycle
Gstockstudio / Adobe Stock

Good news, fellow bikers! Summer has finally arrived, and it’s time to tune up your poor, neglected motorcycle for the open road. A tune-up entails doing extensive maintenance of your motorbike to see if its components are in top working condition, or if they need to be replaced or cleaned.

Sure, you could just ask your local mechanic to do everything, but it’s more rewarding to do the work yourself. You’ll save money, too. Besides, a motorcycle tune-up is not that hard once you have the basics down. Here’s everything you need to know about tuning up your motorcycle for your upcoming road trip plans.

Hand of a mechanic holding a wrench in workshop.
Rjan Kovsky/Adobe Stock

Prepare your tools

A tune-up shouldn’t require any specialized multitools. But there are a few things you’ll need to get the job done. They are: A set of wrenches and sockets (including a spark plug socket), screwdrivers, Allen keys, and pliers.

Stanley’s 210-piece tool set contains everything you need for a motorcycle tune-up, from screwdrivers to drive sockets and ratchet.  Other helpful gear includes a battery tender or trickle charger, WD-40, motor oil, rags, an old toothbrush, brake fluid, new spark plugs, chain lubricant, and carburetor cleaner. We suggest getting the Oumers Brush Kit if you want a dedicated cleaning kit for chain maintenance.

Close-up of hand with yellow gloves on motorcycle handlebar
Westend61/Adobe Stock

Check the brakes and fluid levels

One of the first steps in prepping your bike for your road trip is to check all the fluid levels. Even if you have enough oil in the system, now is a good time to change the oil and replace the oil filter.

You’ll also want to bleed the brakes and refill the system with new brake fluid. As you’re doing this, check the brake lines for any cracks or other wear and check the brake pads to ensure they still have some meat on them. If not, order replacements. Anything that doesn’t look 100%, replace it you can never be too careful with brakes. Lastly, you’ll need to replace the fuel filter to keep out any debris that may have formed in the tank over the last few months. And add fresh gas.

An installation of the motorbike battery
Philip Image/Adobe Stock

Hit with a charge

Take the battery out of the bike and check for any white powder. If you find any, you likely need to replace the battery. If not, hook it up to your tender or trickle charger, such as this safe, easy-to-use battery charger from Battery Tender. Once you’re done charging the battery, slap it back in the bike.

Mechanic man checking a spark plug of vintage motorcycle.
Kamonrat/Adobe Stock

Spark it up

Next, you’ll want to use a reliable spark tester like the user-friendly Ram-Pro Inline Spark Tester to check your spark plugs for any wear and tear. If the electrodes (the part that shoots the spark, at the tip) are dirty, you will want to replace the spark plugs with new ones. When reinstalling your spark plugs, make sure to not over-tighten, which may damage the engine.

A close-up photo of a motorcycle

Mind the chain

Press on your chain to check the tension. If it’s too loose, you can likely adjust the tension with the wheel adjusters (see this video to learn how to do it). Also, check the chain for rust and dirt. If it’s dirty, spray the chain with WD-40 and let it soak in for a few minutes. Next, spray a firm bristled toothbrush with WD-40 and scrub down the chain until it’s clean.

Once you’re finished, lube up the chain with a high-quality lubricant, which you should be able to buy at most auto stores. We recommend Amazon’s Maxima Chain Max since it is infused with anti-wear additives to help ensure your chain’s longevity.

Close up image of a motorcycle tire
Hans Ripa/Unsplash

Inspect the tires

Don’t forget to check your tires for any cracks or flat spots that may have formed over the last few months. The Slime Tire Plug Kit comes with five plug strings, a T-handle plugger, and other essentials for patching up tire punctures. Once everything looks good, check the tire pressure and fill or reduce the pressure as needed. If the pressure isn’t right, you’re going to need new tires your best bet is to take your wheels to the shop. After you’ve checked the essentials, and topped off the gas and other fluids, give your hog a start. If you have an older bike that struggles to start, you can spray carburetor cleaner or starter fluid into the carbs. And if that doesn’t work, you may need to get some professional help.

Harley Davidson motorcycle rider
Harley-Davidson / Unsplash

Listen to the engine

Before you embark on a road trip, we recommend you ride your motorcycle around your neighborhood for at least a half hour so you could identify any potential problems in your engine. If you hear any knocking, hissing, or ticking sound while riding your motorcycle, it could be a sign that something is wrong with your engine. You should also check if too much smoke is coming out of the exhaust or if the engine is struggling to accelerate.

Basically, you need to fix anything that seems off on your motorcycle before the road trip, or else it would become a bigger problem down the road. If you can’t identify the cause of the problem, you can use a diagnostic tool if it’s available for your motorcycle. Alternatively, you can take your motorcycle to a mechanic for an inspection.

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Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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