Wintertime Blues

BY BRYAN HALL

Yep, winter’s here. Dammit.

The cold and snow has already come and gone in the Puget Sound area (so much for Global Warming), the rain and grey skies are almost a daily occurrence, and a lot of riders are getting their bikes ready for “winter storage”.

I get it. Riding in bone chilling cold and driving rain is not as much fun as riding under bright blue skies and 80 degrees. Whether you ride only during “the season”, or are a year-long rider like me, winter provides some great opportunities to work on or upgrade your scoot. Might as well do it now, so it’s ready to ride in the spring, rather than waiting until April and then trying to get things done when everyone else is starting to ride again.

Winter is a good time for performing some tender loving care on your two-wheeled baby. Everyone knows about oil changes, battery maintenance, making sure the lights all work, and so on. The maintenance schedule for my Road King says to change the oils (engine, transmission, and primary) every 5,000 miles. I have long been a proponent of changing the engine oil every 2,500 miles, and I honestly believe that’s part of the reason I got 173,000 out of my last one before I had to have the engine rebuilt due to a failed cam bearing. It’s also the reason I never got stranded due to an engine issue.

Being that the average rider in the Northwest rides between 3,000 and 5,000 miles per year, an oil change once a year may suffice. For those of us who ride more than that, regular services are a necessity. I often hear other riders complain about the cost of a 5,000- or 10,000-miles service: “why should I pay $300 to have my oil changed?” Ah yes, ignorance is bliss. While I will change the engine oil every 2,500 miles, I do have my bike serviced every 5,000.

In addition to changing the gearbox and engine oils, a service involves much more: adjusting cables, inspecting brakes, tightening critical fasteners, servicing the battery, inspecting the wheel spokes (as applicable), inspecting belt condition and tension, and so on. If you do these services yourself, that’s great, but don’t overlook a couple of things that can leave you stranded, but that a lot of people (and shops) don’t consider.

Brake Fluid: Most of the newer bikes (2006 and newer) use DOT4 brake fluid. Your brake fluid should be changed every two years, regardless of mileage. As brake fluid ages, it begins to break down and absorb water. Not only is the detrimental to your brake fluid, but can cause problems with the brake components as well. And the last thing you want to experience is your brakes failing when you need them. Not only does the chemical composition of the fluid change and break down, but as it absorbs water, the boiling point of the fluid drops drastically.

Fork Oil: Different manufacturers have different service intervals, but Harley recommends changing the fork oil every 50,000 miles. I’ve had people argue with me on this, saying the oil is in a sealed environment and not subject to extreme heat. The fork oil actually does get really hot, even after a few miles, because of the movement of the oil through damping valve and the like. Add to that, summer riding in hot temperatures only aggravates that heat buildup. Plus, always check the fork seals…leaking seals will allow water in.

Fuel Filter: While most automobiles have gone to a non-serviceable fuel filter, most bikes have not. And with the crappy gas we get nowadays, ethanol, contaminants in the fuel itself, and so on; changing your fuel filter every 25,000 miles is a good idea. If you don’t ride a lot, changing it every couple of years is a good idea too.

Steering Head Bearings: Yes, it’s a thing. These should be lubed every 10,000 miles, and adjusted every 50,000 miles. Worn or dry bearings can cause serious handling issues, not to mention accelerated wear of the steering components. This is an item most shops will check routinely as part of a service, but sadly also one most DIYers miss.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, more power to ya. But don’t rely only on You Tube videos and Internet Forums for answers or how-tos. Invest in a factory shop manual and use it!

No one wants to be “that guy” …you know, the one who misses the first rides of the season, or worse yet, breaks down on a ride; simply because the proper maintenance wasn’t done. It’s great to spend money on new wheels, paint, engine upgrades, and other fun stuff, just don’t forget the important things!

Keep your knees in the breeze!

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Bryan Hall is a local rider and author based in Tacoma, WA; and his stories have appeared previously in Quick Throttle.  His book “Life Behind Bars” was published in 2013. You can read more on his website at “hiwayflyer.com

About Bryan Hall