Engine, Transmission, Chain
- Whats the best way to break-in an engine?
- Run it hard! And read the rest of this explanation.
- How often do I need to change the oil?
- There are several schools of thought on this. Some say you should
change your oil every 3000 miles; others say every 6000 miles is fine.
In any case, you should change it every 3 months.
Garage has interesting formulas.
- Should I use petroleum-based oil or synthetic oil?
- Yes. BMW doesnt recommend synthetic oil until the engine is
- I notice that many bikes seem to require 10w-40 oil. Most manufacturers,
of course, recommend their own specific name brand. What difference
really is there from motorcycle-specific oil and auto oil?
- American Iron and Motorcycle Consumer News have done
tests on oils and found that the difference between motorcycle-specific
and auto oil is nil. The old yarn about SJ oil being deadly for motorcycles
is false, as oil with viscosity 10w30 isnt bound by the governments
low-phosphorus, low-zinc requirements. This is the crux of the car-oil
- How often do I need to lubricate the chain? What with?
- Every 600 miles or 1000 km, either spray wax chain lubricant or pour
some gear oil on it.
- How often do I need to check the chains tension? How?
- Every 600 miles or 1000 km. Your motorcycles Owners Manual
will have directions.
With most motorcycles, you check the tension with the bike on its side
stand. I found that with my Honda CB-1
up on a shop stand, I could get the tension right. The key is to have
the suspension at the correct sag.
You need to check the tension at several points along the chains
travel around the engine and wheel sprockets. The tension should be
set so that the loosest spot and the tightest spot are still within
the slack tolerance specified in the owners manual. If the tightest
spot is at the tightest allowed and the loosest is beyond the tolerance,
then its time to get a new chain and sprocket set.
- Do I have to replace the sprockets at the same time I replace
- Yes. Its likely that the sprockets are worn. Putting a new chain
non a worn pair of sprockets will make the chain wear out fasterand
replacing the sprockets without replacing the chain will sear out the
sprockets. Do them as a set.
Fuel System, Exhaust
- What grade (octane rating) of fuel should I use and why?
- Use the minimum octane that does not cause your engine to knock. Anything
more is wasted money.
High Octane Gasoline Facts.
- Do I need to turn the fuel valve off to park the bike
overnight or longer? Does it do any harm to leave it on?
- If the float valve is in good shape and everything else is OK, no,
you dont have to turn off the fuel petcock. However, if anything
isnt perfect youll have, at best, gas all over the bike
and the floor. At worst, youll fill one cylinder with gas and
the other cylinder will fire when you try to start it and youll
go into hydro lock and bend a connecting rod. Do you feel lucky?
- Whats the best money I can spend on making my motorcycle go
- A couple hundred bucks on a track school.
- What does it mean to re-jet the carburetors?
- Carburetors supply a mixture of gasoline and air to the engine. The
gas comes out of little things called jets (usually a pilot
jet, needle jet and main jet). If you modify your airbox or exhaust
to flow more freely, you get more air going through your system. This
often means that there is not enough gasoline, so the engine runs badly.
Rejetting means replacing or modifying some of these jets
so as to supply gasoline differently than stock, usually more gasoline
than stock. If done correctly, this allows your engine to generate more
power, run a little cooler, start and run smoother and get worse mileage.
Tires, Suspension, Steering
- I want to put bigger tires on my motorcycle. How can I tell
what will fit?
- No, you probably dont want to put bigger tires on your motorcycle.
They will probably make it handle worse, not better. To some people,
bigger tires may look better, but to those in the know, they make the
bike look like the owner doesnt know anything about motorcycle
suspension and steering.
Do you think you know more about suspension and steering than the engineers
who designed your motorcycle?
- How do I break-in my tires?
- If you take aggressive turns on new tires, you may dump your bike.
New tires may have sticky or slimy goo on them, either mold-release
compound from the manufacturer to make sure the tire comes out of the
mold, or lubricant to let the tire slip more easily onto the rim. (Tire
manufacturers and installers deny that such materials exist.) In any
case, new tires are smooth and have limited traction. Take turns gently,
slowly increasing your angle of lean. Slowly is the key: You always
want enough of the contact patch to be on the broken-in section that
you dont lose it. Eventually your chicken-strips will disappear.
- What are chicken strips?
- As you lean more on your tires, you wear-in more and more of the tire,
and the road surface loses its fresh-from-the-mold sheen. Chicken strips
are whats left on either side. When I got new tires, I photographed
them after the first 50 miles. The picture
of the front tire shows the chicken strips.
- Whats the difference between radial tires and bias-ply
- The main difference between radials and bias-ply tires lies in their
construction. Tires arent just toroidal balloons, they are reinforced
with cords of steel or synthetic materials such as nylon or Aramid.
In bias-ply tires, the fibers are wrapped in an X pattern between the
beads; in radial tires, the fibers are wrapped perpendicular to the
tread. Radial tires have more flexible sidewalls than bias-ply tires,
and thus absorb road irregularities better and have a comparatively
larger contact patch when leaned over. Because of the flexible nature
of a radial, these offer higher mileage compared with a comparable bias-ply
for a given rubber compound. Since they absorb small road irregularities
better, they ride more comfortably and are less likely to be upset by
While radial tires perform better than bias tires, some older motorcycles
cant be fitted with radial tires because of differences in rim
profiles. You probably wont notice much of a difference anyway,
so stick with boas tires if thats what the motorcycle was designed
- Why cant I mix radials and bias tires?
- The different ways in which radial and bias tires react to sideways
loads can lead to unpredictable behavior while cornering. Its
bad enough to do this on a four-wheeler, but it can be even worse on
a motorcycle. If you need to replace one tire and the same type is not
available, then go ahead and replace both tires with the same type.
- What do Cartridge Emulators do?
- Old style forks used damper rods to control oil flow, and thus damping.
The damper rods are simply calibrated holes through which the fork oil
is forced during suspension travel. Cartridge emulators replace the
damping rods with cartridge valves. Its generally not as good
as a true cartridge fork, but theyre much better than damping
rods. More information can be found in Cartridge
Forks by Paul Thede.
- What do Steering dampers do?
- A steering damper is a miniature shock absorber for your steering.
They look a lot like precision built versions of a screen door closing
rod. It will attach on one end to the frame, and the other to some point
which is steered, usually one of the triple clamps. (Ive seen
them attached to the fork tube below the upper triple clamp as well.)
They will slow down steering input, and their primary benefit is found
on bikes which get their front wheels light or off the ground altogether
under acceleration. Theyll help prevent you from turning the wheel
while its light/off and thus produce a wiggle, wobble, or tank-slapper
when the wheel is loaded up again.
When there is a large differential between the width of the front and
rear tires, there is an increasing chance of a tank-slapper
when you hit a bump in a corner. Now, to be fair, many times this is
more a result of incorrect suspension settings or wrong tire air pressures.
But having a great disparity between tire widths enhances the chances.
Now, you dont want a huge wide front, or your steering will feel
like that of an old worm-and-roller work truck. You dont want
too narrow of a rear because then you would not have the traction to
lay down the power in some of the more brutal sport bike motors. And
lastly, having a large disparity in tire width makes a bike more responsive
in steering turn-in. So a compromise is struck, basically. Sometimes,
people (or manufacturers) push things too far in one direction for ultimate
stability, and thats where a steering damper becomes useful in
preventing tank-slappers from growing out of control
- What will cartridge emulators and steering dampers do for me?
- Let you ride faster and still be within the performance envelope of
Give you bragging rights about how technically advanced your motorcyle
- Whats the difference between handlebars and clip-ons?
- Clip-ons are individual bar-lets which usually attach to the upper
fork tubes, one on each side. Some sport/touring bikes have risers attached
to the clip-ons which raise them well above the top triple
clamp. Regular bars are cheaper, usually heavier, and easier to customize.
Race-grade clip-ons usually have easily and cheaply replaceable tube
sections, providing you havent damaged the actual clamp section,
but not a whole lot of street bikes with clip-ons stock
have cheap replacement tubes. Generally, you will find clip-ons on more
sporty bikes with more aggressive riding positions.
- Inverted fork: useful design or drunken engineers?
- Less unsprung weight. Stiffer front end, more resistant to deflection.
Increased cost, in many cases. Most people dont have any use for
the improvement on a street bike, but if the bike youre
looking at has them, and the bike is not crazy expensive, theyre
nice to have.
- I want to add auxiliary lights. Does my alternator have enough extra
capacity to do this?
- Maybe. The new BMW oilheads defnitely do, but sportbikes tend to have
alternators big enough just to run the existing electrical devices and
charge the battery.
- Can I use mineral water to put in the battery?
- No! Those minerals will break the battery. It has to be distilled
- How do I take care of my motorcycle's battery?
- See the Car Battery FAQ.
- How do I get the bike up on the center stand?
- Start with the bike on its side stand;
- Grip left handlebar with left hand;
- Grip frame member with right hand;
- Place foot on center stand lever;
- Pushing down on center stand, tilt bike till both legs of center
stand touch ground;
- Push down hard with foot and lift/pull on frame member.
- Where can I find a web site about my motorcycle?
- Google is your friend.
- How do I secure my motorcycle?
- Lock the steering to one side with the ignition lock. Use a disk lock.
Use a large lock with a chain around something solid. If you use a disk
lock, also get a bright ribbon that says something clever like Remove
Before Takeoff so you dont forget to remove the lock before
you break your brake disk. Keep the motorcycle out of sight
in a brightly-lit area. Keep it under a cover, with a better lock than
the other motorcycles nearby. Get a bike that is less popular with thieves.
Despite all this advice and all your best efforts, your bike might still
- How do I prepare my motorcycle for the winter?
- In California, stick a rain jacket in the saddlebags. If you have
to store your bike, Winter
Storage for Motorcycles.
- Should I sell my bike?
- Remember: Bikes get you through times of no money better than
money gets you
through times of no bikes. Phineas