Preparing Your Bike for a Road Trip

In the run-up to my ride from Chennai to Leh, I was looking for a comprehensive checklist of things to do in order to prepare my bike for the trip. The information that I found was quite scattered. So, now that I am on the other side of a significant part of my tour, I thought it would be a good idea to put down some information that I think might be helpful for anyone else planning to set off on a motorcycle tour.

While some of this information might be Royal Enfield-specific (because it’s based on my experiences with a Thunderbird 500), a lot of this information will probably be useful irrespective of the motorcycle that you ride.

1.  Thorough Wash and Servicing

As a first step, wash and clean your bike thoroughly (and I mean really really thoroughly). In the process of doing this exercise you are likely to stumble upon things that look like they need to be fixed, replaced or tightened. Even if you don’t end up finding anything, your bike will look better than it probably has in a while (which makes for a good starting point).

After the wash, oil or lubricate all the moving parts on your bike, including the foot pegs and the various levers and springs. Use WD 40 to clean out all your switches and any rusted nuts and bolts. Also make sure that the chain is adjusted and adequately greased/lubricated.

2.  Engine Oil

If you’ve only recently changed your engine oil, then make sure to check whether it needs a top-up (this is something you should do frequently on the road as well). If your engine oil is nearing the end of its running life, or if you don’t remember when you last changed it, make sure you change the oil as well as the oil filter. Your bike will definitely be thankful.

3.   Accelerator, Clutch and Brakes

Check your accelerator and clutch cables for any signs of wear and tear. These are fairly easy to change (provided you know how to do so) and need not be changed until they actually give way, unless you want to play it safe, of course.

If your clutch is slipping, or your gears are not engaging smoothly despite adjustments to your clutch cable, it is likely that your clutch plate is worn out. In such a case, do have it checked, because this is not something easily fixable on the road (and on a Thunderbird, will also involve needing to refill or change your engine oil). If it isn’t fully worn out the clutch plate can be refitted after filing the surfaces, so replacement is not an absolute necessity.

Brake cables, brake pads and your disc or drum (as may be applicable). If any thing looks like it isn’t in top shape, please have it changed. Brake oil levels should also be checked, and topped up (if required).

Make sure that your clutch and brake levers are adjusted as per your comfort. If they are too tight, your hands are likely to hurt when you are on the saddle for a prolonged period. If they are too loose, well, they just won’t work well enough.

4.  Hoses and Pipes

I’ve had considerable trouble with the quality of the rubber hoses on my Royal Enfield. My breather pipe hose has cracked and broken several times, and the hoses for air circulation have suffered a similar fate on some occasions too. My fuel connector pipe was also on the verge of cracking and I had it replaced before I started my ride.

So, you should be checking all the pipes/hoses on the bike to check whether there are any cracks or whether they look worn out (you will see scratch-like lines on hoses in parts where they are weak). These things don’t cost much, and I’d recommend replacing them, if in doubt.

5.  Battery, Electricals and Wiring

It’s a good idea to have your motorcycle battery topped-up on distilled water and charged before you start your trip. You should also request for the battery to be checked using a multi-meter (which every battery shop most certainly will have) to make sure that all the cells of the battery are functioning properly. I didn’t think to do this before I set off and ended up with a dead battery which proved quite difficult (and expensive) to replace.

Check your wires and connectors to make sure that they are all in good shape. I once found that  some of my wires had been bitten by a rat and were hanging on by one last strand. So while I didn’t have a problem at that time, it could have given way at any point. So tug them and check that they are strong, and also have all of the connectors/adapters removed, cleaned and reinserted. Also make sure that all your fuses are in good shape (and carry spares anyway).

Do a quick check of your starter, horn, headlight (dim and bright), turn indicators, hazard lights, brake light, kill switch and pass switch) to make sure that everything is working okay.

6.  Spark Plug and Adapter

Make sure the spark plug(s) and their adapters are removed and cleaned thoroughly (and replaced, if required). Carbon deposits that accumulate on a spark plug over a period of time, should be removed in order for your bike to be able to start easily (or start, at all). The adapter too plays a key role in the functioning of this system (if your adapter is wet or dirty, even a brand new spark plug will be useless), so it should also be cleaned out thoroughly and refitted.

7.  Air Filter 

Cleaning an air filter is a very simple process, and you should have this done for sure. A clogged air filter will affect the running of your engine.

8. Tyres

This one is fairly straight-forward. If your tyres look bald or worn-out, please change them. You don’t want to be struggling with grip or an unusually high number of punctures whilst on the road.

9. Check the ‘Strong’ parts

There are some parts of the bike (such as the handlebar assembly, shock absorbers, swing arm, wheel nuts and other such things) that I used to assume were immune to problems from ordinary use. But as I’ve learnt since, these things are also susceptible to growing loose, or acting up. So do a once over of these parts to check that they are all as tight as they need to be, appropriately secured, and that all washers and rubber seals are in good condition.

10.  Extra-fittings

If you plan to add any extra-fittings to your bike (additional lights, a charger or any other such contraption), try to do this at least a week or two before your trip. This will allow you the chance to ride the bike for a while, with these new additions, and make sure that everything is in order.

On a related note, it may be prudent to avoid making any modifications to your bike just before a long trip. So if you’ve been thinking of changing your handlebar, or your exhaust or slapping on that new K&N air-filter, it would probably be best to indulge in such experiments after your bike and you are back home safely.

With all of this done, your bike should be ready to go wherever you want to take it (hopefully, with minimal fuss). 

While I’ve attempted to make this information comprehensive, this list is not exhaustive. It’s best you speak to a professional mechanic and take into consideration any suggestions that he may have when going about this process. Though just in case your mechanic isn’t coming up with the good ideas, now maybe you can. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Preparing Your Bike for a Road Trip

  1. Very very interesting, and useful for everyday use as well. In terms of battery, I’ld rather go for a gel battery. It is more stable and has a better life expectancy.

    Thank you for this article, it reminds me I have a few things to fixe on my bike!

    1. Thanks, Gregoire. I’ve never used a gel battery. But it probably would work better. If I’d made the effort to keep my battery well maintained I might not have had issues with it. Well, we live and we learn.

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