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Risk Hierarchy: Information - Rider Ed - Driver Ed - Conspicuity - Bike Defect - Ultra-Defensive Riding - Crash Avoidance - Injury Mitigation - Crash Scene
Checking your Bike
Hurt reported that three percent of crashes were caused by defects on the motorcycle. Maids reported far fewer, about 0.3 percent. But they also found that if a biker is in a crash and a bike defect exists that the biker is more likely to die, and this is more so for the riders of bigger bikes, as in the US.
Our take is that there might be 3% or 4% of crashes but a higher percentage of cycle deaths where bike maintenance issues are a factor, and we don't know for sure.
Most of the MAIDS defects were brake failures, with electrical failures also common and tire failures showing also. We hear from our riding buddies that bike weave or wobble, due either to a bike defect or unbalanced luggage, is a killer too. Police bikes in the UK were taken off the road in 2007 for this problem.
We'll talk about how to deal with wobble later, but we suggest that you weigh your saddlebags and get them evenly balanced, especially if packed for a trip.
Bike maintenance is special in the bike safety area. We can't control many of the hazards out there, like cages turning in front of us, or gravel in a turn. With a little effort, we can control the condition of our bike and take that 3% or 4% safety edge. Any gambler will tell you that grabbing a few percent of edge from the house can be the difference between a long-term loss or gain. We think this is a gimme.
The current best advice on bike maintenance is to do all preventative maintenance on schedule, get all problems fixed quickly and practice T-CLOCS. A bike should also be checked if it hasn't been ridden in a while.
T-CLOCS is the MSF standard for pre-ride bike checks. The MSF online library has downloadable notes and a checklist for T-CLOCS, and it is also covered in the basic RiderCourse manual, also downloadable.
That said, we have some problems with T-CLOCS. Don't get us wrong, but the current MSF checklist is 71 items long and contains items like checking gas level, and both drive chain and drive shaft.
Probably the best thing to do it take the T-CLOCS checklist and your bike owners manual and a 3X5 piece of card. Go through the T-CLOCS list, and create your own pre-ride check, tailored for your bike.
We talk about a bike walkaround here, basically there are a bunch of visual things you can do on the walkaround. We also point out some things that you do when you first sit on the bike.
We think the checks should be done in this order: Wheels and tires, bike walkaround, sitting-on-bike checks. When creating your checklist, maybe order them this way.
We think that it's pointless adding checks that require tools, except for a tire pressure gauge. Also, items which are specified as interval checks in your owners manual, rather than pre-ride checks, should probably be done as specified by the manufacturer. Obvious candidates for this would include drive chain lubrication.
T-Tires and Wheels. Essential to do a complete check here and check air pressure. Write down your recommended air pressures on the checklist, and always have a tire pressure gauge handy. Wheels don't often have spokes any more, if so rims will probably not go out of true without some evident physical flaw. The brake function check can be done with the suspension check when you first sit on your motorcycle. You might also be able to check brake fluid levels on handlebar mounted master cylinders with optics.
C-Controls. Most of these can be done on the bike walkaround. Clutch cable fray at visible ends should be checked, but most of these are eyeball checks. The throttle check can be done when you sit on the bike.
L-Lights. Most of this can be done on the bike walkaround. Most people can't get at the battery contacts without a tool, and most batteries don't have an overflow hose any more. We're not even sure that battery is a true safety issue, especially if your bike can keep running when the battery is removed. Otherwise all the lights items are essential checks.
O-Oil. This can be problematic. You definitely need to check under the bike for puddles. Oil levels might be easily checked, and any handlebar hydraulic optics. But the oil on my bikes have very low optics and the bike can't be on a stand, basically it needs a helper or a bike stand or lift to hold the bike up straight or you are holding it up while kneeling down low, itself a dangerous position. In effect, I usually wait until I am riding with someone to check oil, so the riding buddy can hold the motorcycle up. My bike manual has an inspection cycle for shaft oil and coolant, which I follow. Fuel should probably be checked on a carbureted bike with a three-position on-reserve-off fuel cock, but an injected bike with a reliable fuel gauge might not need it. Older bikes and ones with histories of fluid leaks probably need to be checked more than newer, reliable bikes, and the presence of an oil temperature or pressure gauge might make some checks unnecessary. The amount of fluid checking you do would be a judgment call based on your bike manufacturer recommendations and your decision about what can be checked in a reasonable amount of time.
C-Chassis. the suspension check is done when you sit on the bike. You apply the front brake and shift the bike forward and back, looking for smooth movements in both front and back suspension. The chain or belt should be maintained according to the manufacturer's recommendation, most chains need lubrication every 500 miles anyway. Fasteners depends on the bike, an older v-twin will shake things loose quicker than a six.
S-Stands. These are likely to be a safety issue only if damaged or hanging low because of a busted spring, you can eyeball this on the bike walkaround.
By the time you have completed your list on the card, you should be down to the tire checks and air pressure, a walkaround for the other main checks, a few other specific checks depending on your bike and a few remaining items to be done when you sit on the bike. Laminate your list or keep it in a baggie for handy reference on the bike. You are much more likely to do a 10 or 12 item check than the 71 item MSF checklist, although the MSF list and your bike owners manual is a good place to start when preparing your own, customized, checklist.
We find that the ritual of doing the bike check helps get us in the zone for riding the bike.