The Pre-Ride Check - Dr. Dirt’s Wrenching Tips

Story by Scot Gustafson | Photos by Adam Booth

A Pre-Ride Check is one the most useful things you can do for your motorcycle. Spending a few minutes checking over your bike can prevent breakdowns, expensive repairs and improve the quality of your ride.

Check 1 – Air Pressure. Check your tires at the beginning of the day with a good quality pressure gauge. As a rule of thumb for Hard Pack conditions use 11 psi in the front and 12 in the rear. Loamy conditions use 12 front/ 13 rear. For off-road and rocky conditions you need to use more pressure to prevent flats, 13 front/14 rear but sometimes you need more in extreme conditions.

Check 2 – Bleed the forks. Forks need to be bled with your front wheel suspended off the ground otherwise you create a vacuum. Excess air in your forks build up pressure and cause a stiff, harsh ride. A 1-2 pound addition of air in your fork can be equal to a higher spring rate. Remember, pressure builds as you increase in elevation and temperature.

Check 3 – Oil level – Checking your oil regularly is one of the best ways to keep your engine running well. Check the oil level on your bike after the engine has been run for a few minutes and the bike is upright. If you run the oil level low, you can do a lot of damage to your engine. If your oil is dirty change it before you ride. You never know, you might have drained your oil last night, got distracted, and forgot to refill it...Keefer!

Check 4 - Coolant level. Check your coolant level and make sure it is just above the cooling fins in your radiator. Even the smallest amount of coolant loss can be a good indicator that your engine has a problem. If you are consistently losing coolant your engine is running too hot, you have a leak, or your radiator cap is bad. Engines that are consistently hot can mean a worn top end, bottom end, clutch, low or contaminated oil. Check for coolant leaks in the radiator, head gasket, hoses and water pump seals.

Check 5 – Lube and adjust your chain. Check your chain for slack at the halfway point on yourswing arm. Your chain should have 30-40mm of or 3½ normal sized fingers of play. Check the chain over a few different points for slack to make sure it's not kinked or binding. Now is a good time to check your chain guides, sliders, and rollers too. Lube your chain with a good quality motorcycle chain lube.

Check 6 – Spokes – Spokes loosen up more rapidly in the first few rides than any other time but that doesn't mean we shouldn't stop checking them. The key to tightening spokes is using a good fitting spoke wrench and tightening a small amount at a time. A good method is to check the first spoke after your valve stem, then skip two spokes, check the 4th, skip two, check the 7th, etc. Once you have gone all the way around your wheel start at the 2nd spoke after your valve stem, skipping two then tightening the next. Go all the way around, then start at the 3rd, etc.

Check 7 – Set the Sag. It's best to set your sag at the beginning of the day when the shock is cool. Check the sag in all your riding gear. Stand on your pegs when you check your sag because it gives a more consistentreading than sitting. If you need to make adjustments during the day, record the changes by number of turns in our out from where you started. You don't want to check the sag when the shock is hot because it will give you an inconsistant reading.

Check 8 – Controls. The biggest thing that distinguishes pro riders from mere mortals is the fanatical attention they give their controls. The beginning of the day is a good time to set your brake levers height, clutch lever reach, handlebar position, etc. You don't want to go out and do your entire first moto and not be able to reach the brake lever!

Check 9 – Air Filter – Just like having dirty oil, a dirty air filter can harm your engine and it'sperformance. Keep a spare pre-oiled filter and rubber gloves in a zip-loc bag for the emergency. Better yet, make sure it's clean before you go riding.

Check 10 – Nuts and Bolts – A quick once over for loose nuts and bolts will go a long way once you start your ride. Take special note to look at sprocket bolts and chain adjuster bolts. A good method is to grab an 8mm t handle and check every 8mm on the bike. Then grab your 10mm and check the 10mm, then your 12mm, etc.

Want more Dr. Dirt Wrenching Tips? Check out the Dr. Dirt section of Dirt Rider magazine, or stay tuned to the website for future stories and info. To suggest a topic for an upcoming installment or to ask Dr. Dirt a tech question directly, send an email to, subject line: Dr. Dirt.