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Top 10 Classic Motorcycle Maintenance Tips

3 April 2023

So, you’ve taken the plunge and bought that classic or vintage motorcycle of your dreams. Having organised your insurance cover with Peter James of course, it will now be sat outside your home, gleaming and feeling just as good as you imagined it would to ride.

But, how do you keep it that way?

Using a professional mechanic to service your motorcycle is a good idea – but there are some simple checks and routines that you can do at home that will not only help you learn more about your bike, but also keep you safe and save you money.

Top 10 Classic Motorcycle Maintenance Tips - classic bike in workshop

Top 10 Classic Motorcycle Maintenance Tips

In these top 10 classic motorcycle maintenance tips, we cover the basics you should consider when you start your ownership of a classic motorcycle.

1. Under lock and key

Well, you would guess that we might put this first, being a classic motorcycle insurance specialist! It’s a serious business these days though, with values of classic and vintage motorcycles higher than they have ever been, an unsecured motorcycle is more at risk than ever. Make sure your shed, garage or workshop is in a good state of repair and is able to be locked, preferably with a combination of methods.

For ultimate security, consider installing a ground anchor within your garage. The idea is to put as many obstacles in the way of the potential thief as possible. If you are considering storing your motorcycle away from home, then many enthusiasts take advantage of specialist motorcycle storage facilities. The positive is that they are likely to offer heated, humidity-controlled storage, at a facility that has invested a lot of money into security.

The downside of course, is that they are often not as convenient for those occasions when you’d like to access your bike on a whim. Such facilities can be costly as well. Don’t forget to discuss with us your storage solutions for your classic motorcycle if you are planning on keeping it away from home.

2. Warm her up, give us a flash

It’s easy to succumb to the temptation of jumping on your bike from cold, starting her up and revving the engine. But, if your bike has been stood, even just overnight, then all the lubrication will have settled down in the sump and engine components will be cold. This is a critical moment for engine wear.

So instead, get into the practice of warming the bike. Start your bike and then once the engine is running, allow the engine to settle on idle for at least 30 seconds, to allow the oil to move around. Ideally, let the temperature indicator rise to normal – when complete you will have a warmed engine ready to perform at its best with all the internal components suitably lubricated for higher revs.

Whilst your waiting, now is a good time to check your lights, head lamps, brake lamps and – if you have them – indicators.

3. Don’t let tyres get tired

It’s essential to keep checking those tyres before every ride. When a classic motorcycle is used infrequently, it is all too easy to miss this step out when going for a ride so check:

a) the tread depth and;

b) the condition of sidewalls to ensure there is no degradation or cracking.

Finally, check those pressures each time you ride!

4. Chains and cables

The chain is a key component, but it operates in quite extreme conditions as it transfers power to the rear wheels, undergoes stretching and shock forces and all whilst under constant exposure to the elements. Chains can deteriorate through corrosion and wear causing them to become loose. Corrosion and dirt can accelerate this process, so don’t forget to keep your chain clean and re-apply grease if needed, to keep it well lubricated.

Regularly check that it is still tight within manufacturers tolerances, a slack or broken chain is no fun at all, as it may slip loose and become tangled. This can lock up wheels or even cause injury to riders or pillion passengers.

To check, lift the lowest part of the chain with two fingers and measure the ‘play’ against the recommended tolerances in the manual. About an inch and half of slack is usually about right, but check the official data for your bike.

Cable housings that are lubricated with oil and grease can get dry, affecting the feel of your clutch and accelerator and might lead to premature wear or fraying of cables. Regular checking of clutch, brakes, throttle, choke, and any other cables is essential to guard against fraying, sticking or breakage.

5. New oil

Most modern oils are designed with clever chemistry to allow us to run our classic motorcycles for longer and longer in between oil changes. However, it is still good practice to regularly change the oil.

A top tip is to ensure that motorcycle oil is changed before long periods of lay-up to prevent the acids that form in used engine oil as part of the combustion process from causing internal damage. Furthermore, oils can often take on water content and the resulting condensation can lead to corrosion of internal engine parts.

It’s the formation of this condensation that is also a risk if a classic motorcycle is ‘warmed up’ only occasionally by allowing it to run at idle in the garage, before turning off and putting back into storage. A much better process is to take your motorcycle for a ride, or just leave it be. We don’t need asking twice for an excuse to go for a ride though surely?

Top 10 Classic Motorcycle Maintenance Tips - Classic motorbikes at vintage event

6. Leading the charge

Trickle chargers are essential, as modern batteries really struggle to survive if they are allowed to go flat. If your bike is in regular use, these handy devices always ensure that your bike is ready and waiting to go and also that your battery will last longer because it has been properly cared for and conditioned.

7. Brim it

Fuel degrades over time and, if left for years at a time, risks leaving a terrible sludge at the bottom of your tank. So, it is generally agreed that keeping your tank filled up to the brim when storing your bike is worthwhile. In regular use it is also good practice to avoid running the tank too low as well.

This has really been part of storage and maintenance since the introduction of ethanol in fuels, particularly the fuels that have a stronger ethanol content – such as E10. Ethanol is hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs water. Why this is important is that now the contents of your tank have the ability to grab water and use it to corrode the internals of your tank and fuel system. Leaving the tank full where possible prevents the likelihood of condensation forming and reduces the amount of air in the tank which will inevitably contain a certain amount of moisture content.

There are proprietary tank protecting products now on the market that work to protect the fuel system’s other components from the effects of ethanol and these, alongside upgrades of fuel systems with ethanol safe components are recommended for bikes that are used infrequently.

If you’re motorcycle has been stored for a long time, it’s worth siphoning out the old fuel and filling with fresh before you start up your bike again. Old fuel goes ‘off’ and can separate out over time risking nasty gunk blocking up filters and carburettors.

8. Keep it clean, people!

Let’s face it – we don’t usually need an excuse to get out there and polish our motorcycles up to looking their best. But cleanliness is all part of the maintenance regime. In particular, it is crucial to have a clean bike if you are considering storing it for any length of time. In Winter, salt dust thrown up off the road and dirt build up all trap moisture and promote corrosion.

Check radiator ducts, air intakes, vents, and all the nooks and crannies – including the exhaust – for dirt and moisture. Your bike should be bone dry before you lay it up for storage and in particular, moisture can play havoc with brake disc surfaces and chains. Use a good silicon lubrication spray like WD40 to drive out moisture from those hard to reach areas.

Air filters can easily clog up with flies and other road debris so regularly remove air filters, wash them in fuel allow to dry before giving them a mist over with oil and refitting. This will ensure your bike breathes easily giving you improved performance and fuel economy.

9. Stand up!

Leaving your bike for long periods of time in one position can create flat spots on the tyres over time and can even damage the wheels.

A couple of paddock stands will keep the wheels off the ground and there are a number of well-made designs of stand that are relatively inexpensive.

If you don’t have access to a stand then use tyre trainers or even thick carpet and consider over inflating tyres to prevent sidewalls buckling. If the wheels are on the ground using any of these methods then be sure to turn the wheels now and then to vary the contact patch on which the load is bearing.

10. Storage

A garage or a shed is fine, but ventilation is crucial. If you don’t have an existing outbuilding then consider a motorcycle shelter. The key aim is to reduce the risk of your classic motorcycle being exposed to constant damp.

It’s often difficult to keep it out of the way but try to ensure that it is not obstructing walkaways or areas that need frequent access so as to avoid damage caused by constantly knocking into your bike. We all know how much damage can be caused by a bike that’s toppled over.

Even if you’re storing a motorcycle indoors, it is a good idea to keep it covered. Motorcycle covers worth considering will allow air to circulate while keeping dust and debris off your bike and a good supplier of these is a specialist company like Hamilton Classic.

Top 10 Classic Motorcycle Maintenance Tips - Motorbike in workshop

Classic Motorcycle Insurance from Peter James Insurance

There you have it…our top 10 classic motorcycle maintenance tips!

Classic and vintage bike insurance requires specialist knowledge and understanding. You a need a policy that is tailored to historic motorcycles, with lots of extras included to ensure the needs of your classic motorcycle are met, and protected, to allow you to focus on enjoying your hobby.

Peter James Insurance has been at the forefront of insuring vintage and classic motorcycles for decades.
Our policies are tried, tested, and trusted by fellow two-wheeled classics fans and have been developed by us over many decades, working closely with clubs to tailor our policies.

Our insurance packages even come with ‘Helmet and Leathers Cover’ as standard to provide motorcyclists an insurance package based on our customer and club’s feedback and specialist knowledge.

Our final tip

Our final top tip, although may be it should have been our first! – is to join a club. Clubs are the backbone of the historic motoring world and offer not only technical support from the community but also great events and experiences that help you get the most out of your bike. Peter James is the exclusive insurance partner to the Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC), why not get involved today!

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