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Smart riding starts with a parked motorcycle

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Riding smart begins well before the bike comes off the stand. Riders may have varying opinions on safety gear, but one thing that is constant between all riders and all bikes is preparation; this includes the pre-ride inspection or check. Often overlooked (especially by experienced or seasoned riders), the pre-ride check is important. After all, before we swing a leg over our beloved machines, we have to know… really know, that we're ready to roll.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) manual teaches an acronym in their Basic Rider Course (BRC) for this purpose. It’s called the T-CLOCS which is designed to be easy to remember, easy to perform and through repetition, can become automatic for each rider who practices it. The goal is to examine the bike in for a minute or two, in order to spot a problem. The T-CLOCS check shouldn’t take much longer than that. Anything that leaks, clicks, pops, goes bang or just stops working can cause a big-time safety issue.

Though the pre-ride is an overall quick-check at the bike, the following is each part of the T-CLOCS with some greater depth into the sections.

T – Tires and Wheels – this includes, tires, tire pressures, spokes, rims, brakes, bearings.
What to look for: examine the tires for wear, cracking and bulging; exposed cords. Tires worn up to and beyond their wear indicators not only challenge traction but are more easily punctured by road hazards. Check tire pressures, which are probably the most overlooked but important check you can do. A tire under or over pressurized reduces traction, tire life and rider safety. Modern machines often have built-in TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems). Check the readings on the display, often. TPMS is a real-time monitor of pressure. If your tire starts to drop in pressure significantly, TPMS will alert you and possibly save a crash.

On bikes with spoke rims, check them for tightness. A quick run of the hand over the spokes does the job. Some folks may lightly drag a screwdriver or similar tool across the spokes. Tight spokes “ring” a bit, where the loose ones just thud. On mag or alloy rims, check for cracks. This is often easier to denote when a chronic tire leak shows no tire damage as the cause. A cracked rim can be the culprit since tires on alloy or mag rims are tubeless. Spoke rims generally sport inner tubes for those tires.

Bearings are often very difficult for a rider to check without specialized equipment but leaking grease, wheel spin noise and other strange findings can be signals. You can also have your dealer check the bearings at every tire change.

As for brakes, check the friction material thickness. It’s often quite visible with a flashlight. Check the rotors, too. Damaged, bent or overly galled and scored rotors are a red-flag.

NOTE: if either the front or rear master cylinder is filled between MIN and MAX, do not add fluid – even if hovering on the MIN mark. There are only two reasons brakes show low on fluid. One is a leak, which you should see. The other is normal wear. As the brakes wear, the pistons inside the calipers push further outward. Brake fluid fills this space. Topping-off the cylinders will only make a huge mess when the calipers are pushed back in during a brake job. Unless a leak is found – and fixed – don’t add fluid. Low fluid without a leak means the brake material is significantly worn; aka, time for new brakes, period.

C - Controls - this includes levers, switches, cables, hoses.

What to look for: Bent or broken levers are obvious but a weak cable is not. Cables wear from age and a lack of lubrication. A good dealer will stock cable lubrication tools. They’re easy to use and work well. On a bigger bike, the throttle may be the only cable actuated control since everything else is hydraulic. An exception may be the clutch. Regardless, check whatever cables the bike uses for binding, sticking or other poor performance. Levers should be smooth when squeezed and released. Cables that bind can create significant issues with motorcycle control especially at slow speeds. Check hoses for leaks, bulging, cracking. Check control switches for function. Handlebar switches can become dirty and corroded from environmental factors, so check them. On unsealed switches, some garden-variety electronic contact cleaner can be a fix. Just watch the paint for over spray, many are petroleum based solvents.

L - Lights and Electrical - this includes, headlights, tail lights, signals, wiring.

What to look for: simply put, everything must work. Are headlights shining? Are they aimed correctly? Do signals work? Do brake lights work? Remember, the brake light is actuated by both the front and rear brake, separately. Check them, separately. Check for exposed or hanging wiring, anything obvious.

O - Oil and Fluids - this includes, engine oil, gear oil, hydraulic fluids, coolant.

What to look for: drips, leaks and any escape of these captive fluids from where they should be, to where they shouldn't. Drips on the garage floor are obvious, but check closer. Look underneath the machine. Leaking oil in front of the rear tire is a recipe for disaster.

C - Chassis - this includes suspension and drive line.

What to look for: cracked frames do happen but are extremely rare without some sort of physical trauma. A glance at the frame where visible is fine. Suspension comprises the front forks and rear spring/shock. Newer machines have one rear; older, may have two, depending upon the model. Leaking forks indicate suspension woes and handling issues are generally assured. Proper handling equals safe handling. Same for the rear suspension, check for anything leaking or drizzling around the business end of the shock(s). Read your owners manual and get familiar with suspension adjustments. A maladjusted suspension for a rider’s weight and size can be dangerous too, affecting handling and making a machine too tall for a shorter rider.

Chain maintenance is a food-group in itself so to speak, with tons of literature on the web. The savvy rider does research, reads and understands proper chain maintenance. There is just too much to delve into here. Just remember, lubricate the chain after each ride, when the chain is warm. This allows the lubricant to penetrate as designed. As for lubricant, that's owner's choice. O-Ring chains are the norm and some folks swear by WD-40 and some will just about go to fisticuffs arguing about using only dedicated chain lube. Look-up your manufacturer's recommendation (if the chain is stock) or if aftermarket, check with them.

Belt-driven bikes have tension markers somewhere on the belt side, usually on or near the belt guard. Check the min/max tension per the owner’s manual.

Shaft-driven rides are a bit trickier to check, best let the technicians do that during a tire change. Make sure you mention it, though! They may not automatically perform the check. Have the proper lubrication of the splines done, per the manufacturer. Any obvious noise, clicking, knocking or a notchy rear-wheel are signs of shaft problems, so get it looked at ASAP.

S - Stand - this includes the side and center stand, if equipped.

What to look for: the biggest hazard with a side-stand is a spring failure. On bikes with a side-stand interlock switch, if the machine is in gear and the side-stand drops, the engine will quit – if the switch is working properly. A side-stand in the down position or which drops can catch the ground and flip the rider off with great force. Check the side-stand spring and switch, regularly. Replacing the spring every few years isn’t a crazy idea at all.

The MSF T-CLOCS is but one rider-aid to a pre-ride checklist. Riders should use whatever is good for them. The point is to check the machine before every ride. It’s important for safety.

During scheduled maintenance the T-CLOCS can also be used as a guide and for the rider to delve into the mechanical aspects deeper than a normal 1-2 minute pre-ride checkout. This is a great way to get more mechanical knowledge about the motorcycle.

Knowledge is power and safety. Know the bike, always do the pre-ride check.

Keep the plastic side up and the rubber side down!


(2007). Basic Rider Course Rider Handbook (7.1 ed.). Irvine: Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Retrieved from

Motorcycle safety tire wear bars. (2012, May 28). The Biker's Garage, DOI: [Web log message]. (2012, May 28). Retrieved from



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