Riders who consider the enormity of risk reduction will often start considering the options available to them, and the principle method of reducing risk is through preparedness. The methods of preparing for an encounter are basically through preparing our body using shielding such as long pants, long sleeves, leather clothing, boots, gloves, and helmets. Mental preparedness is addressed through formal education (MSF, CLASS, and others), reading information (including this article), and experience. The purpose of formal education is to increase the learning curve of the rider to the point “negative experiential learning” occurs less frequently or not at all. In other words the hope is that riders will “crash” less while learning what does work, and will ride more safely through learning the correct techniques. Following all of these principles the rider should be able to succeed at most tasks necessary to the proper operation of a motorcycle. None of these techniques will help if a rider hops on the bike, and drives away into the sunset with a poorly inflated tire.
There is no technique capable of solving a mechanical break-down when it is ignored. A rider will always be the captain of his own destiny, and the mechanical condition of a motorcycle should be thoroughly checked out prior to each ride. The sounds of numerous groans being issued by riders as they think about “thorough check up’s” is awe inspiring. Before flipping to the next page consider this. No other motorized vehicle on the road leaves the operator at so much risk as a motorcycle. The only other vehicle that has as much inherent risk from mechanical failure would probably be found in general aviation. Pilots check there aircraft out top to bottom before each flight following a recommended “Check-List” provided by the manufacturer of the air-plane for just such a purpose. Opening up the owners-manual of my Goldwing I find a very nice periodic check list, and a “Prior to Riding” check-list. The simple list provided by Honda will insure a certain amount of security in the mechanical nature, and the health of your machine. However, if what the rider is looking for is a complete check-up of the machine then you must look else where.
Numerous articles, and literature exist on the subject of motorcycle maintenance and inspection. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation provides one of the most comprehensive lists of items to inspect through their T-CLOCK inspection acronym. Tires & wheels, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Kickstand make up the acronym used by MSF. Prior to any range activity during an ERC using your own bike the T-CLOCK inspection will probably be preformed by yourself under the tutelage of an MSF instructor. So, when you take your next ERC listen carefully to how the inspection is done.
The tires of a motorcycle should be checked for damage or wear, and the rims should be in good condition. Specifically any items checked should conform to the manufacturers specifications. The next item on the MSF checklist is controls. Controls should operate each of their components correctly with out binding, or excessive effort. What kind of controls should be checked? All of them. Handlebar levers, foot controls, and throttle should work correctly. L is for lights, and the lights should shine brightly. Check to make sure the brake-light works, and clean the lenses of all lights or reflectors.
No subject can stir up more debate among “tire-kickers” than what type of oil to use in an engine. How often should you check the different oil levels on a motorcycle. As often as recommended by the manufacturer or sooner. When was the last time you checked the rear drive oil level on your Goldwing? A person I have ridden with many times told me on a trip that he had NEVER changed the hydraulic fluid in his clutch. This happened not so long ago. The bike? A 1985 Aspencade with over seventy three thousand miles on it. The reason the subject came up was the shifting problems that was occurring. The owner of this Aspencade I believe finally did replace the fluids through out his bike, and willingly admitted he had procrastinated figuring on fixing it when it broke. The fluids of a motorcycle are the sweat, blood, and tendons that make everything work. The three basic fluids are coolants, oils, and hydraulic fluids. Proper maintenance of these items insure continued reliability of operation.
The next two items on MSF’s inspection list is “C”hassis & “K”ickstand. Chassis includes the frame, shocks, forks, and drive shaft. The shocks on some Goldwing’s are capable of some adjustability at the shock other Goldwings have only adjustability through air-pressure. GL1500 owners can’t even get near their shocks with out taking off the saddlebags, and that’s probably an hours worth of work if you know what your doing. Obviously checking out the chassis on any full coverage body-work motorcycle will be time consuming, and could require advanced technical skills. As to how to check the kickstand of a motorcycle a rider should check to make sure it is appropriately lubricated, not bent, cracked, or showing obvious signs of coming apart, and returns to the up position easily.
Proper care of a Goldwing is the responsibility of the rider. I have heard many times how a Goldwing was abused beyond belief, literally ran into the ground, and yet brought the rider home safely. There are also many stories of how riders have forgotten to inspect some portion of the motorcycle, and ridden off with flat tires, open saddle-bags, cables through the wheels, and other things that cause accidents. Mistakes can happen to anyone. The idea is to limit the chance of making mistakes, and reduce the risk of mechanical failure. Motorcycles are a system. The failure of any part can cause the entire system to collapse quickly. Following the owners manual pre-ride inspection, and doing the recommended maintenance will dramatically reduce risk of mechanical failure. Reading the owners manual should be the first thing anyone does before riding a new motorcycle. I worry when I look at a used motorcycle and the owners manual looks brand new, and the maintenance pages are completely blank. “Oil changes every 2000 miles ” the proud owner say’s and a series of completely pristine pages stare up at me. Yea right.
Consider this also. It is better to dirty thy hands while in the garage than attempt to fix thy motorcycle along the great interstate. Familiarity with your motorcycle will also breed confidence when you decide to take the long trip to the other coast. When you know the bike is in great condition you will not need to worry about whether the mechanic was working on a Friday or Monday. The responsibility of checking out the motorcycle is solely the riders. It is easy to blame mechanics, or brother in-law’s for forgetting to add/fix something when your sitting fifty miles away from the nearest phone, and it will still be you sitting there wondering why your cell-phone does not work properly. I would suggest doing a complete T-CLOCK before every major ride, after EVERY trip to the dealer, during every self performed maintenance (oil change, air cleaners, etc..), and when time permits. Do follow the suggested pre-ride check in the owners manual every time you get on the bike. The pre-ride check in the owners manual should only take a few seconds, and even the most late person has a few seconds to spare. Ride safe.