The Tune Up

Story by Costa Mouzouris//
November 1 2012

Well, it’s great to be back. I’d like to thank Pat Morrison for the stellar job he’s done manning Mojo Garage, but beginning with this issue, we’ll be working out of my toolbox.

This month, I’ll tackle the basic tune-up. It’s a simple-sounding job, but what exactly does it include?

Firstly, understand that the tune-up you’ll receive in a professional shop will differ from the kind you’ll probably perform if you do your own maintenance, and it will differ from shop to shop. Here’s what you should do if you want to take care of this job yourself.

It might seem odd to discuss this operation as the season comes to a close, but it is actually a good practice to perform a tune-up just before putting your bike away for the winter. This way, it will be put away with fresh oil in the engine, and all the necessary checks will be done so you’ll be ready to ride with minimal fuss next spring. I won’t be going into too much detail with every procedure, but I will cover the basics.

Before beginning, you should have a service manual handy, or at the very least the owner’s manual for your bike. Either of these books will contain the maintenance schedule that will walk you through what you should be servicing depending on the mileage incurred or the time that has elapsed since your last tune-up.

First on the list is an oil and filter change. This should be done with the engine warm, so that the oil flows easily and drains more thoroughly. If you ride a BMW Boxer or older K model, or a Harley, you should check the transmission oil level, which is separate from the engine oil. Big Twin Harleys also have separate primary oil to be checked.

Depending on your bike, checking the air filter can either be an easy or somewhat difficult task; some air filters take a couple of minutes to access, some require removal of bodywork or fuel tanks – again, the service or owner’s manual comes in handy here.

There are two types of air filters used on production bikes: paper element or oiled foam. If a paper element is only slightly dirty, it can be blown with compressed air to dislodge some of the dirt (wear safety glasses); if it is darkened with oily residue, which is normal because crankcase vapour vents into the airbox to reduce emissions, the filter will need replacing. An oiled foam filter can be washed with dishwashing detergent and warm water, then dried and re-oiled with gear oil or specialized filter oil.

Oiled gauze is a third type of air filter, usually made by K&N and usually an aftermarket addition. This, too, is washable using a special cleaner, and can be re-oiled using specific oil, both available though motorcycle shops. Washable filters save money in the long run, so you should consider installing one.

Check sparkplugs and replace them if necessary – if the electrodes are rounded off, it’s probably time for new plugs. Don’t forget to check the gap, and by now you should know where to find that spec. I use platinum-tipped sparkplugs; they’re a bit more expensive, but last about four times as long as regular plugs. I’m just lazy and like to hold off on replacing them as long as I can.

If your bike is liquid-cooled, you should check the coolant level. You do this at the overflow reservoir bottle; just fill it with coolant (not water) to the upper level if needed. If the bottle is completely empty, check the level at the radiator, through the filler cap. If the level seems unusually low in there, it may be an indication of a cooling-system problem – have it checked out.

If your bike has a conventional battery, identifiable by the screw-in filler caps on top, check the fluid level and top it up to the upper level with water. Low- or no- maintenance batteries have no provisions for adding water, so you can skip this check. While you’re at it, make sure the battery terminals are secure.

Check drive-chain condition and tension, and lube it if needed; same goes for a belt-driven bike, though you should skip the lubing part. If your bike is shaft driven, check the oil level.

Have a general look around the bike, check brake pads for wear, look for leaks and check for loose fasteners, check brake and clutch fluid level, and if it’s a cable-operated clutch, check for proper free play. You can also lubricate the cables, something that very few shops include in a tune-up.

With all of these checks done, all that will be left, if necessary (according to your mileage), will be a valve adjustment, and carburetor synchronization if your bike has more than one carb. These jobs can be done at your local shop, unless you feel up to the task and have the appropriate special tools.

Many shops, especially authorized dealers, will charge a flat rate for a tune-up, and usually this price will have exclusions (you know, it’s in the fine print), so always ask what is included in a tune-up – often, valve adjustment is extra. If you perform most of the basics and leave the complicated things for them to do, you’ll save on labour charges and leave with money in your pocket.

Technical articles are written purely as reference only and your motorcycle may require different procedures. You should be mechanically inclined to carry out your own maintenance and we recommend you contact your mechanic prior to performing any type of work on your bike.


Copyright ©2002-2024 Motorcycle Mojo | Privacy Policy | Built by Gooder Marketing