Basic motorcycle maintenance

As a rider, you’re responsible for the roadworthiness of your motorbike – making sure that it’s safe to be ridden on the road.

On some motorbikes, many of the mechanical parts are sealed and can only be checked by a qualified mechanic but there are some checks that you must do. Look at your motorbike handbook to see which checks you can make and how to do them.

You should regularly check

  • the engine oil and coolant
  • the tyres
  • the brakes, shock absorbers and rear-wheel alignment
  • the electrical equipment, such as the lights, battery and horn
  • the chain and sprockets – make sure all the links are loose and that the sprockets are not worn.

Carry out regular checks on your motorbike to keep it working efficiently and safely. The sooner you spot a problem, the easier it is to fix usually.

Do not forget to look after your kit too: visors get scratched, zips get worn and stitching can come undone, all of which can compromise your safety and comfort.

Checking the engine oil

Engine oil keeps the engine lubricated so it can work efficiently. You need to keep the oil at the level recommended by the motorbike manufacturer.

Check the oil level regularly but especially before a long journey. The engine should be cold and you’ll need to make sure the motorbike is on a level area and upright. Use the centre stand if your motorbike has one.

Look at your motorbike handbook to find out how to check the oil level and how to top it up, if necessary. It should also tell you what type of oil to use. Using the wrong type of oil can increase fuel consumption, damage the engine and could affect the vehicle warranty.

While it’s important not to let the oil level get too low, you also need to be careful not to put in too much oil. Overfilling with engine oil can damage the engine and can cause extra emissions from your motorbike, which are bad for the environment.

Checking the engine coolant

Many motorbikes are liquid cooled using a mixture of antifreeze and water, which stops the engine from overheating. You should check the coolant level frequently, and especially before a long journey. Look at your motorbike handbook to find out how to check the engine coolant and how to top it up if necessary. In cold weather, you’ll need to keep the strength of the antifreeze at the correct level.

Checking your tyres

Tyres are vital to your motorbike’s safety: damaged or incorrectly inflated tyres could blow ,out or lose grip on the road surface and cause an incident.

Make sure that your tyres are correctly fitted and check they’re inflated to the correct pressure weekly. Use a tyre pressure gauge when the tyres are cold to make sure the pressures match those given in the motorbike handbook.

The tread on your tyres must measure at least 1 mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre, going all the way around the tyre. The groove of the original tread must be visible all around the tyre.

Most tyres have tread wear indicators, which are exposed when the tread is worn down to 1 mm. Look out for these when you’re checking the tyres.

Check your tyres for damage that could make them unsafe. You must not use a tyre that has

  • a cut longer than 25 mm or 10% of the width of the tyre (whichever is the greater), and which is deep enough to reach the ply
  • a lump, bulge or tear
  • any exposed ply or cord
  • been recut.

If you’re caught using faulty or worn tyres, you could be charged with fines of up to £2,500, riding disqualification or points on your licence for each faulty tyre.

Uneven or excessive tyre wear can mean that there’s a fault with the tyres, brakes, steering, suspension or wheel alignment. Get your motorbike checked by a mechanic as soon as possible so any faults can be put right, and replace any damaged tyres.


Check your brakes are working whenever you set out on a journey. Brake pads and shoes gradually wear so check and replace them as necessary.

Shock absorbers

Check the shock absorbers for oil leaks, which will make your motorbike difficult to control and increase your stopping distance. Leaking oil could also get on the wheel, tyre, brake disc or drum and cause an incident.

Drive chain and rear wheel alignment

Make sure the drive chain is adjusted so it has the correct amount of free play: see your motorbike handbook for more information. You’ll also need to look out for wear on the drive chain. A worn or slack drive chain can jump off the sprocket and lock the rear wheel.

When you’ve adjusted the chain tension, you’ll need to check the rear wheel alignment. Look at your motorbike handbook for details.


Make sure that the terminals on the motorbike battery are secure, clean and greased. Most modern batteries are maintenance free and sealed for life. However, if the battery has a filler cap, you’ll need to check the fluid level to make sure that the plates in each cell are covered. Top up the battery with distilled water if necessary, but be careful not to overfill it.


Make sure the front and rear lights, brake lights, indicators and hazard lights (if fitted) work. You should do this each time you use the motorbike.

Keep your motorbike’s lights, indicators, reflectors and number plates clean at all times. Dirt on the lights and reflectors will stop them working effectively.


Check the horn is working properly but be careful not to do it when it might frighten or annoy other people

Disposing of oil, batteries and tyres

If you service your own motorbike, make sure you dispose of old engine oil, batteries and tyres by taking them to a local authority site or a garage. Do not put these items in the household waste or pour oil down the drain because they can damage the environment.

Disposing of these items incorrectly is illegal: you could be fined or given a prison sentence. By taking them to a local authority site, they can be safely disposed of or recycled.

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