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California Scientific
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West Sacramento, CA 95691
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800-284-8112
916-372-6800

New Motorcycle Check list and Break in

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New Bikes

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How to check your new bike

With all new bikes, there are certain things you should check carefully. It's just possible that you care more about your life than the 17 year old who assembled your bike while listening to heavy metal at 112dB. Generally, your bike was shipped from the factory in a crate, and the dealer was responsible for attaching the front wheel and handlebars, adding battery acid and engine oil, and attaching various windshield and fairing parts. There's a checklist here that you can print out and use as a guide. May latest bike (3/04) had loose pinch bolts on the lower triple clamps and loose bolts on the rear brake caliper. The front tire was low on air. Of course, the controls were all adjusted for someone 5'3" tall with 50" long arms. Apparently Orang-Utangs buy a lot of motorcycles. As new bikes go, this one was in pretty decent shape - I've seen much worse. I recommend you check the following:

Front End

  1. Front tire mounting direction - check that the arrow on the sidewall points the right way.
  2. Front tire air pressure - 38 psi is a good starting point for a street bike, 32psi for a dual sport.
  3. Front axle bolts tight - this is a part of your bike you want to stay attached.
  4. Front brake caliper bolts tight - brakes are a good thing to have and keep.
  5. Front rim true - Hold a pencil up against the fork leg, point barely touching the front rim, and spin the front tire.
  6. No visible cracks or dents in rim
  7. Front brake rotors clean and true - no oil or scum on rotors. Hold your pencil against the fork leg, point barely touching the brake rotor, and spin the front tire.
  8. No loose spokes - tap each spoke with something metallic. They should each ring a bit, not thud, with a similar tone.
  9. No fore/aft movement in front wheel - grab the rim and pull forwards.
  10. No side to side movement in front wheel - grab the rim and pull side to side.
  11. Fork legs pinch bolts tight - we don't want the forks sliding up in the triple clamps when we hit a bump.
  12. Steering is free lock to lock - nothing binds, nothing gets pinched.
  13. Steering stem top bolt tight.
  14. Handlebar bolts tight. No movement of handlebars when you push or pull.
  15. Forks more freely - sit on the bike, lock the front brake and push down on the handlebars.
  16. Forks adjusted identically - same pre-load, same damping on each leg.

Controls

  1. If you have an adjustable seat, pick a position for it.
  2. Adjust the handlebars to suit you
  3. Adjust the brake and clutch lever height. When you're sitting on the bike with your arms in their relaxed normal position, put your fingers out at their natural angle, just a tiny bit below level with the tops of your hands. Now, your fingertips should be very lightly resting on the levers.
  4. If you have a street bike, tighten up the clutch and brake levers. If you will ever go off-road, leave the levers just a little bit loose so that they can rotate in a fall instead of break.
  5. Adjust your mirrors
  6. Adjust the throttle cable so that there is almost no free play in your throttle.
  7. Ride around a bit, make sure your shift lever is adjusted correctly. When you move your toe under the shift lever, you should have to move your toes downwards just a little bit to get it underneath. Your foot should be in contact with the shift lever as soon as you have your foot under it - if you have to pull up at all to touch your shift lever, it's too high. When adjusted correctly, the shift lever is about at a level with the center of your toes when your feet are in their relaxed position.
  8. Adjust your rear brake lever so that when you move your foot over, it barely touches the brake lever. You should not have to move your foot downwards to contact the rear brake.

Middle

  1. Coolant level correct. The radiator overflow bottle will have high and low level marks.
  2. Oil level visible when cold - bike on the center stand, site glass or dip stick shows between high and low marks.
  3. Oil level correct when warm - bike on the center stand, site glass or dip stick shows between high and low marks.
  4. Dipstick or oil fill cover tight.
  5. Brake and clutch levers work easily.
  6. Clutch and front brake fluid levels - check site glass on the handlebar reservoirs.
  7. Rear brake fluid level - check site glass on the reservoir.
  8. Body panels have all fasteners.
  9. Radiator fan spins freely.
  10. Throttle snaps shut.
  11. Mufflers attached securely - pull on them, there should be no movement.
  12. Warm idle 1000 - 1200 rpm. Too slow is hard on your crankshaft bearings, to fast is hard on your brain.

Rear End

  1. Rear tire mounting direction - check that the arrow on the sidewall points the right way.
  2. Rear tire air pressure - 38psi is a good starting point.
  3. Rear axle bolt tight
  4. No visible cracks or dents in rim
  5. Rear rim true - bike on center stand, hold a pencil against the swing arm, point barely touching the rim, and spin the wheel.
  6. Rear brake rotor clean and true - - no oil or scum on rotor. Hold your pencil against the swing arm, point barely touching the rotor, and spin the wheel.
  7. No loose spokes - tap each spoke with something metallic. They should each ring a bit, not thud, with a similar tone.
  8. No fore/aft movement in rear wheel - grab the wheel and tug on it.
  9. No side to side movement in rear wheel - grab the wheel and tug on it.
  10. Rear brake caliper bolts tight
  11. Chain slack 1¼" at the loosest point with no one on the bike.
  12. Rear shocks move freely - sit on the bike and bounce.
  13. Rear wheel aligned with front - put 15' of string around the front tire, and pull the two ends back to the back of the rear tire. Touch the string to the widest points on the back of the rear tire, and look at the string where it hits the front of the rear tire.
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How to break in your new bike

This is an area of no small controversy. Here's my opinion, after breaking in 21 new motorcycles. You can get other opinions from Moto Man or in your owner's manual. You'll find what I have to say is in reasonable agreement with Moto Man, and we both contradict your owner's manual rather strongly.

I believe when breaking in a new engine you have several things to accomplish, and several things to avoid. Your new engine is not perfectly machined, and in the course of running for the first few hours a fair amount of metal will be worn off various engine parts and wind up in your oil. These metal chips will quickly overwhelm your oil filter, which is really not made to handle the volume of junk that happens in the first couple hours. You don't want to drive around a for a long time with a lot of metal chips in your oil.

In the first 15 to 30 minutes you run your motor, there can be very small hot spots that get to temperatures that are really not at all healthy for your motor. The motor overall is a large system and will almost certainly not overheat, but this doesn't mean every little spot on your pistons, rings, bearings, and cylinder walls is within temperature spec. Of course, you don't want to overheat your motor.

My opinion: The bike should be started and allowed to warm up at an idle for about two minutes. This is to get the oil at something close to operating temperature. Then, ride the bike normally for about 5 miles. Stay off freeways or anywhere else that would make you maintain a constant speed. Don't lug the engine - run the engine in the mid-range rpm band, roughly 1/3 to 2/3 of the red line rpm. You want to be accelerating and decelerating, and using the engine as a brake to slow you down at times. Stop, turn off the engine, and let the engine cool for about 5 minutes. This is to even out the temperature in case there are any hot spots. Start the bike and ride for about 10 minutes, again in stop and go traffic. Stop and allow about 5 minutes for the engine temperature to even out.

Now, ride the bike fairly hard for about 25 to 50 miles. A mountain or curvy road is a good thing at this point. You can use the entire rpm band, up to and perhaps even a bit over the red line. Make sure to accelerate and decelerate a lot, using full throttle and using the engine as a brake. Notice that your owner's manual says at this point you should still be keeping the RPM under something like 4,000. I disagree with this quite strongly. Moto Man gives a good argument on why the factories give such a recommendation, which goes against all my experience and understanding and what every racing team in the universe does.

At about 50 miles, go home and change the oil and the filter. I strongly recommend you use a top quality oil filter, a Purolator Pure One, Mobil-1, Bosch, or SuperTech. I recommend you use a synthetic oil such as Shell Rotella, Mobil-1 SUV, or Delvac-1. If you simply can't bring yourself to use a synthetic in a new engine, use Chevron Delo-400. Don't use a 10w-30 oil. If your manufacturer recommends a 20w-50 oil, use Mobil-1 red cap or Chevron Delo-400 15w-40, which meets the high speed shear standards of a 20w-50 oil. Information on oils and oil filters is available on this web page, see the Lubricants section. When you take out your factory oil, if you hold it up in the sunlight you'll see the color is very good, it looks almost completely unused, but you'll see lots of reflections from metal flakes in the oil. These flakes are very bad for your engine, and can clog up your oil filter so that your filter bypass is activated, meaning you effectively don't have an oil filter. Notice that the factory says you should still be using the factory oil and oil filter. I think this is insane.

Corvettes and Porsches come from the factory with Mobil-1 in their engines. Remember, these engineers have designed world- champion engines for F1, Indy, Le Mans 24 hours, etc.

At this point, the bulk of your break-in is done. Your rings are substantially seated, your cylinder walls are scrubbed in, and your transmission gears have shed the bulk of their machining flaws. You can ride your bike now like it's broken in, except I recommend you try to avoid lugging the engine or running at a constant speed on the freeway for long times until after your next oil change.

When you have 500 to 800 miles on the bike, change the oil and filter again. Again, I recommend a synthetic oil, or Chevron Delo-400, or if the manufacturer recommends 20w-50 use Mobil-1 red cap or Chevron Delo-400 15w-40. If you have a drive shaft, now's the time to change your rear end gear lube. Use a good synthetic in there, like Mobil-1 or Valvoline synthetic gear lube. Continue to ride the bike normally. At this point, you can get on the freeway and drone if you simply must.

At 2000 to 2500 miles, change the oil and filter again. Your bike is now pretty much completely broken in. There will still be a small amount of break in stuff happening until up to 10,000 miles, but it's nothing you have to think about. You can now get onto a sensible oil change schedule. I recommend changing your oil every 2500 miles if you use a normal automotive oil. If you use one of the recommended synthetic oils and recommend oil filters, you can confidently go 5,000 miles between changes. I go 8,000 to 9,000 miles on an oil change, and I measure the oil viscosity and detergent after every change. A good synthetic will hold up this long in a modern water-cooled engine. Except for the Ural, every motorcycle made after about 1985 has what I consider a modern engine. Even Harleys.