So you just bought your first new-to-you motorcycle. Maybe you scored a Craigslist deal, or found it on FB Marketplace. Maybe your buddy had a bike sitting in his or her garage. Either way, you got a great deal and you’re ready to ride. But wait!
First, you need to go over the bike and make sure everything is functional, and safe. And maybe do a few upgrades for your comfort and style.
Let’s start with safety. Did the previous owner recently service the bike? Maybe, maybe not. If it’s an older bike and it has low miles, you scored, but chances are it probably hasn’t been touched in years. Take it to your mechanic, or grab a buddy who knows the basics to show you what’s up. Everyone has to start somewhere, and learning everything there is to know about your bike is the best way to start.
- Check and change the oil and filter.
- Check the tires — old tires crack, get hard, and are not safe to be ripping around on! If they are old, replace them. This can be the difference between a safe ride and a scary or dangerous ride! Check the tire pressure too (the maximum PSI is listed on the tire itself, you should keep it at or slightly below that number).
- Check the brakes — both the pads and fluids. Change if necessary!
- Check the drive belt, or chain. If it’s a chain, lube it!
- Check the battery — does it crank over nicely, or struggle? Are the terminals crusty?
- Change the gas! If it’s old gas, it will get gummy and can cause damage. Ideally, drain it and replace with fresh fuel.
- Lube everything! Anything that moves needs lubrication.
- Make sure all the lights work — turn signals, brake lights, headlight, etc.
- Does it run a little funky? Sound like it’s choking? It might need the carburetor cleaned.
- Check the air filter — your bike wants fresh air, and a dirty air cleaner prevents that.
- Is it watercooled? Be sure to check, and fill, the radiator.
- Give it a good once over. Make sure all the nuts and bolts are tight — parts falling off is no fun.
Now, let’s move on to comfort. There’s nothing worse than riding for an hour and being miserable! Your first big modifications should be making sure you feel safe and comfortable on your bike.
Bars — One of the first things I like to change is the handlebars. I personally have been through 10+ sets! Find a set that lets you ride comfortably, without stretching any muscles weird, putting pressure on your wrists, etc. Ape hangers may look cool, but will you be comfortable with your hands higher than shoulders? Probably not, and it may even be illegal in your state. Ask your friends if you can sit on their bikes and see how their bars feel!
Seat — This is important too! Maybe your seat is old and cracked, or maybe it’s the stock seat that’s so squishy it makes your bike too tall. Find one that leaves you comfy for long rides.
Height — Does the bike sit at the right height for you? Is it too tall, or too short? This is a slightly more expensive mod, but changing the suspension can make a world of difference, especially if you’re shorter. Check out Burly Brand’s Slammer Shocks, which were specifically made to lower that rear end a couple inches.
Now, the part you’ve been waiting for: style. We all love making motorcycles our own (hell, I chopped mine completely up!). There’s a ton of things you can do here, some for utility and style, and some purely for style.
Sissy bar — Do you want a sissy bar? This is the bar that sits behind the passenger seat, and is handy for strapping gear to. Lots of companies make all different styles that bolt directly onto a stock bike. Or maybe you have a Triumph, or classic Honda — maybe your bike would look better with a classic package rack style instead. It’s your bike, so it’s all about what you want.
Bags — Do you want saddlebags? There are two main styles — hard bags that bolt on, or soft bags, like leather or canvas bags. Maybe you want a bag that straps to your front forks, or a tank bag.
Paint — There’s nothing more satisfying than a custom paint job. This will definitely run you more money, but having a one-off paint job can really set your bike apart from the rest! There are a ton of painters out there who will paint something just your style.
Air Cleaner — A new air cleaner is an easy way to give your bike some style, and help it breathe better. This can also give you extra horsepower if you pick the right one.
Exhaust — Again, this is the start to upgrading and making your bike faster, but it’s also a big style bonus. Research what style you like best, and keep in mind each pipe will make your bike sound completely different. Chat with your mechanic, and hit some bike shows to see what different pipes sound like.
Wanna go faster? Part of the fun of bikes is that you can go fast. Now, maybe I’m biased because I work for a motorcycle company that is all about going fast (S&S Cycle), but the most satisfying thing I did was make my bike faster.
Air cleaner and exhaust are your first upgrades to get a few more horsepower out of your bike. You would be amazed at the difference these make, and bonus points for added style!
Cams – The camshafts are an internal engine part, and depending on your bike you may have 1, 2, or 4. Changing these changes the way the bike runs, and can make a huge difference.
Big Bore Kit – A common starter bike is an 883 Sportster. Don’t think you’ll get stuck and bored with this bike! It’s a fairly easy engine upgrade to move up to a 1200, and you may even end up faster than a stock 1200! Bigger cylinders and pistons are easily switched out by a mechanic (or someone with the know-how and tools to do so – I did my kit myself!).
Another thing to note when you first purchase a motorcycle; get it registered, and INSURED. Something I learned from a friend, who learned the hard way, was being properly insured is key. Talk to your insurance agent to figure out what is best for you, but I got full coverage, and not just uninsured motorist – there is something called UNDERINSURED motorist. This means that if they have just the legally required basics, they may not have enough to cover you if need be, so your UNDERINSURED will kick in to cover you. It sucks to think about, but it could save you later on!
Congrats on your new motorcycle, have fun, and keep the rubber side down!