What you Need to Check on your Motorcycle before a Road Trip – Pre-Ride Checklist

The planning and preparations for a road trip are almost as much fun as the trip itself. And by following a few simple rules from our motorcycle checklist, you can enjoy a trouble-free ride.

The destination for a road trip is limited only by the imagination and of course, budget. You might want to explore the back roads and lesser-traveled corners of your home country, or perhaps venture further afield on the trip of a lifetime.

The basic principles of planning and checking before you set off, however, remain the same and are just as important.  But what do you need to check on your motorcycle before a road trip?

Not strictly a motorcycle check but first on my checklist is always documentation.  Even if you’re riding within your borders, you will need your license, registration and in many US states, proof of valid insurance.

If you are exploring mainland Europe, you will need all of these things. Plus, you will need to check the individual legal requirements for each country you intend to ride in.

I know from personal experience that most western European countries are okay with just your license and bike documents. However, French law dictates that riders must also carry an emergency first aid kit and a self-breathalyzing kit. Get stopped by the police without them, and it’s an on the spot fine.

While we’re still at the planning stage, if you intend to use a sat nav, make sure you’ve prepared your route map. Don’t forget though, to add all the information and download any additional maps onto your device.

Next on to the motorcycle checklist, is a walk around your bike. You must do a quick visual inspection. It’s a very good idea to give it a good clean too; this makes it easier to spot anything amiss.  If everything looks as it should, then we can now get down to specifics.


Pre-Ride Checklist: Tires

First up, tires.  Get your bike on its center stand so you can spin the wheels. Look closely at the sidewalls for any signs of damage, and then go on to the tread.  Don’t forget; it’s possible for a tubeless tire to pick up a nail and remain inflated, so look carefully.

Consider how many miles your trip will take, do they have enough tread? The larger and more powerful the bike, the quicker the tire will wear. Remember, you’ll be carrying more weight, and you may need to change the tire.

Pre-Ride Checklist: Lights

I am sure I don’t have to tell you that you need your lights working 100% for night riding, but some places require them for daytime riding too. To make sure they’re fully operational, position your bike in front of a wall or door. Turn on the lights, and make sure full and low beam work fully, especially if you have twin headlights.

For the rear light, some bikes run two tail light bulbs so ensure both are good. You need to check brake lights now too, pump the front brake lever, then the rear brake pedal and look for the brighter glow. Turn signals should flash steadily and cancel, and horns should be loud.

Pre-Ride Checklist: Electrics

Electrical wires and components are easy to forget about because they usually live under seats or behind panels. But a quick inspection is always wise, especially as you’ll be carrying more weight in the shape of luggage.

What you’re looking for here is any trapped wiring looms or stray wires between frame rails and luggage straps, that may wear through. Additionally, lift the seat and inspect your electrical components are all where they should be and secure. Batteries should also be secure and terminals good and tight.

Pre-Ride Checklist: Fluid Checks

Next, comes the fluid checks, and this covers oil, coolant and brake reservoirs. Ideally, the bike needs to be straight and level for this, so if you don’t have a center stand get someone to hold the handlebars for you.  Don’t just look at the coolant bottles either, open the caps and see how much fluid is in them.

Once again, oil checks will depend on your particular motorcycle. These checks range from dipsticks, to sight glasses, and remember, some bikes will have separate engine, gearbox, and primary drive case oil.

But in all cases regardless of whether they are correctly topped up, consider when you last serviced your bike and roughly how many miles you intend to cover. If you’re going to do any serious mileage, an oil change/service is always a good idea.

Pre-Ride Checklist: Brakes

Front and back brake reservoirs also need to be inspected carefully. If you can clearly see the fluid level, don’t unscrew the caps. Dirt and air in your brake lines are not good traveling companions.

Regardless of whether you’ve got good old-fashioned clutch and throttle cables, or ride-by-wire and a hydraulic clutch ensure that cables and wires don’t snag when turning the handlebars. They should also operate freely, and clutch and throttle cables should be oiled.

Brakes always get a battering on a road trip, even if you’re not taking a passenger.  The amount of weight carried is increased by any luggage you may have.  This additional load means you take longer to stop and your brakes have to work harder.

It’s better if you take the brake pads out of the calipers to check (front and back) and dust them off.  See how much meat is on the pads by inspecting them in situ.

As part of your brake inspection, you should also make sure the lever and pedal have plenty of pressure.  If either feels spongy, it means there’s air in the brake line.

Pre-Ride Checklist: Mirrors

I don’t think they’ve introduced a law yet that says mirrors are compulsory, but they sure are a good idea. So, if you’ve got them, make sure they aren’t cracked, have some adjustability and are bolted on nice and tight if attached to a fairing.

Pre-Ride Checklist: Stands

Last but not least, give your side stand a once over too. A bike carrying a lot of luggage puts extra strain on a side stand.  So, a side stand needs to be in good shape and if it is spring operated and retracts when you center the bike, ensure it goes all the way up.

Do the same with the center stand too, and while you’re there, it wouldn’t hurt to practice lifting it on and off a few times.

Strangely, some manufacturers list a center stand as an optional extra, and if this is the case with your bike, you should consider investing in one. Get a puncture or any repair that requires either wheel off the ground, and it’s game over until the cavalry arrive.

The majority of these checks should be carried out on a regular basis, as the health of your engine and more importantly, your safety relies on them. But before a big road trip, they’re essential. Don’t leave it until the day of your adventure either,  if you do discover a problem, at least you’ll have time to sort it. Enjoy your ride.