Now that all the new-bike research and sales haggling are done, it's time to build a relationship with your new scoot. Like newborn children, brand-new motorcycles are blank slates that are greatly affected by the care they receive between their first combustion cycle and their first scheduled service. What you do in the initial 600 miles can make a big difference throughout its life.
There are two things to buy before bringing a new bike home: a factory shop manual and a notebook. For the mechanically inclined (or disinclined), a shop manual will save hundreds of dollars on a dealer's labor rates. The notebook will serve as a setup/maintenance log. This will not only help you keep track of maintenance, but can hold such valuable information as mileage figures, suspension settings and performance specifications such as horsepower, torque and compression over the motor's life.
Just because your bike is new, don't assume everything was set up properly-or to your tastes-at the dealership. Instead, take immediate responsibility for its state of readiness. The following pre-ride checkup will give you a chance to bond with your new bike.
Before your first ride, give your new bike a complete once-over. Start with the easy stuff: Adjust all of the controls to suit your preferences. Move the handlebar (or bars) down (or up) and back (or forward) a bit. Reposition the front brake and clutch levers. Put the rear brake pedal in its lowest position to work with your bum ankle. See? Much better. It's starting to feel like your bike already-and it hasn't even left the garage.
After finding the torque specs in your shop manual, your next step is to check all major fasteners, especially those on the coolant lines; overheating the bike at this stage could be tragic. A few twists of the socket might be required, but nothing should be ridiculously out-of-spec from the factory. To double-check the thoroughness of your bike's post-assembly setup, also inspect the control cable routing, fluid levels, drive-chain tension, rear-wheel alignment and tire pressures. At this time it's a good idea to check baseline suspension settings and record them in your notebook. All these items are relatively simple.
Now, on to aesthetic considerations. You might want to remove all the lawyer-mandated warning labels and other stickers to give the bike a cleaner look. A blow-dryer can help (not too close or you'll burn the paint), and a bit of bike-specific spray polish can help remove the gummy residue. Make sure the stickies you're trying to remove aren't covered by clear-coat; if they are, ignore them until you see a paint expert. How about those fork-leg-mounted reflectors and other things that light up in the night? If you feel they detract from the sleek silhouette of your rocket ride, pull 'em off and trash 'em.
Wash and wax
Another bond-building session is a bike's first full-on wash and detailing. This rids it of any lingering Cosmoline (an anti-corrosive solution sprayed on the entire bike to survive the trip from factory to dealership). Although dish detergent is too harsh to use at every cleaning, it's great at stripping wax and contaminants from paint, and is therefore a good first step to total finish care. Wash the bike from axle to axle with dish soap and water, then sop up all moisture with soft terry-cloth towels, diapers or a chamois, then apply a multi-step wax job. For the full skinny on washing and waxing techniques, see "Bike Washing 101" and "Surface Care 101" that filled this space in the past couple issues.
Now, the fun starts. The first 600 miles of operation are arguably the most important time in a motor's life. For proper break-in, we turned to someone who preps a Japanese manufacturer's fleet of magazine testbikes. This is obviously a crucial job; first impressions of a given bike can sometimes make or break its initial sales.
The first step is to fill the fuel tank to the very top. This dissolves the anti-corrosive inside the tank in a large batch of solution. As the motor consumes its first tank of gas, the anti-corrosive washes through without gumming up the carburetors or throttle bodies.
While manufacturers call for progressive increases in engine speed, this tech's philosophy is different. "You want to put a good load on the motor to seat the piston rings," he said. His instructions were simple: "Just be one with the bike." By this, he meant you should become tuned in to exactly what the motor is doing. He went on to explain that building heat in the motor, by revving it hard, puts pressure on the rings, the most crucial part of break-in. "Don't worry about specific tach readings; slowly bring it to redline," he continued. "Just go through the gears using the motor's torque. Accelerate and decelerate, upshift and downshift throughout your ride. Be sure not to keep it at steady throttle and don't let it idle. These things don't load the engine."
He also stressed the importance of letting oil circulate through a motor long before it's snicked into gear. This ensures proper lubrication of the major components. He also ranted about letting the engine go through multiple heat cycles. Simply shut the engine down and let it cool between cycles to aid the material mating process. In addition, shift positively and try to be extra-smooth with all control inputs. Apply the brakes lightly for the first 50 miles, giving the pads some bedding-in time before asking too much of them.
Living by these words isn't all that difficult. Get through this process quickly-who wants to ride far from redline for weeks?-by taking a pair of mellow, 300-mile rides on consecutive weekends.
In no time, you'll be ready to give your baby its first checkup. Stay tuned to this space for tips on how to perform this initial break-in service.