Proper lubrication is the key to life.
Even though everything freezes in the northern parts of the US every year, there should be nothing frozen about your motorcycle. I’m not talking about that coolant you forgot to swap out after your last track day, I’m talking about frozen-up pivot points! Everything that moves on your motorcycle, down to the footpeg mounts, should be regularly lubricated and we’re going to tell you why, how, and with what.
There are a lot of moving parts on your motorcycle that are accessible without taking a single thing apart. There are also things like axles and wheel bearings, which, even though they’re more difficult to access, should be lubed, or at least inspected, regularly.
Levers and Pedals
Yeah, your brake and clutch levers and pedals don’t move far, and they don’t support any weight, so you might be lulled into thinking they’re not that important. Not the case! Your brake lever, clutch lever, and brake pedal all rub up against a plunger that actuates hydraulics, or they pivot around a bolt to put tension on a cable. You might have a drum brake, which actuates a shaft. Either way, smooth movement of the pivot points of these parts ensures that they’ll be present and predictable every time you need them. Your shifter should be free to move the shift fork inside the transmission, which means moving freely on the outside is very important. What’s the best lube for all of these? I use a tiny blob of white silicone grease, but you can use anything that doesn’t travel or drip.
If your bike has cable-actuated brakes and clutch, you should be lubing those cables regularly. Water and junk can make their way into your cables and corrode them. The pivot points of the cables themselves should also be lubed so that when the cable is tensioned, the wires themselves do not bend. Since we can’t see inside the cable sheath, they’re often overlooked even when they’re in really rough shape. Regular lubing will keep rust away and make sure the cable moves inside the sheath exactly the way it should. This practice will also force you to take a few moments to look at the cable ends and make sure nothing is fraying. Many people only inspect the handlebar-end of the cable with any regularity, but things can go south at the other end too. There are a ton of products on the market made specifically for brake and clutch cable lubrication: any of these is better than nothing.
I know it doesn’t seem like footpeg motion is all that important, but it is. Your pegs fold up so that when you’re leaned over they don’t lever the bike off the ground (this is why hard-mounted pegs or floorboards are dangerous). Sure, it would take a ton of rust to freeze a footpeg in place, but it does not take all that much to corrode the pivot bolt to the point of failure. Those of us who like to stand on our pegs sometimes would be well-served to blob some grease on these bolts to ensure they hold our weight reliably. A footpeg failure is a super dumb way to interrupt a trip. While you’re there, lube your passenger pegs too, to ward off any corrosion that would make their springs fail. You want those pegs to fold up when you’re not using them, and floppy passenger pegs are a great, obvious way to tell an old bike has not been well cared for.
Most modern bikes have a kickstand cutoff switch which kills the engine when you put the bike in gear with the kickstand down. Your kickstand pivot should be well-lubed so that your stand always snaps right up to where it should be instead of staying down near the road, potentially creating a real hazard. The same goes for your center stand (if you have one). Lube the heck out of the pivot bolts of both stands as well as the pegs that hold the springs, and the springs themselves. A spray lithium grease is great for these parts since you’re going to have to work the grease into all the joints. This ensures that your stands are always up and well out of the way, the springs are protected from corrosion, they work perfectly and quietly, and you won’t have anyone running after you in parking lots yelling “PICK UP YOUR CENTER STAND!”
This one might go without saying, but we’ll never not say it: lube your chain. Yes, certainly, modern x-ring gasket chains are quite good and last a long time without letting all the grease out of the links, but rust on the outside of your chain is a great way to create a friction material that will murder all those tiny gaskets. Seriously, keep your chain lubed.
Things like your swingarm pivot bearings, wheel bearings, and axles should all at least be inspected regularly. Lube your axles with high-speed grease at every tire change, and check your wheel bearings to be sure they’re perfectly smooth. You can sometimes pull the seal off your wheel bearings to inspect them and cram more bearing grease in there; have someone who knows what they’re doing show you how.
The motorcycle should, above all else, roll smoothly and anything that prevents it from doing so is a serious hazard. Everything else, like your shaft final drive, engine, transmission, and forks, all have their own lubrication that should be swapped out with regularity. Read your owner’s manual and swap out the motor oil, transmission oil, fork oil, and final drive oil on time.
A properly-lubricated motorcycle feels like a new motorcycle. You’ll be happy you took the time to care for your bike this way, especially if doing so leads you to find a problem. Even if you don’t have a lot of mechanical experience, lubing up your bike is easy and a great way to get to know your bike better. Put on some nitrile gloves and get in there.