POWDER: Pre-ride checklist

Tony Carter MotorCycle Direct Posted: April 18th, 2018

When you mention motorcycle safety, some riders think of advanced riding, or perhaps having the latest piece of kit to afford them more protection in the event of an accident. However, in this age of ultra-reliability, probably not as many think about the machine itself.

It is less common than it used to be, but accidents as a result of a machine failure do still occur. How many times have you gone out to the bike in the morning, started the engine and just ridden off? Let's be honest, we've all been guilty of this. I know I have.

The assumption is that if the bike was OK yesterday, then it is bound to be OK today. It's easy to forget, for example, that a tyre may have picked up a screw on its previous outing. There is nothing worse than getting half a mile down the road wondering why the handling feels decidedly strange, only to find that you are running with about 5 psi, and a long walk home pushing the bike is in store.

Vibration could have caused a bulb to blow, or your bike may have developed an oil leak, both of which are potentially dangerous. On an ST1100 Pan-European once, I was covered in oil when the oil filler cap broke and blew off, causing the engine to chuck its lifeblood all over me. I was very lucky that the engine didn't seize, but the point is, had I checked it before I set off, I may have detected a potential problem.

A number of simple pre-ride checks before your first journey of the day will not only save you money, but may also save your life.

The acronym which many people find easy to remember is POWDER, which stands for:

P = Petrol

  • Is there sufficient fuel for the journey? There's nothing worse than having to remove all your luggage 5 minutes after setting out on your annual trip.

O = Oil and lubricants

  • Is the oil level in the sump OK?
  • Do all the control levers and cables operate smoothly?
  • Does the choke - lever (if appropriate) operate OK?
  • Brake and clutch levers and throttle operation can also be checked.
  • In the case of chain driven machines, is the chain lubricated and is it properly adjusted?
  • In the case of chain driven machines, is the chain lubricated and is it properly adjusted?
  • Is the brake fluid level OK?

W = Water/Coolant

  • On some bikes it is no easy task checking the coolant level, but many do have expansion tanks that show the levels when the engine is cold.
  • If it is low on coolant what is the cause?
  • Walking around the bike, have a look underneath.
  • Are there any puddles of water or oil? If so, where has it come from?
  • It may be nothing serious but it is better to check it out at this stage than to have hot oil or water sprayed all over you, or the back tyre.

D = Damage

  • Make sure that nothing is loose or hanging off, make sure that all panels are firmly secured and there are no obvious signs of damage to items such as the wheels, headlight or mirrors. Even exhausts and footrests have been known to work their way loose.

E = Electrics

  • Do the headlights and stop/tail lights work?
  • Are the indicators working along with the repeater light on the dashboard?
  • Does the horn and the headlight flash work? What about the engine kill switch?
  • Do all the panel lights illuminate that you would expect to illuminate?
  • Does everything work with the engine running as well as with it off?

R = Rubber

  • Not only does this include the obvious such as tyres, but also items such as footrest rubbers and handlebar grips.
  • Checking the tyres is not just about making sure that they are set at the correct pressure, but ensuring there is a minimum of 1mm of tread that will last the length of your journey.
  • Also check for signs of cracking or any foreign bodies, which could affect your safety.

There are also items that would be worth checking that have not been mentioned such as fork seals, ensuring that there is no oil around the stanchions, if you have panniers fitted, are they securely fixed to the bike, are your mirrors secure? Even things we take for granted, like is the seat located properly on the frame?

These simple additional checks can usually be carried out as you walk around the bike.

You could also add "S" to the acronym so it becomes P O W D E R S.

S = Suspension

  • Covering both the front forks and also the rear suspension. Again, check that there are no leaks and that everything looks and feels as it should do.

Once you are satisfied that the bike is OK, it is helpful within the first few feet of setting off to carry out a moving brake test. You have already checked the brake fluid and the brake pressure on the lever. This test simply means applying the brakes at low speed and ensuring it stops OK without any adverse effects on the handling and steering. Do this before you get too far down the road, before you pick up too much speed and before you need to use the brakes for real!

Although this may seem like a fairly extensive checklist you do not require a degree in mechanical engineering, and with practice it will become easier. The five minutes you spend checking the bike over at the start of the day may be the most important time you ever spend with your bike.