Keep motorcycles in running form

If you own a motorcycle, there's no better feeling than hitting the open road on a warm, sunny day.

But before embarking on your next adventure, it's important to remember that just like cars, motorcycles need general maintenance to perform properly.

"Motorcycles are not unlike cars in that regular maintenance is required to keep them safe and operational," said Brian Peck, director of operations for Midwest Auto Services in Blue Springs, Mo.

Whether you're looking for a mechanic to service your motorcycle or you plan to do it yourself, here are a few general maintenance tips to ensure the process goes smoothly.

First and foremost, read the motorcycle owner's manual before any maintenance is performed.

Although different recommendations apply to the various makes and models of motorcycles, general rules typically apply to all bikes. Be sure to take into account your riding conditions, including extremely hot, cold or dusty environments.

When looking for a repair shop to service your bike, make sure it is familiar with your make - whether it's a Harley-Davidson, Suzuki, or Honda - and that it does not specialize in just one type.

It's also important to note that not all car mechanics service motorcycles, so you'll need to research to find one in your area, or learn how to do basic maintenance yourself.

Peck said a motorcycle's engine oil should be changed on a 3,000- to 5,000-mile interval. Some mechanics recommend changing the engine oil and filter every six months.

Rick Higgins, owner of Rick's 1 Auto Service in Columbus, Ohio, recommends changing the engine oil about every 2,500 miles.

"It usually depends on what type of bike," Higgins said. "Some bikes take different types of oil."

Peck said the cost of an average oil change is about $25, but many newer, high-performance motorcycles use synthetic oil, which can cost about $60.

Because motorcycles sit for long stretches during cold or inclement weather, Peck recommends checking your motorcycle tires before each ride.

"Dry rotting and cracking of the tire is something we see on many motorcycles that are older but have low miles and great tread," Peck said. "These conditions can cause a blowout and, on a bike, that can be disastrous."

Because motorcycles typically have different-sized front and back tires, it's not necessary to rotate them.

It's important to check your motorcycle's lights, indicators, and brakes before every ride. Motorcycle experts also recommend checking the chain tension and lubrication every month and checking the control cables every two months.

At the same time, clean and inspect the air filter and spark plugs. Check the brake fluid level and condition of the brake pads and brake lines. Higgins recommends changing the brake fluid about every two years.

"If severe grooving of the rotors or harsh or grinding noises are present, have the brakes serviced as soon as possible," Peck said.

The air filter and spark plugs require changing about every nine months.

Also, don't forget the transmission fluid, which Higgins says should be changed every couple of years.