Tips for preparing your Harley before a long trip and for on the road checks.

If you’re planning a long ride, to a Scottish rally for instance or a trip across France or Spain, you need to prepare your bike. You shouldn’t just jump on it and expect to cover over 1000 miles without some prior planning. This is intended to be a check list of the basic stuff that you should do before leaving home.


How long has it been since you last had a service carried out? I wouldn’t recommend leaving straight after a service, just in case something has been left loose or incorrectly adjusted. But equally, if you’ve covered over 4000 miles since your last 5000 mile service, it’s wise to think about one before you go.

Tyre Condition.

If you know you’ll be covering 2000 miles on the trip, it’s logical that you shouldn’t leave if you have only got around 1500 miles of rubber left on a tyre. If in doubt, ask at the dealership. Remember also that the minimum tread depth in Europe is different to the UK legal limit.

If your bike has tubeless tyres ( wheels without spokes ), invest in a tubeless tyre repair kit. Also carry a means to re-inflate the tyre. I carry an electric pump which connects to the accessory plug on the bike.

Tyre Pressures.

Check your tyre pressures from the hand book and inflate to the Max pressure exactly. The hand book will give a pressure for carrying a heavy load. If you check your pressure on a hot day in Spain and it’s higher than when you left, NEVER let any air out. It can only be higher because of temperature. Tyres do not inflate themselves, they can only loose pressure. This is why you should only check tyre pressures when cold, unless you suspect a problem. If you do need to re-inflate after a puncture repair, check it again as soon as the tyre is cool.


Do your disk pads have enough life left in them for the duration of the trip? Remember, riding two up and with luggage needs more stopping power than when you’re riding alone on a ride-out. Also check the brake fluid levels.


Check that everything works. Lights, Indicators, Brake light. In some countries, it’s compulsory to carry spare bulbs.

Oil levels.

If you’re going to do a lot of miles, check the engine oil level and top it up to the full mark ( when hot ). That way, if your bike uses oil on the trip, you won’t find that you need to buy oil to top up. The same for the transmission and primary case oils, but these tend to remain stable unless you have a leak.

The Battery

At home, you will most likely keep it topped up with an Optimate charger. You won’t have this on a long trip, so manage your battery life. Only leave the bike for a couple of days without starting it and running the engine. Also, make sure that you have a recent new battery in your key fob. You don’t want to be stranded miles from anywhere, for the sake of £1 key fob battery.

Immobiliser / alarm

High power overhead cables can interrupt the signal from your key fob to the bike. If you experience any problems, look around you. Are there any power cables above you? If yes, push the bike away, to a place where it won’t be affected. In the UK our power runs underground, but in Europe, overhead power cables are more common.

Drive belt.

Harleys use a toothed belt instead of a chain. These are long lasting, but the adjustment needs to be correct. Not too tight to overload the drive pully bearing, but not slack to allow slippage or wear. Check the belt for condition. Damaged or missing teeth. Is anything caught around the pully?

Health Check.

Phil Whitehead ( Stratstone Dealer Principal ) confirmed to me that the “Bike Health Check” is free and consists of a thorough check, with a traffic light system for each part of the bike inspected.

Green = all OK, Amber = making you aware of problem, but not desperate, Red = Urgent attention needed. Anyone can book their bike in for his free service.

Carrying luggage.

Try to distribute the weight evenly and avoid having too much weight behind the rear wheel. Putting a heavy load behind the pillion will shift weight backwards and unload the front, causing handling problems or wobbles through the handle bars.

Dropped bike.

If the unfortunate happens ( European roads have uneven and loose surfaces and steep cambers etc ), don’t jump back on and try to ride off straight away. Take a few moments. Move the bike to a safe area to park it. Give yourself a few moments to recover and for the bike to settle. Check it over for any damage where contact occurred. Start it up and check for any fluid leaks etc.

Only ride on, when you feel calm and relaxed and the bike is running OK.

Legal stuff.

There are other things to consider for a trip abroad. Self breathalisers, Warning triangles, Helmet stickers etc. But this sheet is about keeping your bike going, so investigate the other stuff separately.

Breakdown / Recovery.

Finally, we all have breakdown recovery, either bought separately ( AA, RAC, Green Flag etc ) or it comes with your bike Insurance. But in all cases, there will be a clause in the small print, which says that if your bike is not properly maintained, they will look to recover the costs from you when you get home.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from other chapter members, or at the dealership. Everyone has experienced some problems at some time. It’s always better to learn from someone else’s experience than your own.

This is intended simply to provide helpful advice. We are not Harley Davidson trained technicians, just conscientious riders. It is your responsibility to make sure that your bike is maintained in a safe and road worthy condition.

Harry Harrison - Senior Road Captain

Tel mob: 07817676081

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