Checking your bike regularly is extremely important. If you don't, you could miss when something's off or wrong and that could leave you stranded or worse. While it's often called a pre-ride check, meaning before your ride, many people suggest doing it directly after you ride.
Personally, I do both. The first motorcycle I owned had a lot of maintenance issues and I got used to giving it a quick look over before and after riding. This helped ensure I was safe and ready to go. A pre-ride or post-ride check doesn't take long, so it won't cut into your day much. Make it a habit and you'll have few issues.
The T-CLOCK inspection
T-CLOCK stands for Tires & Wheels, Controls, Lights, Oil and Fluids, Chassis and Kickstand. It's a quick way to remember all the important points on your bike. I'm going to take you right down the list and give you details on what's important.
Tires and Wheels
Your tires and wheels are probably the most important thing to check on your bike. They typically take the most abuse.
For tires, check to make sure the tread is of adequate levels, look for any cuts, bulges, objects or anything that's out of place. Once you've determined the tire looks good, check the air pressure and adjust accordingly.
For wheels, check your spokes and inspect the rims. Make sure the wheel is true (no wobble) and spins easily. If something isn't right here, make sure to find out what it is before riding. Otherwise, you could be in for a world of hurt.
Your motorcycle's controls have to work. Check the levers, cables, hoses, buttons, throttle and anything else that is connected or associated with the controls. Make sure the handlebars can turn as designed and three are no obstructions. With cables, ensure that they are lubricated and in good condition. Check to make sure levers function as designed and pivot all the way. Buttons should depress and spring back instantly and the throttle should snap closed when released with very little to no play.
Checking lights is really easy. Just make sure each light functions and watch out for any loose connections. Flip on the headlight, make sure the foot and handbrake make the brake light come on, check both turn signals and turn on any other lights your bike has.
Also, even if everything looks good, make sure to keep a few extra fuses and light bulbs on your bike or person at all times. These are easy to carry and swapping them out takes a few minutes. Having an extra fuse or light bulb on hand can be a real lifesaver when you're on the road.
Oil and Fluids
Always check the level of oil, brake fluid, coolant, etc before you set out on a ride. Fluid ensures your machine operates correctly and it would truly suck to have a mechanical failure due to low fluids. Oil is the first thing I check, then brake fluid, then the rest of the stuff like coolant, transmission fluid, final drive and anything else. Make sure all levels are where they're supposed to be.
Beyond just checking fluid levels, you also need to keep an eye on the quality of your fluid and look out for any leaks. If you notice a puddle of something (or what looks like a dried up puddle) makes sure to investigate further. As far as quality goes, if a fluid looks dirty, replace it. I know a lot of guys who just keep adding fluid to their bikes without ever totally swapping out the old stuff. This is stupid. Take the time to do it right.
You might not think that your chassis needs much attention, but it does. Keep an eye out for peeling paint, cracks and bent or loose parts. When you're looking over your bike's chassis, also make sure you're keeping an eye on fasteners. These things can come loose over time and a pre-ride check is a good time to make sure everything tightens down as it should be.
Don't forget about your final drive either. Whether it be a chain, belt or shaft drive, it still needs to be checked and when you're checking your bikes chassis is as good a time as any.
This may seem like a minor thing to check but it's extremely important. Make sure your kickstand isn't bent and springs back where it's supposed to be when kicked up and out of the way. If your bike has a kill switch connected to the kickstand, ensure it operates as designed.