Before I owned a motorcycle I was mechanically inept. A great example of this is I didn’t realize that you needed to change your engine oil at regular intervals.
This led to me burning up all the oil in my 1989 Chevy Suburban and destroying the water pump. Motorcycles need even more maintenance than cars, so here is a list of all of the tools you will need to do your own wrenching.
You or your dealer
You always have the option to take your motorcycle to the dealer. If you trust your dealer and the mechanics they employ then this might be an ideal option. However, I once got a piece of investing advice from a multi millionaire that seems very applicable here. He said:
“No one will care about your money as much as you do.”
He was referencing investment firms and financial advisors at the time, but the same principles apply for motorcycles. No one is going to take care of your motorcycle like you will. After all, your bike being mechanically sound directly affects your safety. A motorcycle that is properly taken care of will also last a lot longer than one that has been neglected.
By doing some of the regular maintenance yourself you will know that all of the bolts are tightened to spec and that no one cut any corners. Chances are you won’t want to do everything yourself, but most of the basics you will be able to handle easily.
What you will be doing
Like I said in the beginning, I’m not the most mechanically inclined person out there, but I have learned enough to do basic maintenance on my motorcycle. Some of the things you will need to learn to maintain your motorcycle aren’t too complicated. Maintenance like:
Checking the tire pressure
Checking the fluids in the bike (brake fluids, oil, radiator)
Changing the oil
Maintaining the chain
Replacing chain and sprocket
Those are the basic things that most riders should be able to do on their own. There are also other things such as valve adjustments and cleaning carbs (if applicable) that may be worth it to learn. I personally don’t know how to do either of those two things yet, but I think I do want to learn how to adjust valves.
If you watch most mechanics work they will be wearing some type of gloves. They might be leather gloves, or cotton gloves, but most of them wear nitrile or latex gloves. That is because they are disposable and keep your hands from getting stained with dirt and oil.
You might not think you need them, but I’ve found that even doing light maintenance leaves me with grime underneath my fingernails that stays there for days. These heavy duty gloves are awesome. They are thick enough that they won’t tear, and they will keep your hands clean from dirt, oil, and chain lube.
I also like to keep a pair of these either in my motorcycle storage compartment, or in my leather jacket. Just in case I have to do some emergency maintenance on the side of the road. They are also ideal to use in an emergency medical situation if you have the training.
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Wrench and Socket Set
Recommended Product: Stanley Black Chrome and Etched Socket Set, 99-Piece
Probably the tool that you will use most of all will be a wrench and socket set. I found this set on amazon that is simply amazing for the price. It has more choices of sockets then you will ever need, and for 99% of motorcycle applications it will be perfect.
The thing that I love about it is it comes with two sets of sockets: a short set, and a deep set. When you are wrenching on a motorcycle you will find that sometimes you don’t have all the space you want and therefore the short set of sockets will come in handy. If there is a bolt that is in a hard to reach spot then the deep set of sockets will be a godsend.
You could spend hundreds of dollars on a super professional socket set, but this one should be able to handle most jobs and it’s for only $50 bucks.
To go along with your wrench and socket pack is this set of hex bits. I am linking to the metric version, because almost all motorcycles except for Harley Davidson’s use metric hex drivers.
These are the tools you will use to take off the fairings if your bike has them. They will also be used in a handful of other areas on the bike. Most of the times you will find yourself only using one or two hex bits in the set, but it’s always nice to have options if you need them.
I prefer the bits over using the L shaped hex wrenches. The bits are faster and easier to use.
An oil wrench is worth the money. Yes, I know it’s a specialty tool, but I’ve learned from horrible experiences that not having one can make things worse.
Even though I try not to tighten my oil filters too much, they almost always seem impossible to get off. I used to use a cheap oil filter socket made out of plastic that you could get from walmart or an autoparts store. It fits over the oil filter, and you use a socket wrench to loosen it.
If your oil filter isn’t on too tight, this will work 60% of the time. Sometimes though, it just strips the plastic socket or damages the filter itself.
I’ve also used those metal oil filter wrenches and literally tore my filter in half. Let me tell you, that was a scary experiencing thinking you ruined your engine because you can’t remove a mangled oil filter. When that happened to me, I had a friend come over who had a wrench like this one.
This is more of a strap, and you use it by tightening onto the filter at the base using a socket wrench. The trick is to be gentle, but apply good force. Definitely something you want in your kit since you will be changing your oil regularly.
With a motorcycle you need an oil drain pan that isn’t very tall. This one is only 4 inches high, plus it doubles as a container to keep that old oil in. It stores around 5 quarts of liquid, which is more than enough since most motorcycles use around 3 quarts.
The best part about this filter is the fact that it is translucent. Makes it easy to see how full it is. It’s also a gentle reminder to take it to the recycle center and dispose of it properly.
While this isn’t an absolutely required piece of kit, it does make things much easier.
To do 90% of the maintenance on a motorcycle it makes things much easier to somehow support the motorcycle. Some bikes come with a center stand that elevates the rear wheel and keep the bike upright. If you don’t have that (or even if you do) there are other ways to suspend the bike.
I love motorcycle rear stands. They come in a couple varieties, but the ones that I have used and love are the ‘spooled’ type. You buy some spools that screw into the rear swingarm of the bike, they act like perfect little guides that the rear stand slides into. It makes lifting the rear wheel of the bike effortless.
There are versions that don’t require you to buy spools, but I haven’t used those before. There are also motorcycle floor jacks. These might be better if you want to lift both wheels of the ground and don’t want 2 stands. Just make sure everything is secured before you do any lifting!
Probably one of the more difficult regular maintenance procedures to do for a motorcycle is to replace the chain and sprocket. Most people do this as needed, or between 30,000-35,000 miles. Refer to your owners manual for the maintenance schedule on your bike.
An old chain will become really loose and will rattle when you ride. This can be dangerous if it gets too loose, plus it will affect the performance of the bike. When you replace the chain, always replace the sprocket at the same time. If you don’t then the old sprocket will wear out your new chain faster than it normally would.
Because you will do this so infrequently I don’t think it makes sense to spend hundreds of dollars on a super awesome chain breaker and riveter. Most of the cheaper ones (in the $30-$60 range) will work just fine if you follow the instructions.
This is another one of those tools that isn’t required, but can be really nice to have. There are parts of a motorcycle that are delicate enough that you don’t want to use a metal hammer, but they need a little bit of force in order to move into position. That is where this rubber mallet comes in handy.
I’ve used one of these to tap a tire into alignment before I tighten the bolts. I’ve also used it to hit the end of a wrench to help me loosen something when I don’t have a breaker bar.
If you are like me then you will like to make repairs according to the manufacturers guidelines. In your owners manual will be torque settings for most important bolts on your motorcycle. To tighten them to a specific foot lbs of torque, you need a torque wrench.
I’ve used the older style torque wrenches that look like a long bar with a needle running parallel to it. When you tighten a bolt the needle moves and lets you read how much torque you are applying. This wrench is MUCH better than that.
It allows you to set the torque amount you want and tighten to that specification. Really handy when you have more than one bolt to tighten.
A tire pressure gauge is something you need to have. It will be one of the most used tools in your tool chest. Having properly inflated tires will make a HUGE difference in performance and safety on a motorcycle. I was in a motorcycle accident a few years ago where I shattered my shoulder blade. One the contributing factors to that crash was incorrect tire pressure.
There are many types of tire pressure gauges available, but I really have only one requirement: That it have a hose that separates the actual gauge from the air nozzle. This makes it infinitely easier to see the gauge and to reach the tire’s air nozzle.
I’m also a bit oldschool. They have digital gauges out there too, but I just prefer analog. That’s what I’ve always used and I know they work.
I’ve tried tons of different chain lubes, but the type that me (and my motorcycle mentor Ray) both love is the Bel-ray super clean lube. This stuff is the best that we’ve found.
It sprays on easily and dries as a dry white lubrication. This does make your chain look sort of white, but it does the job. Other lube’s I’ve used either fling off when I’m riding or they collect tons of dirt and road grime. The Bel-ray stuff doesn’t do either of those things. It just keeps the chain lubricated all the time.
The one thing to note is it’s not one of those lubes that you can just keep applying on a regular basis without cleaning. Because it is a dry lubricant you will need to clean your chain between applications so too much doesn’t build up. You should be cleaning your chain regularly anyway, so this has never been an issue for me.
I usually clean my chain with kerosene and an old toothbrush. You can get a wire brush if you want, but an old tooth brush works pretty darn well too.
You are going to need a place to store all of these tools. I recommend the Dewalt TSTAK organizer. It’s a modular system, so as you get more tools you can stack them on this box and they lock in place.
Another option would be the Dewalt Tough Case system. It’s similar to the TSTAK except these are waterproof and weather resistant. That’s great if you are storing your tools somewhere that might be exposed to rain or the elements. You could of course keep everything in a bag or just strewn around your garage, but I find that’s how things get lost.
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The SUPER CHEAP way of buying tools
I’ve listed a few tools here. If you bought them all it would cost you around $485.00. If you only bought one toolbox and didn’t buy the pitbull stand it would only cost about $295.00. Of course that is much cheaper in the long run than paying the dealer every time you need to do something as simple as an oil change.
If you don’t have much cash though, there are shortcuts you can take. Chances are your motorcycle only uses a few different types of hex tools and sockets. You might find that all of your fairing can be removed with just a screw driver and a 4mm hex socket.
Once you get to know your bike you will find that you really only need a few tools in order to do most of the maintenance. What I’ve found is that it’s nice just having tools. It means I can work on things other than my motorcycle. It also allows me to use the correct tool for the job instead of trying to jury rig something.
You might also have good luck and the manufacturer may have included a small tool kit. This kit is usually filled with low quality tools, but they could be a good guide on what type of tools you need. They can also be used if you are in a pinch on the side of the road and need to fix something.