Motorcycles today represent a pinnacle in modern engineering. For a motorcyclist, motorbikes are more than just a mode of transport. They are more like companions helping to navigate anything from mountainous terrain to urban jungles. However, that is not always the case. There are motorcyclists and then there are motorcycle enthusiasts. If you belong to the second group you have probably felt the urge to pick up motorcycle maintenance on your own. Sometimes that saves time, in others it saves money but the most important benefit is you get to control how your bike works. If you are looking for tips on how to maintain your motorcycle you have come to the right place.
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Before you get started
Before you start taking parts off of your motorcycle you need some preparation. This preparation is all about understanding your machine and its condition. To understand your motorcycle’s current condition follow the steps below before you get to more serious business.
Read the Manual
Each motorcycle comes with an operations and service manual that you need to read. Not only for maintenance but also for operating it properly. The manual usually contains information on the replaceable parts and components that need to be changed or serviced regularly. It may also contain specific instructions for a particular model such as oil change mileage, brake fluid duration, disk and tire changing timeline etc.
Trying to work and maintain a bike without reading the manual is like flying a plane without radar. You won’t know where you’re going or what to do and making a mistake will mean there are no comebacks. So read the manual like you mean it.
Look and Listen
Before you fire up the engine go for a thorough visual inspection. Check for loose parts or elemental damage on parts that are exposed. Check the functionality of all the indicators and gauges. You also need to check your tires treads and pressure status. After you are done you should have the necessary information to know where your motorcycle needs urgent attention. The step is to listen to your beast’s roar.
Although motorcycles are machines, they say all about themselves as soon as you kick start. The sounds and vibration frequency can tell you all that you want to know and then some. The engine usually comes off the factory line with a specific idle rpm (revolutions per minute) which produces a particular sound. It is essential to hear this distinct sound and note its characteristics to use it as an indicator of your motorcycles health. As your engine parts will succumb to friction and wear, the sound will become higher in pitch and the frequency will also increase. Even clutch and throttle calibration will have an effect on the sound. Although difficult at first, you will eventually have a clear idea about what is changing the sounds by hearing the idle engine.
You must complete these steps before beginning your maintenance. This way you will know exactly where to start and what you will need to complete the task.
Tools and Equipment
If you want to maintain your motorcycle yourself it is ideal you get your own set of tools. You shouldn’t rely on other peoples kits because you can never know when you might need them. Also, there are some tools that can’t be borrowed so you ought to buy them. Here we have listed thirteen tools that should definitely be in a DIY motorcycle maintenance kit. However, it depends on which type of repair you want to do yourself and which you want to leave out for the professionals. Here’s the list, check out what you have and what else you might need.
1. Pressure Gauge
2. Torque Wrench
4. Socket Wrench
5. Bike Stand
6. Oil Catch Pan
7. Chain Breaker and Riveter
10. Socket Wrench Set
11. Nylon and Wire Brush
12. Mechanic and Nitrile Gloves
13. Hex Key Set and en/Hex Bit Sockets
15 tips for motorcycle maintenance
If you think you have everything you might need you can get started on maintenance. Each of these tips is applicable at a different time, and we’d recommend you take it one at a time instead of removing every part on your bike to repair at once.
Engine oil is the first and foremost component you should maintain. It plays the crucial part of lubricating and cooling the moving parts inside the engine. Each manufacturer sets a recommended mileage after which you must change the engine oil. It is imperative that you don’t overuse one bottle of engine oil after the recommended mileage. Engine oil breaks down over time and causes friction and overheating the longer it is used.
Changing the engine oil is the easiest part in maintaining your motorcycle. Keep track of the mileage, and when you need to change purchase the appropriate type of engine oil for your motorbikes engine. Usually the two main types are Mineral and Synthetic each with its own benefits and drawbacks.
2. Drive Chain
The drive chain is the motorbikes equivalent of the power transmission system Your drive chain needs to be calibrated to the recommended stress setting to ensure proper acceleration. Oil your drive chain regularly and check for overtime damage. Using a damaged drive chain for prolonged periods can damage wheel and gearbox sprockets. If your motorbike has reduced power output or is unnecessarily loud at high speeds the drive chain probably needs replacing.
If you wish to change the drive chain yourself that will require a lot of work so tread wisely. The easier thing you can do is lube the chain yourself and leave the changing to professionals.
Check your tire pressure every time you mount your motorbike and if needed use a pressure gauge to know if you have recommended tire pressure. Tire pressure is directly related to high speed stability and braking capacity of your motorbike. Check the manual for tire changing mileage. The other thing to check for is tread integrity which is important for tire grip and torque output. More kilometres mean more tread damage. Remember to change your tires before the recommended time is elapsed.
Test your brakes before each ride this is more of a safety precaution for yourself than your motorbike. However, checking the brake function also ensures a smooth ride. A very important factor for braking is brake fluid so you need to check it regularly. To keep your brakes at optimum performance, brake fluid should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. The final braking component are brake pads that erode away with use. It is recommended you change the brake pads before they are shaved down to the metal to avoid damaging the brake disks.
5. Air filter
The air intake of your combustion chamber depends on air filters to ensure pure air enters the combustion chamber. Clogged filters impose unnecessary stress on your engines reducing power output and acceleration. Clean air filters on a regular basis, preferably with an air hose. If your filtration system uses non-paper cartridges it’s better to clean it off with water and then use oil to protect it from moisture damage. Maintaining a clean filter will keep the engine healthy and roaring like a beast.
Your motorcycles service manual should contain information on fuel filtration system and optimum fuel type. It is essential that you use pure fuel instead of tuned mixtures. Always use one type of fuel (i.e. Octane, Petrol). DO NOT ever mix petrol and octane or switch between the two. This will damage each and every component inside the engine and even cause your motorbike to stall.
Check your batteries charge retention in idle state and electrolyte level. If the electrolyte level is too low, you can add distilled or deionized water. In some cases you might have to add a mixture of battery acid and distilled water. Use a trickle charger to maintain battery power at 100% when not in use.
8. Nuts and bolts
A motorbike instead of being one machine is rather an assembly of smaller moving parts. This means there are a lot of nuts and bolts keeping your motorbike in one piece. Riding in tumultuous terrain can loosen these bolts making it noisy and unsafe. Check for parts with loose nuts and bolts periodically and tighten up anything that seems loose. Use a torque wrench when doing this task to ensure you do not tighten something more than it needs to be.
9. Clutch and Throttle calibration
Clutch and Throttle calibration is difficult without prior experience. Your motorbikes’ fuel efficiency and acceleration greatly depends on these two things. When calibrating the clutch and throttle for the first time it is recommended to have someone with experience show you exactly how to calibrate.
10. Cables & Lighting
Cables and leads are found almost everywhere in your bike. A simple visual inspection after ignition will expose any loose or damaged cables. It is very important to secure the cables and solder them properly. Poorly soldered wires reduce battery life and cause the catalytic plates to deteriorate quickly.
11. Swingarm and Shock absorbers linkage
Whether you have fork-spring or mono shock suspension they both need to be properly calibrated. If your shock absorbers are too loose it will destabilise your motorbike at high speeds, having it too stiff will result in increased vibrations and an unpleasant ride. You will find instructions on how to adjust shock absorber calibration in the service manual.
Motorbikes with mono shock suspension use a swingarm. The pivot of the swing arm needs to have proper flexibility but that depends on the terrain you plan to ride on.
12. Spark plug
Check your spark plug every now and then, or whenever the idle sound of your engine starts to sound different. In most cases it is caused by soot blocking up the spark head. Use sandpaper (grit number >= 100) to clean up the soot or carbon grease from the spark head. A clean spark plug ensures proper fuel combustion and smoother acceleration.
3 tips for motorcycle maintenance while you ride
Apart from the active maintenance checklist given above, you can look after your motorbike when you are riding it as well. Follow these three tricks to cash out on your motorbikes performance capabilities while reducing the number of visits to the mechanic.
1. Maintain RPM
If your motorcycle is brand new, keep the rpm <4500 for the first 1000 kms. These 1000 kms are crucial for long term engine health. Practice shifting gears at the proper rpm range to conserve piston integrity and fuel efficiency.
2. Release Full clutch
Many people unknowingly practice driving with half clutch or with clutch slightly held. This is the worst thing you could do to your motorcycle apart from crashing. Using throttle in a clutched state increases stress on the pistons, crankshaft and clutch plate. In terms of fuel efficiency half clutching is suicide. Shifting gears in half clutch can damage the gears as well.
When you need to clutch, pull it 100%, and when accelerating release it all the way. Learn to control throttle without using clutch. It may be difficult at first if you are used to half clutching. However, once you get the hang of it your ride will be smoother and your motor parts will work longer.
3. Use engine braking
Instead of clutching every time you need to use the brakes, just release the throttle. Your engine’s idle rpm will reduce the drive chains torque transmission and result in better braking capacity. Using engine braking reduces the dependency and stress on the actual brakes while also reducing fuel consumption and damage to the clutch plate. This is a pro trick and requires practice. DO NOT shift when you are engine braking because there is a chance you will cause the engine to lock up so use this method wisely.
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Identify the correct parts
Before you dismantle anything make sure you have the correct parts. Manufacturers use VIN numbers on spare parts to ensure the right part is used for in the right model. Avoid using aftermarket parts that are not designed to suit your particular model. Using incompatible parts will reduce the reliability of your motorcycle and can even cause critical malfunctions. Mismatching parts of the engine or transmission can result in irreparable damage so watch out.
Be careful with fluids
Whether changing brake fluid, engine oil or battery water it is essential to keep it away from dust and other impurities. Contaminating any of these fluids can damage your engine, brake or battery permanently. Remember to handle battery acid with extra caution as it is extremely corrosive. Always keep these fluids away from eyes, nose and mouth.
Use safety equipment
Using a mechanics glove is the best practice when working on your motorcycle. It not only protects your skin from corrosive agents but also protects your fingers from injury and burns.
Mind your limits
If you are not absolutely sure of what you are doing you shouldn’t start in the first place. In the case you have started and find yourself in unknown waters stop immediately. DO NOT remove any parts without knowing its function. Weekly maintenance is okay as long as you understand the risks. However, we recommend still relying on a professional mechanic for major repairs that demand expertise.
Motorcycling culture across the world has become a lifestyle choice. People become attached to their motorcycles and not surprisingly want to spend time on understanding its inner workings. Repairing and maintaining your motorcycle yourself can be very satisfying. However, that satisfaction depends on how well you understand your motorbike and are able to fix the issues. If you want to know more, here’s a well-made YouTube video by Gas Works Garage that covers the topics we covered in more depth.
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