Motorcycle maintenance basics

DIY Repairs That Can Save You Money

When learning to do your own maintenance, enlist the help of an experienced friend.

Taking care of your motorcycle isn’t the prettiest, cleanest or easiest of tasks. However, knowing how to maintain your machine can save you money, give you more time to ride and help you know what to do in case of a breakdown.

While many repairs require the special tools or expertise, there also are plenty of simple maintenance procedures you can do in your driveway or garage—or even on the side of the road—with a basic set of hand tools.

Benefits of DIY

Maybe the biggest benefit of doing basic motorcycle repairs yourself is how much money you can save. Shops often charge $100 or more per hour for labor. Keeping shop visits to a minimum can keep hundreds of dollars or more in your bank account.

Doing your own maintenance also saves you the time it would take get the bike to and from the shop, which could mean more time on the road, trail or track.

And knowing about motorcycle maintenance can also help you better decide when it’s time to take the bike to a shop.

One of the best ways to learn to do your own maintenance and repairs is to enlist the help of an experienced DIY friend. Having someone who’s done their own motorcycle work can teach you techniques that repair manuals don’t cover.

Here are some common repairs and maintenance tasks many riders can learn to do themselves. While general in scope, be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations and procedures found in the owner’s or service manual for your specific motorcycle brand and model.

Wheels, Brakes, Drive

Knowing the proper way to remove and reinstall your wheels allows you to drop them at the shop for tire changes, instead of paying for the labor involved. And, you don’t have to take your bike to the shop.

Some motorcycles require large sockets or special tools to remove the axles, so make sure you have the right tools for the job before getting started.

Keeping a chain lubricated can greatly prolong its life and the longevity of sprockets. All you need is a can of motorcycle chain lube or chain wax and a way to rotate the back wheel. This can be as simple as moving your motorcycle forward in short increments as you apply the lube. Using a rear stand, center stand or motorcycle lift makes the job easier.

Spray it along the top of both sides of the chain. The lube makes its way between the links, which is where it’s needed. If you have an O-ring, X-ring or Z-ring chain, make sure the lube you’re using is approved for your chain type.

Most modern motorcycles are equipped with disc brakes, and changing the brake pads is usually straightforward.

The hardest part is compressing the pistons into the brake calipers, which may require a special tool.

Otherwise, you’ll need to remove and grease the slider pins—the part that the calipers slide across when actuated.  Then simply remove the old pads and install new ones.

Motorcycle brake calipers, which hold the brake pads, come in a variety of designs. Consult your owner’s manual or shop manual to figure out how to properly remove the pads and lube and secure the slider pins.

You also need to watch the brake fluid level in the brake system’s reservoir when pushing the pistons back in. If the level gets too high, use a nonmedical syringe to remove some fluid.

Controls, Chassis

Throttle and clutch cables get used a lot while riding, causing wear and tear. Regularly lubricating control cables extends their life and reduces the chances they will stretch or snap while you’re riding. (Check your owner’s manual, as lubrication should not be used on certain types of control cables.)

A can of cable lubricant and a cable lube tool, which costs about $10, can help direct the lube.

Lights, Electrical

This isn’t always a fun maintenance task, but it is an essential one. Having a bulb fail at night or in bad weather could be dangerous. Taillights and turn signals are usually relatively easy to access. Headlights, especially on motorcycles with big fairings, can be more difficult to get to.

Take the time to figure out how to access the headlight blubs in your driveway so you’re ready to do it on the side of the road or trail.

Bulb manufacturers caution purchasers not to touch the surface of halogen bulbs with bare hands because the oil from your skin can cause a blub to fail prematurely.

A blown fuse is one of the easiest repairs you can make, but having the right fuse and know-how are essential to keep you from becoming needlessly stranded.

Figure out where your motorcycle’s fuse box is (there may be more than one), and figure what size and amperage fuses your bike needs. Make sure you carry extra fuses and a tool to help you remove a blown fuse.

Oil, Other Fluids

Perhaps the most common and simplest motorcycle maintenance task is changing the engine oil.

Check the owner’s manual for the correct type, weight and amount of oil your bike needs (e.g. 10w-40, 20w-50), as well as any special tools. Also make sure you have a drain pan, a container to put the used oil in and a new crush washer for the drain plug.

Changing the oil filter can be more complicated because the location, design and ease of access varies. Make sure to position a drain pan below the filter location to catch any drips.

The process for changing oil can be applied to changing gear oil on shaft-drive bikes and transmission fluid in motorcycles with separate transmission housings.

Changing engine coolant is just as important as changing engine oil and other lubricants, except a dedicated coolant drain pan should be used.

Always place used fluids in sealed containers and safely transport them to businesses or public disposal sites that accept them.The U.S. EPA maintains a list of local Household Hazardous Waste information. You can find two excellent links in the green box marked “Safe Disposal and Recycling” on this webpage: