January 28, 2017 | By Jeff King
In this multi-part series, I’m going to help you put together a comprehensive tool set up for the home motorcycle mechanic. In Part 1 we’ll focus on the basics (tools needed to complete the most commonly performed motorcycle maintenance tasks). In future articles, we’ll go deeper down the wormhole and get you tooled up for more advanced servicing.
And don’t worry ... you don’t have to go out and acquire all this stuff at once. All mechanics do it the same way; buying tools bit by bit as needed. I’ll try and prioritize my suggestions with that in mind, and give you helpful suggestions on where to get the most bang for your buck when sourcing these things. Also, as a side note, buying used tools is definitely a viable option. As a general rule, good tools don’t wear out. Don’t be afraid to pick up used items. They’ve already stood the test of time and have good ju-ju attached. Some of the most prized tools in my tool chest were handed down from my Dad and are probably older than me.
They say knowledge is power, right? Well ... reading your owner’s manual is like carbo loading before that half marathon. You can probably knucklehead your way through basic servicing without it, but you’re way more set up for success with access to specific information about your motorcycle’s maintenance needs, procedures and specifications. The information contained in your owner’s manual varies by manufacturer, but all contain (at a minimum) a Service Schedule (documenting some services YOU will want to perform, and some best farmed out to your trusted local mechanic), and walkthoughs of the most common maintenance tasks (oil changes, chain adjustments) you’ll need to perform to keep your bike safe and mechanically sound.
Everything is digital now, so you have no excuse not to go to your manufacturer's website and download the owner’s manual to your phone or tablet. Let’s just take care of that now. (good for you!)
Now, let’s get to the hardware.
THE PRESSURE GAUGE
Keeping your tires inflated to correct pressures will not only help extend the life of your tires, but also keep you safe. You can go way fancy here and spend as much as you like, but your basic pencil type tire gauge is accurate enough and fits in your pocket so you always have it at the ready.
OIL DRAIN PAN
Oil drain pans come in many different designs, but when it comes time to transport your used oil to be recycled, I prefer the combo drain pan / waste oil storage units.
These things aren’t expensive, so consider having a backup around in case you discover that you were too lazy to recycle the oil from your last oil change. (Obviously this advice comes from direct personal experience.)
This one’s easy: buy the biggest and most complete set of sockets you can afford right out of the gate. Bought individually, sockets are $7 to $12 each, so you save BIG when you buy a large set. Some of the larger sets might look like overkill to you now ... but there will be a time when you will need one of those oddly sized sockets, and you’ll be happy you went big.
The holidays are the best time to buy, as socket sets (and most other tools) seem to go on sale around Dad holidays like Father’s Day and Christmas. Regardless of your Dad status, I encourage you take full advantage of that.
Socket sets often come packaged with both Metric and Standard sockets, but if you spend a little time looking, you can also find Metric-only, or SAE-only sets. Many big box stores back up their sockets with a lifetime guaranty. In my experience, Craftsman (Sears), Kobalt (Lowes), and Husky (Home Depot) have all been easy to deal with when it comes to replacing broken pieces.
Socket sets come in all sizes, nice little starter sets as pictured above, or more extensive sets with a larger variety of socket and ratchet sizes. For motorcycle maintenance, you don’t have to go so big as get a set that includes ½” or ¾” drive sockets (those are more appropriate for working on automobiles). Usually ¼” and 3/8”s drive sockets will be all you need. For metric motorcycle maintenance, a set ranging from 8 to 19 mm sockets will cover almost every fastener on your bike. For SAE, ¼” to ¾” will do the job nicely.
There are just some bolts that need a little extra 'encouragement' to break loose. In comes the breaker bar. Non-ratcheting, these things are for loosening only. The extra length of the handle multiplies your strength for stubborn oil pan drain bolts and axle nuts. Buy a breaker bar for 3/8” attachments, to fit the larger sockets in your socket set.
You’ll also need a good set of box and open-end combo wrenches.
Just like socket sets, wrench sets are available in both combo sets, or metric / SAE only. I suggest buying either just the SAE set, or metric-only set (as appropriate for your needs). You’ll get a larger variety of sizes, some of which you won’t use very often, but will be happy when you do have the need for them. Often wrench sets come as a loose set, so do yourself a favor and spend the extra $5 for the plastic wrench organizer as pictured above. You’ll thank me for it. As with socket sets, a set that covers 8 to 19mm wrenches (¼” to ¾” for SAE) will get the job done.
If you’re just starting your tool collection and space is a concern, a combo screwdriver (as pictured above) will get your through just fine.
If you can afford it (and have the space), buy the most complete set of screwdrivers you can. Screwdriver sets always come as a combo (flat head and Philips), although you’ll find you use the Philips way more often. Your most common go-to screwdriver ... a Phillips #2.
Especially with modern motorcycles, you’ll run into Allen fasteners (or HEX) all over your motorcycle. Again, I suggest buying an SAE-only or Metric-only set, whatever is most appropriate to your needs.
The most basic and compact set would be the folding 'pocket knife' style. Advantages: All the common size Allens in the most compact package (can easily carry on the bike if you wanted to). But, there are some situations where you won’t be able to use this tool, as the bulk of the handle, or the short length of the Allens can prevent you from getting access to some fasteners.
A step up would be the classic 90-degree Allen key set. You’ll get a lot of use out of this set. Small individual wrenches, with both a long and short reaches, will get you into just about every tight little space you need them to go. Downside: so hard to keep track of them all. You always seem to misplace the one you need the most. (Doh!). Buy a set that comes with the plastic holder. It helps keep them organized and easily identifies any MIA pieces.
What can I say ... when you don’t own the correct size wrench or socket, in comes our hero: the adjustable wrench. Their infinite adjustability does come with a cost though ... it's pretty bulky. There are many cases where the adjustable head is just too large to get in where you need it, but for larger nuts (think axle nuts), you’ll appreciate the extra leverage the handle gives you. Additionally, as the wrench only grabs the fastener on two sides, it’s not the most secure hold, and can sometimes slip (think 'Busted Knuckle Garage'). The big takeaway here: use the correct size socket or wrench whenever you can, and use the adjustable when you have to.
Pliers are from a family of tools that have no specific purpose, but miraculously, you’ll find yourself needing them all the time. They're sold as a set, and no matter how exotic some of the pliers in the set look, don’t worry, you’ll find a use for them. Needle nose and snub nose snips are the go-to tool for removing cotter pins, and the various other adjustable pliers are awesome at getting a hold on rounded out fasteners and broken bits.
Well, the tools listed above are going to be a great foundation for your absolutely Kick Ass home mechanic’s tool set of the future. Remember, you don’t have to do this all at once. Acquire what you can when you can. In the meantime, (shameless personal plug), why not consider utilizing your local Community Motorcycle Garage? All the basic tools documented above (and much, much more) are available to you, along with some good advice, guidance and encouragement.
In the next article, we’ll be documenting some more exotic tools to for advanced servicing. Until then, happy scrounging.
If you’d like to get some 'hands on' experience working on your motorcycle, Moto Republic offers private one-on-one instruction on tire inspections or any maintenance task you want to learn more about! We offer $25 tire changing certifications that will open your eyes as to just what goes into the construction of a tire to keep you safe. We encourage you to come on in and get your service on!
Check out our current Workshop and Class listings at Moto-Republic.com.
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DISCLAIMER: The methods in this article are guidelines, provided and performed by a trained mechanic. If you are not comfortable performing routine maintenance on your bike, it is recommended you get a trained mechanic to complete these and more difficult tasks on your bike.
BACK TO CURRENT COLUMNS
Master Links & Chain Breaking
Chains and Sprockets: R & R
Switched Accessory Wiring
Drive Chain Clean, Lube & Adjust
Tool Guide for the Home Motorcycle Mechanic – Part 2
Tool Guide for the Home Motorcycle Mechanic – Part 1
Tire Inspection & Maintenance
The Cold Hard Facts about your Cooling System
Clutch Cable Free Play Adjustment
Hydraulic Brake System Maintenance
Belt Drive Adjustment & Care
Charging System Inspection