A common question I see on /r/motorcycles is “I’m buying my first bike. What tools do I need, and what maintenance should I do myself?” This article answers those questions.
Before you begin, check if your motorcycle requires metric tools, standard tools or both. This refers to the unit system that your tools are measured in. Consult your manual: If bolt sizes are given in millimeters (mm), get metric. If bolt sizes are given in fractions of an inch (in or “), get standard.
Generally, Japanese and European bikes are metric and American bikes are standard, but this isn’t guaranteed and some bikes will use both.
The list of products here is based on ChrisFix’s excellent guide, various threads on /r/motorcycles and my own experience.
- The owner’s manual for your bike. If you don’t have the original manual, check the manufacturer’s website. Make sure you read this cover to cover!
- The service manual for your bike. These are usually available from Haynes, Clymer, or through your dealer.
- Check out YouTube for tutorials on almost every maintenance procedure the average rider will need to do in their garage.
- The web forum for your bike will often have valuable information and tips.
- Set of wrenches with an open end and a closed end.
- 3/8” drive ratcheting socket wrench and socket set with extensions.
- 3/8” drive torque wrench. Here’s how to use it.
- Set of hex wrenches/allen keys for turning smaller bolts and screws.
- 1/4” drive torque wrench and socket set (Optional, only if manual calls for torque values under about 10Nm)
- Screwdrivers of various bit types and sizes. A single screwdriver with 6-12 interchangeable bits is acceptable. Make sure to have Phillips, flathead and Torx bits. If your bike is Japanese, get JIS bits and do not use a Phillips bit on a JIS head.
- Breaker bar
- Needle nose pliers
- Pen flashlight and/or headlamp
- Spools and a rear wheel stand. Consult your manual or Google for what size spools are compatible with your bike. (Optional but recommended)
- Chain cleaner. Kerosene in a plastic spray bottle is cheap and works well. Canned chain cleaner products are also available- I like these for packing on a trip. WD-40 works but is unnecessarily expensive. Don’t use brake cleaner, as it can damage the o-ring seals on modern chains.
- Chain lubricant. There are many products available, but anything labeled for use with motorcycle chains will work.
- A general purpose lubricant, such as Teflon spray. WD-40 is a not a lubricant.
- An ammonia-free glass cleaner.
- Loctite thread locker
- A good pair of mechanic gloves to protect your hands from hot engines
- Plastic funnels
- Rags. Buy in bulk.
- Microfiber towels. Buy in bulk.
- Zip ties
What maintenance should I do myself?
You should do all of the following yourself:
- T-CLOCS. Your safety course should have taught you how to do this, and you should do this every couple of weeks or before you go on a long ride.
- Cleaning and lubricating the chain. Do this every 300-500 miles, or sooner if you’ve been riding in wet conditions.
- Basic accessory installation. Aftermarket levers, luggage, frame sliders, etc.
- Fluids: Checking and changing oil, coolant, brake fluid and so on. All are easy to do and you’ll save tons of money on labor.
- Cables: You should be able to adjust and replace your clutch and throttle cables.
- Brakes pads and rotors are relatively easy to do yourself.
- If your bike is carbureted, learning to clean, tune and jet the carbs yourself will save you a lot of time and money.
You should consider getting the following work done professionally:
- Tire changes. The tools to do this yourself are relatively expensive and changing tires by hand is a huge pain in the ass. You might do this yourself if your local shop charges a lot for labor and you go through a lot of tires. For most riders, paying for tire changes is probably fine. Also consider taking the wheels off, taking them to a shop to get the tires changed, and then remounting the wheels yourself.
- Motor work. There can be a lot of messy disassembly involved with even the simpler tasks, and if you aren’t confident in your abilities you should have a professional handle it.
- Electrical work more complicated than plugging things in and replacing fuses. Working with electricity can be dangerous for both you and your bike if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Luckily, working on bikes is easy even if you have no prior mechanic experience. When I started, I didn’t know how to do anything more complicated than mount a spare tire, check oil or add windshield wiper fluid. By just reading the manual and watching YouTube videos I was able to learn how to do all of the regular maintenance on my bike and even do a few modifications. I bet with a little patience, you can as well!