Bike Maintenance: Should You Do It Yourself?

By Rowan Page | Published on 2020-04-06


Bike Maintenance: Should You Do It Yourself?

Like most people I believe that I have above average mechanical skills. I am a qualified mechanical engineer after all, I’ve got this right? I keep well away from anything involving that nasty electrical stuff, but I’m game for pretty much any mechanical task. But does that mean I should be wrenching on my own bikes? Let’s break down the factors that influence whether you will get the job done right first time.

Roadside repairs to the Honda!
Roadside repairs to the Honda!

1. Knowledge

This one is pretty obvious; do you know what you are doing? Before you tackle any new task for the first time it seems pretty daunting. You don’t know what you don’t know and with your precious bike the stakes are often high. But once you know how the job is done, most things are often relatively straightforward. Pressing bottom end bearings is no more complicated to the experienced mechanic than an oil change is to the hobby rider. The only hurdle here is acquiring the knowledge of how to get the job done properly. Luckily this isn’t a biggie. Between video tutorials, forum posts and bike manuals you should be able to get the knowledge you need with just a little effort and an internet connection.

2. Tools

Now things start to get a little trickier. Some bike maintenance luckily requires no tools whatsoever. For example, most dirt bikes will let you remove and clean the air filter without any tools. Armed with your bike's manual and a basic set of tools you can get cracking with a huge array of maintenance tasks. You might even start to think why you ever bothered to send your bike in to the shop. But then the limitations of your basic toolset start to become apparent and you realize two things:

  1. There are some jobs you can technically do with your limited tools, but with some compromises and very often a great deal of time and frustration. Do you REALLY need to measure the torque of your oil drain bolt? Can I change my tyre using screw drivers rather than tyre irons?

  2. There are some things you just cannot accomplish no matter how creative you get. Unless you have some special tools these jobs are just not going to get done; what happens if you turn a blind eye?

There is no simple solution here. But before embarking on any kind of maintenance it is important to consider what tools you will need and the implications of buying, borrowing, MacGyver-ing, or simply ignoring it. One practical example here is that I long ago decided that I will never buy a torque wrench simply to do an oil change. The implications of this is that the drain bolt could be incorrectly torqued. An over-torqued drain bolt leads to tears and an expensive repair, whereas a slightly under-torqued drain bolt might weep a bit of oil. And just like that I have my compromise.

Just remember, you can borrow twice but then you need to buy it!

3. Care

Care is a pretty vague factor to considering regarding maintenance, but arguably the most important one. To make things a bit more specific, caring in this context means that you have the right amount of patience and are willing to dedicate as much time, concentration and energy as the task requires. The worst thing you can do is be in a rush. Unlike the other two points, this factor can often motivate you to do your own work on your bike as opposed to sending it in to the shop. There are many great motorcycle mechanics out there, but there are also plenty who have all the knowledge and tools but lack the care required when dealing with your motorcycle. Things can get sloppy and that doesn’t lead to confidence in your machine.

Where does this go?
Where does this go?
Conclusion?

Some things in life work out best when you dive in headfirst; sink or swim. Maintenance on your bike is not one of those things. Reliability is important with motorcycles, so start small with your DIY maintenance. Never changed the oil before? Invite a more experience riding buddy over and do it together. If there is more swearing than banter, you have your answer. Once you have figured out if motorcycle maintenance is actually something you want to do, then you can decide what you should do and what you should leave to the professionals.

Make sure your friend knows that they are doing!
Make sure your friend knows that they are doing!


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