Over a long period of time you accumulate lots of different tools for rebuilding and maintaining motorcycles. Some of the tools originate from when you started riding motorcycles and been relied upon ever since, whereas others have been more recently purchased to undertake specialist jobs or make maintenance easier and quicker.
Motorcycle lifts and ramps
When I started maintaining my own motorcycles I was happy to work on the floor of my garage when required. For example, chain adjustment, break bleeding and draining engine oil. As you get a bit older you start to become less able to continually crawl underneath bikes and work on items below wheel axle level.
Secondary to this is working on bikes during the winter when the garage floor is usually freezing cold, along with all the tools you usually need to complete the maintenance tasks. My only regret with buying a a good motorcycle lift is not doing it 15 years ago.
The ability to raise the bike to eye level and manoeuvre the bike to different positions makes maintenance tasks so much easier and also allows for a great level of general inspection of the bike, which usually isn’t possible when on the ground. If you are looking to undertake your own maintenance you highly recommend a ramp lift or a “sky lift” system from ABBA stands.
Torque wrenches and socket sets
Virtually every bolt on a motorcycle engine requires a specific torque loading when tightened, and in some situations these have to be applied in stages to prevent warping ie cylinder head bolts. Standard socket sets usually just provide a ratchet, which is fine for loosening and removing bolts but shouldn’t be used for tightening bolts which require a specific torque.
Socket drive sizes, extension bars, breaker bars and adaptors
If you’ve worked on motorcycles for a while you’ll know that bolts and nuts are often located in hard to reach spaces and the socket drive size and extension bars can make a fiddly job a lot easier. For example when trying to tighten suspension linkages where a 1/2 inch drive won’t fit but a 3/8th inch drive will fit through the gap. Purchasing a good mix of drive size adaptors and extension bars will make your left a lot easier and often prevent the removal of additional parts to provide access to remove or tighten a bolt.
When you are trying to remove a nut or bolt which has been installed with a very high torque loading a breaker bar is often a more suitable alternative to a traditional ratchet. For example my Aprilia Futura rear wheel nut requires a torque load of 170 newton meters, which is virtually impossible to undo with a standard ratchet.
Allen keys and bolts
When you discover that your motorcycle utilises Allen style bolts on crucial parts of your motorcycle it’s often tempting to just buy an Allen key set and assume these are the best tools for the job. In many cases Allen bolts also require a specific torque for tightening, a good example being engine case cover bolts which are usually 8 to 12 ft pounds on my GSXR750. Over tightening will often cause the the threat to strip and then you’ll need to figure out how to pair the stripped thread.
This usually requires drilling and inserting a helicoil, which isn’t always a straightforward job on engine cases. Rather than buying a set of Allen keys I’d recommend buying a set of Allen key sockets that can be used with your torque wrenches and ratchets. There also less prone to deform under twisting when compared to Allen keys.
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Not all screwdrivers are the same
When you are first starting out with motorcycle maintenance or perhaps a restoration you may have been given or inherited a set of tools from friends or relatives. These usually include a set of screwdrivers in various sizes and forms. I common problem with novice mechanics is thinking that cross-head bolts used on motorcycles are a “phillips” bolt. If you try using a “phillips” screwdriver on a Japanese Industry Standard (JIS) cross-head bolt, you’ll probably destroy it when trying to remove it.
Purchasing a good set of screwdrivers suited to the correct screw head pattern is essential to avoid destroying the bolt. You’ll see lots of motorcycles which had screw-head bolts replaced for Allen bolts due to incorrect screwdrivers rather than aesthetics. However if you prefer Allen bolts and can find the correct bolts to suit, this is always an option to simply your maintenance tasks.
Drills and broken bolt removal tools
Most people have some experience using a drill within the home, usually drilling through plasterboard and brick to install shelving and cabinets. Masonry and wood drills for the home are generally used at medium speeds to avoid excessive heat and don’t require lubrication of the drill head.
If you need to drill metal you should always ensure that you are using suitable metal drill bits and a variable speed drill. Metal drill bits also require lubrication to avoid excessive heat build-up at the tip and you should always start drilling at a slow speed and avoid using high speed.
Drilling a bolt due to being unable to remove should always be a last resort. In many cases using specialist removal tools, penetration fluid and heat will allow the bolt to be removed. If you are not confident using easy-out/stud extractor style tools you should consider getting specialist advice rather than making the problem worse.
If you having to drill a component which can’t easily be removed from the motorcycle which also has limited access, a 90 degree drill attachment can also be very useful. The stepped drill bit can also help you when trying to drill within confined areas.
Wiring and electronics
Throughout my years of motorcycle ownership electrical problems have probably accounted for 70% of all my reliability and breakdown issues on bikes. This is higher for motorcycles with more complex fuel injection systems when compared to older bikes with carburettors.
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Motorcycle switches, controls and wiring has to deal with temperature extremes and exposure to all weathers. Prolonged exposure often results in wiring becoming brittle and connectors losing their conductivity due to corrosion.
Investment in a cheap multi-meter and some basic learning of electronics will help you diagnose simple electrical issues, usually working through a fault finding guide or manual for your motorcycle. I currently own two early 2000s Italian motorcycles and the simple application of a multi-meter for testing faults has often saved me hours of head scratching when trying to figure electrical problems which are not obvious when looking at error codes on the dashboard.
If you have a fuel injected motorcycle from the early 2000s onwards, the free TuneECU diagnostic software may also be a useful addition for your toolbox.
Pots and tubs for your parts
You’ll be surprised how many people lose and misplace parts from their motorcycle during a simple service or complex rebuild project. A good example is a carburettor rebuild which usually involves small valves, springs and springs which can easily be lost and can be expensive to replace.
In addition to keep your parts safe it also allows you to be organised, not mixing up parts with other major components. Just because a bolt looks similar it doesn’t mean it won’t strip the thread when you try to use it somewhere else because the thread has a different profile or reversed thread.
Adopting a good approach for storage also allows you to work more efficiently, for example when you’ve removed all the bolts from one component you can store them in a tub with some cleaning solution which ensures they are clean when required for refitting. Rubber components can also be stored within sealed tubs with some silicone to restore the flexibility, which is especially useful for carburettor manifolds and airbox connectors.
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