DIY Motorcycle Maintenance

Written by Carly Hallman

In the days of yore, our parents and grandparents performed their own automobile and motorcycle repairs and maintenance. Today, those skills are being lost in the shuffle of modern day life. It might seem daunting to perform your own motorcycle maintenance, but there are some basic tasks that anyone can pick up and learn in an afternoon. Things like changing your own oil and air filters, taking care of your battery, and checking up on your tire pressure and treads are easy routines that you don’t have to pay someone else to do. This infographic provides quick checklists for five tasks that every motorcycle owner should know how to do.

DIY Motorcycle Maintenance

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DIY Motorcycle Maintenance: Simple Tasks to Keep Your Motor Running

It doesn’t take a master mechanic to keep a motorcycle well maintained. Here are some extremely easy tasks that you can (and should!) perform regularly to keep your vehicle in tip-top shape.

1. Changing the Oil

Tools Needed:

  • Universal pliers
  • Adjustable socket wrench
  • Drain pan
  • Funnel
  • Oil rag or cloth
  • Fresh oil
  • Fresh filter

Estimated Time: 45 Minutes

Steps:

  • Either run your motorcycle or take it for a 10 minute drive to warm it up. This will allow the oil to drain faster.
  • Clean the area of dust, dirt, and other airborne contaminants. If they get into your fresh oil, they can damage your engine.
  • Find a flat surface and angle your bike either on a stand or let it rest on its kickstand.
  • Place the drain pan where you believe it will catch the most oil. You may have to adjust it later.
  • Locate the drain plug. On a dry sump, it will be on the oil tank. If you have a wet sump, there might be one on the frame and another on the engine – you’ll need to undo both in that case.
  • You may need to remove some parts of the motorcycle such as the foot peg, or you may need to drop the exhaust, to access the drain plug.
  • Remove the oil port intake cap to make sure that all of the oil drains out quickly.
  • Remove the drain bolt and allow the oil to drain into the pan.
  • Remove the oil filter. It may need to be unscrewed, or it may simply slide out after its cover is undone if it has one. Consult your owner’s manual for details.
  • Wet the new filter with a bit of fresh oil.
  • Use a clean cloth to clean the area that the filter will be reattached to.
  • Replace the filter and the parts that you took off to remove the old one.
  • Replace the drain plug(s) and the rest of the parts you have removed or adjusted once all of the old oil is drained.
  • Open your oil port and fill it with the right amount and weight of oil specified in your owner’s manual. Careful not to overfill! You can check your oil level with a dipstick or some motorcycles have viewing windows.
  • Recycle the oil!
  • Change your oil again every 2,500 to 4,000 miles – or whatever is recommended in your manual.

2. Changing the Air Filter

Tools Needed:

  • Socket wrench/ratchet
  • Compressed air blower
  • Screwdriver
  • Fresh air filter (if needed)

Estimated Time: 45 – 60 minutes

Steps:

  1. Depending on the type of bike, your air filter may be easily accessible near the side of the engine. Or it may be located underneath the fuel tank.
  2. If located on the side of the engine, undo the cover and skip ahead.
  3. If located under the fuel tank, first remove the seat and any impediments to removing the gas tank.
  4. Make sure your petcock is turned to the off position if you’ll be removing the gas tank.
  5. Unbolt the tank and undo any wires and hoses connecting it to the rest of the bike. Label these wires and hoses to ensure easy re-assembly. Make sure not to spill fuel everywhere!
  6. Cover the top of the air box with a clean rag or covering to keep it clean inside.
  7. If the filter can be cleaned, great! Depending on the type of filter, it may need some special steps to clean it. Spongey and cotton filters will need to be sprayed or washed in solvent – soap will work. Then they need to be air dried. A paper filter can simply be blasted with compressed air. Don’t blast any contaminants into the gas tank or at the engine!
  8. Replace the filter where you found it and re-install everything! When replacing the filter, make sure that it is oriented to allow air to flow through it.

3. Maintaining Tire Pressure and Tread

Tools Needed:

  • Air pressure gauge
  • A quarter
  • Compressed air

Estimated Time: 15 minutes

Steps:

  1. Locate the valve stem cap on the inner wall of your tire.
  2. Remove the valve stem cap.
  3. Apply the air pressure gauge to the valve stem to read the pressure. Always read the pressure cold. The correct pressure should be written somewhere on the inner wall of the tire. Consult your manual as well – it will recommend an air pressure to you for riding solo or with passengers, according to the bike’s weight and performance specifications. (You can draw the air pressure gauge above, with the white bit shot out of the bottom portion.)
  4. If you need to add pressure, locate some compressed air. Many gas stations have free dispensers.
  5. Add air until the pressure matches what is indicated on the tire and in your manual. To remove pressure, press on the inside of the valve stem with the tire pressure gauge lightly. You should hear a hissing noise – which is air escaping your tires.
  6. Replace the valve stem cap when finished filling the tires.
  7. Inspect your tires for glass, nails, or other items that may be deflating it over time.
  8. Check your tire pressure after riding – if it is decreased significantly, you may have a leak.
  9. You can use a depth gauge to check your tire tread – or a penny. Place the penny upside down in a tread groove, and if you can see the top of Lincoln’s hair then you need new tires.

4. General Battery Maintenance

Tools Needed:

  • Safety gloves
  • Protective glasses or goggles

Tips:

  1. Check your electrolyte level and make sure it matches what your manual calls a healthy level. If you need to top it off, use only distilled or deionized water.
  2. Check the clamps, cables, and case for obvious damage, rust, or loose connections.
  3. When storing your battery, always do it on a non-conductive surface. Storing it on concrete or metal will cause the battery to slowly lose charge over time.
  4. Purchase a “trickle charger” and fully charge your battery at least once a month.
  5. Always store your battery in a location that is above freezing. If you must, remove the battery from the bike and bring it to a location that is warmer than freezing in the colder months.

5. Cleaning and Lubricating Your Chain

Tools Needed:

  • Brush
  • Soap
  • Wire Brush
  • Clean cloth
  • WD-40
  • Lubricant (check your manual for proper types)

Steps:

  1. Check to see if you have a non-sealed or o-ring chain. A non-sealed chain will need to be lubricated and cleaned more often, but an o-ring chain can keep itself cleaned and lubricated for a longer period of time.
  2. If you have an o-ring chain, check your o-rings for cracks or dryness. You may need to replace them if they are beginning to weaken.
  3. You can clean your unsealed chain with a wire brush and some mild soap to get the dirt and grease off of it. However, use a soft headed brush on an o-ring chain so that you don’t damage the o-rings.
  4. After cleaning the chain, let it dry. WD-40 can help you to dry all of the nooks and crannies.
  5. Apply lubricant to the lower chain. As you go along, spin the rear wheel forward to allow the chain to climb the sprocket. Spin the rear wheel back and forth every now and again to help lube get into all of the tough spots of the chain.
  6. Once clean and lubed, check the chain’s slack. Generally, between an inch and one-and-three-eighths inches is acceptable. Check your manual for specific numbers. If the chain needs adjusting, you can do so by tightening or loosening your chain adjusters.
  7. The gold standard for chain maintenance is to check it every 300 miles – but double check your manual for more accurate advice!

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