Introduction to Motorcycle Maintenance - Page 1

Article Last Updated: Aug 11, 2023
Page Last updated: Aug 11, 2023

Why Maintain Your Motorcycle Yourself?
Next: Common Maintenance Tasks

This document is an introduction to motorcycle maintenance. It is intended for newer riders or those with little or no experience maintaining motorcycles. This is more of a general guide and does not contain detailed step by step instructions (for most tasks). Your owner’s manual and service manual should take precedence over this document.

Disclaimer: the author is not a formally trained motorcycle mechanic but is sharing his own knowledge and experience maintaining his own and family member's motorcycles (20+) over several years (30+) as well as information obtained from a number of factory service manuals. Use this document at your own risk. It is recommended that you refer to the owner’s manual and service manual specific to your motorcycle, or consult a reputable motorcycle service department if in doubt.

So, what's included in common motorcycle maintenance, how difficult is it, and what tools and supplies are required? Common maintenance tasks include such things as oil and filter changes, air filter servicing, chain maintenance, brake fluid replacement, valve clearance adjustments, etc. Some items may be performed frequently while others are done only occasionally. Time, the amount your motorcycle is ridden, and the conditions under which it is ridden, or exposed to, will affect the frequency of those tasks. Some motorcycles also require more maintenance than others. See the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual or service manual.

Most of the information in this guide is applicable to most motorcycles, but some information is specific to 4-stroke (4T) engines (as opposed to 2-stroke (2T) engines or electric motorcycles).

The difficulty of common maintenance tasks varies, but the ones discussed in detail here are not technically difficult (with a few possible exceptions which are noted).


It is important to have good quality tools. Purchase reputable branded tools. The majority of my tools are Craftsman, purchased from Sears many years ago when the quality was quite good. I haven't bought any Craftsman tools for quite a while. I've heard and read that today the quality of the new Craftsman tools isn't nearly as good as the old ones. I've heard that both Husky and Gearwrench make good quality tools today, but I don't own any. You don't need to buy the most expensive tools, but do buy good quality tools that will work well and last a long time. I’m still using tools that I acquired more than 40 years ago. I’ve added others along the way. Sometimes a cheap tool will do the job just fine, depending on the task. It is generally less expensive to buy tools in a set (like a set of wrenches or sockets) rather than individually, but if you buy some of those large sets, you'll likely end up with a lot of individual pieces that you may never use. Most motorcycles use metric fasteners, so you'll need metric tools (sockets, wrenches).

So, what tools will you need? Well, generally as a minimum (depending on what you're going to do) you’ll need:

Other tools that you may need or want include:

For some maintenance or repair tasks you may need, or find very useful, some more specialized tools, but I’m not going into them here.

Common sizes of ratchets include 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-inch drive, and yes, they are used with metric sized sockets. The drive size refers to the square shaped part of the ratchet that snaps into the correspondingly sized sockets. Generally, you would use a larger drive ratchet (and corresponding sockets) for higher torque applications, and likewise, you would generally use smaller drive ratchets (and corresponding sockets) for lower torque (smaller bolt) applications. You often need to hold a bolt and a nut at the same time, so you may need more than one socket and/or wrench of the same size at the same time.

Deep sockets are longer sockets that enable you to access nuts that are on longer protruding bolt ends or for sparkplugs. Actually, there are special sockets for sparkplugs (a deep socket with a protective rubber insert

A combination wrench is one that has an open end and a closed end. Use the closed (circle) end whenever possible. Only use the open end when it is the only option or in low torque situations. You are more likely to damage a nut or bolt head with an open-ended wrench as the torque is not applied uniformly when loosening or tightening it. Open-ended wrenches are often used on chain adjusters and locknuts.

I want to mention something about screwdrivers. On Japanese brand motorcycles (and maybe others) there may be bolts or screws that appear to have a Philips type head (looks like a cross). It may not be a Philips head but rather a JIS (Japanese Industrial Standard) head; they look almost identical, but they are cut a bit different. The JIS bolt head may have a dot stamped in it (I’m not sure if all do or not). If you use a Philips screwdriver on a JIS bolt, and that bolt is tight, then there is a good chance you will damage the head of the bolt (rounding or camming). You can buy JIS screwdrivers (different sizes) or just bits (Motion Pro has some).

A torque wrench is a tool that is used for tightening bolts or nuts a specific amount. If you over-tighten a bolt, you risk damaging it (weaken it, strip the threads or even snap it). If the bolt is not tightened enough, it may loosen up resulting in a safety issue, lost parts, or damage to the motorcycle (particularly the engine). There are different types of torque wrenches (digital, click-type, beam, dial). Torque wrenches vary in accuracy, quality and price. A torque wrench is often only accurate over a limited range of torque, so you may need more than one. There are specialty torque wrenches too. A high-quality torque wrench can be expensive (over $200, or much higher). Some torque wrenches may also need to be calibrated from time to time (beam type torque wrenches generally don’t). Don’t assume that a new, relatively inexpensive, click-type torque wrench is accurate right out of the box. A quality torque wrench should come with a certificate of calibration. Do some research before you buy a torque wrench.

If you look up the torque values for fasteners on your motorcycle in your service manual, there may be a table of torque values for common bolt sizes. The bolt size refers to the outside diameter of the bolt shank (the smooth portion of the threaded part), and not the size of the bolt head (the tool size used).


This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but here are some common supplies: engine oil for your motorcycle, grease (different kinds for different applications), chain lube or gear oil for chain drive motorcycles, thread locking agent (thread locker, there are different ones; use the correct one), air filter “oil” and cleaning solution, soap or solvent (like kerosene), fuel stabilizer (Stabil), coolant, brake fluid (there are different types, use the correct one for your bike), WD-40 (multiple uses), carburetor cleaner, brake cleaner, electrical tape, disposable gloves (used motor oil is toxic, plus gloves will keep your hands clean(er)), rags, paper or shop towels, kerosene for cleaning chains and other greasy parts (there are commercial chain cleaners available), a tooth brush or chain-cleaning specific brush, microfiber cloths, automotive washing soap and automotive wax for painted surfaces. I also find popsicle sticks and other wooden craft sticks useful for scraping off built-up chain lube or dirt/oil off surfaces without causing damage (scratches).

Thread Locker (locking agent)

Thread locker (Loctite is a common brand) is used to prevent bolts/nuts from loosening up from vibration. It is a liquid substance, that comes in a small tube, that is sparingly applied to the bolt threads prior to threading the bolt in or with a nut. Thread locker comes in different strengths including “removable” and “permanent”. The (near) permanent thread locker should only be used for certain fasteners (usually in the engine) that rarely, if ever, will need to be removed (it requires heat to loosen the bolt/nut). Consult your service manual. Some OEM bolts have a thread locker applied to them at the factory (for example, some brake disk mounting bolts).

When using thread locker, apply it sparingly to the bolt towards the end of it in a band of about 5 – 7 mm wide, but not on the last 1 – 2 mm (the very end). The bolt must be clean of oil and residual locking agent. In most cases use a medium strength removable locking agent (consult the service manual). Avoid getting the locking agent on plastic. More torque will be required to remove a bolt that has had thread locker applied to it. If excessive amount of thread locker is used, damage to the bolt may result when trying to loosen it later.


Sealants, like silicone sealants, can be purchased from dealers as an OEM branded part. Alternatively, look for sealants and adhesives available from an auto supplies store. A well know sealant producer, that may be the suppler to the manufacturer of your motorcycle, is ThreeBond (

Next: Common Maintenance Tasks