Why Maintain Your Motorcycle Yourself?Article Last Updated: Aug 18, 2023
This article is geared more towards newer riders or others that have little experience maintaining their motorcycle themselves. Many of the more routine motorcycle maintenance tasks are easily performed even if you have only minimal mechanical experience and knowledge. You also do not need to make a major investment in tools and supplies for the more basic service tasks.
Here are a few reasons why you may want to learn to perform your own motorcycle maintenance:
- Saving money
To have a better understanding of your motorcycle and its workings
- to be able to identify when something needs addressing for safety, reliability, and to potentially avoid more costly repairs later
- for when you may want to discuss an issue with a service department
- To be more self-reliant if a problem arises when you’re away from home
- To ensure that the work is done properly
- For your own personal satisfaction
When I got my first motorcycle decades ago, I had limited knowledge of motorcycle mechanics and maintenance. I had taken a power mechanics course at school, so I knew a little about the workings of a gas engine. I had also read a few small books about motorcycles which covered some mechanical aspects. The motorcycle riding course I took covered some basic mechanical aspects as well. Besides maintaining my bicycle, that was about the extent of my mechanical knowledge when I started riding. I’ve learned a lot since then by reading, discussing, watching and doing, but there is always something else to learn.
Unless you’ve managed to negotiate a good deal on future servicing with your dealer when you bought your motorcycle, you will likely be on the hook for quite a bit of money if you take your motorcycle in for service. For some things, you might have to, or want to, have the dealer perform the work, but for other things I suggest you learn to do the work yourself and keep some money in your pocket. (It’s also inconvenient having to drop your motorcycle off at the dealer and then having to pick it up later; you may also need to book an appointment several days or weeks in advance.)
If you want to know how much it will cost you to have your bike serviced by a dealer, just ask them for a firm quote in writing (including all the fees, parts, supplies and taxes) for the specific service items. For example, how much would it cost to change the oil and oil filter and adjust the chain?
You can save money by doing part of the maintenance or repair work yourself and then have the shop do the more difficult or technical part. For example, if you need a new tire, you can remove the wheel and take it to the shop to have the tire replaced and then reinstall the wheel yourself (and adjust the chain if applicable). That will save you quite a bit. Another example would be if you need to have your fork seals replaced because they're leaking oil and cleaning didn't help. You could remove the forks yourself and take them to the shop to replace the seals. One final example would be in the case of something like a valve adjustment on a motorcycle that has a lot of bodywork that would need to be removed to gain access to the valve cover; removing that bodywork could be time consuming, so if you were to remove it yourself (and reinstall it afterwards), that too could save you quite a bit of money.
If you haven’t already, price out the cost of motorcycle oil and an OEM oil filter. Note that some dealers charge more than others for OEM parts and supplies. You can order parts online from a number of sources or buy them from a local dealer. OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer (for example, parts supplied by Honda for Honda motorcycles). You can buy motorcycle oil at some department and auto supply stores, and it may be cheaper than at the bike dealer (shop around or check online). If you have multiple motorcycles, the cost savings really add up.
To have a better understanding of your motorcycle and its workings
- For Safety, reliability and avoiding costly repairs later
- For when you may want to discuss an issue with a service department
Your motorcycle should have come with an owner’s manual. Read it. If you don’t have one, you may be able to download one for free from the manufacturer or distributor website. A maintenance schedule should be included in the manual. Often there is a guide to doing some of the more basic maintenance tasks. If the owner's manual does not cover bike maintenance in enough detail, or if you are going to perform more than just the very basic maintenance yourself, then I recommend getting a copy of the factory service manual.
If you have a better understanding of the workings and parts of your motorcycle, then you are in a better position to monitor the condition of your bike. You will be better able to determine when some aspect of your motorcycle needs attention before it becomes a failure point leading to potentially costly repairs or it becomes a safety issue. Prevention (being proactive) can go a long way.
An understanding of, and familiarity with, your motorcycle will better enable you to discuss potential issues and maintenance requirements of your motorcycle with a service department if you are so inclined.
To be more self-reliant if a problem arises when you’re far from home
Consider the case where you’re on a long backcountry ride on your dual sport motorcycle, and you’re quite a distance away from a main road and you have no cell service. You stop for a snack or to take a photo and shut your bike off. Afterwards you go to start your bike by pressing the starter button, and nothing happens. Or maybe you get a flat tire on that ride, and you still have 50 km to go. What then? Or maybe you’re with a riding buddy, and he doesn’t know much about motorcycles, and he hasn’t packed tools, spares or supplies either. These are things to consider in advance.
If you have some knowledge about your motorcycle’s workings, and you pack along some tools, spares (like levers and inner tubes) and supplies (patch kit, electrical tape, etc.), you may be able to resolve these situations and others on your own. It might take you a bit of time to resolve the issue, but at least you have a better chance of overcoming the problem and getting on your way instead of having to be rescued.
To ensure that the work is done properly
More often than not, when I have had a motorcycle serviced at a dealership, either something wasn’t resolved completely, properly or at all, or damage was done to the motorcycle. I’m sure that there are some excellent, customer focused dealerships with highly competent mechanics, but I personally have had some poor experiences and have heard of some real horror stories. One case that really sticks out in my mind is one in which a rider had taken his bike in for service prior to a big trip; the bike had had a valve adjustment and some other work done. The bike was then trailered down south (from Canada to Mexico, I think). During the subsequent ride, the engine failed. It turned out that the bolts holding the camshafts had not been tightened properly and they loosened up resulting in expensive damage to the top end of the engine and ruining the trip for the rider. Very disappointing, maddening, expensive and could have put the rider in danger from crashing or being stranded. The shop denied responsibility, I heard.
My personal experience when taking motorcycles in for service hasn’t been that dramatic, but I have experienced damaged paint, spilled brake fluid, damaged mounting tabs, over-tightened and damaged bolts/threads (cost me more money), improperly mounted tires (installing a tube with a new tubeless tire and rim for a street bike), problems not resolved, problems not reported. I’ve also been over-charged for work because a mechanic took longer than he should have because of his incompetence. I had to take a bike back multiple times while under warranty to address the same issue, again due to lack of skill of the mechanic. That same mechanic lost one of the original bolts and lock washers holding the carburetor float bowl to the main carb body and replaced the bolt only; he also didn't adequately tighten either bolt which resulted in a fuel leak later (dangerous). And one more item, a dealer offered to winterize a brand-new motorcycle that I had just bought at the end of the riding season; I was told that they added fuel stabilizer to the gas in the bike (good) and then they ran the engine for 20 minutes (bad) to circulate it. The bike had a carburetor, so there was no need to run the engine, plus that is not how you treat a new engine that has yet to be broken-in. Even if it was broken-in, you don’t run a motorcycle for 20 minutes at a standstill. I don't have much trust in motorcycle mechanics.
Another point that I want to make is that a mechanic working on your bike is likely rushing to get the job done in the minimal amount of time, so he may be inclined to cut some corners. When I service my bikes, I take the time to clean and inspect components and protect the bike from damage from tools or fluids; in my experience, if you take a bike in for service, the mechanic may not take the same precautions or take the extra time to do those things (he may not have time or may not care). They are just going to do the assigned task as quickly as possible (time is money). Some mechanics also rely heavily on power tools to remove and install fasteners; if not used carefully, using those tools can cause damage to the motorcycle.
I’ve also had bad experiences with a number of car service centres: damage done to the car, issue not resolved or the car did not run as well as it did before it was serviced, not to mention the expense.
The issues on new bikes that I have purchased from dealers have included: loose bolts, over tightened and damaged bolts, improperly adjusted drive chains, grossly under inflated tires, incorrectly routed cables and brake lines, improperly positioned and adjusted controls, idle speed set about twice as fast as it should have been, loose fenders, loose hand guards, loose wires and electrical connectors, disconnected vent and drain tubes, incorrect fasteners and minor showroom or transport damage.
I’ve also had discussions with a number of motorcycle service managers that did not instill a lot of confidence in their ability, understanding or knowledge about the issue or motorcycle I was talking to them about. In some cases, they seemed to be lacking in what I would consider basic motorcycle mechanical knowledge. Here are a couple of examples (there have been others). One service manager told me that the drain tube from the air box was capped solely so that oil did not drip onto the rear tire. Well, it’s true that the cap would prevent oil from dripping out (there shouldn't be much), but the main reason it is capped is so that dirty air is not sucked into the clean side of the air box and into the engine. Another service manager insisted that the camshaft on a Honda CBR250R had to be removed in order to replace the valve shims; that is completely false. There are, of course, many very knowledgeable and skilled people working in the motorcycle service industry too.
For your own personal satisfaction
There can be quite a sense of accomplishment when you maintain or repair your motorcycle, especially when you factor in the cost savings. You may also find that you enjoy working on your motorcycle.
I do almost all of the service on my and my family member’s motorcycles for the satisfaction of doing the work myself, to be more self-reliant, to save money, and to ensure that the work is done properly. I’ll take bikes in for warranty work, to have work done that requires some specialized and costly tools or for something that I don’t feel confident tackling or just don’t want the trouble of doing like maybe replacing fork seals or mounting street bike tires (I would take the forks or wheels in). And one final point, use quality tools including an accurate torque wrench, and use the correct tool for the job.