In Tool Guide Part 1, we focused on tooling up for the most common motorcycle maintenance tasks. Emboldened by your successes with basic servicing, you will undoubtedly decide to take on more and more complex maintenance tasks, and undoubtedly be forced into augmenting your tool kit as needed (I know, like you needed an excuse).
This month, we’ll highlight the tools needed to take your servicing prowess to the next level.
Regardless of expansive nature of your tool kit, you can’t be successful without
access to accurate and detailed information on servicing your specific motorcycle.
The owner’s manual is an excellent start, but you’ll need a service manual to attempt more advanced procedures.
You can purchase a Factory Service Manual directly from you dealer, and although it’s easily the most complete source of technical information on your bike, it’s format is not very friendly to the do-it-yourselfer. The Factory manual assumes a certain level of technical knowledge (it’s intended audience; a factory trained technician), and there’s a minimum of hand holding through any of the procedures. There are several aftermarket companies that produce service manuals designed for the home mechanic in mind (Most notably Hanes and Clymer). These manuals may not be as complete as the factory service manual, but they provide walk-troughs, definitions and explanations that will help guide you to success.
First up, some simple tools that didn’t make the first article, but that become indispensable when one starts venturing into more complex servicing.
(I.e. many of these tools are designed to get you out jams!)
Magnet on a stick
What can I say? When your fat little fingers lose their grip on that tiny washer or nut, and it falls into the deep, dark void of your engine… this little guy suddenly becomes the most important tool you own. Simply a magnet on a telescoping stick, they come in several sizes. Get 2 sizes, one suitable for larger nuts and bolts, and one smaller.. suitable for more surgical recovery missions.
A carpenter’s hammer has no place in motorcycle maintenance, PLEASE put it down. Instead, consider the dead-blow hammer. Not to be confused with a rubber mallet, a dead-blow contains lead shot in the head that eliminates bounce back. If you aim it right, you’ll get a nice solid blow to un-stick that which needs to be unstuck (Think axles and engine covers) The plastic coating helps protect from dents and damage to metal coatings. Useful all over your motorcycle, use (almost) without fear!
Another mechanical substitute for the things your fat fingers just can’t get accomplished. As useful as they are potentially dangerous, sometimes these little guys are your only hope.
Heat can be a powerful ally when dealing with stuck fasteners or engine covers that won’t budge. The concept here is: Applying heat will make metal objects expand (just slightly), causing enough space to get things moving again. Dissimilar metals (i.e. aluminum and steel) expand at different rates, further accelerating heat’s effect. If you have a stubborn bolt, try heat first!
If heat doesn’t work, you’ve got no choice but to step up your assault to a manual impact driver. Impact drivers come with an assortment of interchangeable bits designed for maximum grip in your fastener. Designed to take the impact of a hammer at one end, and turn all that energy into a very slight counter-clockwise movement at the bit end, it’s very effective at breaking loose stuck fasteners.
As you start venturing deeper into your bike servicing, you’ll be encountering more complicated mechanical assemblies that require a higher level of precision when it comes to adjustment and re-assembly. Torque is a measurement of the turning force applied to a rotating object such as a bolt or an axle nut. Torque settings are most commonly expressed in Ft/lbs (imperial system) and/or Newton Meters (metric).
Engineers provide torque specifications for the most critical fasteners on your motorcycle, to both safely secure assemblies (how tight should the axle nut be?) and prevent damage from over tightening fragile engine components. For example; In performing valve adjustments, there will be specific torque setting for the cam bridge bolts, cylinder head bolts and valve cover bolts. Take my word for it, you will not be happy with yourself if you strip any of these fasteners. From many years of experience, professional mechanics have developed the ability (a “mechanics feel”) to reproduce darn near accurate torque setting by hand, but for you and I, we’ll rely on the torque wrench to provide the type of accuracy that will help us sleep at night.
T-Handle Allen sets are great for disassembling the myriad of non-critical fasteners all over your bike (Think side covers and fairing hardware). There’s no way you’ll be packing these along in your roadside repair kit, but you can’t beat the leverage of the larger handle, the tool’s speed, and accessibility the longer reach T-handles provide.
Torx fasteners have their own sizing expressed at the capital letter “T” followed by a number from 1 to 100. For motorcycling, we will rarely see a fastener larger than T55. I prefer the flexibility Torx head sockets, but they are also available in T-handle as well.
A good set of feeler gauges are a necessity for measuring and re-confirming your valve clearances. Clearances are measured by inserting feeler gauges in-between the cam and the valve with the piston at TDC. They are called “feeler” gauges because you must develop a “feel” to use the accurately. When you have the correct sized feeler gauge inserted, there will be a slight drag as you move the feeler in and out.
Each individual feeler gauge has it’s thickness is marked with both metric and imperial measurements. For motorcycle use, find a set that has feelers starting at .001 of an inch. Feeler gauge sets come in several designs, and a little experimentation is required to find out what style works best with your bike’s valve train. For vintage motorcycles, the flat style works well, for modern motorcycles, I prefer a skinny set with an angled bend (Like the last set pictured).
Not as accurate as a Micrometer (see below), but you’ll find you be using this measuring device all the time. It’s measuring accuracy is typically to the 100ths of an inch, more than accurate enough for measuring dimensions of nuts and bolts and other odd non-critical clearances around your motorcycle (clutch free play, axle adjuster bolts etc).
Micrometers take measurement to the next level, accurately measuring clearances up to the 1000’s of an inch. You’ll need one of these to measure valves shims and adjust the clearances on your shim-over-bucket or shim-under-bucket designed engine.
Carb Sync Gauges
Carb sync gauges come in several designs, but all do the same job; measuring the volume of air moving through each individual carburetor. The goal here is to synchronize each carburetor so that they are providing each individual cylinder with a similar amount of fuel and air. This helps your engine run smoother and produce more power. Syncing your carbs is a critical adjustment needed after every valve adjustment, and carb cleaning or jetting adjustment.
From solving simple electrical issues (identifying a weak battery) to chasing down more complex electrical gremlins, you need a good voltmeter at your side. In the context of motorcycle maintenance, it’s most commonly used to confirm the presence (or lack of presence) of DC voltage, test for continuity (is there a break in this wire?) and measuring resistance. Voltmeters are available in every price range, with digital versions costing the most. They will all do basically the same job, although I suggest finding one with a nice loud “beep” in conjunction with the continuity tester (some are so quiet, they’re almost impossible to hear). You’re not always going to be able to look at the meter when using it, so the louder beep helps.
Now that we’ve got you salivating over all these “mandatory” tool purchases in your future (I mean, it would almost be almost irresponsible to NOT to acquire these tools, right?), know that it won’t happen overnight. Mechanics take years and years to acquire all their tools, and it will be the same process for you.
Experience comes from use!
Putting together a Kick Ass toolbox is great, but useless until you get some wrenching under your belt. Undoubtedly the most important tool in your toolbox is your personal experience using them!
Might I suggest that you first get your grubby little hands on a good Service Manual, and then head on down to your local Community Motorcycle Garage and get some experience turning wrenches, measuring clearances and torquing axles? All the tools documented above (and much, much more) are available to you, along with some good advice, guidance and encouragement.