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ADV PreppingSo You Want To Learn How To Work On Motorcycles?

So You Want To Learn How To Work On Motorcycles?

 Mechanical competence leads to more-confident adventures far from home.

Published on 03.21.2018

Tired of paying shop fees or waiting to get your motorcycle into the dealer? Maybe you’ve realized that when you’re out on an adventure AAA can’t always come to the rescue. Regardless of what brought you to the church of twisting wrenches, you can be assured that knowing the ins and outs of your motorcycle mechanically will be beneficial and lead to more confident adventures. Not to mention all of the money that can be saved by performing maintenance and repair tasks yourself.

While some of us are inhibited by lack of workspace or proper tools making dealership service unavoidable, it is still good to know the basics of how to work on motorcycles. A lot can go wrong while riding through remote backcountry expanses or border hopping abroad. Even if you are a mere hour from civilization, something as simple as a flat tire or a loose spark plug wire can derail your entire day if you don’t know how to fix it.

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Adventure motorcycle travel is an interesting thing because in a lot of ways you can learn how to work on motorcycles as you go, but in other aspects, it is imperative that you know before you go. One pitfall to avoid is becoming the weak link on a ride, experiencing a mechanical problem and not understanding how to fix it or even have the right tools. But where do you start? How do you learn to proficiently maintain a motorcycle or even just become familiar with what knowledge is required?

Manuals and Literature

The first place you should look, believe it or not, is your owner’s manual. Most modern motorcycles come from the factory with pretty comprehensive instructions for maintenance tasks such as checking fluid levels and adjusting your chain. It will also have helpful information like recommended tire pressure, suggested fluids and service intervals. If you are eager to learn and have a little patience, your owner’s manual is great for covering the basics and getting oriented with your bike.

how to work on motorcycles dualsport
Sometimes the easiest way to begin learning how to work on motorcycles is to open up your owner’s manual.

If your motorcycle did not come with a manual or it was lost long ago in a land far away, then your next best bet is an aftermarket one from Clymer, Haynes or the like. These manuals are much more comprehensive covering not only simple maintenance tasks but digging into more advanced jobs like replacing timing chains and engine rebuilds. Simple step-by-step instructions are easy to follow along and you’d be surprised what you can accomplish. Some of these companies like Haynes even offer digital versions of their manuals that can be viewed on a smartphone or tablet, which is endlessly more convenient than carrying the hardbound version in your saddle bag!

Clymer Manual How to motorcycle mechanic

The downside of these manuals is that they sometimes lag a few model years behind due to the necessary research and development. Another potential issue is the high level of understanding these texts assume for certain projects. Thankfully in the Internet age, your gap in knowledge on a particular topic can often be bridged with a simple Google search.

Clymer and Haynes also offer non-model specific volumes on motorcycle maintenance including fuel systems, engine and electrical that can be helpful for more general projects or when first familiarizing yourself with motorcycle components.

Even the most experienced motorcycle mechanics can benefit from manuals, and their usefulness should not be overlooked.

Seminars, Workshops and Classes

The next resource in learning how to work on motorcycles is attending classes or seminars. It is fairly common for motorcycle dealerships, suspension shops, and parts resellers to offer different classes throughout the year. The curriculum can range from repairing flat tires, general safety inspections and tune-up crash courses to more in-depth subjects like suspension tuning and valve checks. Often these classes are aimed at new riders or those just beginning to get their hands dirty, making them a great resource.

You might also check your local community college for automotive mechanic classes. This will give you a deep dive into the inner workings of the combustion engine and the tools you need to become a competent mechanic. Much of the fundamentals of automotive mechanics translate directly to motorcycles.

If you cannot find anything like this in your area, then the next best thing is traveling to a motorcycle event that offers similar seminars such as the Overland Expo, RawHyde ADV Days or the Touratech Rally. These events along with most other significant rallies have industry leading professionals instructing seminars on a wide range of handy topics. Hands-on learning in that type of environment can do wonders to cement the knowledge conveyed and instill confidence.

How to work on motorcycles

Another way to get hands-on experience is by attending a local motorcycle club “maintenance day.” Motorcycle groups often host maintenance events where more-experienced or even professional mechanics help others with less knowledge. Many consider these hands-on event the best way to further their mechanical aptitude, so keep an eye out for these in your area. Sometimes though, the most helpful instruction can come from an experienced friend or fellow forum/group member willing to share their knowledge in exchange for a six-pack of their favorite adult beverage.

The Internet

It is hard to not acknowledge the significance of the Internet as a powerful tool when it comes to learning. The amount of information that can be found on motorcycle maintenance and repair online is staggering. The major drawback of the World Wide Web is that unfortunately it’s filled with people’s opinions meaning you should take any information gleaned with a grain of salt. That’s not to say there are not abundant reputable sources, just that caution should be exercised. Despite some vetting, being able to watch jobs performed before you attempt them yourself, learning from other peoples mistakes, and picking up a few tricks along the way, are just a few of the possible benefits.

YouTube is a good starting point that has thousands of videos on maintenance and repair tasks. Lots of aftermarket parts manufacturers use YouTube to host instructional videos as well. You won’t always find exactly what you are looking for, but usually something helpful will present itself.


Video produced by Jesse Felker

Forums and Facebook groups are another comprehensive resource available online where chances are someone has diagnosed the same problem you are struggling with or presented the information you are searching for. Usually, the best plan of action to benefit from these groups is by joining and introducing oneself before making inquiries. Contributing to the forum or group is essential as most of these operate like co-ops of information. This is where most opinions will be found along with non-verified info so beware but don’t be discouraged. Forums are also where you can gain some of the most useful insights and specific information. Chances are there is a group on Facebook or a forum that dedicated to your motorcycle model, and there are many specific to adventure motorcycles as well.

For practical purposes, the best way to learn how to work on a motorcycle is to utilize all of the listed resources in whatever combination works best for you. Don’t fall victim to bad advice like: “Buy a motorcycle that won’t start and troubleshoot it until it does!” or “Just rebuild a lawnmower engine.” These methods reinforce bad habits, teach you very little and usually just result in busted knuckles.

Work on Motorcycles - Mechanical Skills

Know Before You Go

Thankfully for those looking to further their mechanical understanding of the machines that enable their adventures, plentiful resources are out there. The keys to success are research, utilizing the digital tools at your fingertips and learning what mistakes to avoid. And remember, learning how to work on a motorcycle in the confines of your garage is a lot more comfortable than doing it in the field. Mistakes are much more forgiving as well when you can take breaks to look something up or get replacement parts from the local shop. But most importantly, you can’t be stranded in a garage the same way you can when you break down in the midst of an adventure. So take the time to know your motorcycle and how it works, maybe even save yourself some money along the way. The benefits of your efforts are sure to serve you well on all the dirt miles ahead.

Author: Spencer Hill

“The Gear Dude” has been fueling his motorcycle addiction with adventure since first swinging his leg over a bike in 2010. Whether he’s exploring his own backyard in the Pacific Northwest or crisscrossing the United States, Spencer is always in search of scenic off-road routes, epic camping locations and the best gear possible. He began writing shortly after taking up two-wheel travel to share his experiences and offer insight with his extensive backpacking, camping and overland background.

Author: Spencer Hill
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One thought on “So You Want To Learn How To Work On Motorcycles?

  1. Loved your article. A lot of great ideas. I do also recommend finding a local Community Motorcycle Garage. There are many around the world that would help any traveler with anything they need to fix on their bike. All the garages provide tools and equipment and the ability to order any part a rider would need. We are in San Diego, Cerberus Moto, a great last stop before heading into Mexico. But check out the CMG page to see if there is a CMG anywhere on your route. http://communitymotorcyclegarages.com/