If you own a bike chances are you have modified it in some way, shape or form and if you haven’t, you will be shortly. Just the initial cost of chrome goodies, power adders, luggage or whatever else you deem necessary can hit your wallet pretty hard. But if you are going to a dealer to have the parts installed it’s likely the cost of upgrades has more than doubled once you receive your labor bill.
There is one sure fire way to lighten the load on your pocket book when it comes to tricking out your ride. Start wrenching; don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and start putting on parts yourself. To those who don’t work on their machines, this can be a scary prospect, but with a few tips and a little elbow grease, doing your own mechanic work can be an easy and enjoyable experience.
Without the proper tool even the simplest job can turn into a nightmare. There’s no need to break the bank and buy a six foot Snap-On box full of tools. But a few of the basics will get you a long way.
A manual. This is absolutely the top priority. The very first purchase you make after any motorcycle should be the manual. They are relatively inexpensive and contain a wealth of information that is just as relevant to the seasoned mechanic as it is to the novice. A manual contains nuggets of knowledge that range from instructions on motor removal to general maintenance intervals, torque specs, tire pressure and wiring diagrams.
A basic set of hand tools. You don’t have to break the bank, a simple set will do. Stick with the name brands, most have a warranty of some sort. You can pick a nice set from Sears or a local hardware store. J&P even carries the basic tools to get the job done. By the time you’re done with them, you will have put that warranty to work for you once or twice. Once you score your set of new instruments, use them properly. Don’t use your ratchets as hammers and screwdrivers as chisels, use the right tool for the job.
A bike lift. This is optional, but if you can swing it, you won’t regret it. Brands like Handy®, Titan and K&L make a wide range of lifts. There are three basic types of lifts starting with the top of the food chain. Table lifts come with a myriad of options and start at around $1,500. The next option is the scissor-type lifts that roll under the frame of your bike and use a hydraulic foot operated pedal to raise the bike (note: this type of lift only works with cradle type frames, if you have a twin spar type of frame like a sportbike these lifts will not work). The next option is the flat jack. These are small and flat, and use a ratchet to raise the bike. They generally only raise the bike around twelve inches but work well in conjunction with the table lifts.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you get into a bind or get lost in your manual, don’t be afraid to ask for some advice. Even the best mechanic had to start somewhere. The key here is who you get your advice from. It seems like everyone who has thrown a leg over a bike is somehow an expert, which can lead to a lot of false information and wives tales. Your best bet is to call the J&P Cycles tech line. They have an incredible amount of technicians on staff who know their stuff when it comes to anything on two wheels. And they are armed with a library of knowledge that is only a phone call or few mouse clicks away. They are easy to talk to and love bikes. If you aren’t in a hurry, you can cruise the internet forums, there is a forum out there for every type of bike, but do your research. There is good info out there, but remember, everybody is an expert from behind their keyboard.
Do it right. Don’t take shortcuts; it will cost you in the end. Do yourself a favor, follow your manual specs and your life will be a lot easier. If you run into problems and start hacking stuff together your bike won’t look or perform the way you want. Hacking something together instead of following directions will generally cost you more in the end. You will either end up replacing something else you damaged or back at the shop forking out the dough you originally saved, and then some.
The moral of the story is don’t be afraid of your tools. Start small and familiarize yourself with your bike. Switch out your mirrors and change your oil. Then work up to an air cleaner install and maybe an exhaust or windshield. Before you know it, you’ll be swapping cylinder heads and dropping in new cams. And with all the money you saved, you can add a few extra parts that you’ve been eyeing. Now get out in that garage and get those wrenches spinning!