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10 Steps to Learning Motorcycle Mechanics
BY PAUL CROWE
If you like the idea of Motorcycle Repair and Motorcycle Restoration but you haven’t yet joined the ranks of highly skilled garage wizards, don’t give up. You don’t need mysterious training available only to the select few, you can learn a lot on your own. It starts with desire, you mix that with effort and persistence plus a small dash of bruised knuckles and over time you’ll gain the knowledge to demonstrate the skills others respect, you might even amaze yourself when you step back and see what you’ve done. Always remember, no one is stopping you, if you want the skills, learn. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Get Curious.
Learning begins with curiosity and boredom disappears. The more curious you are, the more likely you are to push beyond the basics because you won’t be satisfied with what you know. Cultivate your curiosity.
Curiosity leads to questions and the more you learn the more complex the questions. How do I change the oil? How do I adjust the valves? How do I blueprint an engine? Keep asking tougher questions and you’ll keep learning. If it’s easy and you know the answer, it means you’re not learning, you’re just practicing what you already know.
2. Build on small successes.
There’s another reason to start with simpler questions like “How do I change the oil?” Chances of success are high and it builds confidence that you’ll be able to do bigger jobs. The payoff is fast, too. Even for a first timer reading the manual carefully, changing the oil is a straightforward operation and you can be back on your motorcycle in an hour or so, knowing you just performed necessary maintenance vital to the long term reliability of your bike. One small success and you’ll feel better about trying something a little higher on the complexity meter. The tool kit that comes with the motorcycle, probably has the tools you’ll need for the basic jobs, and the owner’s manual will explain the process.
3. Read books about motorcycle mechanics.
Depending on your current level of mechanical knowledge, you might want to read a basic book explaining the workings of internal combustion engines in which case it doesn’t have to be specifically about motorcycles. If your knowledge level is a bit higher, something more specific to motorcycles and their unique properties would apply. There’s no use trying to learn how to degree a cam if you have no idea what that means or what effect it would have. When you have some basic experience under you belt, start learning the theory of how it all works as a package. Amazon means the best books are available even if you can’t find them locally so take a little time to look through their selections.
4. Get the shop manual.
If you have a newer motorcycle, get the factory shop manual, the same one the service department uses to repair your bike. It will explain in detail exactly how to perform even the most extensive repairs. When you’ve worked your way through all of the basic maintenance and some of the more advanced procedures, this is where you’ll look for the how to information. It’s best to buy one at the same time you buy your new motorcycle, they sometimes aren’t as easily available later on and you’ll already have it. The more generally available repair manuals you find in bookstores don’t go into the detail found in the factory manual. It can make all the difference when tackling a tough job.
5. Start investing in tools.
I say invest instead of buy because tools will last almost forever if cared for. The money you spend will return dividends in making even the tough jobs easier and most any job possible. Don’t try to buy everything at once. That can set you back many thousands of dollars, or whatever currency you’re using, and you’ll have a lot of tools sitting around unused for a long time. Think about the kinds of jobs you want to try and make sure you have the tools you need for that job.
Tools can become an obsession and you’ll start looking at the latest offerings from the tool companies and find you just have to have that special wrench. Resist the temptation if you can because you can probably get along without it. You will, however, want to purchase tools unique to our own motorcycle. Almost every bike has a few odd adjusters or some hard to reach place where the right tool can save enormous amounts of time.
6. Create your own work area.
If you’re going to do serious mechanical work, you need a place to do it. This doesn’t mean a dedicated garage but at least a spot in the garage where you can take things apart and leave them undisturbed. If you have to pick everything up every time you begin working, the extra time and effort necessary to do that will cut down on the actual work time. Many jobs can’t be completed in one day. A solid workbench is another must, working on the floor is almost impossible and darned hard on the back and knees at the very least.
One qualification about picking things up, ALWAYS pick up your tools. If you establish the habit of picking up your tools and putting them away early on, you’ll find it’s easy to do and you’ll always know where your tools are and immediately know if one is misplaced. If there is any doubt about the security of your work area, lock your toolbox or, if it’s a smaller box, take it to a secure place. Tools grow legs and it can ruin your day to find something missing especially when you need the tool, not to mention, it can get very expensive.
7. Hang around with some knowledgeable friends.
Chances are, some of your friends have knowledge you can learn from. If they are going to work on their motorcycle, watch them do it. Help if you can, ask questions if it’s not distracting and they don’t mind answering, just watch if that’s all you can do. Sometimes seeing something complex done by someone who knows how speeds the learning process immensely.
8. Buy and rebuild an old motorcycle.
Sooner or later, you’ll want to tackle a big job before you’re sure of your ability to carry it off successfully. An old motorcycle lessens the risk of costly mistakes so you’ll be more willing to disassemble the forks, remove the swingarm or tear the engine down completely. Don’t buy a rare bike, just something a little older where parts are available. If you’re concerned about losing money on the deal after you’ve rebuilt it, just remember to add in the value of the technical school course you didn’t spend any money on, the value which will stay with you after the bike is long gone.
9. Teach someone else how to repair motorcycles.
You’re probably thinking I’m crazy on this step. How can you teach what you don’t know yourself? It’s pretty well known, one of the best way to learn something is to teach it. You’ll be forced to dig in, gather the knowledge, organize it, practice so you can demonstrate your ability and then pass that knowledge on to someone else. If they are successful when you’re done, you’ve learned, they’ve learned and you are both ahead of where you were.
This step is especially good for parents or anyone older who can teach their children or someone younger. It builds a bond between both young and old and you’re both better off for it. Promise someone you’ll teach them something by a certain date and then keep your promise. The other alternative here is for both of you to learn together. When a young person sees an older person putting in real effort to learn it can be inspiring for the young person as they find out real knowledge and skill take effort. There’s no magic, just dedicated effort and persistence.
10. Attend a motorcycle mechanics technical school.
I saved this for last because I wanted to show that you don’t need to attend a school to learn. Attending a formal training class can shorten the time involved and you’ll have access to all of the tools and probably many of the latest motorcycles. You’ll see things done by experts and have ready answers to your questions. But not everyone has the time or money to attend and not everyone is aiming for a job in a service department, you may just want to work on your own motorcycles. Most of the steps above are for the person who wants to do things himself or herself but that person can attend a class, too.