The Buyer's Guide to Motorcycle Tools
Half of the fun of owning a motorcycle is tinkering. Learning the tricks of the trade and
how your motorcycle runs makes riding all the more satisfying. While forums and
friends can give you decent advice on the many intricacies of tuning and tweaking, you
should have a basic understanding of the tools you'll need by your side in the garage.
There's a reason that mechanics are known for the grease under their fingernails.
Working with any kind of engine requires a lot of skill and toil with your hands. It
reasonably follows that there are dozens of different hand tools that you will need when
playing doctor with your ride.
What to Buy
With that said, figuring out how to begin to acquire these invaluable gems can be
difficult. Sure it might be simple to go out, drop a couple grand on the biggest and
shiniest tool set that your friends will "ooh" and "ahh" over, but if you don't know how to
use it, it might be slightly gratuitous and very unnecessary. Instead, follow in the
footsteps of millions of riders before you and either build your own set, piece by piece
(starting in Motorcycle Hand Tools), or
find a simple basic starter kit like this
BikeMaster Tool Kit (17 Piece Set). When you're first starting out, having the most expensive tools won't
help you one bit. After you learn the tools of the trade and as your skills advance, you can
upgrade your tools as necessary.
The basic tools you'll want to start with are pretty straight forward. They come in
seemingly endless different shapes, sizes and uses but a good place to start are with
wrenches. Wrenches, like this Motion Pro Ti Prolight Wrench Set,
are used for all the twisting, tightening and loosening of the
numerous bolts and nuts that hold your bike together. There's nothing worse than getting
halfway through a project on your bike and not being able to find the right size wrench so
arm yourself with all of the essential sizes such as anything from 6mm to 14mm as well
as a 17mm and a 19mm. If you happen to have a British motorcycle such as a Triumph or
Norton, you'll find that their nuts and bolts are a wee bit different. This is because they
run off the British Standard known as Whitworth and will require a set of Whitworth
wrenches. Typically, combination wrenches are the handiest and tend to save on storage
room. It might not be a bad idea to pick up two sets, one for your nuts, the other for
your bolts and a small set of open end ignition wrenches couldn't hurt, since they're so
small and fit into very tight places.
Another great tool for tightening or loosening the bolts and nuts that hold your bike
together are socket wrenches like the BikeMaster T-Handle Set.
Sockets come in various "points." The points refer to how strong of
a grip the socket will have on a bolt or nut. There are 6-, 8- and 12- point sockets where 6 is
the strongest and 12 is the weakest. Typically, a 6-point is the handiest because it will cut
down on the amount of nut and bolt heads you will strip. A socket's "drive" refers to the
square that it uses to drive the socket. Of course you will need to get the same size
sockets as your wrenches. The handles that can be attached to the sockets vary in size and
shape. T-handles and ratchet handles will be extremely helpful but you are free to use
whatever type of handle you prefer.
If you don't trust yourself to properly tighten your bolts and nuts when first installing
them, use a torque wrench. A torque wrench is much like a socket wrench except
that it has a mechanism that measures how much tension should be put on the bolt or nut
and will keep you from over tightening and stripping your bolts. Most owners' manuals
will even tell you what the specific torque for each bolt should be tightened to. We don't,
however, recommend using a torque wrench for all of your tightening needs such as with
reassembly because it can make them go out of spec faster.
Every now and then you'll come across a bolt that no wrench seems to fit. While you
could spend all of your precious time hunting down the smart guy who decided to make it
and demand that he give you the wrench that goes with it, it
might just be easier to sneak out your crescent wrench such as the BikeMaster adjustable wrench
and cheat a little. Though you will
never want to admit to your friends that you use a crescent wrench, even the most
prepared and well-equipped mechanic has one for those frustrating and mysterious cases
of the impossible bolt. Crescent Wrenches also come in handy when you need to tighten or loosen
oversized bolts and nuts such as "axel nuts" which may be too big for standard sockets
Screwdrivers will be some of your most used tools. Since no one can seem to agree
on what a screw head should look like, you can never have too many different types and
sizes. Start out with the basics such as Straight, Phillips, Torx and Square and add on the
more obscure screw driver types as you go along. Even when you have one of every
type, different sizes should find their way into your tool box so that you can reach all the
nooks and crannies of your bike. The most popular head sizes that you will likely require most often are P1, P2, and P3. While you want to have one of each, most
modern tool sets like the MSR 6-in-1 screwdriver
will have a driver with replaceable heads for each size. You'll find that
screw drivers are not only great for anything involving a screw; they're often used for
dozens of different purposes that you won't find listed on the box. When some prying or
chiseling needs to be done and your screw driver is the only tool within reach, you
probably won't think twice to use it. However, it never hurts to pick up a pry bar, chisel,
or punch set in order to spare your screw drivers the unnecessary stress.
When a screw is being stubborn and won't
budge with just your elbow grease, you'll need an impact driver
like this Performance Tool impact driver to help you.
Sometimes screws can really lock onto the threads in aluminum crankcases of a good
majority of motorcycles. When this happens, an impact driver is what you will need to get them.
Impact drivers are either a 3/8" or 1/2" and you can use screw drivers
or sockets with them. In order to release the screw from its death grip, put the necessary
size bit onto the driver, put the driver onto the screw and turn its body in the desired direction.
Once your driver is "cocked" and ready to go, give
the end of the driver a good smack with a hammer (notice that this means you will need
to add a hammer on your shopping list) and the screw should release.
Just like the rest of your tools (except for your hidden crescent wrench), you can never
have enough pliers. You'll find that they'll come in handy often for holding things tightly
in place. But if you can only manage to get your hands on one pair, shoot for a medium
sized Vice-Grip or some needle nose pliers which will give you the most bang for your
You may have all the necessary hand tools to mess with your motorcycle but you'll find
that there are a few accessories that you might find useful to have in your workshop. As
cool as that neon Bud Light sign may look hanging about your garage, that's not the
kind of accessory we're talking about. Depending on what kind of bike you are working
on, the different things you'll want by your side as you work will vary but you should
always have the basics.
Now that you've collected a vast array of hand tools, you'll need someplace to put them.
And even though fork tubes have "fork" in the name, you shouldn't use the dining room table as
your storage place for your tools and parts so it's probably time to invest in a tool bag,
tool chest or a Torin rolling workstation that can
hold your handy wares. There are tons of different sizes, set ups and colors so shop
around till you find one that inspires you to spend more time getting your hands dirty.
Futzing with your ride can get a bit messy. By now you've probably figured out that your
motorcycle requires a variety of fluids to run properly and that these fluids can be a bit
hard to clean up after. If you're opposed to getting grease and oil on your jeans and
Harley-Davidson t-shirt, you might find wearing an apron to be more convenient and
practical than working in the nude. For all of your other surfaces, we recommend having
a supply of lint free towels that can be easily thrown away if drenched in chemicals that
your washing machine can't handle. In order to avoid spills and unnecessary clean ups,
have an oil pan to throw under your bike when messing with any fluids.
While working on your motorcycle you might find that some of the parts weigh more
than you should lift. We're not saying you can't lift it of course but that you just probably
shouldn't. To help you when such a moment arises, have a dolly or lift like this
Warn Works Pullzall in your workshop.
In the long run it'll be cheaper than a chiropractor.
There are those moments when you get in a fight with one of your bolts that just won't
seem to work with you. So when you've stripped off the thread or manage to break the
bolt off in the hole it can get frustrating and expensive. Instead of getting flustered, invest
in a good thread repair kit and easy out kit.
One of the most important tools to have in your workshop is a battery charger
such as the Battery Tender Power Tender Plus Charger. Tuning
your motorcycle and tweaking with its engine may be pretty darn entertaining but it's all
very pointless if you let your battery die out. You might think that you'll be getting out
on the road often enough to allow your battery to recharge while you ride but life (and
often the weather) can sometimes get in the way of riding as much as you would like to.
Keep a battery charger handy with the rest of your tools for those pesky moments that
you have to resort to using a battery charger.
It might seem like the most obvious rule of thumb, but always use a battery charger that
is meant to charge motorcycle batteries and not other automotive batteries such as cars.
Some battery chargers may be compatible with both with the flip of a switch, otherwise
an automotive battery charger will have too strong of a current and only harm your
battery. For the same reason, know if your batter is a 6 or 12 volt and buy your battery
There are two main different types of battery chargers. A trickle charger is the least
expensive but is less convenient. Just as the name implies, a trickle charger slowly
charges your battery while it's not being used. These battery chargers give the battery
juice while plugged in but do not stop until they are unplugged though most do come with an automatic cut off.
If yours doesn't come with one, it is important to connect
and disconnect the charger from your battery as necessary in order to make sure it is
charged but does not overcharge or boil the electrolyte chemicals out of the cells and
damage the internal plates.
If you really don't want to have to continuously keep an eye on your battery (they can be
rather boring when not being used to power your ride) you might want to invest in an
intelligent battery charger. These chargers, such as a battery
maintainer, are a little more costly but require a lot less attention. Instead of you keeping
track of your battery, an intelligent battery charger has an electric circuit that it uses to
monitor the battery's voltage, temperature and time under charge. They then use this
information to give the battery the exact amount of charge that it needs to perform the
best. When plugged in, the charger will be able to turn itself on and off so you won't have
You may also find it to be more convenient to install a permanent charging lead to your battery.
Many bikes have a lot of bits and pieces that make it difficult to get to your battery. Instead
of having to remove them every time you need to charge your battery, a permanent battery lead
allows you to hook up your battery to a charger without the use of alligator clips and instead with
a short lead that is easy to tuck away and pull out on your bike when need be.
While you may want to be the only person who ever lays a hand on your motorcycle,
remember: the tools are only as skilled the mechanic who uses them. Never hesitate to
check with the service manual about a problem. And if you are still unsure even though
you have the right tools to fix a problem, don't hesitate to take your bike to the dealer or a
mechanic to have it looked at.