BikeBandit's No-Bull Buyer's Guide to Motorcycle Tools You Should Have!
So you want to start working on your own bike, but need some advice on what tools you need to get started? Here are our tips for an affordable, well-equipped kit with all the basic items you'll need to start turning your own wrenches, and start saving some money!
Instructions: If it doesn't move, but should - WD-40. If it does move, but shouldn't - Duct tape. If nothing else works - hit with hammer.
Ok, that's obviously a joke (though if you really can pull off repairs with just those three things, more power to you - but I won't be asking you to help fix my bike.) For the rest of us, we need a reasonably well-equipped tool kit in order to do maintenance, basic repairs, and upgrades on our bikes.
Now if you're one who takes your bike to the dealership or mechanic for everything, I want to tell you - you're not only throwing away a lot of money, but you're missing out on one of the best parts of owning a bike. Turning wrenches on your bike yourself adds a whole new dimension to the connection you have with it when you ride. Working on my bikes is something I look forward to - part ritual, part therapy, and part just saving money. Start doing this, and I guarantee it will become one of your new favorite hobbies.
With that said, you may need some guidance on what tools and items you need in the garage to get started, and there are a few essentials. An affordable, well-equipped kit with all the basic items you'll need (plus a few nice-to-haves) is what we're aiming for here; something you can keep in a toolbox, and accomplish most of the tasks that don't require a mechanic's special tools or expertise.
One thought about building your tool kit - try to go for tools you will use repeatedly for maintenance tasks on your bike, or other jobs around the house. Good tools really are an investment, but only if you use them.
Also, before doing any work on your bike, get an owner's manual. Seriously, get one for each bike you own and keep it in the garage or toolbox. You'll refer to it for almost any job you do. Even simple jobs usually require some measurements or specs. Knowledge is the most important tool you have.
So let's get started!
First are the essential tools you'll need to do even begin doing anything on a bike. These are basic hand tools that are not motorcycle-specific and will have an infinite number of uses; for that reason I suggest you shoot for quality tools that you will enjoy using for many years.
Socket Wrench Set with Handles and Extensions
Working on any vehicle will require a socket wrench set, so let's talk a little bit about these. When shopping for a set, you'll see 6-point and 12-point sockets. I prefer 6-points, they grip the fastener more closely and will cut down stripping heads. A socket's "drive" refers to the square that it uses to drive the socket; by far the most common is a 3/8" drive, but a 1/4" will also come in handy for little stuff and tight spaces.
The handles that can be attached to the sockets vary in size and shape. T-handles and ratchets are both very useful; many people that wrench on their bikes swear by T-handles, but I've always preferred ratchet handles and extensions myself. Get several lengths of extensions and some universal-joints, they come in very handy.
I'd recommend a set of metric sockets for both 3/8" and 1/4" drive at a minimum, with a handful of extensions and universal joints for both. Check to see if you need standard sockets for your bike too, and get them as needed.
Just like socket wrenches, open-end wrenches (or box-end wrenches) are essential for working on motorcycles and most vehicles. Look for a set that matches the sizes of your sockets; from about 10mm to 17mm will cover most jobs, and get bigger or smaller ones as needed for your specific bike. Check to see if you'll need standard sizes for your bike too, just like with your sockets.
You'll find plenty of uses for screwdrivers, and they are something I suggest you don't skimp on quality for. Good screwdrivers are made of strong metal and have hardened tips, which are essential to getting leverage on stubborn screws without stripping them or ruining the screwdriver.
A great feature to look for is a hex nut-type feature (called a hex bolster) at the base of the shaft; you can use a crescent wrench to turn a stubborn screw with this, and get a lot more leverage than just turning it by hand. A fat rubberized grip is also great for leverage (especially when your hands are dirty.)
If you have a screwdriver with a hex bolster, you can use a wrench for extra torque when you need it.
Get nice screwdrivers and some cheapo ones too. Why? All too often, a screwdriver is the perfect tool for something other than driving a screw; prying, scraping, stabbing, etc. Don't use your good ones for this, that's what cheap/old screwdrivers are for.
You may see some all-in-one screwdrivers with a handle and several bit attachments; these work great for a lot of work, and take up very little space, just make sure you opt for a quality piece with solid bits. One of these could be your workhorse, but you'll still want your cheapo screwdrivers for abusing.
Allen/Hex Bit Sockets
These are essential for working on bikes, as you'll see hex heads everywhere; the vast majority of fasteners on my own bikes are hex heads. A set of those L-shaped hex keys will probably not cut it, as it's really difficult to get enough leverage on these. Go for hex-head sockets you can snap on to your ratchets or T-handles. You'll use these a lot!
When a screw is being stubborn and won't budge with just your elbow grease, you'll need an impact driver to help you. Steel screws can really lock onto the threads in aluminum crankcases of motorcycles. An impact driver will "shock" the fastener loose without applying the massive twisting force that a breaker bar would (which could shear the fastener and force you to drill it out - very bad juju.)
Another important part - use the impact tips/bits for it, or else you wind up damaging the fastener head. The standard driver bits are too soft and can lose their shape from impacting.
I can hear you thinking "what on earth do I need a hammer for, I'd never hit my bike!" Trust me, you need one. Not a big framing hammer, just something you can use to drive your impact wrench, tap on stubborn fasteners, and generally just "work" things into place. Professional mechanics use hammers way more than you think (or even want to know!)
Plastic/Rubber Hammer (or Mallet)
This is a great tool to have as a first step, before the hammer comes out, when you need to get something in place that is easily marred or damaged. It's a good idea to start with this and move up to the hammer if you really need to. (Tip: a hammer and a block of wood or dowels will often do the same thing.)
A hammer with a combination head like this is a perfect addition to your bike toolbox.
It might not be a bad idea to have a few different types of pliers, but on my bike I use a set hefty needlenose pliers 99% of the time (I don't even carry other ones in my toolbox.) Useful for pinching, pulling, and getting into small spaces. If you get some with snips built in for wires and zip-ties, even better.
Torque wrenches are one of those tricky, somewhat mysterious tools a lot of shade tree mechanics don't think they need (in my younger days, I was one of them.) Torque specs are one of those things you don't realize are important until you've had fasteners back out on you, or worse, stripped or broken them by over-torqueing.
If you're going to do anything on your bike that involves fasteners, I strongly recommend using a torque wrench to set them properly; a click-type is easy to use, inexpensive, accurate, and is one of the best tools a home mechanic can have. But for goodness' sake - don't use it as a breaker bar!
Check out this quick video tutorial by user ChrisFix on how to use a torque wrench properly.
Tire Pressure Gauge
This is probably one of the most important tools you can own, given how critical tire pressure is on a motorcycle. It's a good idea to check your tire pressure before every ride, but it's an absolute must to check it when doing maintenance. Get a good one! It will never fail you and you can use it on all your vehicles.
MOTORCYCLE TOOLBOX NECESSITIES
These are items you'll absolutely need if you're going to be doing work on your bike other than tools. You're not going to get very far without needing this stuff, so stock up on it!
Every mechanic's favorite fluid (besides possibly beer.) Lubricates, cleans, mysteriously fixes things, and smells good too. Get two bottles so you don't run out mid-job - or you can use one to loosen the cap of the other if its stuck on.
Did you know?The "WD" in WD-40 actually stands for "water displacement." Its ordiginal use was as a chemical used to push water out of aircraft equipment, but it has evolved to have a number of uses today, with a blend of lubricants, anti-corrosion agents, and ingredients for penetration, water-displacement, and soil removal.
Wear these when touching anything on your bike other than the pretty parts; it's a grimy, greasy, dirty machine under there, and besides virtually tattooing your hands with black grease, some of the chemicals you use can cause damage to your skin.
Some mechanic's gloves are great to enhance grip on your tools, and to keep from burning your hands or busting your knuckles.
You'll use these every time you work on your bike to clean parts and tools. Have many.
For any fluids, but especially oil. The ones with flexible hoses are convenient, but very hard to keep clean. A small set of cheap plastic funnels will be all you need.
I can't even tell you how many of these I've used over these years - they are pure genius. They keep things together in a pinch, organize and hide wires and hoses, can hold things out of the way while you're working...you'll find many uses for them. Every tool box needs a pack of these.
This is an essential little extra for many fasteners on a motorcycle to prevent them from vibrating out. Just a little dab works wonders. Avoid red Loctite (like super glue for screws) and go for the medium-strength blue instead.
A pack of whatever fuses your bike takes is great to have handy. Buy a few and forget about having to run to the auto parts store for a $1.00 part someday just to get your bike running.
A little bottle of this can go a long way in loosening stubborn screws. A lot easier and cheaper than drilling out a fastener with a mauled head.
Keeping your chain lubed is one of the most basic parts of motorcycle maintenance, and its recommended to use a proper chain lubrication product rather than something like WD-40 which displaces moisture (the "WD" in WD-40 actually stands for "water displacement.") Tip: Apply chain lube, then thoroughly wipe off all the excess with a rag; it has a tendency to sling, and wiping it off your bike can be a chore.
Assorted Nylon and Wire Brushes
Great for cleaning and scrubbing parts and tools clean. An old toothbrush will work if you're cheap - but not very well.
This nifty product has a three-sided brush head that cleans three sides of your chain with one motion, and has long bristles on the other end to reach into nooks and crannies. A highly recommended for anyone with a chain drive bike!
These are a must-have in any tool box, for any time you need to make a cut. A good utility knife and a pack of replaceable razors will keep you with a sharp blade always handy.
You can get by with most of the previous items for the basic stuff, but now let's take a look at a few extras that will make working on your bike much easier and more pleasant. If you plan to make a habit of wrenching on your motorcycle, you should plan on investing in these additional tools.
Stands will keep your bike upright, stable, and make everything on your bike much more accessible. Working on the right side of your bike is easy on when it's on a kickstand, but working on the left is a drag since its pointed toward the ground. Even simple tasks like lubing your chain are much easier on a stand (you just spin the wheel and spray), and you can forget about removing the wheels without them. They make all the work you do on the bike a lot easier.
Doing any work on your bike is easier when its on a bike stand.
Stands come in many varieties, so take a look around and find a set you like. I prefer to use a spooled rear stand (which lifts the bike from pegs mounted on the swingarm) and a roll-on stand in the front that holds the bike in place upright. (Note: a front stand also works perfectly to hold your bike in the back of a truck or trailer if you transport it.)
I strongly recommend this front stand from Bikemaster. I park my bike on it everyday, and it makes working on the bike or washing it so much easier. Works great in a truck or trailer too!
I don't know how I ever got by without one of these. Most of the work you do on a bike is low to the ground, and you'll kill your back crouching down and crawling around on the floor. Get a low stool you can roll around on; you'll never regret buying one!
Work Lamp with Clamp
I couldn't have done half the work I've done on my bike without one of these. It's tough to always see what you're doing, and a bright lamp you can clamp or hang where you need it is indispensable! A must have in the garage, or when working after hours. (A little LED flashlight isn't a bad idea either.)
I bought this on a whim, but it really should be an essential; it makes it so much easier to keep track of fasteners, bits, and sockets you're using during a job. If you can stick it to your stool, even better.
I'd never recommend using one of these as your go-to tool for loosening fasteners, but they do come in handy, especially for those unusually big ones (like axle nuts.) Once in a while you encounter that random bolt none of your sockets will fit, and it's nice to have one around.
Later, keep a note of unusual sockets you need and buy them individually until you don't need to cheat with the adjustable wrench anymore.
Used sparingly, these can really get you out of a jam for very stubborn fasteners. They put out a great deal of force and can damage bolts, but when you're fighting a bolt you swear is welded in there, this might give you that little extra leverage you need. (Tip: a metal pipe that fits over your ratchet handle will work as a substitute; AKA a "cheater bar.")
Portable Air Compressor
This is one of my personal favorite tools, and I actually keep one in my truck to keep its tires and the tires on my bikes are at the right pressure. If you do check your tire pressure and its low, you'd still have to ride it to top off the tires - unless you have one of these babies handy!
With a portable air compressor, filling tires is this easy. Keep it in your car to keep its tires topped off too.
To recap, here's a list of everything we covered. Get these tools together and start wrenching!
- Socket Wrench Set with Handles and Extensions
- Allen/Hex Bit Sockets
- Impact Wrench/Driver
- Plastic/Rubber Hammer or Mallet
- Needlenose Pliers
- Torque Wrench
- Tire Pressure Gauge
Motorcycle Toolbox Necessities
- Nitrile Gloves
- Mechanic's Gloves
- Shop Rags
- Loctite Threadlocker
- Spare Fuses
- Penetrating oil
- Chain Lube
- Assorted Nylon and Wire Brushes
- Grunge Brush
- Utility Knife
- Front/Rear Stands
- Rolling Stool
- Work Lamp with Clamp
- Magnetic Dish
- Adjustable (Crescent) Wrench
- Breaker Bar
- Portable Air Compressor
Need to know more about any one of these motorcycle toolbox essentials? Is there a tool you think we're missing that you want to bring up? Let us know in the comments below!