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1,541 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I discovered the other day that as a member of the Honda Riders Club I can view the service manual. One the one hand it's inspired me; on the other it's got me terrified. The idea of tearing down the transmission is so far beyond my mechanical abilities that I can't imagine even trying. (Thank goodness my bike doesn't need that kind of work.)

But it got me thinking ... if you were to advise a relative newbie on how to become more proficient at performing work on their bike, what would be the progression of things you'd recommend they try to tackle? The objective here is to allow them to build up experience and confidence with relatively simple things first, then moving on to the more complex.

Oil change is the obvious first.

What's next? Air filter and coolant?

Then from there? Some ideas, but I'm not sure what order would be best:

o Removal of wheels when new tires are called for
o Replacing front brake pads
o Adjusting cable tensions
o Adding an electrical component

Then what would you consider the "graduate level" stuff?

o Clutch replacement?
o Rebuild head?
o Repair transmission?

Does anyone have personal experience they can offer about how they became better at wrenching? Any job you tackled that was too much for your abilities at the time? Jobs you first thought were complex but turned out to be quite easy?

2,530 Posts
First and foremost, you have to have a sense of adventure...and a way to handle stress that doesn't involve beating the thing that is frustrating you. :D

For me, it comes from my childhood. I have always worked on my bicycles and skate boards. I also helped Dad work on his vehicles and around the house.

My first advice for someone starting out is to get the right tools. I have seen seasoned mechanics and maintenance personnel in large manufacturing plants working on things with VERY basic tools...hell, I have had to do it too when things aren't running...but nothing beats having the right tool for the job. My Dad always told me...and it has stuck (for the most part)...If the tool isn't right...the fool isn't bright.

One of the things that I consider the right tool is the Service Manual for your bike. I have used my manual more times that I care to admit to make sure that I understand the removal/installation process before I dug into my baby.

Another great tool is a digital camera...especially if the tear-down/rebuild will last more than one day. Take pictures at different of the tear-down so you can see how things go back together. Luckily, I haven't had to do this yet. None of my repairs have been that extreme.

The next consideration is having a place to work on the bike. You want to make sure you have enough room to take it apart, lay the removed parts together so everything stays together and you aren't guessing what "that" damn bolt went to. You also want to make sure that the place is clean. Nothing is worse than putting a motor back together, fill it with oil/coolant and see if all run out on the ground because there was dirt between the gasket.


336 Posts
Buy an old clunker of a bike, running or not, may even be able to find a freebie if you'll take it away, don't spend more'n $100 or so.

Get the manual and rip it apart then put it back together, either to get running, or just to learn.

Beats doing damage to your daily rider.


132 Posts
I never did any maintenance on my vehicles before I got my bike, now I do regular oil changes (air filter is much easier than oil!) and brake service on all vehicles, as well as other maintenance. I replaced the alternator on my truck all by myself last winter. Sounds silly now, as it was so easy to do, but in the past I never would have considered it.

Things I have done:
Oil and Filter
Air Filter
Front Brakes
Added heated grips
Drilled out covers, adjusted pilot jet and idle mixture

also had to learn how to use an easy out and replaced the oil plug when I over torqued it and sheared off the head!

Probably the most important tool to have is access to someone who really knows what they are doing. This site falls into that category, but finding someone local who can give advice and help is probably one step better. I also got a lift for Xmas and look forward to doing tires myself from now on. Save $100 and a morning.

3,761 Posts
Spirit_1100 has given you some of the best advice you can get.

The right set of tools is invaluable.
A digital camera is invaluable when you are tackling something
that you have never seen or done before.
You can make a step by step documentary on your tear down and
have a good pictorial reference when reassembling.

You are on the right track. Oil changes and other general maintenance
stuff is what you want to start with...

If you are not familiar with more complex workings such as engine and
transmission, I strongly suggest you not try to tackle something
like that, even with the factory manual.
There are some things, while the factory manual is the best, that it just
doesn't show and tell you because it assumes that you already know
how to do some tasks.
Transmissions, just like engines, can be highly complex and very
critical is some areas. You don't just stick the gears on the shaft
and pop them in the case. Backlash and end play must be measured
and corrected if out of spec. There are so many things that the book
can't and doesn't tell you.

Brakes (replacing) is a relatively easy job and the book pretty much
will walk you step by step through that routine.
Cable adjustments the same... follow the book.
Electrical stuff... electrical is electrical is electrical. If you are familiar
with electrical properties, characteristics, physics, then yeah, no big deal.
This is not something the manual is going to teach you.
However, for the most part, keep positive to positive and negative to negative and you'll be fine. If you aren't sure on figuring out
current load and such, just ask...then remember.

Clutch replacement. Not hard. Time consuming.
If you understand how a clutch works, it will be even more apparent once
you crack the case and actually physically look at it.
It's kinda of like a torque converter in a car. Most people don't understand how a torque converter works and you can explain it to them and they get an idea, but still not quite.
Then show them a cut-away and how it operates and then they can understand. Same with a clutch... once you see if, you'll understand how it works.

Rebuilding the head. Very few mechanics will actually tackle this themselves.
Going through a head is something better left to a machinist.
Some mechanics are machinists and can do the job, but most of them
send out that kind of work to the specialists.
Just like anything else, a good mechanic CAN could do his own machine work, but since it's not his specialty and doesn't do it day after day, hour by hour, they generally leave it to people who are 'experts' in the machining field.

Repair transmission. I think I pretty much covered it.
It's actually getting more rare to find people who can work on transmissions. Many auto dealers don't repair them anymore. They
simply swap them out and send the old one back to the manufacturer for
You'll find places like AAMCO and other transmission shops who claim to
fix them... but they usually fix them where they will never work again.

The BEST advice I can give you if you REALLY want to learn how to do this
stuff is either start apprenticing with a friend who knows the arena.
Start out washing parts for them and ask lots of questions.
Soon, you'll be assisting with assembly and repair. You'll learn
how to read calipers, micrometers, get and idea of what is critical
and what is not critical.
The other thing you can do is go take some night automotive classes
at your local tech school. You don't have to take a full program, just
individual classes... Start out with basic mechanics and work
your way up. They will have vehicles for you to work on and an instructor
to help and guide the way.

1,454 Posts

The coolest move you can make you have done: that’s realizing that you may need to progress into it slowly instead of just jumping in and tearing things apart. So, in the 80’s and early 90’s, I did everything to my bike, my boat engine and my skidoos. Today, things have progressed to far and I haven’t kept up. I agree with above, that the right tools, the right space, the manual and this website are a great start. Next is picking your projects. Doing a bit of research will lead you to the sense of how hard a particular job is on a scale of 1 to 10, and you will know what is in your capability. On my bike, I consider myself a 5-6, being that I can do most maintenance and most mods on my bike. I think I would stop at opening up the engine primarily because of my skill level, but also because I don’t have the room to open an engine and take up the space for what ever period of time the job takes. There will come a time when the stars align and I will tackle something major but for now, I have an unlimited mileage warranty and don’t want to do anything that would void that.

Enjoy, that’s meant to be half the reason for doing it yourself, at least for me.

865 Posts
I have been an industrial mechanic, electrician, plumber, welder, you name it I've done it, for years with just a high school education and no formal training. I have gotten an electricians license and a NICET certification in the field I now work in, and my best advice is to start simple just as you are doing and work your way up the ladder of complexity. Just like carpenters always say "Measure twice and cut once", always double and triple check your manual as you go. Also never hesitate to get advice from people that have done whatever you are about to do. Also it really helps if you actually enjoy doing your own work. If you don't like it it's harder to become good at it.

225 Posts
I always keep a saying i learned from an old VW mechanic in mind.

"it's just a piece of metal....outthink it."

i've been teaching myself for the last 15 years.....but i've had alot of help from books.

the service manual, and bike guides in general are pretty good references in teaching you the ins and outs of everything.

bikes are bikes.....there's not much difference....really....between a harley and a honda.

4,689 Posts
Some of the other things that are not out of the realm of the shade tree mechanic (I believe litnin hit on the subject very well......there are pros that are trained and then there are those that can follow the manual through a lot of fixes but have a stopping point without training) like rebuilding forks, replacing the stator, upgrading shocks.

That sense of adventure mentioned is a lot of what makes a person a shade tree mechanic, but if you are not doing that type of work everyday so being slow and deliberate is a very good thing. Having someone help you through a procedure once is also a good thing.

The other thing I tend to do is change all the parts I suspect or that are wear parts. Example adding springs to the front fork, I went ahead and replace all the bushings (and naturally the fork seals), but after looking at the old lower bushings (and seeing the new ones) I realised the old bushing were just fine.....but it was only about $30 extras to know the entire front fork assembly was back to new condition.....piece of mind insurance if you will......but now I know what to look for with regards to bushing wear.

Becoming a decent diagnostician is also one of the things that a good mechanic, trained or not, will have to foster to make their lives simplier.
The understanding of the vehicles systems and there interrelationships is very critical to fixing what is broken. I have learned so much here just reading and paying enough attention to results that it's been an education in and of itself.

Experience can be a cruel teacher....but a good teacher.
You have to know your limitations and/or when to seek help.

209 Posts
Fixing and Making Things


I have always been fasinated with mechanical things and and the guys that kept them running.

It probably started by listening to Dad tell stories about WWII. He managed to lead me to believe that the mechanics were magicians akin to Merlin. My Dad was a superb mechanic himself, and didn't mind transfering that knowledge to me. Don't think that you'll be working for the Andretti team as head mechanic 6 months from now, but it's not impossible to become a skilled mechanic, even if you've never picked up a wrench.

If you can hang around with people that are 'always working on something' you'll pick up a lot of knowledge. You're also lucky in a sense that when compared to years gone by, information is almost instantly available. I used to have unfinished projects laying around for years just trying to locate a couple of parts that I know existed but were unable to locate. Tools that were almost impossible to locate and almost unaffordable before are now available for loan at places thar sell parts.

I had Chilton manuals from the Early 50's up for cars and trucks and by studying them and talking to like minded people I gained a lot of knowledge about things. Try to study mechanisms that are simple at first then graduate to more complicated systems. There's more to it than nuts and bolts. There's electric, hydraulics, chemicals and science. I also never had a problem with 'tearing into something just to see how it works'. I would suggest that if you're going to tear things apart to do it on things that aren't very valuable to start with. Junky worn out things usually present a whole different set of problems than something that's brand new off the assembly line. Corrosion, damage, wear and tear, abuse and any number of other things can make some of these tasks rather interesting.

All of that said, I believe that the spirit that motivated the likes of people like Ben Franklin, Eli Whitney, The Wright Brothers, Glen Curtiss and just about every person who ever hung around the Drag Strips and Race Tracks is alive and well.

Sometimes patience becomes something more than a virtue, even for the best and brightest who also get frustrated, but self disipline will overcome the toughest of problems. There's been times when I've been so mad at machines and the people who destroyed them that I felt like getting out the cutting torch and a club...and at the that precise time it didn't matter in which order!

But if you like it it's very rewarding in many ways.


4,827 Posts
Spirit_1100 and Litnin' got it right. I can't imagine actually paying someone else to work on my vehicles.
I guess I was fortunate to be taught early on - if you want to know how something works, take it apart an you'll learn alot. So, I've been taking things apart all my life! >PD<
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