The owner’s manual
The most basic tools when it comes to motorcycle maintenance are printed ones: books. With the right technical material and a little patience, the average person should be able to fix anything. The first book you’ll need is the owner’s manual or handbook that came with your motorcycle.
If you bought your bike used, it may be missing. If that’s the case, go order one. The owner’s manual explains what you’ll need to know about riding and using your bike. It tells you how to start it, how to turn on the lights, and what grade of gas to put in it. It tells you what the tire pressures should be, what spark plug should be used, and when to change the oil.
The owner’s manual also shows lists of required maintenance and when to perform it. It may even describe how to do some of the basic jobs like how to change the oil or remove the wheels. In fact, some owner’s manuals contain more details that they are in effect mini shop manuals. The ones that come with BMWs are particularly good, but they are the exception. In short, the owner’s manual is a very basic and important tool that you should keep on or close to the bike at all times and read thoroughly at the first opportunity.
Unfortunately, what the owner’s manual won’t provide is a detailed procedure for repairing the motorcycle’s components. For that, you’ll need a service manual. Service manuals contain descriptions of every system and component on the motorcycle and the procedures for their repair. Good service manuals describe the repair procedures step by step. They also illustrate each step with clear photographs and blown-up drawings.
Manuals contain all the information needed to overhaul your bike from top to bottom; if it’s pertinent information, the factory shop manual will list it. That said, factory shop manuals are written for the professional mechanic and assume you have reached a certain level of ability, own or have access to a fully equipped shop, and have all kinds of specialized tools.
Shop manuals completely disregard the fact that some of us need our hands held occasionally. There’s nothing more disconcerting to the novice mechanic than reading ’assemble in the reverse order of disassembly’ after they’ve just dismantled their first gearbox. You may also find the text of the factory shop manual a little daunting at first.
In fact, I’d suggest asking your local dealer for a quick look at his before ordering yours, just to see if it’s readable. Some poorly translated European manuals can be a little hard to follow, being translated into English “as she is spoken.” If that’s the case or if the price tag of the factory manual gives you a nosebleed, I’d suggest taking a look at one of the independently published manuals.
Chilton, Haynes, and Clymer all publish shop manuals that cover most of the popular models. Besides being a fair amount cheaper, the aftermarket manuals are usually for the novice. Most aftermarket manuals also suggest alternative procedures and tools in cases where the factory-authorized tool may be unavailable. Let me be blunt here, you don’t have much choice. I’ve spent over 30 years employed as a professional mechanic, and I rarely work on a bike without having a service manual close at hand. Get a manual for your bike.