Get your hands dirty
Any realistic preventive maintenance program requires a few simple necessities. Foremost, is the desire to actually get your hands dirty. If you’re still reading at this point, I’ll take that as a given. Next on the list is a basic understanding of how your motorcycle works; together we’ll achieve that. Practical considerations boil down to a place to work and tools. Let’s start with a place to work.
The expression shade-tree mechanic carries good and bad connotations. Among professional mechanics, it’s come to mean someone whose work habits and skills are amateurish. To me, it conjures up an image of someone content to work at a leisurely pace on his own equipment for his own pleasure.
Unfortunately, working under the shade of a friendly maple is not the ideal situation. First, you’re at the mercy of the elements. Second, if you’re forced to stop in the middle of the job, you must pack everything up and find a place to store it until you can come back to it.
While the shade of a friendly tree is fine if you’re doing a real quickie job, like adjusting the chain or bolting on a new luggage rack, a far better solution is a permanent workshop. If circumstances force you into doing all your work outside, you can get by; but ask around, one of your friends may let you use a corner of his shop or garage. Workshops are neat. They give you a place to store your tools and bike.
They keep you warm and dry. And in the event you’re forced to stop before the job is completed you can put your tools down, cover up any exposed parts, and lock the door. Your shop is also a great place to just get away from it all. Which is one reason why my shop door locks from the inside. One of my little pleasures is to go out to the shop at the end of the workday, pop myself a cold one, and just sit and look at my motorcycles.
Transform your local to a comfortable workshop
Workshops can be as plain or as fancy as you want. Since I spend an obscene amount of time in mine, I’ve literally created a home away from home, complete with a refrigerator, comfy chair, and my favorite artwork: the ever-popular and suitably tacky poker-playing dogs. At the very least a workshop suitable for working on your motorcycle needs to be clean, dry, bright, and adequately ventilated.
A couple of inexpensive overhead fluorescent work lights can be installed to provide light. You can knock together a decent workbench or purchase one complete with tool drawers for $200. Throw up a pegboard and one or two steel shelves, hit the walls with a coat of semi-gloss white paint, and bingo! The old cave is now a workshop.
Creature comforts should include radio and something to sit on. Standard shop fittings should include a decent workbench, a bench-mounted vise, at least one fire extinguisher, and a decent first-aid kit.
Make it look professional
One really important item, particularly if you work alone a lot, is a cell or extension phone. Not only can you relieve the tedium by calling a friend, but in the event of an accident or problem, help is readily available. A few inexpensive steel shelves and plastic storage boxes will provide you some storage space, and can be purchased at any home improvement center.
If you want your shop to have a professional look, you can pick up cardboard “bin boxes” complete with the name of your local auto parts store emblazoned on them for about $0.50 a piece. A nice steel trashcan comes in handy, too. If you look, you can usually find an old 25-gallon drum somewhere that’s free for the asking. Good lighting is imperative. A few fluorescent fixtures hanging in the workplace will make it bright and cheery.
A coat of semigloss white paint will make the place even brighter, and give you a nice backdrop for those poker-playing dog posters. Try and pirate a few old cookie tins or baking pans from the kitchen. These are great for storing small parts while you’re working on the bike.
Additional tools makes the difference
You’ll also need an oil drain pan. Most auto parts stores carry drain tubs that also serve as storage containers. You can usually get several oil changes into one before it’s full. Some of you may be tempted to work on your bike in the basement. Off the cuff, I’d say the basement is not really the place to store or work on your bike.
Outside of the entry and exit problems, which may prove daunting unless you’re capable of carrying your bike up and down a flight of stairs, there are a host of real concerns. Most basements contain the water heater or some sort of furnace, and these tend to come on at inopportune times, like right after you’ve spilled two gallons of gas on the floor.
Furthermore, most basements are poorly vented. Any solvents you use will permeate the entire house. I’m not sure about your family, but mine’s not real thrilled about the old man filling the house with Eau-de-carb-clean.