May 23 2011 by Jason Fogelson
Even the most passive motorcycle owner will need to use a tool on their bike eventually. By their very nature, motorcycles need more attention than cars. Things vibrate, shake loose and need to be tightened all the time. Using the right tools can help avoid major problems. You don't have to sell the farm to fill your tool chest - just a few carefully selected tools will help keep your bike in tip-top shape.
Tools for the Garage
My first piece of advice is simple -- whichever tools you buy, be sure that they are high quality tools. The difference between a cheap set of sockets and a good set of sockets is a couple of dollars, but the cheap sockets can wind up costing you a ton of heartache and time when they round off your bolts. Professional mechanics spring for Snap-On Tools or Mac Tools because of their lifetime warranties and convenient service. Unless you're planning to open a repair shop, that's overkill for the casual biker. Craftsman Tools, the Sears house brand, also offers a lifetime warranty on hand tools, but at a much lower cost than Snap-On or Mac. Craftsman often bundles its tools into Mechanics Tool Sets, which go on sale frequently for remarkable value. I recently bought a 206-piece set in a blow-molded case for $99. It included 6-point and 12-point sockets in metric and SAE sizes, several ratchets and multiple Torx and Allen wrenches. Home Depot's house brand, Husky and Lowe's house brand, Kobalt, are also good quality and competitively priced. I lean more toward Craftsman because of family tradition and a long history of positive experience. Tools are really personal.
Once you've got a Mechanics Tool set, you'll want to supplement it with a few other tools. You'll need a good set of screwdrivers, both slotted and Phillips head. You'll need a rubber mallet -- sometimes you need to bang on a part to loosen it up, or to ease assembly, and a rubber mallet is easier to control and less likely to cause inadvertent damage than a hammer. You'll need a can of WD-40. You'll need a few pairs of pliers and wire cutters, along with a set or two of locking pliers (Vise-Grips).
Tools You Might Want
You may want to add a multi-meter for chasing down electrical issues, a soldering iron for making repairs, and a roll of electrical tape for preventive maintenance.
You will never regret buying an air compressor and a simple set of air tools. Good compressors start at about $100. A compressor can be used for a myriad of tasks. You can fill tires, blow away debris, dry parts and power tools with air pressure. There are tons of air tools, including hammers, nailers, shears and wrenches. The most useful air tool for a motorcycle is a set of air impact wrenches and sockets, which make quick work of some difficult tasks. A set of air impact wrenches and sockets add another $100 to the price of a compressor, but pay for themselves in terms of time and effort saved, not to mention fun.
One tool that I intend to add to my garage this year is a bike stand or lift. If you ride a Harley-Davidson, you don't have a center stand, just a kickstand. So, your bike is always leaning to the left while you're working on it. That makes oil changes, checking oil levels and checking alignment a challenge. Getting the bike up off the wheels eases these procedures, and getting the bike up higher in the air (on a lift) makes working on the bike less of a strain on the back. I've seen bike lifts for as little as $179, so this will be the year.
Tools for the Road
Your bike won't always have the courtesy to need attention only in your garage. You will undoubtedly find yourself in need of a simple hand tool for a quick roadside repair to get you to your next BEST WESTERN Hotel.
Luckily, several companies have collected sets of high quality tools in easy-to-carry sets specifically designed for touring motorcyclists. Cruz Tools has designed sets specifically for Harley-Davidson riders. Wind Zone also makes a Harley-Davidson-specific kit.
Make sure that your tool kit includes a flashlight and a bundle of safety wire. If you've got a good flashlight, you can work in the shade on a sunny day, or after dark. Sometimes, you won't be able to fix your problem immediately, but a little bit of safety wire can help you limp toward a more permanent fix. My Sportster once shook a bolt free from its exhaust system during a trip. I was able to safety wire the part back together to keep it from dragging or falling off until I could get to a hardware store for a bolt the next day. Without the wire, I might have been riding with open pipes and a muffler in my lap.
Use the Tools You've Got
Even the best set of tools is useless if you never use them. That's stating the obvious, but it needs to be stated. Your motorcycle needs attention, and it will reward your preventative maintenance with trouble-free miles on the road. Crack open that tool chest and give your bike a good inspection! Tighten those bolts, torque those nuts and then get on a go for a ride. You deserve it, and so does your bike.