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Top Motorcycle Mechanic Skills for the Do-it-Yourself Biker

Added May 29, 2020
adding oil to an engine

A number of simple motorcycle repairs can be performed in your garage or on the side of the road (when it is safe to do so). These are useful skills to have, and they will make you feel more comfortable riding because you know you'll be able to handle whatever gets thrown your way.

But before you grab your tool case, check with your local Harley-Davidson® dealership. Conducting your repairs may void your warranty, in which case you're better off getting serviced by professionals rather than doing it yourself.

Where do I start?

-Motorcycle Manuals and literature

Before you do anything to your bike, you're going to want to read your owner's manual. Reading your manual is like taking a class. You'll learn most forms of maintenance and plenty of things you might otherwise never know. If you can't find your manual or want to dig deeper, you can purchase one from your Harley-Davidson dealer or you can purchase a digital subscription which you can read on a number of devices.

-Seminars, workshops and classes

It's not uncommon for dealerships like Harley-Davidson, suspension shops, and parts resellers to offer courses during the year. You can learn about everything from fixing flats and general inspections to conducting your tune-ups or suspension tuning. These classes tend to be designed for new riders.

You can also take courses at your local community college if you want to take a deeper dive into how your bike works. If none of these options are available, bike conventions will occasionally offer workshops taught by industry professionals.

Lastly, you can go to your local motorcycle club on their "maintenance day." These are days designated by professional mechanics to help those with less knowledge gain some expertise. Nothing compares to hands-on experience.

-The Internet

Don't forget to check the internet. You can find everything from infographics to YouTube videos, and even podcasts about bikes. Forums and blogs , Facebook groups, and e-books are other potential sources of knowledge and wisdom.

Change your bike’s oil

Every several thousand miles you're going to want to change your bike's oil. Before you perform any maintenance, check with your local Harley-Davidson® dealership to make sure you won't be violating your insurance policy or the warranty on any of your parts. Here's how you change your oil. Note: If you need any tools or materials to change your oil, you can get them at your local Harley-Davidson® dealership or online.

  • The first thing you'll want to do is ride your bike for about five minutes to warm it up. This way, the oil will be less viscous and easier to pour out. 
  • Once the engine is off and your motorcycle is upright, place a drain pan under your bike, remove the drain plug and the oil filler cap. This will allow the oil to empty into the drain pan.
  • Changing the oil can get messy. You'll want to cover the engine and the exhaust section with aluminum foil to keep the drippage at bay. 
  • Once the oil has entirely emptied, install the new oil filter.
  • Re-install the drain plug and add just the right amount of oil using a funnel. 
  • Replace the oil filler cap, and then recycle the old oil at a bike shop or municipal facility.

Check your owner's manual for exact directions.

Replace the air filter

Replacing the air filter is easy in theory because all you have to do is take out the old air filter and put in the new one. That said, you may have to remove other parts of the bike to get to it. Follow the directions in your manual, and this task should take minimal effort. You can buy air filters from Harley-Davidson.

Evaluate and maintain tire pressure and tread

This is an easy one.

  • Find your valve stem on the inside of the wheel, take off the cap, and press an air pressure gauge onto the valve stem. If you don't own an air pressure gauge, Harley-Davidson offers a variety of air pressure gauges to choose from.
  • Compare the reading you get with what the reading ought to be. You can find this information on the manufacturing label on your motorcycle. Hint: This label also contains your motorcycle VIN and is most often located on the frame near the steering head. 
  • Use an air compressor, which you should be able to find at most gas stations, to fill the tire to the number of pounds per square inch (PSI) written on the label.

If you over-inflate, just let out the extra air. Replace the valve cap, check your tire tread, and your tire's wear indicator (that's the little rubber bar in the grooves of your tire). You'll know it's time to replace your tire if the bar is at the same level as the rubber that meets the road.

Change the coolant

You can get coolant from Harley-Davidson. Coolant keeps your engine from overheating, freezing, and getting corroded.

  • When it's time to change the coolant, remove whatever bodywork is in the way.
  • Then place a drain pan under the engine. When you remove the drain plug and the radiator cap, the coolant should drain into the pan. 
  • Once that's all finished, put the drain plug back.
  • Use a funnel to add the appropriate amount of fresh coolant.
  • Put the radiator cap back and reinstall any parts you removed along the way.
  • Turn on the engine and let it warm up before cutting the ignition. Give the engine time to cool, and then check the coolant level once more.
  • Add more coolant if needed until it reaches the levels dictated by your owner's manual.

Battery maintenance

Your bike's battery is likely under your seat. One reason why routine checks are so necessary is that once your battery is discharged, you need a replacement battery, which you can get from Harley-Davidson either online or in person.

  • To check your battery, remove it from the holder.
  • If the charge level is below 12 volts, use the appropriate charger to bring the battery to full charge.
  • Note: Newer Li-Ion or H-D LiFe batteries require a compatible charger. Check with your dealer for details. 
  • Once that's done, you can put the battery back. 

Lights and turn signals

You need to regularly check your headlight's bulbs, your brake lights, and your signal lights. Harley-Davidson sells replacement bulbs.

  • To do this, just activate your lights by gripping the right handlebar lever or the right foot pedal.
  • You should also check the alignment of your headlight to ensure proper visibility.

Also, don't forget to make sure that the wiring on your lights is tightly secured.

Wheel spokes

Checking your wheel spokes is easy. Just grab them and squeeze. Alternatively, you can put your bike on a stand, spin the wheel, and give each spoke a gentle tap with a wrench.

Loose spokes make a dull thud while properly-tensioned ones make a ting sound. Harley-Davidson sells a variety of wheels you can check out online or at a dealership.

Front and Rear Brakes

Check your brake fluid reservoir regularly. Use only sealed brake fluid when you are topping off because brake fluid absorbs moisture over time. DOT4 brake fluid must be changed every two years.

Also, make sure your brakes are the proper thickness to determine whether or not they need to be replaced.

Pro tip: brake fluid will eat through metal if you spill it on paintwork, so have a rag handy. Harley-Davidson sells brake fluid, brake pads, brake rotors, and more.

Bottom line on motorcycle maintenance

Now that you know your way around your bike, you're ready to know your way around the road. Equipped with knowledge, you'll be more capable and confident while riding, which means you'll be able to relax and enjoy every ride.

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