5 Tricks To Maintain Your Motorcycle On The Cheap

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Five Tricks That’ll Help You Maintain Your Motorcycle On The Cheap

Photo by Will Engelmann

Aren’t motorcycles great? You can get something faster than a Ferrari for less than a new Ford Fiesta. Of course, the problem is going to be running it. If you’re stretching to afford a nicer bike than your budget should allow, unexpected or even routine maintenance can seriously blow your budget. It needn’t. Here’s how to maintain your motorcycle on the cheap.

1. No stands? No problem.

So you’ve found yourself in one of those rare home-maintenance situations in which you need to get both wheels off the ground. Problem is, motorcycle stands cost money. If you’re already struggling to afford that new set of tires or just stretching to make the payments in the first place, a couple hundred bucks is just too much money to spend just to lift your wheels off the ground. But, a set of ratchet straps costs far less (maybe you already even have them) and, provided you have a suitably strong support to throw them around, are more than capable of lifting your bike off the ground.

Back when I was a broke college student, I’d throw a set under my headstock (so I was lifting from the main frame) and over a rafter in my parents’ garage. An exposed I-Beam or similar will work fine too. Just make sure both the straps and the rafter are capable of supporting the weight. Figure ~500 lbs for a nice round estimate. Oh, and make sure you loosen the bolts before you turn your bike into a free-swinging object.

2. Need to get home on a bald tire? Shoe Goo might just get you there.

A buddy was just over, telling me about how he spent six hours stranded in the middle of nowhere last weekend because he tried to complete a too-long ride on a worn-out tire. He was already down to the belts when he left, but just an hour later, he was sitting on the side of the road, using a Kriega tail pack as a pillow because his rear tire had totally let loose. Had he thought to pick up a tube of Shoe Goo and liberally slather it over the bald patch, he may just have made it home. Now, this faux rubber is hardly going to be good at grip or work at high speeds, but in a pinch, it might just get you that extra 60 miles or so.

3. Need to open a clutch cover? Find an old mattress.

Here’s a trick beloved of London’s bike couriers. Racking up huge miles leads to frequent clutch replacements. That’s actually an easy job, provided you can get the cover off without draining all the oil. Rather than pay a pro, the couriers just lay an old mattress on the sidewalk, then lower the bike onto it. Horizontal bike? Nothing’s leaking out while you’ve got the cover off, plus it makes it easy to just drop the new plates right on in.

4. Bleed your brakes overnight, every night.

Bleeding brakes isn’t exactly the hardest job in the world, but it turns out you can do it totally for free, if you’ve got 5 seconds to spare every night. That’s right, just find a thick rubber band and wrap it around the lever and bar every night when you park up. The idea is to get the lever fairly tight. Doing so will squeeze air out of the system, increasing the durations between proper bleedings. Easy as that.

5. Chain maintenance made easy.

Back when I got my first bike, I was imparted a little wisdom by a man named Gary, who ran the bar across the street. He told me to fit a ScottOiler to extend the life of my chain, keep it rust free and to reduce the need for adjustments. Well, even in rainy England that worked. I never once had to adjust a motorcycle chain, instead it was able to wait until new tires were fitted once every 5,000 miles or so. Seriously, it was three or four years into the whole bike thing before I had to get a friend just to show me how to do it, ScottOilers work.

Have you had to cut corners on a job to get it done? What were the results like? Tell us all about it.

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    The tying back the lever trick works great with a zip-tie as well. From my research, the theory is that with the lever tied back, it opens up the check valve in the master cyclinder to allow any residual air in the brake system (lines and caliper) to slowly make themselves up to the reservoir and out into the air space.

    • Dave

      Every time I do this, I come out to a nice solid lever that gets spongy again after a few days of riding.
      My theory is that what’s happening with this method is that the air doesn’t bubble out the MC, but gets dissolved in the brake fluid like CO2 in a soda bottle. It can come out of solution as the fluid heat cycles.
      So what I do now (when filling dry) is bleed normally, do this handle-tie-overnight thing, and then flush that fluid out along with the dissolved air.
      I could be wrong about how that works, but the method has worked perfectly since then.

      • http://rideapart.com/author/aakash-desai/ Aakash

        Fair point. I have noticed the same. I’ll try your method out next time I bleed. Maybe a brake expert can chime in on this issue?

      • Scott Pargett

        Dave is right.

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        Yep. Hydraulic brakes are a closed system. There’s no way for air to escape. By ziptying the MC lever down, you’re pressurizing your system, shrinking the air bubbles, making them more soluble. This follows Henry’s Law: the solubility of a gas in a liquid is directly proportional to the pressure of the gas.

        The process takes hours, which is why over-night works. By morning the air dissolves in the fluid and has reached a new equilibrium. No air bubbles = no spongy lever. The lever will be strong until heat/energy is applied to the system and the fluid exhausts the gasses again. Your best bet is to flush the brake fluid right after.

        • KeithB

          A very good explanation.

  • http://www.motopraxis.com/ Aakash

    Here are some tricks I wanna share:

    1. If you can’t afford a ScottOiler, keep your chain lubed with basic SAE 80-90 mineral oil. Skip the spendy proprietary stuff. If you need a solvent applicator, mix in a some white spirits.

    2. Keep your old tires! I had to do some work on the clutch, clutch actuator, gear shift lever and breather valve on my Bonneville. I walked the bike up to a sturdy oak, placed an old tire against and then leaned the bike wayyyyy over onto the tire. This allowed me to lean the bike over on the opposite side of the side-stand, and get a low enough angle so that I didn’t lose any engine oil. So if you don’t have a mattress, grab a tire and find a friendly tree.

    3. Make your own u-tube manometer to balance your twin: http://www.powerchutes.com/manometer.asp

    4. Cheap, but quality, microfiber towels (from Amazon or the Towel Pros) and Optimum No Rinse Wash and Wax make for easy and stress-free cleaning on a budget. Especially great if you don’t have access to a hose.

    5. Get a tub of marine wheel-bearing grease. It’s cheap, works in nearly every application that calls for grease, and performs way better than lithium grease.

    6. Don’t underestimate the time and stress you can avoid by having the right tools. In addition to having the appropriate riding gear, having the right tools for all the jobs you plan on doing for your bike will save you much headache and frustration and potentially $$$ in the future. Think long-term investment.

    • Aaron

      #6 is really good advice.

    • Dave

      “If you can’t afford a ScottOiler, keep your chain lubed with basic SAE 80-90 mineral oil. Skip the spendy proprietary stuff.”
      It requires maybe more frequent appliction than the expensive ones, but it has the significant bonus of not attracting grit, and being essentially self-cleaning. (I use this 80w-140 stuff, which lasts a bit longer than the 80-90) One $15 bottle of the stuff lasts me about 2 years tho.

      • tincantroubadour

        Doesn’t it fling off and make a mess? A real question, not trying to be snarky here. Thanks

        • Dave

          Yeah it does. I have yet to find anything that doesn’t fling though, and the gear oil fling cleans up a lot more easily. I minimize it by applying and then wiping the excess off with a rag after letting it sit for a minute. Not big mess, but I usually get some spotting on the undertail. (Using the heavier 140 weight oil also helps this some.)

          • grindz145

            +1, this is the way to go. Who cares about the mess. It’s the best.

    • Piglet2010

      #5 – I prefer grease in a tube to a tub, since you are much less likely to contaminate it.

  • Dave

    “No stands? No problem.”
    A tallish folding ladder works pretty well for the overhead points.
    If you need to get just one tire off the ground, and there isn’t overhead support, or you have rope but no ratchet straps, or something like that, you can tie a loop around the handlebars or triple, and another loop around a tree or lamp post or something on the left side of the bike, and lever off of the kickstand. Tie off the front brake with a ziptie or something as well to keep from rolling forward.

    This is *way* easier/safer with a friend to help, but I’ve done it a couple times on my own for an emergency tire patch.

  • cloroxbb

    that second ScottOilers link is 404.

  • STRTRRR

    No stands? No problem. Get an adjustable height jack stand from Harbor Freight or Pep Boys. Standing on the right side of the bike, push it up onto the side stand and front wheel so the rear tire is off the ground. With your foot, slide the jack stand under a frame rail. Rear wheel cleaning and maintenance awaits.

    Another chain oiling trick, when your ride ends, hit only the portion of chain you can reach with chain lube, without rolling the bike. Hot chain means lube soaks in fast and doesn’t fling. Law of averages says over time the whole chain gets hit.

    One more on chains, there is an absolutely amazing degreaser called Grunge Buster. 15 minutes max with some paper towels and your chain will be clean as new.

  • BillW

    I put a Scottoiler on my V-Strom. The original chain lasted 20,000 miles, but it sure made a mess of the back end of the bike. Also, in hot climates, you’d better use their “high temp” oil. The normal stuff thins out in heat and will run out of the oiler way faster than you expect.

  • Eric

    A lazy trick I use for lazy valve clearance adjustments is instead of relying on stooping down and distinguishing the marks, I place a long drinking straw down the spark plug hole. As I turn the engine over the straw rises and falls, easier to tell when you’re TDC on each cylinder without having to triple guess yourself.

    A Pringles can cut length wise, but keep the top and the end in tact. Cut the top and the end into ‘hooks’ works well for catching overspray when lubing your chain. Use the hooks to hang on the chain as you work in sections. Keeps your driveway and your tire from getting slippery.

    Wadded aluminum foil can be stuffed around your super hot exhaust headers when you’re fiddling with anything near them reducing the risk of being burned.

    Lose a bolt, nut, fastener, washer etc, after you’ve scoured the ground, fished around with a magnet hoping whatever you dropped was ferrous, peeking in all the places you hope you didn’t drop it. But not finding it? Try spraying around all the nooks and crannies with your air compressor, might get lucky and it’ll fly out or rattle enough to be found again.

    Got a slow leak? Clean everything really well, then dust the suspect areas with baby powder. Makes spotting the leak easier with the high contrast. May have to idle for a bit, may have to wait a bit, but the fastest way I’ve found to find leaks.

    And finally, this the most compact wrench set a man/woman should have:
    http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/skills/know-your-stuff-the-110-best-diy-tips-ever#slide-43

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/emmetoconnell/ Emmet

    1. die electric grease (silicone grease) is your best friend for electrical connections.

    2. matchbook cardboard works great for cleaning points.

    3. if you’re not an expert, hire one. If you can’t afford to do so, make friends with an expert. Beer and pizza can go a long way-ask a haphazard mechanic like myself ;)

    4. Keep a tool roll specific for your bike-WITH your bike at all times.

    5. DOT 4 brake fluid is a safe alternative to use in lieu of DOT 3 (has a higher boiling point).

    6. Pledge Furniture Wax can be used the same as Armor-All-it’s just a lot cheaper :)

    7. Keep your chain well lubricated-I do mine every 100 miles or so while it’s still hot.

    8. brake parts cleaner or acetone will leave a residue-use contact cleaner for electrical components (isopropanol is the main ingredient-if you can find this, it’s even cheaper!)

    9. WD-40.

    10. flood your inline four engine again fiddling with the carbs? you only need to clean off one plug to get it started again.

  • Jack Meoph

    Prices on bike stands have been dropping for years now. You may not be able to afford Pitbull or T-Rex Racing quality, but you can get a set for under $100 at most major MC retailers. I’ve got a cheapo set (and a set of T-Rex) and I’ve never had a problem with them, and I pull all my tires and take them in. A stand is must have for proper chain maintenance as well. The hanging your bike from the rafters nonsense is just an expensive mishap waiting to happen. I’ll add that if your brakes are fading it may be the pots on the calipers and not the pads. If you pull you brakes off and the pads are good, place something in between the pads so the you can ease the pods out. If they’re caked with pad crud (they almost always are) brake cleaner and heavy tooth brush (not a wire brush) will clean them up. Re-install and feel the love.

    • appliance5000

      But sometimes you need to get weight off the suspension and a bike stand won’t accomplish this. I agree though, if you’re hanging a bike – think it through. Has anyone used an engine hoist? a rental for a few days could be worth it.

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        Last month I used three tie downs and a cherry picker to build my f4i after swapping out the motor last month. two tie downs on the perimeter beams, and then one near the rear shock mount. Cherry pickers are fairly cheap on harbor freight, and I’m sure someone you know has one. The cool thing about it was (AFTER MAKING SURE MY TIE DOWNS DIDNT MOVE) I could spin the bike around, lift the bike up, put the bike down, attach and detach the motor and swing arm. It makes life pretty easy when you can sit in a chair in one spot and move the bike to where you need to wrench. Not recommended for bikes over 500 lbs because you want the cherry picker arm fully extended.

        If anyone in the bay area needs one to take off the rear shock, swing arm, or drop the motor, Motoshop is the place to go.

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    1. Just buy some damn stands. They’re $50 on amazon and even the cheapies lasted me four years. pit bulls, or lockharts will be family heirlooms.
    2. Your buddy admitted to going on a ride with a tire that had a belt showing? Shoe goo isn’t going to fix that.
    3. I dunno why you’d need to get into your clutch case. Just drain your oil a little.
    4. It’s not going to prolong brake bleeding, it’s just going to improve lever feel.
    5. Not sure how lubing your chain prevents your chain from stretching.

    • 80-watt Hamster

      Oil-Dri is about the same money per pound and works even better.

      • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

        Oil-dri IS kitty litter.

      • Piglet2010

        If one already has cat litter around, may be less expensive than oil-dry if one only needs to use a little bit now and then. Even non clay litter (I use SweatScoop) works pretty well on the garage floor and driveway.

  • Brian

    in regards to the #1) of getting a bike off the ground, if you have or live in a newer construction home or one with no exposed beams to suspend from, an A-Frame ladder can and will work in a pinch!

    • Ryan Kiefer

      My a-frame ladder is a 12-footer, and while I’m sure it could support the weight of my CBR250R, I doubt it would stay balanced.

      IOW, sounds like a recipe for disaster. Unless you’re only referring to lifting one end of the bike — but you didn’t specify.

      • Piglet2010

        I have a 3-foot A-frame ladder (Werner), but I really do not want to try to balance even a TW200 on it.

        And yes, the garage in my 3-year townhouse has a drywall ceiling instead of exposed beams.

  • Ryan Kiefer

    I am determined to keep commuting through this Kansas City winter on my CBR250R any time the roads aren’t icy. However, on days like today, when there’s a ton of salt on the roads after the ice and snow from the past few days, I worry about what’s being done to the exposed bits of my bike — mainly the chain.

    Does anyone have advice on keeping my chain dying an early death from road salt? What should I use to clean off the salt, and what kind of lubricant should I add afterward that will help protect and lubricate it even as it’s bombarded with more salt?

    I’m sure I could google all of this, but I wanted to jump in on the conversation here.

    • thepierced

      I’m in KC too! I don’t have any advice on the chain, as I’m actually trying to figure out the same thing.
      I rode all winter last year, and I plan to do the same again this year. Whereabouts are you?

      • Ryan Kiefer

        Roeland Park, and I commute downtown to P&L and to KU Edwards in OP two evenings/week. Downtown > OP is 20-mile, 45-minute slog that makes me dream of the lane splitting that will never be legal here.

    • Davidabl2

      In Britain, what’s traditional is to wipe the bike down frequently with WD-40, and a bike so treated is referred to as being in “oily rag condition”
      remember that WD originally indicated “water displacing”

  • Davidabl2

    If you’re REALLY on a budget, a cut up shipping pallet, some milk cartons and a couple of discarded automobile jacks will do the trick…even if you want to elevate the whole bike, and then further elevate the end you’re working on. The addition of a $80 ATV lift is very convenient, as well as cargo straps over the rafters ..if you’re lucky enough to access a garage, rather than a carport. Or sidewalk. In any case, a 2″x10″ plank will also be your friend.

  • Mark D

    It should also be part of your normal practice to wear good nitrile gloves when working on your bike. Oil, brake fluid, brake dust, gasoline…all these things contain carcinogens which are easily absorbed by the skin. And cancer is a expensive.

  • C.Stevens

    Working on single cylinder dual sports is way easier than just about every kind of street bike I have encountered. Stands are around $35 from Harbor Freight, everything comes apart really easily, tubed tires are cheap and relatively easy to change at home with tire levers. No carb syncing needed. Not to say you should only buy a bike based on this, just something to think about.

  • Jordan

    If you keep your bike in a less than 110% dry environment, chances are moisture will build up in the electrical connections that aren’t waterproofed. This is a common problem with the headlight connection and it can cause all your lights to flicker and eventually not work. If you pull the harness apart, you will likely see burn spots from the arcing at that connection. Dielectric grease would of been helpful, but now it is likely that won’t fix your issue. What you can do is jump the connection from the male to female sides of the harness on that specific wire that makes up your running lights. If you use correctly sized Posi-Taps, you don’t even have to alter/crimp/destroy the original wiring.

    This is what I did for my 2005 R6 and it works really well. It works a heck of a lot better than $500 dollars worth of new wiring harnesses; cheaping out on used harnesses is a wasted effort because a lot of them will already have the burnt connections.

  • Jonathan Ward

    Automatic chain oilers are superb, I have a Tutoro Auto system fitted to my Fazer and 125 – never had to adjust the chain once. Saves me a fortune.

    That rubber band idea is brilliant. Know what I’m trying tonight!

  • kongjie

    If you find yourself unexpectedly with a bald tire, you might want to look into something called T-CLOCS. Even more effective than Shoe Goo.

  • Peitro Petrelli

    I cant believe you guys would print an idea as stoooopid as using shoe goo. Really! Dummy up and be leaders in the community not a low buck dullard.

  • TFR

    Cheap digital calipers- When I changed out my sprockets this summer, I saw that I needed a giant socket to get the front sprocket off. I eyeballed it with a metric ruler, but the stress of driving around town looking for a 36mm socket wasn’t helped by my slight uncertainty. I have a nice set of calipers at work, 1/4 mile from my house, and I spent way too much time that afternoon plotting how I was gonna get into the office on a Sunday…