Garage time is crucial to motorcycling success.  By Nick Ienatsch.  November 17, 2020

Garage time

Spending time in the garage with your motorcycle will make you a better, safer rider. And it’s fun! – Nick Ienatsch

This Lessons Beyond the Classroom series has a simple goal: Improve the riding life of low-hour riders. The first three installments look at riding-technique approaches that help backfill the information most riders receive in a class, but in this fourth installment we approach riding joy from a different angle: in the garage.


My motivation for this angle is twofold. First, motorcycling can appear to be an insider’s sport because the bikes are so different from what most people deal with; they can seem complicated and daunting—too trick to touch. Second, our industry will only retain new members if they feel the inclusion, joys, challenges, and satisfaction on two wheels. Part of that, as many veteran riders know, happens in the garage alone with our bikes. Understanding our machines, working on them, and improving them with our own hands is part of making new riders lifelong riders.



If you need inspiration, walk through the pits at AHRMA! I filled my phone with beautiful bikes and came home with lots of ideas. – Nick Ienatsch

Have Wrenches, Have Courage, Have Logic

A motorcycle is a beautifully assembled collection of jewellike parts. You should learn to disassemble and assemble those parts for several reasons:


1. You can save a few dollars.


Pulling your wheels and taking them into a shop for new tires will often be cheaper than taking the entire bike. Replacing brake pads is straightforward but must be done exactly. Renewing a chain and sprockets takes some time but is simple. Oil changes are important and simple. All these tasks vary in complexity, but they all will be less expensive when you do the work yourself.


bmw wiring

I read a great electrical tip on, a site for those of us who own GS-model Suzukis, that many apparently bad electrical components are most often traceable to dirty, corroded connectors. That has proven true in my experience, and is a terrific example of how the group mind will help. Also, add a voltage meter to your tool list. – Nick Ienatsch

2. Your bike will live longer.


If you want the silver bullet to bike longevity, it’s maintenance. A lubricated and correctly adjusted chain is paramount to keep the chain on the sprockets, preventing suspension interference, and avoiding an eventual break. Fresh oil and oil filter puts clean and stable oil into important places that can fail catastrophically when fed dirty, old oil. A clean air filter keeps fueling correct. New fork oil helps internals stay within spec longer. Learn to do it all yourself or at least be knowledgeable enough to discuss it intelligently with your shop.


3. You will be safer.


While adjusting your chain you might notice a loose rear caliper bolt. Bleeding the brakes will improve braking feel and power, and while bleeding the front brake you can check over the rest of the front end. Your newfound wrenching confidence will have you checking things and someday you’ll find a loose axle nut that would have become, in the mildest of terms, “unpleasant.”


brake maintenance

Performing your own maintenance on one area of your motorcycle will give you the opportunity to check over everything nearby. – Motorcyclist

4. You will gain confidence.


Are the brake calipers tight? Is the oil filter properly installed? Is my brake system free of air bubbles? Did my mechanic get things right? Those are the thoughts of many riders whose bikes are a mystery to them. When it’s our own hands and eyes on the bike, even if they are simply checking that the shop got everything right during a valve-adjustment, confidence soars.


5. It’s therapeutic.


Yes, we get “helmet therapy” on our bikes, but many veteran bike riders also enjoy “garage therapy” when off the bike. You might discover this therapy is addictive to the point that you buy the old bike you’ve always wanted, restore it, and then have a “new” classic.



Smooth, Clean and Lubricated

Yes, you can do this with patience, forethought, organization, and logic. If parts aren’t going together smoothly, then you’re doing something wrong. Pull back, review what you’re doing, and start again. Take notes, take pictures, use a piece of cardboard for fasteners, or do what I do: Work alongside your much-smarter brother who remembers all that stuff.


Because you aren’t slamming things around in an attempt to get them done in the shortest time possible to make the most money possible, you will add lubricants to rubber and metal parts. You will clean everything you remove. You’ll pull the rear shock linkage apart and grease the needle bearings the next time you change the rear tire, for instance. You’ll be comfortable changing exhaust systems and fork springs. And you’ll have fun—the main reason we are motorcyclists.



It’s Not Who You Are Now

Perhaps you think, “I’m not mechanically inclined.” To that I answer, “Not yet.” I meet many newish riders and have noted their interest in the mechanical side that is mixed with a major hesitation to try it. This column urges you to begin with small steps, such as removing, cleaning, and replacing parts.


A clean motorcycle says “enthusiast” when you take it into a shop for something beyond your current mechanical scope, such as replacing steering-stem bearings. Professional mechanics appreciate machines that arrive clean, and that appreciation encourages them to talk with you about the work done. They talk, you learn.


Chris Geiter

Take advantage of your friends’ knowledge before digging into the unknown. This guy, DynoJet’s Chris Geiter, still picks up the phone and answers my basic questions with amazing patience. – Nick Ienatsch

A workshop manual, lots of YouTube vids, bike-specific forums, and a growing collection of tools that includes a torque wrench (one of the most important in a toolbox) all help in reaching the goal of being a self-sufficient motorcyclist. I have a few friends on speed-dial, borrowing their expertise when I’m facing the unknown, and I bet you have that knowledge base too. Tap into it, ask questions, and work carefully and logically with focus.



As the virus swings around to smack us again, make the most of it. Buy that used bike you’ve always wanted and go through it. We all have a bike that caught our eye, that bike that our neighbor owned or our hero raced. We have bikes we’ve always wanted to ride, like a two-stroke big-bore motocrosser or an older V-twin like an Ascot, Vision, or Sportster. Jump on the classifieds and find it. Strip it, clean it, refurbish, and rebuild it into the bike you’ve always wanted. Who knows, you might be racing AHRMA with us soon!


I’ll close with these two thoughts:


  1. Many of us are elbow-deep in a project right now. We try, we study, and we learn. But we are no smarter than you!
  2. When someone says, “nice bike,” about a machine you disassembled, modified, and reassembled yourself, it really means a great deal. It makes you a stronger part of this incredible two-wheeled world.

More next Tuesday!