For years I thought my dream job was to be a motorcycle mechanic. I had, what I thought was plenty of experience. I had rebuilt engines, and stripped race bikes to their frames and built them back up. I could read a wiring diagram, and could torque most bolts by feel.
My favourite thing to do at road races was to be in charge of the spanners. I almost never watched the racing, but I always made sure I triple checked every nut and bolt on the bikes I worked on. I loved knowing I had made the riders bike as safe as possible in what could be a dangerous sport.
I had a good reputation as a hard worker. Willing to push the bikes through muck, get them through scrutiny, and if necessary pull all nighters to get an engine replaced on time for morning warm up. I was in my element working on race bikes.
When I got the opportunity to work in a motorcycle shop workshop, I wasn’t about to turn it down. I was only covering their full time mechanics holidays, but it was a chance I had been waiting for. Getting a job in a motorcycle shop is hard work. The positions are almost always filled by references.
I started my first day with eagerness. Replacing indicators on an old GSXR, servicing a Harley, fixing an ignition on a moped. Road bikes were a little different to race bikes, but it all came down to basic principals as my Dad always taught me. It wasn’t long though before the shine of this new job was dulled.
Although I loved the challenge of each new bike coming into the workshop with a different puzzle to solve, I was absolutely vexed by the sheer state of some of the bikes that came through the doors. Chains hanging off, bald tyres, brake pads worn down to the metal. One guy asked me to fix his clutch. On closer inspection, he had no teeth left on his rear sprocket.
I would say eight out of ten bikes that came in, needed their chains and sprockets replaced, full brake calliper rebuilds, and new tyres front and rear as an absolute minimum. A lot of the bikes had never been cleaned. One frame was even cracked beneath the dirt that had built up. I couldn’t help think of the amount of dangerous bikes on the road, just waiting to cause an accident.
Nevermind the people who owned these bikes. I blamed them completely on a lack of basic maintenance, but what about the other innocent road users they were putting at risk? It bothered me a lot, and I tried to explain to people how to do basic checks on their bikes. I get that people don’t have a lot of money to just throw at their bikes, and sometimes life gets in the way. However there are some really simple things you can do to keep your bike, yourself, and other road users safe.
First of all, check your brakes. Usually if you shine a torch in at your brake pads, you can see how thick they are. You don’t want to leave them until there’s nothing left. They’ll simply ruin your brake discs, and that will cost you an extra five hundred quid you could probably do without spending. “I got my moneys worth out of them” is the single lamest statement I’ve ever heard anyone saying about consumable bike parts. Don’t be that guy.
Check your tyres as well. A lot of people may not know, but every tyre has a date stamp on the sidewall. It’s recommended to change your tyres a minimum of every three years if they haven’t worn square or bald at that stage. The rubber compound used to make tyres doesn’t age well, and as it gets older and exposed to the elements, it hardens up and renders the only things sticking your bike to the ground absolutely useless.
Chains and sprockets are next. These parts are under constant stress, putting all the force your engine has to offer through your rear wheel. Because they wear out pretty evenly, it’s always recommended to replace them all at once. The teeth on your sprocket should resemble the tip of a Toblerone. Perfectly triangle in shape. If they look slightly curved or super blunt, it’s time for them to go.
When you spin your wheel your chain should have the same tension the whole way around. If one section feels tighter than another, it means your chain has a tight spot, and needs to be replaced. Another way of checking your chain and sprockets is by pulling your chain away from your rear sprocket. It should always be snug. If you can pull it away, it has worn too much.
A snapped chain can not only burst your engine casing, but has been known to cut straight through body parts too. We absolutely want to avoid this. Layering chain lube on filthy chains only serves to create a grinding paste of stone and metal. Make sure to clean your chain completely and often, and re apply clean chain lube.
There is also one more part of a motorbike people seem to never check, and that’s the headstock bearing. This little part sits in your frame underneath your top yoke, and is responsible for the steering of your bike. These bearings become worn over time, and can create dangerous notches in your steering.
You can usually check them by pulling in your front brake, and forcibly pushing forward on your handlebars. If you can feel a clicking, those bearings are long gone. The only other way of checking them is with the front wheel off the ground, and gently turning your handlebars. If you can feel them notch in one place, it’s time to replace them.
Being a motorcycle mechanic is no longer my dream job, but I still love teaching people about their bikes. With no NCT for motorcycles in the country, we have a duty of care to ourselves and other road users to keep our bikes in good condition. Always check your lights and keep an eye on your tyre pressures and oil levels too.
If you’re unsure how to check something yourself, ring your local motorcycle dealership. Most of them can do a free visual inspection, or else they’d be happy to give you advice on proper maintenance.
It’s coming into winter now, so check your bikes, and stay safe.