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...But having a well equipped and functional work area can make the difference between a pleasant experience that fills you with the satisfaction of a job well done or hurling a wrench at the entire mess in anger before throwing yourself and your wallet at the mercy of your local motorcycle mechanic.
RevZilla and The Home Depot have collaborated to bring you this guide to designing and equipping your own version of the ideal motorcycle garage. This is not intended to be a comprehensive building manual. Entire tomes have been penned on shop design and workflow. Rather, we’re touching on a few moto-specific ideas to get your brain whirring with ideas and introduce you to some products you may not have considered. In addition, we've dropped in some key resources along the way if you want to dive into any of these tasks further.
Basic categories of the Ultimate Garage Experience:
1. Size Up Your Space
2. Start From The Bottom (Floors)
3. Get Wired
4. See the Light
5. Air ’em Out (Climate & Ventilation)
6. Tool Up
7. Rent What You Don't Need to Buy
9. Swab The Decks!
10. The Beer Fridge
Some of you will be starting from scratch or maybe working with nothing more than a patch of dirt in your backyard, for those who take the term "shadetree mechanic" literally. But since we're talking about a motorcycle garage, let's assume there's a structure and start the process by considering square footage.
The old saying among garage builders is estimate how much space you need and then add some more. I’m not going to recommend hard numbers, because many factors affect shop size: budget, real-estate cost, and the type of work being done. But err on the side of too big. Why? You're not just going to park your bikes. You're going to need room around them to work. Often, when working on a multi-day project, you will render a bike immobile, so you need space to move around it.
Plus, garages usually get pressed into additional service, as home for freezers, boxes of holiday decorations, garden tools, etc. Finally, if you're adding on, be sure to check your municipality's regulations.
Of the six sides of your new office, the floor is the one you’ll be in closest contact with. A level, crack-free floor supports the weight of your machines and allows wheels on dollies, lifts, and tool carts to perform their rolling roles with little effort. Proper grading for drainage is a must. Cleaning the gooey, greasy remains of a busted primary cover on a dirt floor is somewhere between impossible and an EPA nightmare.
Make Sure Your Floor is Flat. Here's how.
Make Sure Your Floor is Smooth.
If you have an older workspace, there’s a good chance your garage floor has some cracks in the concrete slab. Paint and epoxy coatings will not fill in these cracks, so it’s important to fix them first if you plan to paint or seal your floor. If you do go with a coating system, be sure to use a concrete prep tool to smooth and ready the surface, available for rent here.
If the floor is in particularly bad shape (or you’re starting from scratch), you may find it easiest to rent a portable concrete mixer and wet saw (if removing cracked flooring) and lay a new floor yourself. Click here for affordable Concrete Equipment Rentals in your area.
Make Sure Your Floor is Clean.
If you elect to paint or epoxy your floor, you should first clean the floor with a degreaser and make sure that any oil or grease stains are minimized, to give your floor coating a long and blemish-free life. You’re going to want to remove those harsh cleaners with a lot of fresh water, and allow the shop ample time to dry thoroughly. If you plan to leave the cement untreated, you’ll be spot-cleaning occasionally, but a bi-annual “de-mucking” of the area is a good way to keep oil and other chemicals from turning your floor into a slip ‘n’ slide. You should perform this step regardless of the final finish you plan on using.
Make Sure Your Floor is Sexy.
This last step is not totally necessary, but a treated floor is a joy to work on and dramatically changes the appearance. It not only looks good, but also cleans easily, protects the concrete beneath and repels stains from harsh chemicals that motorcycles have a tendency to drip onto your shop floor. Paint is an economical choice, but tends to show wear with hard use. A nice epoxy job costs a bit more and takes a bit of careful application, but it will last and give good service. Some epoxy kits even allow the use of colored sprinkle flakes that bring a little pizzazz to an otherwise dull part of your shop.
A nice final step is chemical-resistant, non-skid floor mats. If you’re on your feet in work boots, mats can really take some of the load off your joints, and if you get stuck kneeling in an odd position to perform a task, your poor achin’ knees won’t hurt so much. Look for nitrile rubber mats. Regular rubber is susceptible to petroleum-based chemicals.
Power tools require power. An adequate electrical supply is a must-have. Welders, grinders, table lifts and good lighting can require a lot of electrical "oomph" to operate without putting your building or electrical supply in jeopardy. Once your garage is filled with tools, cabinets, motorcycle parts, etc., it will be much harder to make changes. In the early stages of planning, think about your dream garage and map out where you will need electricity and the best way to get power to these locations.
Get Juice Into the Place
You don’t want to set up your dream garage and realize that all the outlets are on the wall on the other side of the garage. So before you install cabinets, work stations, etc., you should seriously consider having new or upgraded electrical outlets installed (by a professional electrician, of course!) to handle what you need. Also, consider what type of electrical service you’ll need. Many compressors and welders require 220V power at a minimum and a subpanel to supply the electricity safely. 100-amp service may not be out of the question at all, and if you have plans to heat electrically, 200-amp service may be necessary.
Move Juice Around the Place
If you are unable to install multiple electrical outlets along the walls of your garage, then make sure you have enough power strips and the right sized extension cords in the key locations so you don’t have to drag a spaghetti-knot of ugly cords across your beautiful dream garage.
Shake the Place (with the bass)
Your garage is more than a place to just work on your bike. It’s also an oasis from ... well, everything else. While you're having your garage wired, don’t forget a few luxuries. Adding a stereo or a flat screen television might not be a bad idea. Wire up some wi-fi and speakers. You can jam streaming music and pull up parts diagrams and part numbers! Bonus: No muddy boot prints through the house.
Regardless of what you’re working on, you have to see it. You can always turn off lights you are not using, but it’s nearly impossible to coax more lumens from a lamp that is giving its all. Start with good general lighting, which can be as simple as overhead fluorescent tubes. Hanging fluorescent lights in your garage is affordable and relatively easy job for a professional electrician. Better yet, have a professional teach you how to DIY! Then augment them with work area lighting like a set of halogen floods and some drop lights to shine illumination into the weird and hidden crevices that exist on motorcycles. Portable lights, whether clamp-on, hand-held, magnetic, or stand-up, provide temporary light when and where you absolutely need it.
For those of you with loyal Instagram followers, Triumph Rat build threads and hordes of Facebook fans, your pictures of your latest efforts will look so much better when your subject matter is lit appropriately!
Nobody wants to work in a space that's too hot, too cold or too dank, so you'll find your projects are stalling if you don't address your working environment. Plus, in some situations, air flow is critical for your own safety. For example, if you’re welding, especially using the FCAW or MMAW processes, airflow is critical to disperse byproducts that are super-harmful to your guts. And that's not to mention the witch’s brew of cleaners and solvents that are a necessary part of bike life. Add a little exhaust fume cocktail and you’ve got a fine recipe for flammable, carcinogenic air. Move it out of the workspace with fans. If you have a moisture problem, address it with a dehumidifier before your ride ends up with rust, wiring corrosion and a moldy seat.
Garages are not typically tied into a home’s HVAC system, but there are options that can make the difference between “It’s miserable!” and “This ain’t too bad.”
Heating and Cooling
If you have a window in your garage, then using a window unit is the easy answer for cooling. Just be sure to buy one with the capability of cooling the square footage of your garage.
Both because of air quality and safety, there are good reasons not to have ducts from your house HVAC system going into your garage, and many garages do not have a window for a window unit. Fortunately, there are other good options, such as a freestanding air conditioning unit or a mini-split.
The same issues need to be considered when heating a garage in a cold climate or season. Hooking into the house HVAC system has drawbacks, but there are numerous free-standing options, from kerosene heaters to passive solar heating systems. The one that's best for you will depend on your budget, your climate, your space and safety considerations.
If you are heating or cooling your garage, you don't want to try to heat or cool all the great outdoors, too. That's where insulation saves you money better spent on motorcycles and tools than on utility bills.
Proper ventilation in your garage allows you to work on your projects safely and comfortably. If there are gasoline and other potentially noxious fumes in your garage, then fresh air should be circulating at all times. For a short-term project, this is a piece of equipment that can be rented, not bought.
Last tip: In many cases, a simple box fan is your friend. If nothing else, point it at your air-cooled engine when it's running but the bike isn't moving to stave off overheating. Point it at yourself on hot days for the same benefit.
It’s hard to achieve Zen-like peace and oneness with your machine when you’re skinning knuckles, rounding off fasteners and breaking expensive (and hard-to-replace) motorcycle parts. Rarely will you look back and wish you had not bought a tool of superlative quality. Couple the cost of a broken bike part with the cost of medical bills because of shoddily made tools, and the value of quality tools is obvious.
In some cases, you'll need specific tools based on what bike you're working on, while other things are universal for doing a job the right way, like this torque wrench. There's no single shopping list that applies to everyone, but buy quality as new jobs demand and you'll steadily build a well tooled garage.
Don’t forget the toolbox! I’ve had toolboxes that cost more than many of my motorcycles. They keep things organized and easy to find, and with features such as locks and anti-rust drawer liners installed, you are protecting your investment from rust, theft and unauthorized use.
Sometimes you need a tool that's big or expensive and you only need it once. For those occasions, check out the tool rental pages at www.homedepot.com to find more info on lifts, compressors and any other tools for your DIY needs.
When you chose to get on a motorcycle, you accept the risks involved. The shop is similarly dangerous. Without the proper gear and precautions, danger could be anything from hot welding slag or a breaker bar snapping, to grinding wheels flying apart in shards. Much like the risks in riding, though, those hazards can be prevented or mitigated.
Invest in safety: leather gauntlets, latex gloves, safety goggles, auto-darkening welding hoods, first-aid kits, breathing masks and more will help ensure you escape the shop with all your fingers and eyeballs intact. Fabricators and mechanics are exposed to molten metal, carcinogenic chemicals in liquid, solid, and airborne states, cutting and grinding apparatuses, heavy equipment, and assemblies with built-in kinetic energy. (Do you know why old Harley clutch boosters are called "mousetraps?" Any guesses?)
In the name of all things sacred, budget for safety gear. The most important tool you have is your body. No dream garage is complete without the gear that will protect you when you’re inside it.
Protect your Pipes
We've already talked about ventilation above, but even with a good system, you still need to take precautions when it comes to the air you’re breathing. Different breathing masks protect against different hazards, so make sure you have the proper one.
Protect your Paws
You might see busted knuckles as a badge of honor when working on your bike. But your hands are your controls when you’re on the road, so protecting them is vitally important for a motorcycle rider. You can grab disposable latex gloves for protection from fluids (did you know used motor oil is carcinogenic?), general-purpose gloves for laceration protection, and heavy leather gauntlets for use when grinding or welding.
Protect your Peepers
Our eyes are very fragile, but super-important. So protect them with safety goggles. If you’re welding, use the best hood you can afford, with the darkest lens that still allows you control of your puddle. An auto-darkening hood represents a significant increase in cost, but once you try one, you'll see they make welding so much easier you’ll have to go out and immediately purchase one!
First Aid Kit
While you will be taking every precaution not to injure yourself in your garage, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Having a stocked first aid kit around is always a good idea.
Anything that makes your job harder will deter you from getting started, and your projects will never get done. Keep your shop neat, or you won’t enjoy working in it. Chemicals should be labeled and stored safely. Parts shouldn't be underfoot. Did you know that oily rags even need their own metal container? Believe it or not, they can actually spontaneously combust! Shelving, storage bins, peg boards, and tool hooks are just some of the ways to stay organized. Sometimes, coming into the shop to clean up the last mess can be daunting enough to keep you from starting to make the next one. Don’t kill your enthusiasm!
The second part of keeping the shop up is keeping it clean. Fluid spills are unsightly and a safety hazard. If you own a lathe or mill, the metal shavings from aluminum can be a safety issue, and the filings from steel can be abrasive and seem to find their way into everything. Sweep ‘em up! Dirt and particles tend to be abrasive to paint and moving internal assemblies, so cleaning them is in your best interest (and your bike’s). Floor cleaner, degreaser, and plain old soap and water in squirt bottles are key for scrubbing up parts and tools as well as the shop itself. Cleaning is a nice way to wrap up your day, and ensures that the shop will be fresh and ready to use the next time you want to be in it.
Have a beer refrigerator in the garage. Keep enough beer on hand for your buddies. If your shop is neat and well stocked, you'll find you have more helping hands in your bike nirvana, and if they’re actually good buddies, they’ll bring beer to help keep the fridge stocked.
Seriously. Beer fridge.
The End. Or, the Beginning.
Your garage is your happy place and it should reflect your personality. Customizing it to be your motorcycle dream garage will require some serious fantasizing and then a dose of reality about what is doable based on your needs, budget and skill level.
Much like a project bike, if you start with a pretty decent, up-and-running workspace, attaining good results is easier than if you start with a basket case. A solidly constructed building will prevent injury to you or your machines. A well-insulated and/or temperature-controlled garage can make you more comfortable.
Working on your motorcycle is half the fun of owning one, so make the experience as enjoyable and comfortable as possible, and don’t skimp on a double-measure of safety. Or on the beer fridge.