So, you’re ready to start working on your own motorcycle.
That’s fantastic. There’s a great deal of satisfaction and savings to be had from maintaining your own bike. However, you’re going to need some stuff, so in this article I’ll outline the basic tools and equipment required to tackle the majority of the tasks outlined in your bike’s service schedule. It’s a lot of items, but everything I list comes out to less than $500 (including tax!).
This article is a supplement to The Shop Manual video on the same topic, so if you need a little more encouragement to invest in your own tools, give the video below a watch.
Now, I’m not about to provide a rundown of every tool needed to attend to any conceivable mechanical task. Rather, this is a foundational tool set for the budding DIYer attending to things like chain maintenance, oil changes, and brake bleeding. That being the case, this setup is composed of budget-oriented items available from national retail chains, and the whole kit is designed to be compact and portable, so you can haul it down from your upstairs apartment to work on your bike in a parking space, if necessary.
While I feel like we cover all the essentials, your particular bike will likely call for some substitutions or additions. For example, your Harley will require imperial-size tools rather than metric stuff, or you might need Torx wrenches instead of hex (Allen) wrenches, and you’ll almost certainly need a unique, oversize socket to suit your bike’s rear axle and maybe an odd-size hex socket or a special axle tool for your front axle.
With all that said, let’s get to the recommendations.
A shop manual
RevZilla’s new how-to video series is called “The Shop Manual” for a reason, and that’s because a shop manual is a massive resource when working on your motorcycle. It ought to be the first thing you buy for your bike, because it contains all the information, instructions, and specs you need to care for your motorcycle. Books from aftermarket publishers like Haynes or Clymer are preferable since they’re geared toward the DIYer, but you can always (well, almost — some brands, like Ducati and Triumph, are tricky) get a workshop manual from the manufacturer. Bear in mind, factory workshop manuals are typically written for trained techs, and they’re often more expensive, too.
Wrenches are an age-old symbol for mechanical work, and for good reason. You use them a lot! For most metric bikes, you’ll need them in 8 mm, 10 mm, 12 mm, 14 mm, 15 mm, 17 mm, and 19 mm sizes. Combination wrenches have a box end and an open end for added versatility, but the hot ticket (if you have the budget) are ratcheting wrenches. They’re even more versatile and a real time saver. I would also recommend picking up an adjustable wrench as a backup for when your combination wrench is occupied or to fit an odd-size nut or bolt.
The oft-used counterparts to wrenches, sockets come in shallow and deep designs. It may seem redundant, but I’d suggest getting a set of each. Shallow sockets will likely be your go-to, but deep sockets provide more reach, allow you to spin nuts onto longer bolts, and will also fit over sparkplugs. You can use a 16 mm socket on 5/8-inch sparkplugs, and a 21 mm socket on older 13/16-inch plugs.
Sockets also come in several drive sizes and point designs. The most versatile drive size is 3/8-inch, and I would aim to get one set in six-point, which have better purchase on fasteners and are therefore less likely to round the corners, and one set in 12-point, which are easier to engage on hard-to-reach fasteners. Whatever you go with, make sure your set includes the same sizes I outlined for your combination wrenches. And because it’s frustrating to find the socket you need when they’re in jumble, snag a few socket rails to help keep things organized.
Ratchet, torque wrench, and breaker bar
The 3/8-inch ratchet is a mainstay of any tool kit, and you’ll use it to turn all kinds of fasteners all over your bike. Buy a ratchet with a high tooth count (72 teeth or more) since it provides a shorter engagement arc for use in tight spaces. A set of 3/8-inch extensions is useful for adding reach, and a set of socket adapters is handy and likely necessary when turning larger sockets (like the one for your rear axle) that are often designed for half-inch drive.
A torque wrench is sometimes considered a specialty tool, but it’s use is so common and critical that it should really be classified as basic equipment, just like combination wrenches. You’ll use a torque wrench to ensure important fasteners such as axles and caliper bolts are tightened properly. A 3/8-inch drive wrench with a range of five to 80 foot-pounds is a good fit for most bikes.
The wrench I linked to above is remarkably affordable, but that doesn’t mean it’s trash. I tested this $20 Harbor Freight tool against my $200, made-in-America unit and it matched it click for click throughout the setting range. In fact, the calibration certification for the cheaper wrench has a higher spec than my Snap-On subsidiary tool. Of course, if you have more money to play with, a higher quality torque wrench (or perhaps an additional inch-pound wrench, for smaller fasteners) is a great thing to splurge on.
When you need extra leverage to remove large or stuck fasteners, a breaker bar is an effective way to multiply your strength. Your torque wrench may look like a suitable breaker bar, but it should never be used to loosen nuts or bolts.
Modern motorcycles don’t use many fasteners that require screwdrivers, but having a full set on hand is recommended regardless. You’ll use screwdrivers to turn, poke, hold, and (gently) pry all sorts of stuff. Most sets come with several sizes and styles (flat and Phillips), and feature magnetic tips, which are super helpful when removing and installing screws.
If you’re working on a Japanese bike, especially an older one that utilizes a lot of Phillips-looking screws, it would be wise to invest in a JIS cross-head screwdriver. The tip is subtly different from standard Phillips drivers, and while a Phillips will work most of the time, you’ll be less likely to round out the fasteners if you use the right tool. JIS screws are identified by a dot punched in the head of the fastener adjacent to the cruciform slot.
From bending cotter pins to pulling cable ends to cutting zip-ties, you’ll need a variety of pliers to grip, hold, and clip all manner of things on your bike. Get a set that includes standard pliers, lineman pliers, angled snips, needle-nose pliers, and adjustable groove-joint pliers.
Sure you’ve got a strong grip, but nobody’s fingers are tough enough to replace vice-grip pliers. These adjustable, locking pliers work to grip stripped bolt heads, pinch hoses, or simply as an extra set of hands for holding something securely. Finally, a set of snap-ring pliers is affordable ($5) and nearly impossible to do without when needed. You CB/CL350 owners are very familiar with this tool.
Commonly known as Allen wrenches (after a tool registered by Allen Manufacturing Company in 1910), hex-head fasteners are very common on modern bikes. From bodywork to caliper bolts, you’ll see them everywhere. A hex key set is compact and the ball-ends make accessing fasteners at an angle easier, whereas 3/8-inch-drive hex sockets are a better choice when working with larger fasteners (such as chassis bolts or axle pinch bolts) that may need to be tightened to a specific torque. Even at less than $500, we’ve budgeted for both in this tool kit.
Nope, not that kind of hammer. This is a dead-blow hammer. It’s plastic and filled with sand and is a less painful alternative to using your palm to coax axles into place or knock stuck engine covers free. You can add a steel carpenter or ball-peen hammer to your kit if you want, but you’ll only need it for use with chisels or punches, which aren’t required for any of the basic maintenance this tool set is designed for.
The gauge on the hose at the local gas station isn’t accurate, and neither are most pencil gauges. Tire pressure is critical to handling, traction, wear, and fuel mileage, so check it regularly with an accurate gauge. I prefer an analog gauge with a flexible hose and bleed valve. Gauges are usually offered in 0-30 PSI and 0-60 PSI ranges. Opt for the latter since most motorcycles run pressures from 30-45 PSI.
Chemicals and associated stuff
At a minimum, you’ll want to get a can of degreaser (for cleaning chains, wheels, and other grimy parts), chain lube (for, well, I don’t need to tell you), and multi-purpose lube (good for cables and loosening stuck or corroded fasteners). Luckily, Maxima sells a trio with exactly those chemicals. A tub of multi-purpose waterproof grease for use on axles, wheel spacers, control pivots, etc. is also crucial.
As a motorcyclist, you should expect to clean (or at least wipe down) your chain and lube it every 300 to 500 miles. Occasionally you’ll want to give it a proper deep clean (I do it with every oil change), in which case a brush is the only effective means for getting in amongst all those links. You can use an old toothbrush, but you’ll be better off with a chain-specific brush, which will hit the links from multiple angles. Don’t worry, it’s included in the budget.
Any time you’re working with chemicals such as oil, gas, or even chain lube, you should wear nitrile gloves. It’s not a matter of being too uptight to get your hands dirty, it’s a matter of toxic stuff seeping into your bloodstream. And since you’re going to be wrenching on your bike for decades to come, that’s a lot of opportunity for exposure, so wear your gloves.
Rags are nice to have on hand and can be store bought or made from old T-shirts or towels. A roll of paper towels will do as well, but my go-to is to cut an old terrycloth towel into small squares. Use ‘em for cleaning your chain, wiping down your wheels, or taking care of oil drips.
Whether you opt for a universal strap wrench or a filter-specific wrench, you’ll need some means of removing your bike’s old oil filter. The benefit of getting a socket is that you can also use it with a torque wrench to install your new oil filter to a specific tightness.
If you’re changing your own oil, you’ll need to have something to drain the lube into. You can always just cut the top off a milk jug, but I like the idea of having a sealable container like this six-quart drain pan from Matrix, which is big enough to hold the oil from several oil changes. Don’t forget to buy a small funnel to assist in getting that fresh oil into your engine. You’ll also use it when adding coolant to the radiator.
While you could pay a shop big bucks to bleed your brakes, you can do it at home with some 3/16-inch ID vinyl hose. Home Depot sells it in 10-foot lengths, but many hardware stores will sell it by the foot, and you only need about 24 inches. Motion Pro also has a handy, $13 check-valve bleeder tool that makes the job a bit easier.
After years spent wrenching in the garage, I give the MVP award to the lowly magnet-on-a-stick. It’s a lifesaver when you drop the drain plug into the drain pan while doing an oil change, or, say, let something slip down the cam-chain tunnel of your engine. Been there! Speaking of magnets, a magnetic parts tray is fantastic for keeping nuts and bolts from running away, especially if you’re working outside on the ground. Stick the tray to a steel part of your bike, stick your fasteners to the tray, and you won’t lose anything.
While not essential (because you likely already have one on your cell phone), I’d suggest buying a small LED flashlight. It’ll be useful for peering in at the calipers to check your brake pads and hunting for that missing bolt you neglected to stick in your magnetic parts tray.
Zip-ties are worth their weight in gold. You’ll use ‘em everywhere, from securing hoses or wires out of the way while you get to your bike’s spark plugs, to looping through your wheel spacers or other parts to keep them organized and secure. A razor knife is nifty for nipping the tail off of zip-ties, as well as opening packages, cutting the end off a freshly installed tire plug, or doing any number of other things that require a sharp blade.
Setting your chain slack and suspension sag both call for fairly precise measurements, so adding a small tape measure to your tool kit is smart.
And finally, something to put it all in
You’ve assembled a pile of great tools, so now what? You need something to keep them in, and as you’ll recall from the intro, I designed this kit to be compact and carryable. That being the case, I selected this Dewalt box. It’s light but sturdy, large enough to hold everything (with room to spare) yet small enough to fit in a closet, and has sizeable side handles for easy transport. You can get something with drawers if you want a bit more organization, but then you won’t have room for your aerosol cans, quarts of oil, or new tools and equipment you accrue in the future.
So there you have it, my recipe for an affordable, simple tool kit that will allow you to care for your own bike as well as fix and improve any number of other things. Use these tools on your friend’s car, your bicycle, or that wobbly kitchen chair. For me anyway, fixing things is a habit, and I hope this tool kit benefits you far beyond the realm of motorcycling.
If you haven't already, make sure to subscribe to the RevZilla YouTube channel so you'll be notified when new episodes of The Shop Manual go live. In future episodes, we'll be using this exact tool kit to work on a variety of bikes and bring the maintenance procedures in your service schedule to life.
Motorcycle maintenance tool kit reference list
|A model-specific shop manual||Tire-pressure gauge|
|Adjustable wrench (eight inch)||Chain lube|
|3/8-inch drive deep sockets||Multi-purpose lube|
|3/8-inch drive shallow sockets||Multi-purpose waterproof grease|
|3/8-inch socket rails (two)||Chain brush|
|3/8-inch drive ratchet||Nitrile gloves|
|3/8-inch drive torque wrench||Rags|
|3/8-inch drive breaker bar||Oil-filter strap wrench or socket|
|3/8-inch extensions||Sealable drain pan|
|3/8-inch socket adapters||Funnel|
|Screwdriver set||two-foot length of 3/16-inch ID hose|
|JIS #2 screwdriver||Magnet-on-a-stick|
|Plier set||Magnetic parts tray|
|Vice-grip plier set||LED flashlight|
|Hex key set||Razor knife|
|3/8-inch drive hex sockets||Tape measure|
|Dead-blow hammer||Tool box|