Most folks know how to remove a wheel from their car or truck, but when it comes to motorcycles, the task seems much more daunting. That's largely because the first step is a hard one: You have to lift your motorcycle securely.
I’m going to go over some tips for lifting four common styles of motorcycles to help you feel comfortable taking the wheels off your bike on your own.
The most common reason you need to remove your motorcycle's wheels is to change tires. Even if you are not changing the tires yourself, most cycle shops will charge you less if you just bring them your wheels to have tires mounted and balanced instead of bringing in the entire bike. Also, most Cycle Gear stores offer tire mounting and balancing at a discounted rate if you bought the tires from RevZilla, Cycle Gear or J&P Cycles. Other reasons you might have to remove the wheels would be for maintenance or repairs such as replacing wheel bearings and seals, brake rotors, sprockets or pulleys.
First things first. You will need some tools. The best tool is service manual specifically for your make and model. The manual will help you determine what other tools you need, like large-diameter sockets or wrenches for your axles, a few smaller diameter allen and combination wrenches for pinch bolts, chain adjusters and brake calipers, a torque wrench, some waterproof grease, shop rags and a pair of gloves. Most bikes will require an axle tool for removing the front axle.
Next, you need a way to safely lift the bike. Different styles of bikes call for different methods and devices for raising them off the ground. While you may see large motorcycle lifts at your local motorcycle shop, these are not required to remove your wheels. There are plenty of inexpensive and simple options to raise your bike off the ground enough to get the job done. Let’s go over some of the items available to lift different types of motorcycles.
We’ll start with the simplest bike to lift. To raise your dirt bike up off the ground, there are two common options. One is a static-style stand, which has no moving parts and has rubber padding on the top for stability and to protect your bike. This style of stand requires you to lift the rear of the bike, placing the weight onto your thigh, then hucking the bike over the stand, placing the center of the frame on the center of the stand. This is a great option for lightweight motocross and enduro bikes, but if you have a big dual-sport bike like a Honda XR650, you may want to consider the upgraded option: a lift-type stand. These stands have a pedal attached to a linkage which allows you to place the stand under the bike and step on the pedal to raise the bike. This is much easier on your back, since you don’t have to bear most of the weight of the bike with your body like you do with a traditional stand
Most adventure-touring motorcycles have center stands or at least mounts for optional ones. Center stands are great for removing the rear wheel from ADV bikes. To raise the front wheel, I generally use a simple scissor-style bike jack under the front of the skid plate. If you don’t have a center stand or one is not available for your bike, you can use a hydraulic motorcycle jack under your skid plate to lift the bike. Just be sure to never lift the bike with its weight on the exhaust system. The exhaust is not built to bear the weight and could be crushed or damaged.
Most sport bikes have provisions for swingarm spools in the rear. Spools offer protection for your rear axle and swingarm if you lowside your bike, but they are also designed to allow you to raise the bike off the ground with a swingarm spool stand. For raising the front of your bike, a fork lift stand raises the bike by lifting from the bottom of the fork legs. Another slick option is a head lift stand, which uses a pin that fits inside the bottom of the steering stem to raise the bike. The advantage of a head lift stand is that it allows you to remove your fork legs for service and tuning, in addition to allowing removal of your front wheel.
Cruisers are typically low and heavy, so raising them off the ground can surely seem intimidating. Thankfully, they usually have wide, flat frames under their engines which make a perfect platform for lifting them with a hydraulic lift. Hydraulic motorcycle jacks are widely available and typically have provisions for tie downs to secure the bike to them for stability.
Get to work
Once you've raised the motorcycle, the process for removing your wheels will be similar from one motorcycle to another but not exactly the same. That's why I highly recommend referring to your service manual for clear direction on how to perform the task on your specific machine. It will tell you which items must be removed before taking the wheels off. You may need to remove brake calipers or possibly a fender, and you will also be dealing with a drive system on the rear wheel. The manual will also show you how to adjust your chain or drive belt as well as considerations for shaft drive maintenance.
Now that you know the different ways you can lift your motorcycle, removing and reinstalling your wheels should be a piece of cake.