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To wrench or not to wrench

Working on your favorite ride makes you appreciate it more
Working on your favorite ride makes you appreciate it more
Tom Batchelor

You might be asking yourself the question whether to wrench or not to wrench (that is, turf to the techs instead of doing it yourself) on your beloved two-wheeled fun machine. Notwithstanding garden-variety maintenance which is generally within the prevue of even the most mechanically challenged owners, it's the more in-depth stuff which causes one to ponder this question about wrenching. For example, scheduled maintenance like valve clearance checks (and possible adjustments by replacing shims), replacing wet clutches, rebuilding carburetors; sometimes pretty difficult stuff unless you have the time and the tools. Here's some things to think about when deciding whether or not to bust your knuckles:

- Do you have a good service manual? If not, get one.... or trailer the bike over to the shop, period. Don't screw around guessing or experimenting. The service manual will be the "bible" of not only the procedure or repair itself, but will give you the ammo to decide whether or not to wrench or turf. Emphasis on any special tools requirements needs to be made and most service manuals have a page of special tools listed.

- Do you have the facilities for comfortable service? Forget about working outside, even in a car port. To open the engine up and then have a nice stiff breeze blow all sorts of sand and dirt into the motor is not good. Captain Obvious there. An enclosed garage with adequate ventilation or better yet, air conditioning, is really required. Living room motor jobs won't sit well with the spouse no matter how clean you are, by the way.

- Do you have the tools? If not, this is a great opportunity to get some! Seriously, they'll come in handy again. A tool investment is always recouped at one time or another, with perhaps the exception of a bike-specific tool, once that bike is long gone.

- Do you have the time? If not, turf. Nothing wrecks a project more than interruptions and rushing. That's how things get dropped into motors without being noticed and gaskets pinched improperly when covers torqued.

- Do you have the skill? If not, like tools, you can acquire it! Internet forums on your specific model can be a life saver and also, don't forget YouTube. There's probably a video on the exact procedure you're interested in performing. Check it out, first. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help, whether via the forums or a friend who's perhaps a bit more experienced in the art of R/R (removal/re-installation).

So, you decided to take the thing apart, do the maintenance or repair and reassemble. Good for you! Here's some further tips to help you out:

- Take pictures. Smartphones aren't just for selfie pics, or a POV video romp with an office chick in the copier room. As you start pulling things apart, begin snapping pictures. Since the pics will be in chronological order of disassembly, it'll be easy to simply go backwards on the group when putting the machine back together.

- Get a bunch of sandwich baggies and a few larger ones, zip lock type; and, a permanent marker. When you disassemble a particular component, bag the hardware up and label. If it's a related part to a specific piece of the re-assembly puzzle, bag that separately and staple them together, both marked as such.

- Think CLEAN, squeaky clean. Purchase some good quality soft shop rags and use them. Cover any open holes in the motor as soon as possible with clean shop rags or clean plastic bags. There's this imaginary force out there, it's related to whatever invisible energy that causes single socks to disappear in the clothes dryer. This force seems to beckon washers, nuts and just about anything else to fall into open holes in a motorcycle engine. Cover it up or eat some serious coin on big-time repairs. Plus, keeps dirt and crap out as well.

- Before pulling spark plugs, blow out the recessed areas of the plug in the head with an air compressor to make sure no granular agents of piston death aren't living there.

- Purchase all parts in advance if you can. Nothing's worse than taking the bike apart, waiting a week or two for some ridiculously remote area of the world to send you something and then you forget how everything went together (especially if you didn't take pictures!). Get good quality stuff, too. Don't skimp. You'll be sorry if you do.

- Clean all parts thoroughly before reassembly. This is especially important for gasket mating surfaces.

- Speaking of which, always -- and that means ALWAYS -- get new gaskets as required. Don't mess around trying to gasket-goop up a used gasket and expect it to work. It might... for awhile. Then, 500 miles from home, it'll fail. It's a Murphy's Law thing. Can you make gaskets with raw gasket material from the auto parts store? Sure. If you can trace out the pattern and accurately trim out the gasket... and make all the bolt holes, no reason you can't. But it's easier to just order the OE spec part and be done with it.

- Take your time and make sure you've used up all the hardware. No, it's not acceptable to have a few pieces left over. That's amateurish. Emulate a pro and make sure all the fasteners are where they are supposed to be.

- Torque to proper specs! This goes back to the tools tip. If you don't own both a Ft Lb and Inch Lb (or Nm) wrenches, go buy them. Remember, aluminum will strip pretty easy. If you're an old iron-block car guy (or gal), choke up on the wrench to tighten a bit instead of risking full leverage, then torque to spec.

With some patience, time, reference material and experience, you'll soon be wrenching on things that a few years ago, would have been just a dream. It's ok to turf a job for any reason. But if you want to give it a whirl, why not. You'll be more appreciative of how the bike you love operates once you get down and dirty.

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