Previous articles have discussed the importance of having the ability to call for help in any situation and having the right tools packed to make roadside repairs. However, both situations can often be avoided by keeping your motorcycle properly maintained. This is especially true for long-distance riding, where riders are usually far from their home garage. It is much, much better to make repairs or perform maintenance in the comfort of one’s own garage than on an interstate shoulder. Moreover, there are many repairs that cannot be performed roadside, like fluid changes.
Each motorcycle’s specific maintenance needs are different. For a general listing of common motorcycle maintenance information, see this PDF: Motorcycle Maintenance Chart
The complexity and costliness of performing the above maintenance will vary from bike to bike. For example, most motorcycle batteries can be found underneath the rider’s seat. My old FJR1300 had the battery located within the right side of the front fairing. Instead of simply removing a seat and disconnecting battery cables, I had to remove several pieces of bodywork to get the battery out.
One of the most important components to performing preventative maintenance is having a good manual for your bike. An official shop manual from your motorcycle’s manufacturer is often the most detailed and accurate manual available. However, those manuals can be expensive and often lack illustrations. Personally, I have had good success with both Clymer and Haynes motorcycle manuals for almost all of my bikes. They offer pictures to illustrate parts and procedures, and can often be purchased for less than $40.
In the long run, performing your own maintenance can save touring riders thousands of dollars in as little as one year. For example, a set of chain replacement tools usually sells for around $100. A shop will often charge an hour and a half for labor for a change replacement, at $100/hour. I have used my $100 chain tools several times, which has saved me $300-$400 over the last 10 years. The same holds true for replacing cables and fluids that are easily accessible. In short, making the upfront investment in tools can pay large dividends for decades to come.
Personally, I try to perform as much of my touring motorcycle’s maintenance in the off-season as possible. This is advantageous for several reasons. First, it keeps me from rushing to finish maintenance work in order to not miss riding time. When I bought my FJR1300, I did not do the valve clearance check over the winter like I should have. I ended up doing it the night before I was supposed to leave for a multi-day trip to Americade, and it was the first time I had had the FJR’s gas tank off. I stayed up far too late, got little sleep before I left, and did not reinstall a coolant pipe correctly. Fortunately, the pipe was located on top of the engine in a small gulley and did not cause a problem during the trip. However, I ended up spending extra money to replace gaskets and lost riding time later in the summer because I had to re-do my work. It is best to perform maintenance in a relaxed atmosphere so that problems or mistakes can be more easily spotted and corrected.
Second, it allows the motorcycle to remain torn down for an extended period of time. Instead of having to button the bike back up right away to get back to riding, the bike can be left in a state of un-dress for months on end. This allows a rider to perform maintenance at their own pace and saves a lot of time. This is especially true with sportbikes, sport touring bikes, and touring bikes like a Honda Gold Wing. The bodywork on those machines can be a real pain to take on and off. Personally, I used to remove almost all of the side bodywork from my FJR1300 for the entire winter. After performing all of the needed maintenance and rechecking everything a couple times, I would then re-install the bodywork when riding season was at hand.
Third, if there is work that needs to be done by a shop, motorcycle shops are usually very slow during the winter months. Some shops also offer discounts on labor in order to bring in at least some business. Some shops will even pick up your motorcycle and bring it back to you if you live close enough. The winter is a great time to get tires changed or have more complex work done.