Oil and filter changes, for instance. With a bike, you won’t need a floor jack (or jack stands) and you won’t have to crawl around on your back, either. All you’ll need is a few very basic tools – a wrench or socket and ratchet to loosen/remove the oil drain plug bolt/filter bolt; possibly – in a few cases – a filter wrench to remove the filter, if the bike has a car-type spin-on canister filter (most bikes have replaceable cartridge-type filters) and a catch pan to collect the old oil. That plus maybe 10 minutes ought to be all you need. Let’s take a look at what’s involved. But first, a few important preliminaries:
* A bike is not a car – and it’s important to use oil made for bikes, not cars.
There are several reasons why. The most important of these is that most motorcycles have what’s called a wet clutch. That means it is submerged in oil. The same oil the engine uses.
Car oil is not formulated for this purpose, while oils made for motorcycles are. If you use car oil in a bike, you run the risk of performance problems with – and possible damage to – the clutch.
Another reason to not use car oil in a bike is that bike engines typically run hotter (especially if they’re air-cooled) and (typically) spin much faster. 10,000-plus RPM is common whereas the typical car engine redlines around 6,000 RPM. Bike engines require oils formulated to deal with these extremes. Car-intended oils may not make the cut and therefore should never be used in a bike unless you’re desperate for a top-off and that’s all that’s available. In that case, change the oil as soon as possible once you get back to civilization.
You can buy motorcycle-specific oil at any bike shop, or online – where better deals might be available. Also be sure to stick with the viscosity and other requirements specified by the bike’s manufacturer. This info will be listed in the bike’s owner’s manual – and often, on a sticker underneath the seat or somewhere else on the bike. If you can’t find the manual – and the bike hasn’t got a sticker – look up the info online, or buy a replacement manual, or ask at the dealership. Whatever you do, don’t just pour whatever oil you’ve got in the garage into your bike. Yes, bike-specific oil is expensive – often a lot more expensive than car oil. But it’s a lot less expensive than a ruined engine.
* The filter.
You’ll need a new one. Some are disposable spin-on units (like a car’s) but many are internal cartridge type. You’ll have to remove a housing to get at the old one. No big deal, though. Just a little more mess. Have paper towels/old rags handy. I like to wear disposable rubber gloves to keep the old oil – which is laden with not-healthy compounds as well as dirty – off my skin. You can buy packs of these for $3 or so at places like Home Depot or Lowes and most auto supply joints, too.
The really good news about motorcycle filters is there’s less worry about getting a crappy filter, no matter which brand you buy. With cars, that is a significant worry – because there are typically a half dozen (or more) possible brands – and some are much better (and some much worse) than others. With bikes, you usually have your choice of either the factory brand (almost always ok) or a high-performance brand such as K&N (almost always much better than ok). There are a few aftermarket choices (the major one being Emgo) but none of these, to my knowledge, have ever been found to be pure crap – as has unfortunately been the case with some off-brand (and even name-brand) car filters. So, rest easy. Whatever you get will probably be ok.
Find out what you’ll need to do the job before you begin the job. Most bikes come with a factory tool kit under the seat, but for the most part, these are for emergency use only. You’ll want sockets and wrenches in the appropriate sizes. As with a car, you’ll need one the right size to loosen/remove the drain plug on the bottom of the engine as well as the appropriate tool to remove the old oil filter. Virtually all bikes are “metric” – meaning the fasteners are metric, not SAE. 10, 12, 14, 15 and 17 mm sockets will handle most jobs on most bikes.
An adjustable crescent wrench might be all you need, though – provided you’ve got sufficient access to the bolts. The main thing is to be patient – and exercise care. Most bike engines – and engine cases (and threads for bolts) are made of aluminum, which is a soft, easily damaged metal. A torque wrench is recommended, but if you haven’t got one, just slightly more than snug-by-hand is as tight as you’ll want to go. Always start bolts by hand, too – in order to be able to feel by hand that you’re not cross-threading the bolt.
Bikes – generally – do not have dipsticks. They usually have sight glasses located somewhere low on one of the side cases, with a notch indicating “full.” However, these sight glasses can be misleading, especially if the bike’s not sitting straight up on its center stand – and many bike don’t have center stands at all.
This means it’s very important to meter what’s going in as you refill the crankcase, in order to avoid over-filling (or under-filling). My ZRX1200 – the bike in the video – doesn’t have a center stand (like most sport bikes). It takes 3.7 quarts, an awkward number. The first three quarts are easy. I measure the last .7 of a quart in a beaker. Some containers have marks on the side you can use, too. Main thing – again – is to be careful not to over (or under) fill.
Just as you’d do with a car, once the fresh oil is in, start the bike and let it idle while looking for any leaks. If you see any – or the oil pressure light does not go out within a few seconds of start-up – stop the engine and re-check your work. Assuming no leaks or issues with the pressure, you’re good to go until the next time.
I recommend keeping a small paper notebook with the bike in which you can jot down the date/mileage and other particulars about any service work done to the bike – by yourself or by someone else. This will be a handy record to have on hand for future reference and will also provide documentation of proper service you can show a potential future owner, in the event you ever decide to sell the bike.
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