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Basic Maintenance Techniques to Avoid Trouble

As the famous quote would say, prevention is always better than cure. This advice applies to many things in life, including your motorcycle. One of the best ways to avoid breakdowns is to keep your bike well-maintained. It is especially so if your bike travels more miles than usual, a common occurrence in Asia, where motorcycles are considered one of the primary means of transport. Learning even the most fundamental maintenance techniques can help you avoid a lot of problems you may encounter while riding. Here are some basic maintenance techniques you should learn to avoid trouble and ensure trouble-free rides.

Check tires

When your tires are not in optimal condition, it significantly changes your bike’s handling and loading characteristics. Out-of-shape tires can be problematic when traveling around Asia, where weather conditions are unpredictable, and road conditions can get inconsistent.

There are two things you should always check on your bike’s tires: pressure and thread. Tire pressure is best checked while your motorcycle is “cold.” Make sure that the pressure is right where it’s recommended. If it’s not at that level, pump in/out air to match. You must also check the tire tread. Replace your tires if the tread is too thin or if there are signs of excessive rubber breakdown (ex.: bulging). Riding on worn-out tires is very dangerous, especially in wet weather. 

Check the lines

One of the most basic things you should check during your routine maintenance schedule is the different lines that operate the different systems in your motorcycle. The lines in your motorcycle snap because they have accumulated more than their fair share of stress from daily riding. Among the systems in motorcycles that are commonly operated bylines include the throttle, the brakes, and the clutch. Regularly check both hydraulic and cable lines, and replace them when they start showing signs of wear such as fraying and leaking. 

Check fluids

Functions of most of your motorcycle’s systems are dependent on fluids. Regularly check fluid levels in your motorcycle, including motor oil, brake fluid, radiator fluid, coolant, and transmission fluid. If any of these fluids are running too low or are too dirty, you’ll need to do a fluid replacement. Not doing so can lead to poor performance and/or potentially irreversible damage to that specific system. Aside from checking fluids, regularly check if there are leaks, as they may present a potentially dangerous situation for travelers. For example, most Asian countries have hot summer days. Running with a lack of coolant or a radiator leak can lead to overheating.

Check drive belt

The drive belt is one of your motorcycle’s most essential parts. Basically, this belt is responsible for transferring the force from your engine to the rear wheel, causing motion. Over time, the belt can go loose or damaged, which can cause inefficient power transfer. A chain breakage will incapacitate your motorcycle. As such, you must regularly check your drive belt as a precautionary measure. A later part of this book is dedicated to fixing or replacing your drive belt.

Check body

It is also important that you check your motorcycle’s body parts. It is not just important for cosmetic purposes, as some missing body parts can affect your bike’s performance or safety. Make sure to check all lights if they are functional, most especially your headlights and taillights. Riding with damaged headlights and taillights at nighttime is very dangerous and illegal in most countries. Also, check for any damaged body panels. Not only can these be unsightly, but they can also affect your bike’s riding dynamics and may obstruct some of its running parts. Repair or replace any damaged body part as soon as possible. 

Check pedals, shifters, and switches

You should also check your pedals, shifters, and switches during your maintenance time. Compromised performance in any of these parts can point to a problem within the system they operate. For example, if your shifter is not functioning well, it can mean there’s a problem with the shifter, the clutch, or the transmission itself. If the brake pedal is not functioning properly, the system that connects the pedals to the brakes or the brake itself might be having a problem. If you notice a decline in performance in any of your pedals, shifters, or switches, make sure to check for any issues. Ask for professional help if necessary. 

A lot of motorcycle problems while traveling in Asia can be avoided with the help of adequate maintenance. These techniques are basic knowledge any motorcycling enthusiast must know. They can help you avoid most mechanical problems, maintain your motorcycle’s performance at brand-new levels, increase the lifespan of your bike, and improve your safety while you’re riding. These will even help you save money on both maintenance and repair costs. While these techniques cannot 100% prevent your bike issues (you’ll encounter them sooner or later), they can significantly reduce their occurrence.

In the event that you encounter problems while you’re riding your bike around Asia, knowing some basic troubleshooting techniques and fixes can help you get out of any sticky situation. You’ll learn about them as we go along with the later parts of this book. For now, I recommend that you master the basic maintenance techniques I mentioned here. 

Essential Tools You Must Carry in Your Bike at “All Times”

Going for long-distance motorcycle trips is a common practice in most Asian countries. As a rider, it is important always to expect the unexpected. There is no way to tell when you would encounter an emergency. Accidents tend to happen at the most unexpected times. Parts of your bike can break down without warning, even if your bike has been well-maintained. Given the unpredictability of emergencies, it is a must that you should stay prepared at all times. It would help if you were ready to take action even when no help is around. Here are some essentials you should always carry with you, regardless of your destination.

These are ten items that you can never do without if you are traveling by motorcycle. The great thing about these tools is that you can easily fit all these items in your bike’s luggage compartment. Make sure to bring your emergency kit with you at all times. In the event of an emergency, all you need to do is pop the compartment open, and you have just about everything you need for a quick fix.

Extra pair of gloves

 An extra pair of gloves can come in handy in your toolbox. Aside from providing much-needed cover for your hands against most weather conditions, gloves will keep your hands protected while working on your motorcycle in an emergency. While most people ride with a pair of gloves on, fixing stuff can make your gloves too damp or damaged. Aside from being useful in an emergency, this extra pair can come in handy should you decide that you need to change gloves in the middle of a long trip.

Swiss Army Knife

Considered as the prime example of a multi-tool, a good Swiss army knife contains just about any tool you might need at any given moment: knife, scissors, screwdriver, pliers, corkscrew, bottle opener, you name it. Aside from being used for fixing your motorcycle, you can use the Swiss Army Knife in all kinds of ways — perfect when you’re trapped in the middle of nowhere. One major advantage of this tool is its compact size; it fits seamlessly in your toolbox, your glove box, and even your pocket. The Swiss army knife is a must-have for all bikers.

Flashlight or torch

A flashlight is a must-have for your motorcycle riding survival kit. This will be a lifesaver in the event that you got stuck at nighttime. Some roads in Asia, especially in the far-flung areas, still don’t have night lighting, so having a night breakdown without a flashlight can be potentially disastrous. You can also find a flashlight useful when looking for items or searching for deep corners in your bike. It is most recommended that you use rechargeable batteries for your light, and you must keep them fully charged at all times.

Early warning device

 An early warning device is another essential tool you must have during night emergencies. Constructed using lights and/or reflective material, this device makes you visible at night, even at long distances. The presence of this device will not only help you get much-needed roadside assistance, but it will also help prevent accidents where unsuspecting riders can run over you. Get a pair of early warning devices and place them in both the front and back of your immobilized motorcycle.

Battery cables

A pair of battery cables is one of the essentials in a motorcycle rider’s toolbox. It allows you to perform one very crucial emergency technique: the jumpstart. There are cables designed exactly for the purpose of being placed in tool kits. They can be rolled up tightly and can be stashed even in the small confines of your bike. You must get a good-quality set of wires, as the last thing that you want is a jumpstart going wrong.

Spare fuses

A blown a fuse is one of the most common problems riders face. Having spare fuses at your disposal will help you get a quick fix on most of your electrical problems. Make sure to keep a set of fuses compatible with your motorcycle with you wherever you go. You can place them in a compact case, where they can stay protected against damage. Replacing fuses is easy; all you need is to reserve one when you need it.

Pliers

A pair of pliers is essential for a wide range of functions. You can use this tool for tightening, straightening and holding parts together. You can also use this for other purposes, such as cutting wires and gripping objects. You must get a pair of compact enough pliers to get into tight spaces, as you’ll more often than not encounter repairs where spacing is a bit on the restricted side. Vise-grips can even be used as temporary clamps.

Adjustable wrench

You will be taking care of different nuts and bolts when fixing your bike, so it is important that you have a wrench on standby at your tool kit. It is highly recommended that you go for an adjustable wrench for maximum versatility. Going for a small wrench makes sense to reach tight spaces, but make sure that the head fits into most bolts in your motorcycle. It would also be useful to go for a wrench that has a socket and extender.

Screwdriver

A screwdriver is a must-have in your toolkit for obvious reasons. The different parts of your motorcycle are fastened into place by screws, so you should always have this tool on standby. We highly recommend that you get a combo screwdriver so that you can take on both flatheads and Phillips screws. Go for skinny variants so they can easily fit into tight spaces. Also, going for a magnetized head will be nice, as it can hold screws or fasteners once you remove them.

Tire repair kit

One of the most common issues you can face as a motorcycle rider is a flat tire. A flat tire will leave you stranded, so it’s important that you got the tools needed to fix it. Given its potential for incapacitating your bike, we highly recommend that you bring a tire repair kit with you. These kits will prove to be a lifesaver, especially when you are far away from the next tire repair shop. It can fix your tire within minutes, helping you arrive at your destination in one piece. A compressor pump is an essential companion for your tire repair kit.

How to Fix a Flat Tire

A flat tire is one of the most problematic issues that you can face. Just imagine having a puncture while traveling on the mountain roads, dirt trails, or rice fields of Asia, and there’s no help nearby! Unlike cars, motorcycle riders do not have enough space to carry a spare tire. Learning how to fix a flat tire yourself is a must-know skill. Fortunately, with the help of the right tools and some elbow grease, you can fix a flat tire and get your bike up and running right away. Here is the step-by-step process on how you can fix a flat tire.

1. If you are riding and you see your tires running flat, make sure to pull over. Except for seeing a tire repair shop just a few meters away, you should not push it. Running on a flat tire can cause permanent damage to your wheels and even your suspension. At the same time, running on a flat tire can make your motorcycle very difficult to control, making you prone to accidents. So unless help is in sight or you’re in a very difficult situation, the best course of action when your tire is flat is to pull over.  

2. The first step in fixing a flat tire is determining what caused it. Different factors can cause a flat tire, and the solution depends on what caused it. Your tire may become flat because of inadequate air. Your tire may also become flat because a foreign object such as a nail, a screw, or a spike penetrated the tire bladder. A flat tire may also be caused by a torn tube. Your course of action depends on the situation. For flat tires caused by inadequate air, pumping enough air will suffice to get you back on the road. For flat tires caused by large tears, you can’t really do anything about it but ask for help. 

3. To fix a flat tubeless motorcycle tire, you must first remove the puncturing agent. Make sure to not throw it back on the road so that it won’t cause any further accidents. Using the reaming tool from your tire repair kit, clean up the hole in preparation for plugging. Place the plug or string over the puncture with the help of the insertion tool. Apply tire cement over the patch and let it dry. Once dried, put air in the tire using a pump or an air cartridge.

4. To fix a tubed motorcycle tire, you also start with removing the puncturing agent. The next step is to empty all air from the tire by pressing the valve. Using your tools, remove the wheel from the motorcycle frame. With the help of a tire iron, a knife, or any item, you can wedge between the tire and wheel, separate the tire from the wheel and then pull the tube out. Clean up the hole with the help of the reaming tool. Cover the hole with the help of the plug or string. Apply tire cement to secure the plug, making sure it’s dry before placing the tube back into the tire. With the tube installed in the tire, place the tire back into the wheel, careful not to pinch the tube. Replace the wheel into the motorcycle and then put air to complete the fix.

These tire fix techniques should hold up long enough for you to reach home or the next available repair shop. Once you get back into safety, you should have your tire repaired by an authorized repair center. Remember that the patching techniques mentioned here are only there to provide a temporary fix. When riding a motorcycle with a patched tire, keep your speed to a minimum to prevent a re-puncture. 

How to Deal with a Dead Battery

The battery is responsible for running all the electrical components of your bike, including the starter motor. Despite the massive improvements in battery technology, at some point, the battery will run out of charge, rendering your bike incapacitated. Learning how to fix a dead battery can help you get away from a sticky situation. It also gives you the power to help someone who might be facing a similar problem. Here are the steps for dealing with a dead battery.

When your motorcycle battery runs out of charge for any reason, the first mode of action available for you is to do a jumpstart. Some may think that you can only do this with a car, but yes, you can do a jumpstart for your bike! The fundamental procedures are similar, and you can do this technique with either a motorcycle or a car serving as the “donor” vehicle. It is where your battery cables come into the equation (remember your motorcycling survival kit in Chapter 2?). Here is a basic walk-through on how you can do a jumpstart.

1. Bring out your battery cables. You will notice that these wires come in pairs. One wire has red clips, while the other wire has black clips. Noting the difference between these two wires is not just essential for a successful jumpstart, but it is also essential for safety reasons. To start the jumpstart, bring your motorcycle and the donor vehicle close enough so that their batteries are separated only by the length of the cables. If the donor vehicle is a car or a type of four wheels, make sure to apply the handbrake, turn off the engine, and place it in neutral gear prior to performing the jumpstart.

2. Attach the clips to their respective places. Attach one red clip of the cable to the dead battery’s positive terminal (meaning the motorcycle that refuses to start). Attach the other red clip to the positive terminal of the battery of the donor vehicle. Attach one of the black clips to the negative terminal of the dead battery. As for the other black clip, it is best to attach it to any part of the donor vehicle’s frame. If there is no suitable location, attach the black clip to the negative terminal of the donor vehicle’s battery. 

3. Once all the wires are attached in their proper positions, it is now time to attempt to start the motorcycle. Again, make sure that both vehicles have their brakes applied and the gears set to neutral to prevent accidents. If the bike starts, remove the wires in a reverse fashion from step one (meaning, you’ll remove the black wires first before the red wires). Lightly press the throttle of your motorcycle to get your alternator working and charge the battery. 

4. If the bike refuses to start, keep the wires plugged in, then start after a minute to ensure adequate charge transfer. Also, check if the wires are installed in their proper places. If your bike still refuses to start after 3 to 5 tries, your battery might already be expired. In this situation, you must purchase a new battery if your bike is in the garage or a safe location. If you are on the road, it is recommended that you call for emergency help.

Emergency hotlines differ on a country-to-country basis, so make sure to check the emergency numbers for your respective country. Knowing local hotlines will also come in handy. Save these numbers on your phone. Also, keep a written copy of these numbers on your bike. 

5. Important safety precaution: if the donor battery comes from a car, do NOT start the car’s engine. While most motorcycle and automobile electrical systems use a 12-volt system (making them compatible for jumpstart), starting the car’s engine can make its voltage higher. Doing so can increase the risk of voltage incompatibility, which can cause damage to your motorcycle’s electrical system. Repairing your bike’s electrical system can be very costly. 

As a traveler in Asia or any part of the globe, you’ll be dealing with a busted battery at one point or another. You must know how to address these situations, even when you are in the middle of nowhere. Jumpstarting is an essential skill that all bikers (and motorists in general) must know by heart. Just as important as knowing how to execute this technique, make sure you have the necessary tools to get it done. As such, always bring your battery cables with you! 

How to Fix a Drive Belt

To recap Chapter 1, the drive belt’s main responsibility is to transfer your engine’s output to the rear wheels. A loose or damaged drive belt can compromise your bike’s performance or even hinder it if it’s completely broken. Even without structural damage, the chain can get loose with use due to stretching. As such, you must learn how to check and fix the belt. Depending on its condition, you will have to tighten your drive belt. Doing this procedure is relatively simple. You can do it in your garage without the use of any special equipment. This chapter will take you to the step-by-step process of how you can do it. 

Step 1. Check your motorcycle’s belts only while the engine is off. There have been cases of accidental throttling reported while fixing the chain, and needless to say, the results are not very good. First, check if there are any physical signs of belt damage. If there is significant damage, you’ll need to have your belt replaced. Second, check if the belt is too loose. To do this, check the level of slack of the belt. The amount of slack recommended for a specific bike model is usually specified in the user’s manual. If there is too much slack, you’ll need to adjust the tightness.  

Step 2. If you determine that your chain needs some work, you start with loosening the rear axle nut with the help of a wrench. Loosening the nut will make the rear wheel slide into the swingarm. At the swingarm, you can see adjustment nuts on both of its sides. Loosen or tighten accordingly by turning the nuts. You must keep both sides’ tightness equal, or it will cause your wheels to be off-balanced. To maintain balance, do on the other side what you did on one side. For example, if you tightened the left nut by half a turn, you should also tighten the right nut by half a turn and vice versa. Once you get the right belt tightness, return the wheel in place and fix the rear axle nut. 

Step 3. It would be smart that if you’re doing work on your drive belt, you should clean and lubricate it as well. First, clean the belt with the help of a degreaser. Even a well-lubricated chain can accumulate dirt and debris from the road, which can interfere with proper belt motion and cause damage to either the belt or the running gear. Once the chain is coated clean, it is now time to place some lubricant. While turning the rear wheel, spray lube on the chain. It will ensure that the entire chain, including its inner parts, is sufficiently lubricated. 

Tightening the chain is usually enough to bring back its performance to like-new levels. However, at some point, the belt will stretch to the point that is adequately tightening it is impossible. A slacking belt that never compensates even after fixing it would require replacement. The same also goes with belts that are showing signs of damaged links. The process of replacing the belt is a little more labor-intensive than merely tightening it, but provided with the right tools. You can also do this at the comfort of your own garage. You can even fix the chain on the roadside in an emergency. Here is the process on how you can do it. 

Step 1. The first step of removing the belt is to loosen the rear axle by loosening the nut. Once your wheel comes loose, it is now time to break the damaged chain. You can do this by using a specially designed chain breaker. Once you’ve broken the chain, remove it from your bike. Make sure to place the broken chain in a safe container and dispose of it appropriately. 

Step 2. Once removed, it is now time to install the new drive chain. Make sure to pick up a chain that is compatible with your motorcycle model. It is important that you only purchase OEM quality belts; you won’t like to compromise your safety for spare change, right? To install the chain, pull the chain as tight as you can around the sprockets. Once the chain is secured and at the right tightness, you place the master link to complete the chain. 

Step 3. If your chain gets broken in the middle of the road and you have no spare chain, you can fix your broken chain through these steps. Using your chain breaker, remove only the broken link. You can then connect the adjacent intact links together. Make sure that the links are secured tightly before you connect the chain back to its original configuration. Since the chain here is a little shorter than normal, ride with care as it’s more prone to breaking once again. Once you get to safety, replace the repaired chain with a new one. 

Step 4. For best results, here are some extras I would recommend. After placing the new drive belt, make sure to lubricate it, using the same technique mentioned in step 3 of the drive tightening part. Also, I would recommend that you check the sprockets. If any of the sprockets’ teeth are either missing or broken, it’s time to replace the sprocket together with the belt. For optimal durability, I recommend that you use a rivet master link. While it requires a special tool to fasten and is more expensive, its superior durability makes it worth the trouble. 

That is basically how you will go about fixing your drive belt. Whether it needs re-tightening or a full replacement, you can breathe easy knowing that you can do it yourself. Know the steps in doing either job, never forget to follow the safety tips, and you shall be okay. 

How to Fix Your Brakes

Your brakes are arguably the most vital component of your motorcycle. Should any part of your braking system get damaged, you become more prone to accidents. This is especially so in Asia, where some roads are in a less than ideal state and the weather constantly shifting. As such, you must know how to fix your brakes when the need arises. Identifying the defective part first is essential to get the fix right. Also, there are different braking systems, so knowing what system is present in your ride will be very helpful. 

1. Drum brakes are still commonly used in most motorcycles sold in Asia, especially for the so-called “budget models.” They have a very simple construction. The system itself and its parts are much more affordable than disc brakes. When trying to fix drum brakes, it is important to pinpoint the main parts that get damaged. The first thing you must check is the brake cable. The cables can get worn out by a combination of age and mileage. Worn-out cables make the brake “bite” insufficient, causing you to lose stopping power and responsiveness. Second, you must check the brake pads. You’ll need to replace the pads if they are too worn out.

2. Disc brakes are more commonplace in upper-scale motorcycles because of their superior performance. Parts that you should check if your disc brakes start to malfunction include the hydraulic system, the pads, the calipers, and the rotor. A hydraulic system problem causes an inefficient transfer of energy from the pedals to the brakes, causing ineffective braking. When inspecting the hydraulic system, check for leaks or cylinder damage. Afterward, you need to check the brake pads for signs of wear, together with the calipers and rotor. If any of these parts get damaged, you’ll need to either fix or replace them.

3. One thing these two braking systems have in common is the presence of brake pads. After all, these pads create the needed friction to slow down your bike. So how can you determine if your brake pads are ripe for a change? Take note of any reduction in braking performance. Physically inspect the pads if they are too thin or too worn out. If they show signs of excessive wear, it’s time to have those pads replaced with compatible replacement pads. 

In a nutshell, that is how you are going to fix your brakes. With a little effort, you can keep your brakes fresh, so you’ll have enough stopping power at all times. However, if you feel like your skills are not up to it, or you cannot properly troubleshoot your brakes, asking for specialist help will definitely not hurt. When riding with broken brakes, use proper judgment. If the damage is significant enough to make riding dangerous and you cannot find the right fix, call for help. 

How to Do an Oil Change

Motor oil is mainly there to provide lubrication to the inner parts of your engine. Over thousands of miles, this lubricating ability gets reduced, causing multiple detrimental effects. It makes your motor more prone to overheating, lowers your engine’s maximum power output, and makes your engine’s moving parts (ex.: pistons) prone to damage. Oil changes are one of the most common services done in a repair shop, but it is one service you can easily do by yourself. Here is a simplified guide on how to do an oil change. 

1. The first step is to determine if you are really in need of an oil change. The most common gauge used here is the mileage and your vehicular history. It is recommended that oil changes should be done every 5000 to 10000 miles. Other markers will tell you that it is time to change your oil. It’s time to replace your oil if the oil level is too low. It’s also time to replace your oil if the oil has become too dark, thick, and dirty. Also, if your engine starts to produce more noise or your oil runs out faster, an oil change becomes warranted.

2. Turn the engine off and place your motorcycle on a stand. Your engine must be cooled down before doing an oil change, as motor oil can get very hot in a running engine, which may cause injuries. You’ll need to have your bike slightly lifted so you can easily see the engine landmarks you must locate.

Look for where the oil drainage spout is, and then place the drain pan directly underneath it. Fully drain out the old oil from your motorcycle’s engine by opening the drain lid, adjusting the lid whenever necessary. 

3. Replace your old oil filter with a new one. This is not a required step, but it is highly recommended when replacing oil. Filters can get dirty quicker than usual, especially if you are traveling in dusty or muddy conditions. Prep the filter by washing it with fresh oil. Also, add oil to the rubber seal. Install the oil filter in its original position according to the procedure specified by your user manual. Let the engine completely drain before placing back the drain cover. When bolting back the drain cover, do not over tighten it as it can damage your pan! Fasten the bolt according to specifications in the manual or until the cover is secure enough. 

4. Fill your engine with fresh motor oil. You can use a funnel to avoid spillage. It is important that you fully fill your engine with fresh oil, but you should not overfill it for any reason! This can be avoided by checking the markers while filling your engine. Once your engine is filled with fresh oil, check all caps and bolts if they are all in their proper places. As for the discarded oil, make sure that it is poured back to a secure container. Never pour it on the ground.

That is how simple replacing oil is! Even a beginner can easily complete this fundamental motorcycle repair technique. For travelers in Asia, learning how to change your own oil can save you a lot of money from servicing fees, plus it’s a satisfying feeling to know that you can prep your own bike at your own home.