The tools you need: Building the ultimate workshop

Most of us are happy to spin a wrench once in a while. It’s relaxing, it helps you learn more about your motorcycle, and best of all, it saves you money.

So how can you create the ideal garage, and what tools do you need? If you’re a lifelong DIY enthusiast, chances are you’ll have a good start on the equipment needed to keep your bike running, but you’ll still probably want some tools that are motorcycle-specific. If you’re just starting off on two wheels, then you’re going to need to buy a lot more.  Here’s where to start:

The Starter Tools

A rider should be capable of basic get-yourself-home maintenance, and you’ll need an onboard toolkit for that purpose. You don’t need to carry this stuff all the time if you’re okay with being towed home, but for any kind of a day trip or longer, as we said in our write-up a while back, “At a minimum, you need tools to tighten up loose nuts, bolts, and screws, along with a few other basic bits to get you out of simple jams.”

That means you’ll want at least the basics in that kit, and you can also use them for maintenance at home: Wrenches and screwdrivers/hex keys/Torx keys that fit your bike’s common fasteners. You’ll want electrical tape and wire or zip ties, fuses, a tire gauge, a spark plug, a spark plug socket, and maybe some of the other sockets that fit your bike.  You can find the rest of the list here.

Your garage-stocking project will begin with your onboard toolkit.

What else do you want for working on your bike at home? If space or budget is limited (say you’re a university student living in an apartment), you’ll at least want the rest of the basics. You should have a complete socket set, not just a few small ones that fit your bike, preferably with a mixture of deep and shallow sockets and multiples of 10 mm, 12 mm, 14 mm, or whatever else is common on your bike. You can maintain your machine with a fairly small selection of sockets, but the larger sets are usually on sale somewhere, and won’t cost you much more in the long run. Plus, you’ll usually get a couple of extension bars and different-sized ratchet handles.

Along with the wrenches in your bike’s toolkit, you might want a few others: axle wrenches, for sure (for working on your driveline), and a set of duplicates for common sizes on your bike can be helpful, if you don’t want to unpack your tool roll every time you work on the motorcycle. A high-quality adjustable wrench is surprisingly useful, as long as you’re aware of its limitations and don’t round off nuts through carelessness.

You’ll want an assortment of pliers (different sizes of needlenose pliers and Vice-Grips are useful; slip-joint pliers are less useful).

You should also have an assortment of quality screwdrivers, including some JIS screwdrivers and high-quality flatheads. It’s handy to have both screwdrivers with fixed heads and screwdrivers with interchangeable bits (most larger socket sets come with these).

You need a motorcycle stand for things like adjusting your chain. If your bike already has a centrestand, you can use that; otherwise, if you’re on a budget. you can probably build something suitable out of a milk crate and scrap lumber (you can use the milk crate to store your tools, if space is at a premium). Another budget/space-friendly option is a SnapJack, although these are really aimed at on-the-road usage. Ideally, you want a hydraulic motorcycle stand; they’re available at most automotive/hardware stores, and they go on sale fairly regularly, but make sure the one you like can support the weight of your bike. There are plenty of cheap ones that can only hold a child’s dirt bike.

You also need an assortment of chemicals: a jug of engine oil, to top up the crankcase, some chain lube (if your bike has a drive chain), chassis grease for wheel bearings, and Loctite compound to stop screws or bolts from rattling loose. Dielectric grease is also a smart buy to prevent problems while riding in wet weather. WD-40 is a very useful all-round chemical to have on hand to fight corrosion, also offering basic lubrication and cleaning qualities.

An air compressor or foot pump is also useful for keeping your tires at appropriate pressure if your local gas station isn’t convenient. A trickle charger is highly recommended for keeping your bike battery charged and ready to go.

As you work on bikes, you’ll end up needing a wide variety of chemicals. My friends and I have long sarcastically referred to them as “snake oils,” as many of them don’t perform as advertised, but eventually you’ll figure out which toxic chemical brews work best for your purposes.

A stiff brush is useful for cleaning the chain and other dirty bits, and some rags (old T-shirts work well) will help you keep the bike looking presentable. A utility knife is useful for stripping electrical wire, cutting fuel hose, and other random tasks. A piece of pipe can be used as a budget-friendly extension on ratchet handles to break nuts loose (but don’t use it to install fasteners!)

(And don’t forget duct tape! You can never have enough duct tape! – Ed.)

With these tools, you should be able to do most basic tasks on your bike, including brake work, chain maintenance, tightening things that worked themselves loose, adjusting things that need adjusting, removing bodywork, installing luggage racks or other accessories, cleaning dirty carburetors, replacing dead batteries, and so on.

Most of these tools go on sale regularly at Princess Auto or Canadian Tire. If your budget is really tight, you can also frequently find high-quality tools for affordable prices at second-hand installations like the ReStore retail locations run by Habitat for Humanity, or Value Village or Mission Thrift Store. Garage sales can be treasure troves if you’re looking for tools. Dollar stores even offer some basic tools, but you’re going to get what you pay for; buy quality if you can, even if you’re buying used.

If you’re the slightest bit serious about motorcycling, this what I’d consider the minimum investment for tools. Even the most cash-strapped riders should be able to get their hands on most of these tools for a reasonable price, and if you’re careful, they won’t take much room to store either. I bought most of these tools on a university student’s budget, and always found room to store them in a succession of dodgy, small apartments. If I could do it, so can you.

Next page: the Proper Shop!

5 thoughts on “The tools you need: Building the ultimate workshop”

  1. A good tip I have heard (but rarely put into practice!) is to actually use the tool kit that you carry on the bike.. reason being is so you know what is there, how useful the tool is and that it is serviceable. Anyone ever have to (or be with someone who had to) fix a fault on the side of the road only to find that much of the stock tool kit belongs at the bottom of a swamp!? Also, while you are carrying out maintenance, lay your tools out as you do the job… you see what is needed and what is most frequently used. With that information, build a useful tool kit with quality tools to carry on the bike!

  2. I think it is worth mentioning in the interest of consuming and owning less (and saving money), many cities at this point have tool libraries or co-working shops where you can use shared tools and the knowledge of other people around you. Since moving to Vancouver and going from owning a 1,000 sqft shop to renting a 600sqft apartment, I have had to get a little creative with doing my own wrenching, but it has saved me money and made me friends! I changed my oil last night while outside watching the sunset.

    1. Yeah, that is a big help IF you live in the city. However, they can also come with a cost, and it’s best to be self-sufficient. But you’re right, that’s a good way to access rarely-used tools.

      Screwdrivers, a socket set and a wrench set shouldn’t set you back too far, though, and you have more uses than just motorcycles.

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