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Improve your DIY game: Easy and effective motorcycle maintenance hacks

Nov 16, 2023

We all want our motorcycle-maintenance endeavors to be productive and enjoyable, but things rarely go smoothly. It’s the nature of the work.  

Thankfully, I’ve developed some habits that help eliminate the common stumbling blocks that used to derail my projects. They can be summarized as Prepare, Photograph, and Package.


Before I dive into something new, whether it’s adjusting the valves on a new-to-me bike or fixing my refrigerator, I prepare with research. Between printed and digital manuals, online user forums, and YouTube, there are so many resources available, and a little preparation before you start a project is going to save you a ton of time and frustration, guaranteed.

Workshop manuals
Paper manuals are still my preferred prep material, but YouTube has become a massive resource for information, as well. Whatever method you choose, every tidbit of info you gather before you begin a project is going to be a benefit. Photo by Ari Henning.

So, set aside 20 minutes to read your bike’s workshop manual or review some videos to see what the steps are, what tools and supplies you’ll need, and if there are any specific tips or tricks for your bike. Any time you can get a walkthrough of a procedure before you do it you will be much better off than if you just rush in blind and hope to figure things out as you go.

Once you’re adequately prepared and are beginning to disassemble things, there’s another easy tip to help things go back together the way they should.


Taking things apart is easy. Putting stuff back together? That can be a little tricky, especially if you can’t remember if the wiring harness went over or under the frame, or if that plug went to the right injector or left injector. That’s why when I’m taking things apart I use my phone to shoot photos. Lots and lots of photos.

Photographing a motorcycle before disassembling
Most of us don't have a photographic memory, but the vast majority of us have a high-resolution camera in our pockets. Use it to snap a few pics before you start pulling things apart. Revzilla photo.

Having a few photos, preferably shot from different angles so you have a comprehensive perspective, is like having a zoomable roadmap for reassembly. Pics are especially useful for control cable, wire, and hose routing. So the moment the tank comes off, or before I pull the airbox or start unplugging electrical connectors or hoses, I start snapping photos so I never have to guess what went where.

And after the parts have been removed, keeping them organized is going to speed up reassembly and eliminate leftover nuts and bolts.


My wife, coworkers, and even neighbors know that I have a thing for Ziploc bags and cardboard boxes, the sturdier the better. I also keep a stack of paper lunch trays in my toolbox. This stuff — which can largely be sourced for free out of the trash — has been a key to my success in the shop. 

How? The trays, bags, and boxes allow me to organize and package parts as I move through a project, so I don’t lose things or forget what they are or where they go. Whether I’m just removing a handlebar or assembling an entire engine, I don’t just set stuff down. I organize it on a tray (I’ve seen other mechanics use cupcake trays or egg cartons), and if the project isn’t going back together right away I’ll bag or box the parts, and label them.

Paper tray used for organizing parts during an oil change on a motorcycle.
Paper lunch trays are a cheap and effective tool for organizing parts as they come off the bike. Egg cartons, muffin tins, and cookie trays work great as well. Photo by Ari Henning.

Another tactic I use specifically with fasteners is to put them back where they belong. You took off the footpeg bracket or fender, but that doesn’t mean you can’t thread the bolts back into their holes. That keeps them safe and lets you know exactly which bolt goes where. It’s an especially useful strategy for bodywork when the bolts may only differ in length.

No matter how you decide to approach packaging stuff, as long as you’re taking strides to stay organized, it’s going to be a huge help.

Motorcycle parts on a shelf.
Parts from the 1969 DT-1 we rode across Wyoming. Effort was made to maintain some level of organization as the bike came apart, which paid dividends as we worked through the project and eventually started in on reassembly. Photo by Ari Henning.

And on that topic, my final tip, which is admittedly easier said than done, is to keep a clean work area. I pause periodically to put away tools, throw out trash, wipe down by workbench and sweep up debris. A tidy work area makes it easier to find the tool you need, not lose parts in the mess, and it just helps maintain focus and prevent overwhelm. 

After an episode of The Shop Manual on this same topic went live on the Revzilla YouTube channel, commenters had some alliterative suggestions of their own. Here are two especially good bonus “Ps” from our YouTube audience.

Park it

@danfuller4850 commented on the video to suggest “a possible fourth P: Put down tools when you’re frustrated.” Working angry, hot, cold, or hungry are all things that will shorten your fuse and make you more likely to lose your composure. “Work with a calm head or not at all” was another viewer’s response.

Proper lighting

This one is so fundamental that I forgot to mention it. @mikedrei7834 wrote “Proper lighting! Having a couple of LED portable shop lights makes all the difference in seeing black tubes on a black frame over blacked-out engine parts.” With the prevalence of affordable and efficient LED shop lights, it’s easy to add 20,000 lumens to a space for $50.

A garage with proper lighting.
Let there be light! Whether it's an array of LED shop lights on the ceiling, a pedestal light that you move around on the ground, or a headlamp that you wear, adequate lighting is crucial. Photo by Ari Henning.

So, the three Ps — or however many you choose to adhere to — are really simple strategies that have become a central part of all of my projects. If you’ve got tips that have helped you streamline working on your motorcycle, feel free to share them in the comments section below.