Do you know how to use your tools?
Mechanical problems on the road and how to tackle them are the one big worry many novice adventure riders face when they venture out.
And this is not just a female concern. However, men seem less likely to be held back by this. I met a few adventurers who had no clue about their engines, and still went to explore the world. But there aren’t so many solo female riders out there. So I hope this article will help dispel at least some of the doubts you may have!
First of all, nobody is a proven mechanic before they hit the road, including myself. And the whole topic is overwhelming, so in fear of doing something wrong many rather take their bike to their trusted mechanic, pay a lot of money, but feel assured that everything is running well. That is fine when you have the option, and not everybody feels a need to know their bike better. Yet, even some basic knowledge is giving you a huge confidence boost when it comes to your independence as a rider. Furthermore, it is indispensable once you are leaving your comfort zone and ride further from home or even in a different country.
I have been lucky as I had partners that knew their way around a motorcycle, were happy to teach and also to reassure me, when in doubt.
Unfortunately not everybody has that option, but thankfully YouTube can provide you with your personal masterclass in mechanics! I haven’t found a topic that wasn’t covered in one way or another by someone on this internet platform.
With the videos, you get a visual understanding what needs to be done and they can be stopped and replayed as often as necessary. In addition to the online channel, forums are a great source of combined knowledge. There are some directly related to certain motorcycle models and others that have a broader approach, such as ADVrider or The Rev Counter. Screen their content for your problem, most likely the issue has been raised in the past already, but if not – post your question. Never ever feel stupid to ask. Everybody starts at zero and the riders there are happy to share their knowledge. The difficulty is to develop a feeling for those who really know what they are talking about and those who like to help but are out of their depth.
Last but not least, get a workshop manual for your motorcycle: it contains a lot of information about maintenance and troubleshooting problems. You will find everything from how much oil goes into the engine to a detailed diagram regarding your electrical system.
Don’t be afraid to get started and learn how to use your tools. Remove your fairings and have a look what lays underneath. You will discover that maintenance is very easy to do yourself and you will wonder why you have ever paid a mechanic to handle it!
With very little effort ,you can change your own oil and filter, renew your brake fluid, check and care for your drive chain and replace your brake pads. Once you get into the maintenance, you gain confidence to tackle other mechanical issues. Overall, patience is the key, and you need tons of it. Not only does it take time to learn how to use your tools and understand your bike: in my experience, you often go two steps forward and one step back when doing repairs. One stuck screw can occupy you for hours. But the reward once you have fixed things is great. The feeling that I cleaned and re-jetted my carburetor or that I have adjusted my valve clearances is exhilarating. Achievements I am proud of.
This will also benefit you on the road when you run into issues. In most cases you might be able to resolve the problem on the side of the road straight away. If that is not the case you will be in a better position when it comes to talk to mechanics and seek repairs. If I need to see a professional, I usually hang around the workshop while they fix the motorcycle. As a woman most garages won’t mind having you around and you can keep an eye on things, plus use the opportunity to learn something new. A woman that is interested in mechanics is, in a lot of parts of the world, still a novelty and the guys enjoy the attention and are happy to show (off) what they are doing. Spending time with them and bonding over the mechanics in my experience also drops the price.
You don’t need to be a mechanic to ride a motorcycle, but I believe having knowledge of mechanics makes you a more accomplished rider. It gives you more independence and confidence to ride off the beaten track. I can only recommend to make yourself familiar with your bike. Hopefully, this article gets you interested in doing so!
If you have any questions or like to share your own experience please use the comment sections below.
Words: Franziska Jenetzky
Images: Peter Domhill
Great start on an article that covers this topic! I would love to see more like this, covering basic common things to learn such as tire/tube repair on the road and basics of troubleshooting some common problems while on the road. I know this is not the forum to learn the details of roadside repairs. As you said, the internet is a great resource, but most roadside problems exist outside of any internet access, in my experience.
I am glad you enjoyed it. It’s true, problems on the road are tricky, especially when no internet is available. However, when you start to work on the bike and do things like your maintenance yourself, you will also get a better understanding for the mechanics of the bike, what in return helps to tackle issues on the road.
I can only recommend to give it a go. Do the next oil change yourself, you will be surprised how easy it is. Or when your next front tire (front is easier and needs less force) is due for a change, buy the tire and change it yourself.
My biggest enemy are usually ceased or very tight screws, this is the time when sometimes some ‘manpower’ becomes necessary. Although there are tools like impact drills that can help 😉
So be positive and jump into it. You will never regret it!