One of the few things you can count on with motorcycle ownership is the fact that something will break. It is a man-made machine after all, and these things happen.
If you’re lucky, it’ll happen either at home or close to it. But what do you do if you face some kind of mechanical failure in the middle of nowhere while on an extended adventure motorcycle journey? It’s at times like these that breaking a one-dollar part can leave you stranded.
We can’t prepare for every scenario, but we have the benefit of learning from adventure riders before us (and learning from our own past mistakes) to know some of the most common things that can lead to a breakdown on the road or on the trail. This is why it’s crucial to master these five mechanical skills before your next big ride.
Before we go on, here’s a reminder to stay on top of general maintenance on your motorcycle and do the best you can to keep your bike in top working order from the comfort of your home before having to resort to last-ditch fixes on the road.
Not sure what to address or how to fix it? Take a look at your owner’s manual and/or a shop manual. They’ll tell you.
1. Know How To Fix A Flat
One of the most common problems you’ll face on a motorcycle is a flat tire. First off, know whether your motorcycle uses tube or tubeless tires. Either way, hopefully your bike has a center stand.
This will make the wheel removal process much easier. If not, you’ll have to get comfortable propping your bike against something or finding a way to get whichever wheel up in the air.
If you’re using tubes, the first step is breaking the bead. If you’re not carrying tire irons with you (and you really should) in your motorcycle luggage, one trick is to use your side stand as a de facto bead breaker.
Place the side stand over the sidewall of the tire and slowly lean the bike into the tire, forcing the side stand into the tire. You’ll know you’ve broken the bead when you hear a pop and suddenly feel much less resistance.
Check the tube for any debris that may cause punctures or leaks. Then carefully inspect the tire for the same. If you find something, use pliers to remove them. We recommend using gloves since if there’s something sharp enough to puncture a tire, it’ll definitely puncture your skin.
With any/all offending debris removed, place a new tube inside your tire. Be extremely careful not to puncture, pinch, or bite the tube with your tire irons during this process and when putting the tire back on the rim.
Then inflate the tube (you do have a pump, or even a CO2 cartridge, right?). If you don’t have anything strong enough to pump enough air to re-seat the bead, put as much as you can and carefully make your way to a station that can.
For tubeless tires, having a flat repair kit is worth its weight in gold. You don’t even need to break the bead. Remove whatever caused the puncture, clean the area with the included hardware in your repair kit, insert the plug, cut off the excess, and re-air the tire.
Check for any leaks using soapy water. If you don’t have soapy water, spit around the area and look for bubbles.
2. Don’t Run Out Of Gas
Running out of gas in the middle of nowhere happens more often than you think. Confidence, negligence, or even plain old forgetfulness can lead to that dreaded "pop pop" sound as the carburetor or fuel injector spits that last bit of gas into the engine.
Luckily it is also an easy fix. Obviously, if you have a spare gas can (or even a water bottle filled with gas), now is the time to pour it in.
If you don’t have spare gas with you, it’s good to have an extra fuel hose or a dedicated siphon with you. If your buddies have bikes with carburetors (you do ride off-road with friends, right?), you might be able to reach the petcock with your extra fuel hose.
Drain some gas into a bottle and pour it into your gas tank. Don’t leave your buddy’s tank empty, obviously – just pour enough to get you to a gas station.
For fuel-injected motorcycles you’ll have to siphon the gas somehow. The old school method of siphoning gas would be to suck gas through the hose, into a vessel (make sure the vessel is lower than the gas tank).
The danger here, in case it wasn’t obvious, is getting gas in your mouth. Dedicated siphoning devices do all the sucking for you through a one-way valve. All you have to do is jiggle the siphon up and down a few times to start the flow.
3. Bring JB Weld – And Know How To Use It
Puncturing an engine case or an oil pan when riding off-road is very common and can happen in the blink of an eye, even if you don’t crash the bike. This one is serious and can put an end to your ride, and potentially your bike, really quick.
First and foremost, bring JB Weld or another strong epoxy. If the crack or break in your case is small, apply the JB Weld directly and let it settle for a few hours.
For bigger punctures or holes, you might be able to get by with grabbing a coin (or any heavy-duty material) and using epoxy to "patch" the hole with it. No, your odds of this working aren’t great, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Don’t forget to bring some oil so you can refill whatever you lost from the puncture.
4. Know How To Replace Levers
Levers should be sacrificial, but for some reason the manufacturers install levers that can leave you stranded if they break in a crash. And not having one of the four main touch points on your motorcycle is clearly very bad.
The first thing to do would be to carry spare levers – aftermarket ones, preferably since they are stronger or are designed to leave something left to operate the controls in a pinch.
If that’s not an option, hopefully, the clutch or brake lever is still long enough for you to tape or zip tie a wrench or other long piece of metal to. Then you’ll have to ride carefully as you attempt to use your "new" levers.
If the stubs are too short, you don’t need to use the clutch to change gears. Hopefully, you can find neutral before coming to a stop, otherwise, you’ll need to bump start each time you do. For the brakes, ride carefully and use the rear brake as much as possible.
If your shifter or rear brake lever is broken, you might be able to clamp down some vice grips to the shifter or brake pedal still remaining. You’re walking on thin ice, though, so proceed with extreme caution.
5. Bring An Extra Chain Link Or Two
A broken chain can put a quick end to your ride, but it doesn’t have to. The good news is repairing a chain is relatively easy and only requires you to carry really small parts.
Know whether you have a riveted master link or a clip-type. Whichever it is, carry an extra master link in your spares kit, along with about five extra links, a chain breaker, and a riveting tool.
Grab your chain, find the broken link and remove it if it hasn’t gone already, then use your spare links to build your chain back. Rivet or clip your spare master link in place and continue on your way.
Like we said before, there’s no way to know everything that could go wrong on your next ride, but knowing these five mechanical skills above will cover most of the bases.
If any of these skills seems out of your mechanical comfort zone, practice them at home so you know what to do out in the wild. Hopefully you never have to use these skills, but if you do, you’ll be better for it.