American Skid Marks
Setting out on a great American motorcycle roadtrip.


I’ve spent the last week learning how to take things apart, clean things up, lube things up and put them back together. Some of this was intentional … some not. Over the weekend I was registered for a pair of motorcycle maintenance classes. The idea was to learn the ways of the machine, her habits, her needs, her peccadilloes; to be able to service her on the road should her temper get the better of her. See, things fall off of motorcycles all the time; people who don’t ride don’t realize just how unstable the design of these things is. One moment you’re riding a finely tuned machine, the next you’re astride a wobbling shower of sparks; a 4th of July firework gone haywire along the tarmac. There is a reason motorcyclists resort to things like gremlin bells to ward off evil spirits. Anything you can do to increase your chances of coming home with all of your bolts and balls in place is worth your while. One, slightly more practical approach, is to properly maintain your motorcycle.

I have a natural aversion to screws, bolts and anything that precisely fastens pieces of metal together. I’m just bad with them. So it is no surprise then that last week cleaning my bike resulted in the back wheel needing to be removed. In order to avoid the embarrassment of showing up at a motorcycle maintenance class with my filthy bike I decided thoroughly scrub her nooks and crannies. For better access to the rear wheel I chose to remove the rear brake caliper, then do the degreasing and washing. That went fine, but when I tried to re-fasten the caliper, my huge, huge muscles go the better of me … I tore the head right off of one of the bolts that holds the caliper to the swingarm. Without boring you with the details, the only way to remove the bolt to replace it, was to remove the rear wheel and access the caliper from the ‘rotor side’.

Rear Wheel Off Motorcycle 1

The big idea ...

Really, this was a blessing in disguise. Learning to wrench on the bike before I leave is imperative. Along the way, I learned about ‘cush drives’, had a chance to inspect and clean the sprocket thoroughly, cleaned the back part of the bike that was really difficult to get to with the rear wheel attached, learned how to adjust my chain tension and how to properly adjust my rear wheel alignment. All in all, a pretty manly couple days. Fortunately for me, there are a couple of great videos online giving thorough instructions on how to remove and replace the rear wheel on a SV650. The same folks have posted a how to on adjusting your chain tension and rear wheel alignment. Great stuff.

Rear Wheel Off Motorcycle 2

A chance to clean.

By Wednesday I had everything reassembled and mounted. The process got me primed for a weekend of coursework. On Saturday I took Level 1 of the Motorcycle Care & Maintenance courses offered by Puget Sound Safety. Sunday I took Level 2. I know, I know I’m putting these folks’ kids through college. Training ain’t cheap but I gotta tell you, so far, between the ERC and these two maintenance classes, it’s been well worth the cost. There is a set of fundamental chores that motorcyclists absolutely have to do. Tire maintenance, chain lube and adjustment, brake inspection, fluid levels and how to fit a bike to the rider and are just a couple. You’d be amazed at how many riders do not know how to do these basics (until this weekend I only knew how to do a few). Level 1 covers most of what you need to know to properly perform your safety inspections.

In Level 2 we got into more depth on how all of the systems on a bike work. We pulled apart carburetors and suspension. We played with adjusting valves and the innards of the clutch system. We learned about how all of the systems tie into each other and work together. Level 1 is billed as the ‘do it’ course and Level 2 as the ‘how does it all work’ course. That makes Level 2 sound like a bunch of theory. Don’t worry, there is plenty of opportunity to pull stuff apart in Level 2 as well.

Like most course work of this type, the most important thing you can learn is what you don’t know. That is, one of the biggest struggles when first learning anything is learning what you need to learn. I did not walk out of either of these classes ready to do a valve adjustment on my bike. However, I know what a valve adjustment is and why it is important. More importantly, I know where to go for more information should I choose to tackle the job myself.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be wrenching a lot on my bike. Essentially, if its raining outside, I’ll be inside the garage pulling things apart, cleaning things out, lubing them up and putting them back together. Once you’re no longer intimidated, you can act with confidence.

Maintenance Class Certificates

Fancy ...

Oh, shameless plug for the dealer that donated a room for our Level 1 class and then gave us 10% off of anything that we wanted to buy that day:

I took the opportunity to pick up a nice tire gauge and some hot weather riding gloves. Also, they donated free donuts and coffee in the morning to my belly. Nice guys.


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