Easy Writer Part 2: Gettin' Greasy
Once you decide on the bike that suits you best, make sure it's in good mechanical shape by either going through it yourself if you're into working with your hands, or take it to a reputable motorcycle shop in the area.
My bike spent quite a while at Cycle City Motorsports in Lake Forest because my GS500 had some very sickly carburetors, along with needing new tires and a chain. The techs there do solid work, but the time it takes to diagnose and fix a hard-to-pinpoint issue can be a bit unnerving. It was about three weeks of, "Well, it's probably this...," and, "It was running great, but then...," before I just said, "As long as it runs, I'm taking my bike home."
They weren't gouging me on labor costs, but the parts they said were necessary were getting 200+ percent markups, so I decided to finish the job myself before hemorrhaging too much cash into a gifted bike.
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Do-it-yourselfers should get their hands on a manual for the bike, such as Clymer or Haynes, and some motorcycle tools--hex keys (aka Allen wrenches), a decent socket/ratchet set, screwdrivers of various sizes and shapes, wrenches, etc. But it might not be a bad idea to just take it in to a shop for diagnosis before you start wrenching, so you won't spend days tearing your hair out because you can't figure out that the carburetors need to be synced or you have a pinhole vacuum leak somewhere. If you buy a Japanese bike, invest in some metric-sized tools before you think that every nut and bolt you come across isn't machined properly. You can put together a tool kit online here: http://micapeak.com/checklists/toolkit.html, or buy a pre-assembled, motorcycle-specific one: http://www.cruztools.com/toolkits%202007.html, or you can just go down to a local bike shop and ask someone what you should buy and where to get it.
There are hundreds of instructional videos on YouTube and Google for different motorcycle repair jobs. I was walked through a valve adjustment on my GS500 by a kindly older gentleman when I got stuck. (http://video.google.comvideoplay?docid=-2015554469142545363)
And there are fanatics for nearly every type of bike out there, so it's very easy to get in touch with an online forum or group that will be able to answer most questions about tinkering with your new ride, or just about places to ride. A small sampling:
If you're like me, and you've spent a lot of time wrenching on cars but never worked on a motorcycle before, it's exponentially easier to work on a bike. They come apart very easily and with minimal amounts of hardware. And the same basic engine concepts are universal between a motorcycle and a car--it's just condensed.
Stripping down my Suzuki GS500E to fiddle with the carburetors and valves took all of 20 minutes when working at a fairly slow pace. That included taking off the seat, removing the plastic fairings under the seat and the fuel tank, pulling out the air filter and taking off the valve cover. Doing the same amount of work on a car would have been a miserable, greasy all-day project. Just be sure to keep your loose nuts, bolts, hose clamps, screws, etc. organized (labeled Ziploc baggies or small Tupperware bowls do the trick), because the removed hardware all starts to look alike after it's been pulled out. And you don't want to lose anything or try to force a bolt/nut/screw into somewhere it's not supposed to go.
If your bike has been sitting awhile, the mechanical go-to spots that need some TLC are generally the carburetor(s) (if applicable), brakes, battery, chain (if applicable), and tires. Grab yourself a manual and find out the best way to tear your ride down and fix it up. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty; just think of the coin saved when it comes to general maintenance and unexpected repairs down the line. As it goes in the car world, you sound much more badass if you can talk shop with others. And ego is half the reason to start riding in the first place.
Previously in Easy Writer: