D.I.Y: Self Service

Want to get to know your bike intimately and save yourself some cash while you're at it? Then how about a spot of home servicing? It's easy when you know how

As motorcycles get more complicated, more people shy away from home servicing - and with good reason. Major services, involving valve train checking and adjustment, require specialised tools and knowledge to complete the job, and are best left to the professionals, but minor services aren't beyond the scope of many owners.

Bertie's longterm CB1300's 4000-mile once-over is basic to say the least - it doesn't even include an oil change (although we did it anyway). Everything on the CB is easy to find and get at; fully-faired modern sports tackle is harder to work on. Removing bodywork is time consuming and has to be done carefully as it's far too easy to scratch and damage panels as they're taken off. Also, a sports bike's compact design means things are harder to get at and work on once the bodywork is off.

Every bike has a service schedule which will be outlined in the owner's manual. After the initial 600-mile service (an oil change and a visual once-over), service intervals are usually every 4000 or 6000 miles. But there are exceptions, so check what yours are. And remember, service intervals are cyclical. The 4000-mile service will be repeated at, say, 12,000 and 20,000 miles, with additions to the schedule to take into account the higher mileage.

Remember, if your bike's still under warranty you'll probably want to have it dealer serviced so as not to cause yourself any hassle in the event of a problem

With all things mechanical, don't undertake work that you're not 100% confident you can complete properly. Some basic mechanical knowledge is important, as are decent tools.

First, clear yourself a space to work in and make sure you have somewhere to put everything you take off your bike. By putting it all in one place, you'll know if you've left anything out once you've put it back together - there shouldn't be anything in that empty space when you've finished. While a warm, dry garage or workshop is an ideal place to work, not all of us are blessed with such luxury. If the only option is working on the bike in the street, make sure you're not going to drop anything down a drain, and have a container to hand to put everything in as it's removed.

Secondly, make sure you've got all the right tools along with, ideally, a workshop manual. Work out what you're going to need beforehand and have it all ready. In this case, some kind of oil filter removal tool will be needed. They come in various shapes and sizes, but what works on one bike won't necessarily fit another - it's all about clearance access to the filter.

You'd also do well to get a decent torque wrench and all the relevant torque settings. Oil filters often need tightening to a specific torque, not just 'hand tight'. Torque wrenches aren't entirely cheap but are a sound investment. A workshop manual will give all the torque settings, but if you don't have one then most manufacturers will be happy to tell you  via their technical helplines. Failing that, ask a friendly dealer.

Changing your oil and filter is one of the easiest, yet most important, jobs to master. Before you drain the oil, warm the engine to help the oil flow out more easily. Next, remove the filler cap and put it in the place reserved for all the bits you're removing so it acts as a reminder to fill the motor with new oil.

Find a suitable container to catch the old oil and undo the sump plug, being careful not to burn yourself with hot oil. Next, remove the oil filter with the correct tool. If you resort to hammering a screwdriver through the filter to remove it, then something's wrong. May we suggest you reassess your suitability to carry out home maintenance and seek professional help?

With the oil out and filter off, wipe a smear of oil around the new filter's 'O'-ring, and clean up the crankcase around the filter housing to remove all traces of dirt and old oil. Spin the new filter on by hand, then tighten to the correct torque setting. Refit the sump plug, always, always using a new washer. Finally, refill with new oil and refit the filler cap.

Aside from the obvious, the essence of a service should be to check that everything's working as it should. Make sure all the electrics are in order. Check all fluid levels - engine coolant, brake fluid and, where applicable, clutch fluid. Check brake pad wear, cable adjustment, rear brake light switch adjustment and tyre pressures.

Often-overlooked things include crankcase and airbox breather hoses. These may be fitted with filters which can become clogged with sticky unpleasantness and need cleaning out once in a while.

While often listed as part of a service schedule, checking and adjusting the chain shouldn't be left until a service if it needs doing in the meantime. Correct chain tension varies from bike to bike so check in the owner's manual for what yours should be and how to measure it, i.e. with or without a rider sat on board. Chains don't wear evenly along their entire length, so It's essential you adjust the chain's tension around its tightest spot. This means turning the wheel a bit at a time and checking the chain until you find the bit with the least play. Adjust it to the correct tension at that point, or it could end up bowstring tight elsewhere. And remember, chains are best lubricated immediately after riding, not before. That way the warm chain helps the viscous lube work its way into every nook and cranny, before cooling and adhering to the chain. Lube the chain just before riding and much of it will be thrown off straight away.

Higher mileage bikes will benefit from a squirt of oil or dab of grease here and there. Lubricate footrest and stand pivots, seat locks and catches, and a spray of WD-40 or similar into your ignition barrel never goes amiss.

Always assume you're going to be the next person working on the bike. Everything you do should be with a view to making it at least as easy to do next time. Prevention is far better - and cheaper - than cure.