Buying Your First Motorcycle : Minimizing Maintenance Costs

Your choice of a bike can determine how much maintenance you’ll need to do. Sometimes engineers design motorcycles with certain high-maintenance features to increase the performance of a bike, but more often than not, features that make a motorcycle easier (and cheaper) to maintain are excluded just to save production costs.

BMW R1200GS Motorcycle Maintenance Costs

If you’re after extremely high performance, you’ll have to accept the fact that you’ll have to spend more money on maintenance, but if you’re willing to accept a slightly lower level of performance, there are features you can look for and riding habits you can practice that will help you keep maintenance costs down.

Three elements in particular will affect your maintenance costs : the shaft drive, the centerstand, and the valves.

Read More : Buying Your First Motorcycle : Where to Buy Your Bike ?

Getting Shafted

Select a bike with a shaft drive. Chain maintenance is the most frequent procedure you’ll need to perform on your bike. It’s also the dirtiest.

Sporty bikes will usually have a chain, since chains tend to disrupt handling less than shafts. If you want such a bike, you’ll usually have to accept a chain as part of the package. But there has been a trend in recent years to use chains on types of bikes that, by nature, aren’t the best in handling, such as mid-sized cruisers. This is purely a cost-cutting measure on the part of the manufacturers. If you want to buy a mid-sized Japanese cruiser, my advice is to get an older, used one, since these usually have shaft drives.

Another option is to select a bike with a belt-drive system. These can be a good compromise between the handling benefits of a chain and the maintenance benefits of a shaft. Belt-drive systems, like the one used by Harley-Davidson, require less maintenance than chains, but more than shafts. The main drawback of Harley’s belt-drive system is that fixing one can be an expensive proposition.

Read More : Buying Your First Motorcycle : What to Look For ?

The Benefits of a Centerstand

Make certain your bike comes equipped with a centerstand. Until recently, all Japanese bikes came with centerstands - it was one of the things that set them apart from Harley-Davidsons, which have never been equipped with modern centerstands.

In the 1980s, Japanese manufacturers began excluding centerstands from ultra-highperformance sportbikes, because the designs of the exhaust systems used in those bikes prohibited the mounting of centerstands, and also because centerstands hindered cornering clearance.

But in the past few years, they’ve also begun excluding them from bikes that already have limited cornering clearance, like cruisers. This is another cost-cutting measure. Combine lack of a centerstand with a chain drive, and I guarantee you will create new expletives while maintaining your bike.

Read More : Buying Your First Motorcycle : What’s It Worth ?

Hydraulically Adjusted Valves

One of the costliest aspects of maintaining a motorcycle is adjusting the amount the valves move up and down.

This is a critical (and often neglected) part of motorcycle maintenance, because if the valve doesn’t move down far enough during the combustion cycle, it can get bent and destroy the valve train. If the valve moves down too far, it can hit the top of the piston, destroying the entire top end.

It is also an expensive part of motorcycle maintenance. On most modern motorcycles, valve adjustment is too complex a job for an inexperienced mechanic to tackle alone. Most riders take their bikes into shops to have the procedure performed. If the motorcycle has any body work which the mechanic has to remove to gain access to the valves, or if the motorcycle is constructed in a way that requires the mechanic to go to heroic lengths to gain access to the valves, the mechanic will also have to spend even more time adjusting the valves.

And to a mechanic, time is money. Shops often charge $50 per hour for a mechanic’s time. On a multi-cylinder bike with body work, a mechanic can take several hours to adjust the valves. Valve adjustments seldom cost less then $100, and on certain complex machines, can run as high as $250. Remember, this is a procedure you’ll have to have performed at least once every year (even more, if you ride a lot). But there is a way to avoid this expensive bit of maintenance. Back in the early 1980s, Honda introduced several motorcycle models that had overhead-cam engines with hydraulically adjusted valves. Suzuki and Kawasaki followed suit, introducing cruisers with similar systems. All new Harleys come with hydraulically adjusted valves.

While such systems slightly limited the performance of the motorcycles using them, they also completely eliminated the costs associated with valve adjustments. And for most motorcyclists, the performance limitations of hydraulically operated valves were academic, coming into play only at extremely high RPMs. In the real world, motorcyclists seldom ride at such extreme speeds. If at all possible, select a bike with maintenancefree, hydraulically adjusted valves. This will decrease performance a bit, but that will only be an issue on bikes that demand ultrahigh performance. On cruisers and standards, the difference won’t be noticeable, and you’ll save hundreds of dollars each year on maintenance costs.