A beginner's guide to maintenance tools
So, you're new to riding and want to save money by doing your own maintenance?
This is the ULTRA beginner's guide, for those who haven't any experience, much less tools. For riders like you, the prospect is often a daunting one when it comes to doing any sort of work on your precious new bike. You're worried about screwing something up, voiding the warranty, and just generally getting in over your head. Well, not to worry. If you can read and use your hands, then you have what it takes to do anything your bike might need.
Just like gear is needed before you start riding, information is needed before you start wrenching. This forum, its associated FAQ, and its archive search are an amazing free resource. Chances are that no matter what you plan on doing, a handful of members have already done the same job. And it's even fairly likely that there's a pictorial write-up in the FAQ with step-by-step instructions. But that doesn't mean you should skip out on buying the factory service manuals ~ there's a lot of detailed information in those 2 manuals that's not found anywhere else. And yes, that includes the cheap aftermarket knock-offs (like Haynes). There is sometimes information in those that is just blatantly wrong. Since this is asked from time to time, there are no legal downloads of the manuals. It's not on CD, and be wary of the copies on eBay ~ Kawasaki takes its copyright laws seriously.
See here for the manuals needed and their associated part numbers. You can buy the manuals from anywhere that supplies factory Kawasaki parts.
Read and think ahead
Now that you have the information available, it's a good idea to thoroughly read and research whatever task you're going to tackle. Know if you will need any consumable parts, like o-rings, crush washers, or gaskets, and order those well before you plan on doing the work. Know the Torque Values of all the bolts you're going to be touching, and you might even want to photocopy the page(s) you'll be using so they're handy for quick reference without smudging up your books. There's nothing worse than doing some simple service and having to put it all on hold while you look up the next step in the process or wait for a part to be delivered. If you've got all your information together and you're still hesitant, ask if there's anyone in the area that can help ~ there are members all over the place with different levels of mechanical skill. One may be near you and able to help.
Tools to buy
This is a touchy topic with a lot of 'right' answers. It's a good idea to make sure that the stuff you use most often is of the highest quality, while the stuff you use only occasionally can be cheaper. There's an old saying that 'Only a wealthy man can afford cheap tools', because the tools themselves will break, and they'll do a sub-par job. The best example is trying to remove a phillips screw: most cheap screwdrivers will not grip the screw very well and will end up stripping out the head in short order. Then you will have to worry about trying to get it out some other way, when a good tool would have done it the first time. Spend your money on the best you can afford; you'll be doing these purchases in small steps, so it's not out of the question that you could buy Snap-On/Mac/Matco type tools. See the tool article for a discussion of tool brands.
Recommended tool purchases, broken down by common jobs
Oil changing tools
The first maintenance item most riders are likely to perform will be changing the oil. Not a very daunting task, you've heard it said. Maybe you've seen it done with family cars. There are only 2 bolts, and they're the same size (17mm on the 250). So, the first tool purchase is going to be a 3/8-drive socket wrench and a set of sockets or a set of combination wrenches. Sockets are generally a little easier to use, especially for this particular task, but they cannot be used on all aspects of motorcycle maintenance. If you buy a set, the important sizes are 8,10,12,14,17, and 19mm. For the EX250, you'll also need 22mm and 24mm sockets for the axles. 13 and 15mm are usually included in such sets but are rarely used on motorcycles (they will come in handy if you work on metric cars, though). For another look at what should be in your toolbox, see here.
A 6-point socket is superior to a 12-point because it fits the bolt/nut better, providing more surface area and less chance of rounding off the head. For $100 you can buy all these pieces from a high-end maker, or about $70 from Sears/Home Depot/Lowe's. Always buy from a company that offers a lifetime unconditional guarantee and is easy to access. You'll also need an oil drain pan ($10). A funnel and rubber gloves really help a lot, too.
MicroFlex Diamond Grip latex gloves work well. These have a unique texture on the fingers that actually grips after they get wet. They're inexpensive, and you can use one pair for a whole day of wrenching. For the areas the gloves don't cover, Gojo hand cleaner, or something similar, is easy on your hands but still gets them clean.
As soon as you buy sockets, and really, before you do any work on your bike, you should buy a quality torque wrench. Some places will offer limited warranties, others offer free calibrations (they go off after a while and need to be recalibrated) ~ you'll have to find one that meets your price range and works for you. This is a tool you'll be using non-stop (almost) so spend the money if you have it to spend.
In all actuality, if you're going to be doing the majority of the work on your bike you'll need two torque wrenches. One in inch-lbs, for the lower torque numbers, and another one in foot-lbs, for higher torque usage. Take a look at the torque values page and see which things you'll be most likely to do. Then find out if you can find decent, quality torque wrenches in that range. Check eBay, our online tool guide, or do a general internet search. If you do intend on hanging on to quality tools for a long time, you'll probably need something in the range of 50-250 in-lbs and 10-100 ft-lbs. If you can only afford one wrench, buy the one you will use the most.
There are two types of torque wrenches: the "clicker" and the "deflection beam". Professionals use the clicker kind, but for the new mechanic it may make more sense to start out with a deflection beam type. They're cheaper and they don't have to be re-calibrated. Spending less money on each one may help to ensure that you will get both of the wrenches that you need. The major drawback to deflection beam wrenches is that you have to be able to look at the scale while you work, which can be a bit of a pain at times and is why professional mechanics use clicker-types. You use clickers just like a regular ratchet, but they click, or sometimes sort of shudder, when the proper torque is achieved, which makes them a little easier and faster to use.
Deflection beam torque wrench on left; clicker type on right.
Also, be aware while you're shopping that the first and last 10% of the range isn't accurate on a wrench, so buy one that fits the majority of your work. For instance, a 10-100 ft-lbs wrench has a range of 90, so it is only accurate from about 19 to 91, by the time you take 10% off each end. And remember, a torque wrench is only used to check the tension on nuts/bolts. Don't use it to loosen bolts with. That's what a ratchet or breaker bar is for.
Note: Always return your torque wrench to the bottom of its range (e.g. 10 ft-lbs on a 10-100 ft-lb wrench) when not in use. This will take the tension off the spring inside and keep it in calibration longer.
Note 2: Practice using your torque wrench before you put it to real use. You don't want to strip your oil drain plug because you didn't know what your torque wrench felt like when it hit the proper torque.
Chain adjusting tools
The next item of maintenance a rider is likely to encounter is adjusting the chain. This is one of those areas where a socket just won't work and you need a wrench. You'll still need a socket to loosen the rear axle, but the wrench will be used for adjusting the tension of the chain. You need to buy wrenches in the same sizes as the sockets mentioned above. Another cheap but handy tool is a 6" metal machinist's ruler ~ this will easily fit under the swingarm and give you accurate measurements for checking the slack ($3 anywhere). Similarly, a standard issue tape measure (the kind that you pull out of a body, usually goes to about 7 or 10') will come in handy for measuring the distance from the center of the axle to the center of the swingarm pivot on both sides, so you can ensure that the wheel is straight in the swingarm.
Tire changing tools
Changing tires will probably be the next issue that crops up, but you already have the tools necessary for the job with the sockets you bought earlier. You might need to buy a specific size for your bike, but one socket is usually between $5 and $10, so it's not a burden at all. If you're changing the tires yourself and not just taking the wheels off and taking them to a shop, you'll need a couple extra tools.
By this time it's probably winter, and you're going to want to put the bike away for a few months. Since you want it to start easily when you pull it out the next season, you're going to need to drain the carbs of fuel so they don't get all gummed up. This is a REALLY simple task, but you need some screwdrivers. This is the one place you are urged to splurge and buy the best that's out there. Buggered-up screws are always headaches and are easily avoided by using a quality tool, and always using the right size screwdriver for the job. You'll want to buy a #1, #2 and #3 Phillips, and small and large flat blade screwdrivers. Stubbies, long shaft, and other odd screwdrivers can be of lower quality, but not the ones you use on a daily basis.
At some point you're going to need to remove the fairing or something else that uses Allen screws. There are a few options for Allen drivers: A set of individual keys (usually with a ball on the long end), a set of T-handles, or a set of 3/8-drive sockets. You'll probably use the sockets the most, followed by the T's, and rarely pull out the individual keys. You'll want a set from 3mm to 10mm. The better the quality, the less likely they will round off. (In this case the tool rounds off, while the screw is somewhat salvageable).
Tools for valve adjustment
With all the success you've had doing maintenance, you might finally decide to take on a valve adjustment. Your tool kit is becoming fairly well-stocked, and you have most of the tools needed to do the job. The only 2 new additions at this point are the Factory valve adjustment tool and feeler gauges. Long feeler gauges (5" or longer) of the 'go, no-go' design are easier to use in tight spaces like the EX250 head.
Other tools you ought to pick up as time and money allow (these can all be cheaper, though it's always a good idea to buy something with a warranty) are:
You'll find by this point that you're fairly comfortable working on your bike. After you have all the tools you need, start getting those that will make doing the work easier/quicker. One example is a T-handle that can accommodate 3/8-drive sockets. You may find you use it more than your actual socket wrenches. As you do more work, you'll always find an excuse to buy more tools.
Hopefully this will help the newer riders out there who often have simple questions of the maintenance nature. Get the proper resources, use the right tools, and you'll be well on your way to a well-maintained bike.