Learn Moto

How we became motorcycle mechanics.

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Two wheelers unite!

A moped. Those who think these are crappy motorbikes are fundamentally mistaken, these are the essence of motorized two wheelers.

A moped. Those who think these are crappy motorbikes are fundamentally mistaken, these are the essence of motorized two wheelers. (Image from http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclomoteur, published under CC )

There seems to be a rather thin line where motorcyclists share interest with bicyclists or the other way around. From a basic point of view, they are almost opposite of each other, motorbikes are machine powered, bicycles are human powered.
For me both are human powered. One needs less techincal human knowledge and more physical strength, while the other needs more imagination and less human power. But forgetting about the men’s brain and willpower behind the motorbike is as stupid as spilling gasoline on a bicycle waitig for the horsepowers to awaken.
Their purposes are slightly different, but the idea is similar: be faster, be happier. If you look closely,  all the differences highlight the similarities and the mutual territorries. Bicycle people tend to focus on raw strength while forgetting the power in mechanical excellence. The mechanical condition does weigh in by a lot to how fast or far you can go – a lesson to be learned from the motorcycle world. And there is another way to put it. Does anyone really want to go on a long motorcycle roadtrip without being able to cycle around town? Motorcycling does need physical strength. Riding a bicycle as habit is definately a benefitial one for any two wheeler motorist.
And for those who stick too much to each side, god created the mopeds (cyclomotors).


Electricity Basics

px 200 electricity

Unmounted dashboard of a PX200 Vespa.

How much of motorcycle science is mechanics? That’s what most people think of when it comes to repair or tuning. Well, it’s a lot more diverse then just that. There’s a spectrum of natural and engineering sciences involved, including fluid mechanics, material sciences, thermodynamics (just think about what’s happening in the cylinder!), a lot of chemistry (fuels, lubricants, batteries), and yes, there is Electricity. With a capital E.

Could a bike work without it?

Maybe. Allow me another question: What’s the difference between Diesel and Otto (petrol) engines? The most significant is the spark plugs, which are essential to ignite the gas-air mixture in the cylinder, otherwise nothing would happen so to speak. Diesel engines don’t have spark plugs, but the movement of the piston compresses the mixture to the ratio where it self-ignites. It’s a working cycle, without electricity.

The truth is that not a lot of diesel bikes had been built throughout history, and even those probably had electric supply and system for electric start, lights, dashboard or signals which are essential for any motorbike. Today’s motorbikes however have even a lot more taken care of by electricity, some of which make them more reliable, faster, during, and some just help the engineers to solve design problems.

In the early 90’s, the place of carburateurs started to be taken by fuel injection systems, in cars and motorcycles as well. This system has a lots of advantages to carburateurs, but to achieve those, it needs to rely on information from sensors hidden at many parts of the bike. It’s not coincidential that the revolution of fuel injection happend when the personal computer and intergrated circuit industry boomed. Modern bikes have their electric brains, actual computers, usually called ECU or PCM. These words refer to expressions such as ‘Engine Controlling Unit’, therefore when you ask:

Does a Mechanic need to know all about this?

You’ve got your answer. It’s a deep science and perhaps it’s almost impossible to know and learn all about integrated circuits and the material sciences of pistons at the same time. It’s just not the same genre at all. But even if you’re a fan of kickstarter bikes with no lights and battery but just a spark plug cable, knowing how electric systems on modern bikes work could even help you to amend your old bike, in many more way then you might think.

Motorcycle movies

Coming from the moving picture industry it is about time to write a few lines about movies on the motorcycle topic. There are many, and even more of those telling motorcycle club stories of villains and savages, freedom also, but of which can we learn anything related to bike maintenance, and more about the bike culture rather then just the gang culture ? Not that villains are any less exciting. Here’s my list:

1, On any sunday 1971
2, TT3D: Closer to the edge 2011
3, Faster 2003
4, When playboys ruled the world 2010
5, The world’s fastest Indian 2005
6, The Girl on a motorcycle 1968

Don’t forget … good movies are always great help in finding motivation and new ways to keep things rolling in life. This also applies to learning mechanics. So sit back, and watch !

Art and Science


This is one of the many good related books, which I have purchased at my local second hand book shop, for the price of an ice cream. Well written, with many correspondence from racers and experts, good photos, and technical drawings, it gives not only a remark of the times that well preceded the GP going 4 stroke ( the book was published in 1981), but a jaw dropping insight in riding techniques, including countersteering and far beyond.

A deeper joy

piston in a cup
Motorcycles are mass produced. In a way, the whole of it is widespread popular culture. You can see it on television, nothing proves it more firmly then that.  Still, if you would pose the question ‘Why?’ to the next guy you bump into that wears a helmet, on your street corner perhaps, surely you’ll  get a somewhat philosophical answer. Isn’t that contraversial? Well, yeah, I mean, even if it was, who cared? Shut up and ride. Whether you are into philosophy or not, we can all agree on that.

Or repair, make better, tune up!

There is a lot of joy in simply discovering and undertanding the machine that drives the force, the torque that makes your veins pump blood like a five year old sucking that mass produced, but hell-so-sweat soda.  Were you a good mechanic, you may even overstand an image that was put together by thousands of genious engineers. That’s good stuff.  And there is something deep there you can learn when you realize that nothing lasts for ever, so mass production is just as human as it could be. You want living things to seem outstanding, as a proof of a worthy existence, but things get worn out, and so replacement comes handy. Could one say that creating something unique, building something new that pumps life or gasoline through its veins is like exiting the life-cycle of birth and death? Is custom mechanics Nirvana itself? I can only tell you by the smile I’ll be wearing once I get to the point of seeing such a birth of my own creation. It will take time but it’s on the way.

“Other people can talk about…”

“Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

A great read! The book above should really  be taught among future mechanics, so put it on your list of homeworks! Nonetheless, it is one of those rare pieces of literature that you can read again from time to time for more joy and enlightment.


So what’s common about motorcycles and washing machines? They both have repair manuals. But don’t be mistaken, these are not like those manuals that tell you that if you drop your cell phone in a sink it will most probably stop working. However, for easier understanding, usually they even come with a lot of technical drawings and photographs, it never tells you to seek professional assistance. The simple reason for that is that they are meant for professionals. Pro mechanics need these so they can quickly see how the bike is designed, and what is best for it. Many variables are determined by the manufacturer, who actually know the inside-out and the background of their bikes, hence being the creators, they know it better then any mechanic.

A GSXR-750 engine and the repair manual in our school.