Sometimes when there’s not a mechanic in sight, you need to know how to do it all by yourself, especially if you’re on a road trip. Kate Robinson speaks to Andrew Souto from VIP Bikes to get a beginners’ guide to motorcycle maintenance. Photos by Julie Vola


Do you ride a motorbike? Do you know anything about it? No, “I turn it on and it goes” does not count. Most of us are riding around on these machines every day, and we have no idea how they work. We rely on little more than good will, superstition, and prayer, and when they stop working, it’s always a disconcerting (and often inconvenient) surprise.

The talented and charitable folks over at VIP Bikes took pity on us and spent a day showing us around our own bikes. So for those of us who know nothing (other than “that wing mirror looks broken”), here is a guide to basic motorbike maintenance and repair.




Tool Bag



These are some basic, portable tools that would be useful for anyone attempting roadside motorbike repairs:

— patch kit


— combination pliers

— screwdriver (both Philips head and flat head / blade)

— tyre lever

— adjustable wrench (6 or 8-inch)

— ring spanner




Basic checks to perform on a bike before buying, renting, or going on a road trip


Visual Checks



— Are there any fluids leaking? Check the engine area or underneath the bike for oil; check the shock absorbers (and wheel areas if you have disk brakes) for hydraulic fluid leaks.

— Are the tyres worn? There should be a depth of at least 3mm (about the size of the head of a match) left on your treads.
If not, they need to be replaced.

— While you’re looking at the tyres, check the pressure. If it looks visibly flat or feels heavy/mushy when you ride, get them pumped up.

— Are there any rust spots, especially on the spokes or chain (if it’s visible)? If so, put some lubricant on the rusty patch and make sure to keep it out of the rain. If it’s really bad, take the bike to a mechanic to grind or brush and repaint the part, or get it replaced.



Thorough Checks



— Open the cap on the chain guard with a flat head (blade) screwdriver and check the tension on the chain by inserting your index finger in the hole and pushing up and down. If the chain touches the chain guard at the bottom, it’s too loose, but it should
move up and down a bit (roughly one inch of play is fine). A loose chain will affect your acceleration and is more likely to come off the sprocket, while an overly tight chain will wear out the chain and sprocket more quickly.

Also, while you’re in there, check to see if the chain is dry; if so, lube it up!


— Check the nuts where the brake line meets the drum on each wheel (if you don’t have disk brakes) to make sure they’re not screwed all the way in; if they are, your brake shoes are worn out and need to be replaced. Also check the play on the hand and
foot brakes to make sure they’re tight or loose enough. There should be a little free play before you feel the brakes catching (too tight and they overheat, too loose and you can’t brake hard enough.)


— If you have disc brakes, carefully feel the disc to make sure it’s not rough or has a lip (Beware: if you’ve been driving, this may be hot!). If so, there is something grinding on it somewhere. Take it in to a mechanic.



— Check the oil by twisting the cap on the oil tank with a pair of pliers. The oil should be the colour of honey or coffee; if it’s milky or black, your oil needs to be replaced (milky oil means there’s water in it, and black means it’s old and dirty).


The cap should be too tight to take off with your hands — if it wasn’t, make sure it is when you put it back on. This prevents water, road dust, and mischievous friends from getting in and messing with your oil.


— Check your wheel and steering bearings by putting your bike on its centre stand, gripping each wheel, and wiggling it left to right, and then back to front. If there’s any play, you need to go see a mechanic to fix your wheel bearings.


— Check the wheel alignment to make sure the wheels are on straight by counting the indicator lines on the axle; the indicator should be on the same line on both sides of the wheel. If not, it’s not on straight.


— Check the battery (if visible) for any corrosion. Take it in to a mechanic to check your electric system if you see any. Fun fact; if your bike fails in cold weather, it’s most likely the battery.



Useful Motorbike Words in Vietnamese*

*Where there is a variation between north and south, the northern word is written first


— motorbike / xe máy or xe honda

— mechanic / thợ sửa xe

— chain / dây xích or dây sên

— wheel / bánh xe

— tyre / lốp xe or vỏ xe

— inner tube / xăm xe or ruột xe

— puncture / thủng lốp or lủng bánh

— brakes / phanh or thắng

— lights / đèn xe

— ignition / nổ máy or đề máy

— oil / dầu or nhớt

— petrol / xăng

— steering / điều khiển xe or lái xe

— choke / kéo le or kéo e

— oil change / thay dầu or thay nhớt

— tighten / vặn ốc or xiết ốc

— gear shift / sang số or vô số

— 1st gear, 2nd gear, 3rd gear, 4th gear / số 1, số 2, số 3, số 4

— kick start / đạp nổ máy or đạp máy

— doesn’t work/is broken/has a problem / hỏng xe or hư xe

— strange sound / tiếng lạ or kêu lạ

— pump / bơm lốp or bơm bánh xe

— repair a puncture / vá lốp xe or vá xe



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