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Which motorcycles are well known for being easy to maintain and repair, and would be suited for a beginner to cut his teeth on? What are some features of motorcycles that I should look for, when trying to decide if a motorcycle would be best suited for me to learn maintenance and repair on?

I'm looking for a cruiser or touring bike, I've little to no experience with mechanical work, and I'm looking for a bike that will let me learn at my own pace, rather than force me to dive in to the deep end.

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It would be helpful if you could tell us what kind of motorcycle you're interested in (cruiser, sport, tourer, etc.), how experienced/comfortable you are with mechanical work and whether you're looking for something low-maintenance or one that will force you to do some wrenching. –  Blrfl Aug 21 '11 at 22:54
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2 Answers

Some things to consider when looking at bikes if learning to do maintenance is a consideration:

  • Age. Older bikes tend to be much simpler, but they're not as well-engineered and well-manufactured as newer ones. Some will need more wrench time because of it.

  • Availability of Parts. If you're buying an older bike, make sure you can get parts for it. Motor vehicle manufacturers selling in the U.S. are required to supply parts for ten years after a model is out of production. Some models which were popular or shared parts with other models tend to have most the essential parts (e.g., mechanicals but not cosmetic things like trim) available for longer.

  • Style. The physical arrangement of the motorcycle will have a lot to do with how difficult it is to do certain things like checking and adjusting the valve clearance. Some bikes (notably full-dress tourers) have a lot of fairing parts that have to come off to get to the innards. Cruisers and naked standard bikes tend to be more open.

  • Origin. Japanese motorcycles tend to be relatively low-maintenance and don't take a lot of effort. At the other end of the spectrum are Italian and German bikes which usually need more. Service manuals for some more recent German models have been known to be written with the assumption that you've been through the manufacturer's training and have a full set of special tools to do the work. American and British models fall in the middle.

  • Factory Documentation. A service manual will spell out all of the maintenance and repair procedures in detail. There are third-party manuals, but some aren't as good and may include a lot of boilerplate text that doesn't accurately describe the bike.

  • Support. There's a forum on the Internet that caters to practically every bike that's ever been made in any quantity. There are usually a few people on each who know the bike very well and can answer questions or have written articles on how to do specific services. These are also good places to find out about what typically goes wrong with a specific model.

HTH.

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Can you give an example or two of the types of forums you're talking about? –  blueberryfields Aug 28 '11 at 23:14
    
Sure: fjowners.com, vroc.org, st-owners.com. Google pretty much any model and the word "forum" and you'll find them. –  Blrfl Aug 29 '11 at 10:19
    
@jzd: Thanks for the edit. –  Blrfl Sep 2 '11 at 19:57
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I've had a succession of Honda NTV's over the years and been very happy with them. They are pretty bulletproof, being shaft drive, yet still a nice commuter ride.

I bumped into a previous owner of one of my NTV's who told me he'd taken it touring around Norway and Sweden, while my father had a Deauville for a year doing roving traffic reports for a local Radio station and he said it was more comfortable than his Harley for long rides.

They were quite popular in years past and were manufactured for many years, so there are plenty of old bikes for sale as runners, for spares or repair, or been broken up in scrap yards. It was also popular enough to encourage people to manufacture pattern parts for it.

The earlier NTV600's are now dirt cheap, and had the prettier short exhaust pipe, but the later NTV650's were manufactured for more years. The 650's also have more in common with modern Honda Deauville (NT700V). The NTVs, IMHO, were conceived of during the nice sweet spot in bike design, between modern techniques being perfected (they are much smoother than their predecessor, the CX500) and bikes getting unnecessarily complex (is fuel injection really necessary?).

The only real downside to the design is access to the carbs and spark plugs. The compact arrangement of the engine and chassis, which makes it such a nice shape for commuting also complicates access to some components. It's not as bad as some bikes, but might be a consideration if you intend to be stripping the cylinder heads every weekend. *8')

Finally, I managed to pick up a copy of the Honda service manual quite cheaply, which is quite useful.

Overall the NTV series benefits from a nice, reliable design and you soon get used to the foibles of shaft drive. While it feels a little odd under hard acceleration at first, compared to chain or belt driven bikes, the fact that you never have to worry about lubrication or tensioning will win you over if you are doing enough miles.

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This does sound like an interesting bike to look at. Thanks for the advice, I'll look into it. –  blueberryfields Sep 8 '11 at 4:16
    
I want to argue your point about fuel injection being “unnecessarily complex”. I much rather prefer simple reliable FI systems (yes, those do exist), than messing with carbs on inline-four, for instance. My FI adjusts to air-intake (condition of the filter and/or altitude), and temperatures (no warm-up in the winter), and consequently achieves better fuel economy and performance year-round without extensive maintenance. –  theUg May 21 '12 at 5:45
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