Tools for Tots

This is what they gave me...
This is what they gave me…

Spend $6,000 to $20,000 on a new motorcycle, any type, any brand, it doesn’t matter – dig out the tool kit they give you and you’ll be astounded at the piss-poor quality.

These days, it’s less of an open secret and more of a joke at how cheap manufacturer toolkits have become. They’re giving you fewer tools and the ones you get are made of low-grade metal, stuff you can practically bend with your hands. They’re the equivalent of children’s toys. And they come in these horrid little vinyl pouches that are more flimsy than a ketchup packet.

On one hand, it’s a way for manufacturers to save money. Or perhaps they figure you’re just going to go buy your own set of Sears Craftsman tools anyway. Japanese makers are notorious for it, but most of the others are just as bad. BMW has gotten worse. Harley gives you nothing.

Cheap tools are usually made of inexpensive alloys, while good tools are made of steel, which is stronger and less likely to bend or deform while you’re putting pressure on them.

Then there’s the manufacturing process itself, the way metal is shaped into a tool. Cheap tools are usually made by casting, which is heating metal until it’s liquid enough to be poured into a mold. Better tools are drop-forged, a process of hammering or pressuring hot metal into a die. These tools are stronger with more precise tolerances – your drop-forged wrench is less likely to slip off a stubborn bolt head, for example.

At any rate, onboard toolkits are important, especially if you travel any lengthy distance on a motorcycle. You have to carry a set of tools to fix any reasonable trouble that may occur.

...this is what I'll use on Terra Nova.
…this is what I’ll use on Terra Nova.

Say you’re out riding and one of your mirrors shakes loose. You stop to tighten it, only to find you need a 14mm wrench. And you have exactly one combination wrench in your little vinyl bag, a 10mm and 13mm. No adjustable wrench. So you screw the mirror back on as best you can, but now it’s pointing at the sky. And it’ll stay that way until you get a 14mm wrench or its equivalent.

What most riders do is assemble their own kits. We go through the bike and note the fasteners – hex head, Allen head, Torx – and rabbit off to Sears or Home Depot or Lowes or (if you can afford it) the Snap-On truck down the street.

That way, you know you’re covered. Ideally, you calculate need against weight and you carry enough tools to do regular maintenance on the road. You keep the tools for special jobs at home.

Some companies, like Cruz Tools, offer kits that contain decent tools in durable bags. I’ve used these on occasion – Terra Nova will have a kit originally meant for a BMW GS – but I’m always fussing with and swapping out the contents, making sure I have what I need.

Cobbling together your own kit is costly and time-consuming (who knew I needed a 27mm socket for the axles?) but it’s worth it for peace of mind.

Or I could just carry this.
Or I could just carry this.

But it’s curious how the discarded cheap tools hang around your workshop, stuffed in drawer or on a shelf or something. And they’ll stay there for years, because you can’t throw them out because, even though they’re cheap, they’re tools, you know?

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