As part of my preparations for a ride from Melbourne to Toowoomba (in Queensland) at the end of this year, I enrolled in a TAFE short course, 'Motorcycle Maintenance'. This post is an attempt to summarize my experience of the course and hopefully help others decide if the course might also be worthwhile for them. The course runs approximately once a month at Homesglen Institute of TAFE (Chadstone Campus.) The course is run as a sequence of three, three-hour evening sessions. The cost at time of writing was $180 including GST. Course Homepage Session Summary Week 1 The first week of the course consisted of theory on how the common motorcycle engine works (both two- and four-stroke engines.) Although they work differently the science behind their operation is essentially identical. The session was presented in a relaxed, lecture format. Despite the lack of teaching aids the teacher does a good job of explaining the majority of concepts and is more than happy to answer questions. At this point it's probably worthwhile to say a few words about the teacher. Hugh is a motorcycle mechanic by day and specializes in all things dynos. He's easy to get on with and seems genuinely knowledgeable on the subject, no doubt in part to his years in the field. Week 2 At least two full boxes of motorcycle engine parts lay strewn across a table in the centre of the room. Everything from clutch plates to valve springs, to cylinders, cylinder heads and cam shafts. Like a little kid my eyes lit up at this point! We were provided with a set of colour ink-jet printed handouts, neatly summarizing the content of the previous week (two- and four-stroke engines.) The session consisted mainly of passing parts around the room for everyone to feel and inspect, with running commentary from our teacher to explain what we were looking at. There were a wide assortment of parts including multiple examples of the same component from different eras. For me it was fascinating to see the difference in size and weight for two equivalent parts made in different periods. Engines are much smaller, lighter and more powerful than they used to be! We were also shown the results of what can happen if something goes awry. Exhibits including a broken connecting-rod and cylinder head from a race engine that rev'd a little too high. Commentary was occasionally interrupted by an interesting story or a question from one of the other students. Week 3 A cheap Chinese dirt-bike is wheeled into the centre of the classroom. The bike was in fairly bad condition and as such the session revolved around finding and fixing problems with it. Several bits were bent, broken, missing or twisted so there was plenty to do. The session was basically a live demonstration of various adjustments and problems, with plenty of opportunity to touch and ask questions. The issues we touched included: - Tools and tool quality - Lubricating cables (clutch and throttle) - Adjusting clutch freeplay - Fixing a loose handlebar grip - Unsticking a very dodgy throttle - Cleaning and maintaining air-filters - Changing spark plugs - Checking and changing engine oil - Batteries, regulator-rectifiers and charging - Adjusting chain freeplay - Chain lubrication and cleaning - Bike cleaning Summary The first two weeks are a good background on motorcycle engines and through the various component exhibits in week two provide a familiarity that cannot be learned from words or pictures alone. Week three provided enough visual detail and opportunity for discussion to become somewhat familiar with some basic maintenance tasks, although there was little opportunity for each student to practice any of the activities individually. The theory presented in the course provides an intellectual framework for basic fault diagnosis and repair. The Long Road Trip Considering the maintenance items we covered in week three and the kinds of issues I predict I am most likely to encounter on a long road trip, there are probably a couple of obvious items I would also have liked to have covered: - Repairing tubeless tyre punctures (using a commonly available tyre repair kit) - Replacing broken cables Bulb replacement might have also been on that list if it weren't for my having to replace my own headlight bulb in the first week of the course! Conclusions Combining my past reading on petrol engines, my insignificant mechanical experience with my own bike and my engineering background (in software and electronics I might add!) the course provides a sound foundation for many basic maintenance tasks. It goes a small way to reducing the steep learning curve likely to be encountered by anyone who is suddenly forced to diagnose a fault for the first time, due to a breakdown or other similarly severe problem. I am tempted to speculate however, that someone without my background or experience may find themselves feeling far less confident than I performing similar maintenance tasks on completion of the course. The course could possibly be improved in this regard by the addition of another session to provide all students with an opportunity to practice some basic maintenance themselves. For me the course was value for money; compared to what I am used to paying for education and compared with the cost of basic repairs, spare parts or a decent toolkit, the cost was negligible. I went into the course with an open-mind, not knowing what to expect and have come out richer for it. Words of Wisdom Finally some words of advice of my own. If you're considering doing your own maintenance, invest in a workshop manual for your bike (and be sure it's for your model and country if possible.) Consider doing some reading of your own if you've not any previous background in engines or things mechanical. Get your information from a variety of sources, not just one place - sometimes a person with a lot of experience is just well practiced at doing it badly!