In this post, I want to explore just how far can or should someone go with maintenance at home. The answers will vary greatly depending on numerous factors. Obviously riding a motorcycle doesn't mean you can maintain or repair one.
When I rode motocross and competed in Europe, I was given a highly modified bike from a shop out of California named R&D Motors. This 80cc bike I received had a custom exhaust, bored cylinder, front forks from a 125cc, custom swing arm and rear suspension, high-performance carb, etc. The only problem with the bike that we were warned about was that the thing had so much torque we would have to replace the piston rod bearings every 4 motos. This involved removing the exhaust, carb, head, and piston and getting to the piston bearing, which would just crumble into little pieces as it was removed. At the age of 14, I performed this maintenance task every other week myself.
My stepfather owned his own BMW motorcycle repair shop for 21 years, and I would often hang around his shop as well. We also did some classic car restoration. Together we restored a 57 Thunderbird convertible and a 72 Mustang Mach I fastback from the ground up. We broke them down to the frame/unibody and began rebuilding from there.
Not everyone has the Motorsport history and experiences that I have had. This has been a tremendous help in performing my own maintenance without concern on both our bikes and cars. Even if you don't have the background, it doesn't mean you can't do this stuff yourself; it just means you will need to read the service manual thoroughly for whatever task you want to perform. It also means you might have to spend some money on special tools for different tasks. I always figure it this way: I can take it apart and put it back together if someone built it. If I mess it up, I can haul it into the shop and pay them to fix it. I would have had to pay them to do what I was trying to do anyway, so I'll try it myself first.
Warranty Work vs. Maintenance
Another point before we delve into details is Warranty Work. I believe in letting the dealership repair the bike if it's under warranty. A distinction needs to be made about the difference between maintenance and warranty work. Maintenance is NOT covered by your warranty. The warranty covers mechanical and electrical malfunctions and breakages. If something breaks and you've got a warranty, let them fix it. I would also recommend purchasing an extended warranty. Maintenance has to be paid for if you take your bike in for it. Work such as oil changes, lubrication, air filter cleaning/change, tire replacement, brakes, spark plugs replacement, etc., are not covered. Maintenance plans are sometimes available, and even tire replacement plans which will cover a specified amount of whatever is outlined by the plan. I didn't purchase these for either of our bikes, so I can't comment on their details.
Personal Mechanical Ability
Everyone has varying degrees of mechanical ability. Again, personal history in this area will play a large role in how comfortable you are in mechanics. I'm not gonna say you can't learn if you don't have a history; it just might take a bit longer to learn details as to the what, why, when, and how's of maintenance. No matter what level you are at, get a service manual for your specific motorcycle.
Maintenance takes time. It can take even longer if you haven't performed some of the tasks before. My first oil change on my Street Glide took 1.5 hours. I had to keep referring to the manual for information even though I know the principles of performing an oil change, and I didn't have a process established for this bike. Now I can do an oil change in 30 minutes. Maintenance will directly take time away from your day that you may not want to give up. That's understandable. Remember, though; maintenance is crucial to keeping your bike on the road; it must be performed, and if you cannot or don't want to take the time to do it, then take your bike to the shop and have it done.
This one could go hand in hand with time. It can become very frustrating at times when performing maintenance. The level of maintenance will also directly affect your patience. For instance, steering head bearing lubrication is very clean, easy, and takes about 5 minutes. Oil changes require laying on your side to get under the bike, messy oil, more processes, and more time. Your patience can play hard into this if it's 90+ degrees outside and you're sweating profusely trying to get it done. If you get angry or frustrated easily, self-maintenance may not be for you.
Most regular maintenance will not require much in the way of special tools. Some special tools might make it easier to perform the maintenance. You may have to buy tools to do some tasks, and it won't cost all that much. An oil filter wrench, Torx sets, and Spark Plug Gap Gauge are some of the special tools most people don't have laying around. Again, the level of maintenance will directly affect what tools you might need. Also, be sure to separate maintenance tool requirements from repair tool requirements. Maintenance will require far less specialized tools than repairs.
Unfortunately, most of us are not self-made millionaires, lottery winners, or inheritors of expansive European estates. It's convenient to take your bike in and pay someone to do it all for you if you can afford it. If I didn't perform my own maintenance with my finances, I would not be riding a Harley. At dealership prices, I simply cannot afford their cost for maintenance. However, if you read my post about oil changes, the first oil change you do can save you enough money to buy most of the tools you'll need to perform your own regular maintenance for years to come. Thus saving you lots of money down the road. You'll have to decide for yourself if the savings are worth dealing with some of the other points this post is covering. Either way, your gonna be spending money, just far less by doing it yourself.
You need the space to do this stuff. You need to have space to store the tools and materials. This usually means shelves and/or toolboxes and space for those as well. There are many variables on the issue of space. Some people won't mind working outside in the open on their driveway, while others might have a nice shop in a separate building. No matter the situation, it will take some space to perform the work and store the supplies.
This could possibly be the most important reason NOT to perform your own maintenance. Since regular maintenance is a must, you won't be able to let it go. Whether it's 110 degrees outside or 40 degrees outside, you've got to do it if you're going to ride. You could quickly get overheated or super cold unless you have a heated or air-conditioned space. This could be a health concern.
There is a lot of bending, twisting, getting up and down, laying on your side, etc., involved as well. You can get scraped, cut, and bruised if you're not careful. You might have a reaction to certain oils or cleaners used for maintenance. Chemical cleaners could cause skin or inhalation reactions for some people. If there are any health concerns, don't do it; your health is more valuable than doing it yourself. Let someone else do it and live to ride another day.
Desire And Personal Enjoyment
I personally enjoy doing the work myself. I look forward to doing it, as crazy as it may sound. It's nice to take my time, enjoy the day, and wash my bike afterward. Usually, one of my sons or Margaret spends time helping me or just hanging out with me while I work. I value that time with them and appreciate that they take time to spend with me working on my bike.
I like knowing without question that the work is performed correctly and thoroughly upon completion. It lets me go over the bike and check for loose bolts, fixtures, or possible wear on parts. For me, it's another way to enjoy all aspects of having a bike. You may not feel the same way.
If working on it becomes a chore that you just hate to perform, you probably shouldn't do it. You may make mistakes or perform improper procedures. Incorrect fluid/lube levels or torque specifications might be overlooked just to get the chore over with. It can also become easy to put it off for another week if you get that sick feeling when you think about having to do it. All of this could lead to engine damage or worse, depending on what type of work you perform. Do it because you want to, not because you have to.