Sometimes while working on your own motorcycle you will find yourself at a hard stopping point. You can’t get to the thing that needs repair, because you don’t have the right tool.
At that point, either you take the bike to a professional mechanic who has more tools than you do, or you go buy the right tool. This “Tools You Should Own” series will feature several of the “right tools” that have repeatedly kept my motorcycles out of the hands of strangers.
If you work on bikes you probably already have the standard array of hand tools like combination wrenches, sockets, flat and Philips drivers and pliers. The next step comes when those standard tools fail you, or aren’t enough.
Do I Really Need One?
I’ve met a lot of shade-tree mechanics who think that “tight is tight,” and insist they don’t need a torque wrench. If you don’t torque the fasteners you removed, back to the proper value, what’s the consequence? You might be fine, you might snap a fastener, or something might rattle loose on the road.
I haul the torque wrench out most often not for the beefy jobs, but for the middle and small ones. I always torque things like brake caliper mount bolts, fork pinch bolts, the oil drain bolt, and the handlebar mounting bolts on the triple clamp, to their published specification. These are relatively low-torque but high-stakes fasteners. If they snap off, removing the remainder is going to give me major grief. If those fasteners come loose on the road, I’ll have a very dangerous situation on my hands.
What’s the Difference?
Torque wrenches come in the same drive sizes as socket wrenches, and those sizes cover different ranges of torque values. Your well-stocked garage should have a set of three torque wrenches: ¼” drive, ⅜” drive, and ½” drive. The smaller wrenches cover the lighter side of torque values, the ⅜” the middle, and the ½” the really big jobs, like axle nuts. Their range is in foot-pounds, inch-pounds, or newton-meters, or a combination of those. Print out a chart and don’t mix these numbers up. If you try to torque something to 40 ft/lb when in fact you should have torqued it to 40 in/lb, you’re going to have a bad time.
The useful range of your torque wrench isn’t its full spectrum. When you’re torquing a fastener, choose the wrench that has that value somewhere in the middle of its range. Using a torque wrench at the edges of its capabilities (especially the high end) can knock it out of alignment.
It’s Not a Breaker Bar
Never use a torque wrench to loosen a fastener. If you need to loosen something that is very tight, use a breaker bar. Loosening a stuck fastener with your torque wrench can damage it. You can have a torque wrench recalibrated, but it’s best to use the right tool for the job: the torque wrench to tighten something to spec, and a breaker bar for the extra leverage to loosen it.
Hopefully, you already have a good supply of sockets that will fit these torque wrenches. If you don’t, unless you’re torquing something to an extreme, a socket adapter set will help you out.
Torque wrenches are available in several different styles, the most common for our purposes are beam-type, click-type and electronic. Beam-type are the least expensive, but you need to stare at the very-analog gauge the whole time you’re using it. They’re kind of a pain.
I use click-type in my garage. When they reach the value you have set, they let out a tactile “click” letting you know you’ve made it. They’re more expensive than the beam-type but more accurate and much easier to use. Remember to set them back to zero for storage, and don’t just unwind blindly to the bump-stop beyond zero; they can be delicate and that might damage the calibration.
Electronic torque wrenches are the most expensive but the easiest to use. When they reach the preset torque value they buzz, or beep, or both. If you’re constantly using a torque wrench they are probably worth the price premium. Store your electronic torque wrenches with the batteries removed, or you will open your tool chest to find a dead wrench, every time.
Who makes your favorite torque wrench? Did you pony up for the Snap-On?