Many classic bike enthusiasts enjoy working on their bikes. From routine maintenance to full restorations, small workshops all over the world will be humming to the sound of tools on bikes as classic bike mechanics get to work.
Setting up a work shop seems easy on the face of it: lots of light, a bench and some tools. But working on a motorcycle that will be ridden (against just displayed) requires more than basic mechanical skills, and therefore, requires more than a basic work shop.
When the home mechanic sets up a workshop, he must think of the safety aspects first and foremost. Safety in a workshop applies to most of the items within it. For instance:
Good lighting is paramount in a workshop. Ideally, natural light should be used wherever possible, but as this is most likely a hobby, the mechanic will be working on the bike at night. Therefore, full spectrum, white light fluorescents are the best choice.
Keeping the floor of a workshop clean is very important from a safety perspective, and also ensures an enjoyable environment in which to work. If the base is concrete, it should be sealed and painted with a hard wearing epoxy paint—available from all good do-it-yourself and hardware stores.
Ceiling and Walls
The ceiling must reflect as much light back to the work area as possible, therefore highly reflective white is best. The same finish can be applied to walls, again to reflect light back to the work area.
Often overlooked, ventilation is of course critically important. When planning the layout of a workshop, consideration must be given for good ventilation. This includes an area designated for battery charging (for instance) to have fresh air circulation. Any areas used for welding must have fume extractors if any quantity of welding is to be undertaken.
Regardless of the climate, doors need to be a good fit—either they will retain the heat in a cold climate or conversely retain the cool in a warm climate. All workshops should have two doors (ideally) in case of fire. If the doors open inwards, the mechanic should avoid positioning any machinery near to them if space permits.
For the serious home mechanic, a good quality tool box with professional grade tools is a must. The box should be positioned as close as possible to the main work area (bench or motorcycle lift) and away from any grinding dust or spray painting area.
Typically, work benches are used for laying things out, as in engine disassembly. It is therefore good practice to have a strong bench with a non-porous surface (stainless steel). A vice should be positioned on the right side for right-handed mechanics and conversely on the left for left-handed ones. Where the bench is pushed up to a wall, it is good practice to have a stainless (or other non-absorbent material) back guard.
There are many proprietary motorcycle lifts on the market. The home mechanic must decide if the expense of a lift is justified. However, as classic bike owners tend to enjoy working on their bikes, a good quality lift will ensure proper posture during mechanical work and will also serve as a place to secure the bike.
Working alone on machinery can be very dangerous. As this often happens with home mechanics, all machines should be fitted with emergency cutoff switches. Machines should be positioned according to what they do; for instance, machines that give off metallic chips (such as drilling or turning machines) should not be located near to an area where open engines will be worked on.
Air tools can be a great time saver and make many jobs easy to accomplish. But compressed air equipment can be dangerous. Most air tools will need a steady supply of between 80 and 100 psi (lb.’s per square inch) to operate efficiently, and this level of pressure must be treated with respect. The rubber hoses are particularly vulnerable to cuts and leaks (stand on the line then disconnect if a hose bursts) and care must always be exercised when pulling the hose around the shop. The owner must read, and follow, all of the safety advice supplied with both the compressor and all air tools.
Metal bins/trash cans are essential for a clean shop. Containers should also be available for waste oil, brake fluid and metals.
Chemical fire extinguishers are a must for any workshop. Even with safe working practices, a fire can start due to unforeseen circumstances. A relatively inexpensive extinguisher can save a classic motorcycle, the workshop and the house to which they are often attached and of course humans and pets. As with all safety equipment, the operator must know how to use it efficiently, therefore it is imperative to read all the instructions supplied with the equipment (it’s not a good time to be reading the label when the bike is on fire!).
Although most safety aspects related to a classic motorcycle workshop are based on common sense, a well laid-out clean and well-lit shop will add greatly to the pleasure of working in there.