The most used tools in your toolbox will probably be your ratchets and socket sets. Hopefully this goes without saying, but sockets are used like wrenches to tighten and loosen 6 point or 12 point head bolts and nuts. However, using sockets and ratchets allow you to work more efficiently. It allows for the socket to stay purchased on the fastener while your ratchet will do the work. Okay, that is basic enough but what should you look for when purchasing a socket set to help with your motorcycle repair?
Most all adventure and dual sport motorcycles will use metric fasteners. So if you aren’t buying a set with both metric and SAE then I would lean towards the metric side of things. Most fastener head sizes on anything on the outside of an engine are between 8mm and 15mm. However, having a set that goes at least from 6mm to 22mm is good.
About Socket Construction
The first thing you need to realize about socket sets is that they come in different sizes. Now before you say "yeah no kidding", I'm not talking about the end that engages with the fastener, I'm talking about the end that connects to the ratchet. This is called the drive end. There are several different size drive ends but the most common size ratchet drives are 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2".
You can see in the picture these 3 different ratchet drives. So if you are buying a set of sockets separate of the ratchet. Make sure they match.
6 Point vs 12 Point Sockets
Be sure while picking your sockets that you know whether you are getting 12 point or 6 point sockets. Most all nuts and bolts will be 6 sided and so a 6 point socket will provide the most contact surface and will be less likely to strip the head of the bolt or the nut. However, some bolt heads and very rarely nuts, have 12 points. I mostly find 12 point bolts on engine head bolts.
You can use a 12 point socket on a 6 point bolt or nut but I would only do so if you don’t have a 6 point socket. You can not, however, use a 6 point socket on a 12 point fastener.
Nice to Have Features
Without going into too much detail, here are some features that can separate cheap sockets from nice ones.
Large stamped or engraved identification marking. The quicker you can identify the socket the quicker the job will go.
Socket plating. Chrome is the most common and a good option.
Off-Corner loading - google it
Types of Sockets
Deep Well Sockets
Just like the name suggests, deep well sockets offer a deeper well. This means that there is more space inside the socket for the nut or bolt.
Why would this matter you say? Well, sometimes you will encounter a situation where your standard socket just isn't deep enough to get a good full grip on the nut or bolt.
Deep well sockets also provide more reach without the use of extensions which is an added benefit.
Impact sockets are meant to by used with an impact gun. They are typically black in color, have heavier than typical sockets, and have thicker side wall. Impact sockets look black because the surface is carbonized (aka drop-forged) in order to harden the surface. The surface-hardening enables impact sockets to absorb sudden torque changes (aka "impact") better. With high enough impact, a regular socket may warp out of shape because the steel used there is softer.
Impact sockets can be had in different drive ends but usually are usually 3/8" or 1/2" drive. They can also be had as standard or deep well versions
Spark Plug Socket
So why can’t you just use your regular sockets for your installing or removing your spark plugs? If you have a deep well socket of the right size you certainly can. However, spark plug sockets have a few features that make the job a little easier.
Firstly, spark plug sockets are deeper than even most deep well sockets. Secondly, they have a rubber grommet on the inside of the socket that holds and protects the ceramic neck of the spark plug.
Thirdly, most of the time the drive end of the plug socket will have a hex feature when using the socket to start the plug easier and it also allows for you to use a wrench to tighten the plug or break it free when you can’t use a ratchet.
Pass through sockets are not common but useful when you need them. I haven't found too many occasions where I have need these while working on motorcycles. However, it's good for you to know what these are in case you run into a case where you need them.
Pass-thru socket will require a special pass-thru ratchet as well. Thus, they are usually sold only in sets that include the ratchet. These sockets and ratchets allow for extra long fasteners or threaded rod to be fed through the socket.