Tips for Using a Foot-Activated Motorcycle Lift

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Recently one of my Twitter followers, Pete Gough, saw a picture on Twitter of “Cal” sitting on his motorcycle lift in my garage.
motorcycle lift

This resulted in Pete asking the question:  “How do I find a good position under the bike to lift it using that particular style jack?”

The combo motorcycle-ATV jack is probably the most commonly used motorcycle lift by amateur mechanics.  Shops and people with a little more disposable income use table tops, powered by compressed air.  Dirt bike guys sometimes use the simple dirt bike stand.

Anyways, the short answer to Pete’s question is that getting the motorcycle lift situated in its most stable configuration under the bike is not easy.  These lifts require a little finesse and a lot of patience.  Below are a few tips and tricks for safely using a foot-activated motorcycle lift:

1) If your bike is very low to the ground like mine, get yourself a pair of wheel lifts.  I have two that I carefully place a few feet in front of the front and rear wheel, respectively.  I then roll the bike onto the wheel lifts before sliding the motorcycle lift under the center of the frame.  In my case, the bike wouldn’t even clear the lift without them.

2) Focus on getting the center of the engine, firmly over the front lift bar.  The focus here is getting the bikes center of gravity in the right spot.  The front lift bar should rest under a flat section of the frame a few inches before the frame starts to curve up toward the triple tree.  This will keep the bike from rocking front-to-back during any hard wrenching.

3) More important than the front-to-back positioning is the side-to-side positioning of the motorcycle lift under the frame.  There should be equal quantities of buffer space on either side of the bike where the lift arms jut beyond the frame itself.  This is where my OCD takes over, and I might re-position the lift 6 or 7 times before feeling confident the bike is perfectly centered.

I pump up the lift so that the bike is stable, walk around and inspect, and then lower it down and try again.  I think the most dangerous situation with these lifts would be if you were wrenching on something hard and one of the frame tubes was to slide off one side.  The bike would fall over immediately.  At least if the bike started to rock forward or back, it might land on a wheel.

4) Once you are confident the bike is centered perfectly on the motorcycle lift, lock the lift wheels and make sure the lift stabilizers are screwed tightly to the ground.  Under no circumstances should the lift itself move.

5) These lifts generally have several locked height positions available.  Essentially you pump them up to a certain point and then push the locking bar down into position.  You might be inclined to leave the bike very close to the ground, below the first available locking position.  I can tell you that this isn’t smart.  The key is to lift the bike past the first locking position and then lower it back down while sliding the locking bar into place.

Make sure both sides of the locking bar engage.  As an additional measure, I place some baby bungee cords across the bottom of the lift over the locking bar.  This is an additional measure to make sure the locking bar doesn’t accidentally disengage.  The reason I am an advocate of getting the lift into a locked position is that over time, those foot-activated pumps loose their seal.  The result is that the bike will slowly lower itself to the ground.  I actually came back one time to find my bike leaning over, about to fall off the lift because it had lowered itself down completely in my absence.

6) Finally, get yourself a set of ratcheting tie-downs.  These lifts have solid connection points meant for either bungee cords or ratcheting tie-downs.  I generally have two tie-downs and two bungee cords crossing up-and-over the bike at any give time.  With these in place, I can shake hard and the bike will barely move.

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Also, forgive any typos or grammatical errors a I wrote this blog post from my phone.

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2 thoughts on “Tips for Using a Foot-Activated Motorcycle Lift”

  1. Thanks for this. My frustration when trying to get a good position is that the side stand gets in the way with it usually having to be in the up, stowed, position in order to get a horizontal lift, otherwise the bike is tending to lean to the left on the stand. I guess it needs a lot of trial and error to get it right.

    1. Christopher Pumo

      The kickstand can definitely be an issue for some depending on its relative placement on the bike front-to-back. I would think regardless of the position of the kickstand, if you leave it in the down position, and approach the bike with the lift from the non-kickstand side it would not be an issue. What kind of bike do you have? I would like to google some pictures and see if I can help further. And yes, it is trial-and-error to get it just right.

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