Motorcycle Restoration - The New Old
Thinking of restoring an old bike? Read this first.
For many riders, it’s hard to forget the old motorcycle that you first learned on. Maybe it was your dream bike, or maybe it was a complete pile of junk. Your sense of nostalgia doesn’t care too much about the difference.
You might even be tempted to restore that old bike, or one just like it, in an attempt to rekindle the magic of days gone by. Perhaps you’ve just happened upon an old bike for sale and the idea of restoring it filled you with excitement.
However, before you go full bore into this or any bike restoration project, it’s important to take note of some of the pitfalls of bringing an old motorcycle back to life. Hopefully, this article will serve as a useful guide.
1. BE SURE
It’s easy to get excited by visualizing what your bike will look like at the end of your restoration. But it’s important to also consider how it will run, and what it will be worth. Motorcycle technology has come a very long way in just a few decades, and riders may find they’ve forgotten just how much those advancements mean to them. But that difference definitely exists, and it has a limiting effect upon the value of your completed restoration.
Even if you have no interest or intent to sell the bike once your restoration is complete, it is still a good idea to know what a mint version of your model is worth so that you can establish a budget and keep yourself from over-investing in the restoration. It’s possible that the price you paid for it is just about all it will ever be worth.
Some other basic points to consider before you acquire an old bike for restoration:
Has it ever been wrecked? Look for bends or breaks in the frame, fork, and suspension.
Is the engine seized? Try to kickstart it to see if the pistons still move. Don’t buy it if they don’t.
Are there any hidden issues with it? Remember that someone stopped riding the bike for a reason. Be sure you know what that reason is.
Can you get parts? Some older and more obscure makes and models have zero support from parts manufacturers, and are almost impossible to find in salvage yards.
Does it have a title? It’s a lot easier to believe what a seller tells you about a bike if they have the title in hand.
Once you purchase your restoration bike, make sure you get a service manual for it as well. Even if you know your way around motorcycles, you’ll want to know everything that’s supposed to be in yours, in case parts are missing.
2. START YOUR ENGINE
It doesn’t matter how nicely you restore your bike if you can’t get it to run. So start with your engine first. Just assume that it has been sitting for more than a year, because it probably has. Don’t rush to try to get it running right away, because you may damage it. It needs major maintenance first.
You’ll need to rebuild the carburetor and change the air filter. Even if it’s just residue, old fuel can cause major problems by gumming up the works. The same is true with oil. You’ll need to flush out the engine and change the oil filter as well.
Rebuild the ignition system, checking to be sure that the static timing is properly set. Older bikes are likely to have breaker points for ignition systems, which corrode over time. Make sure you check your coils, spark plugs, and wires as well. You should also change the battery and make sure it’s charged.
Finally, check your fuel tank and fuel lines. Time is generally unkind to anything fuel touches, causing lines to crack and break and tanks to rust. You may need to replace your lines and re-seal your tank. You’ll definitely need to replace all fluids.
Remember, this is all just to get your engine started so you can begin your restoration project. There’s a very good chance that you’ll encounter one or more problems while checking your engine. If they can’t be resolved, you’ll need to either replace the engine or terminate the project.
If you are able to successfully start your engine, then your next step is to proceed to reviving the wheels and suspension, and then the brakes. Although it may make sense to thoroughly clean and restore all of these systems as you go, we recommend that you check them out first, looking for issues before you invest in too many fresh parts or do any painting. You’ll need to bleed your brake lines and replace any brake fluid. But if your tires and brake pads are still relatively intact, you should hold off on replacing them until you have the chance to ride the bike and check the drive train.
Once you have a working engine, suspension, and brakes, take the bike for a ride to see how the clutch and drive train are working. It’s not uncommon for clutches to seize up when a bike has been sitting for a number of years, and chains can become weak or corroded.
The last step before focusing on cosmetic restoration is to restore the bike’s electrical systems, replacing any bad wires, fuses, or bulbs along the way.
With all systems checked, your bike should be functionally restored. Now you can focus on the cosmetic aspects of the bike knowing that any mechanical issues have been addressed.
3. ENJOY YOUR RIDE
Cosmetics are always a matter of taste, and depending upon how much time and money it took you to get your restoration road worthy, you may or may not have the budget left to invest in making it look brand new again. But even if you don’t, it’s a lot easier to enjoy a motorcycle by riding it than by looking at it.