Thinking of buying a vintage motorcycle?
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
So you want to own and ride a vintage motorcycle? Great, we love it.
Here are some things to ponder on as you contemplate buying that awesome looking vintage motorcycle that your neighbor has laying around... although he insists "it ran great when we parked it"
Before I go any further, do yourself a favor (and everyone around you for that matter), don't buy someone else's project. If they hadn't finished by now, chances are neither will you (unless you're special... no, I am not referring to that "special")
Buy as nice of a bike as you can possibly can afford. Remember that when buying a motorcycle, it is always a better practice to pay for work already done, than having to pay for it later. You know how people say "you never get your money out of it when you sale it"? Well, this is it - they won't make the money out of it and you can be a beneficiary. This is the one time where you shouldn't loose any sleep about taking advantage of others' financial loses. Take advantage of it and be happy you freed space in someone's garage.
Also, a bike that has been sitting in a dry garage will get you miles ahead compared to a bike that has been sitting in a carport or worse, out in the open.
Bikes stored outdoors tend to have corrosion, rusty chrome and paint, dried out seals, stuck pistons, rods or gears, weathered tires, seats, gauge clusters... and the list goes on and on.
It will take a lot more money trying to repair than buying a better bike. Also, a bike with original paint and chrome, even if it has some patina will most likely be worth more in the end, in some cases even more that a restored bike.
Take into consideration that it always takes a fair amount of effort to "wake up" a bike that has been sitting. Fuel goes bad, especially if it was filled with fuel containing ethanol. I am not a chemist but it seems like the ethanol want to go back to it's former state, sugar. An idle jet or pilot jet may have a 0.3mm hole in it and it will not take much to plug it up and stop a 500 lbs bike in it's tracks.
Now, if you insist in buying that bike; at the very least, be honest to yourself (you can tell your significant other anything you want, but don't fool yourself), what is it that you're really buying? A project bike, a parts bike, a runner, etc. and of course, plan accordingly for what it would take to make it look what the bike looks like inside your head.
Carburetors: If you are planning on storing a bike for any length of time, adding fuel stabilizer to the last tank helps and then draining the carburetors helps as well. Even better, find a gas station that carries plain fuel without ethanol. We have no association with this web site but PureGas.org is a good place to look for a gas station that sells pure gas in the US and Canada. Ride the bike for a while and then top off again with pure fuel before storing.
Tires: They are important and of course a safety item. Old tires can look great but they get hard and eventually crack over time.
You can check the age of the tire by looking for a "stamped" or "melted" number on the sidewall. It is usually a code, like 0903. That usually means the 9th week in 2003.
Brakes: If the bike have hydraulic brakes, chances are they will need service. The longer they sit, the greater chance of failures. Break fluid tends to dry out over time, it slowly crystallized and later becomes powder (no, you cannot just add water, it doesn't work that way.... what do you think this is, milk?).
DOT 4 and lower brake fluid is designed to absorb water. That is a good thing as long as you flush your break system with regular intervals. When breaking, the heat build up from the friction will create condensation and when it cools off it turns in to moisture. You may think of using DOT 5 Silicone brake fluid that does not absorb water but it does not always work well with older brake systems.
If you are going to store a bike, we recommend a brake flush before parking it.
Suspension: There is a chance that the bike will need fork seals. Check for leaks above the dust seal on the fork after you pushed the front towards the ground.
If the bike have spoke wheels, check for loose or broken spokes. Check all lights, horn, wiring, charging system, battery and more. Check the chain and sprockets if applicable. Check frame for any cracks or rust.
Why are we telling you all this?
Are we trying to discourage you to buy a vintage bike?
Absolutely not, we just want you to know what you are getting yourself into.
You may get a great deal on a bike but ending up spending more than the purchase price for service work. That may not be a bad thing! You will have a bike that is different than the usual crowd. Also, if you treat it well, it will probably hold it's value and maybe even increase while you ride. You can't say that about a bike fresh off the showroom floor.
Last, if you are not that mechanically inclined, find someone that can lend you a hand to go over the bike. If the current owner is a decent person, he/she won't have any problems with you checking the bike thoroughly. Knowledge is power they say... it is if it helps you understand current needs and negotiate price accordingly. We all make the mistake of buying with emotion, but for crying out loud, just control yourself - If you show up to see a bike claiming "this is the bike I always wanted", you my friend have done the impossible and actually screwed yourself.
Good hunting and Ride Safe!