There’s something about older motorcycles that creates an often emotional reaction in motorcycle enthusiasts. The character, the history, the silhouette of a classic machine that has been well ridden and long loved can often outshine most “state-of-the-art” motorbikes.
While meticulously maintained or restored classics are still out there, they inevitably demand a premium price. But, if you’re looking at an unpolished gem in need of a little TLC to get it up and running again, knowing what to look for before making an investment is the shrewd way to get the bike you want.
Learn Before Looking
If you’re not already quite knowledgeable about the make and model of the motorcycle you’re looking for, immerse yourself in information by researching it online, in books and in magazine articles. There’s a far less chance of being sold a pup if you turn yourself into a brand expert.
Take along a knowledgeable friend when you go to check the bike. Another set of eyes might spot one or more important discrepancies. Don’t forget a small pen light for checking areas that may be hard to see.
Checking it Out
- The most important thing to look out for is the condition of the frame. The slightest crack or hairline fracture on a frame can pose a potential safety hazard. Actually, any frame damage, including weld tears, dents or kinks should disqualify the bike immediately. Check the frame underneath the seat and in any other areas that may be obscured from easy view.
- Check that the frame and engine numbers are authentic and that they match those on the bike’s V5 logbook. It is illegal for a motorcycle dealer to misrepresent a bike even if they don’t have to point out any faults. With a private seller, however, it’s best to confirm everything you can on your own.
- Check all the controls, including the throttle, brakes and clutch. Broken cables can be easily replaced, but broken or frozen brake calliper pistons, frozen carburettor slides and stuck clutches are much more expensive and difficult to replace.
- Open the fuel tank and use your light to check for varnish or rust. Cleaning and sealing an old tank is also expensive and often damages the paint job.
- If the tank passes inspection, try the engine. If it doesn’t catch, try jump-starting it with battery cables. If it still won’t turn over, the clutch may be stuck open, there could be a damaged or poorly adjusted gear or the engine may have seized.
- If possible, set the bike on blocks or a centre stand and slowly turn the wheels by hand. Obvious noses, stuttering or “chunky” behaviour may indicate bad bearings. Check the steering bearings while the bike is off the ground for a notch or chunkiness while turning it from left to right.
- Flat spots or divots on either wheel will mean truing if it’s a spoked wheel, or replacement.
- Pitted or rusted fork stanchions will tear the fork seals and need replacing.
While this list is only a start, the good news is that, even with a few problems, most used motorcycles can be easily repaired and ridden with as much pleasure today as when they rolled off the showroom floor.
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