Rebuilding Classic Bikes on the Cheap

Reader Contribution by James Alaimo
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Jim Alaimo’s latest “on the cheap” build was this Yamaha XS400RK Seca,
delivered with flat black primer on everything.

If you’re reading this you like classic motorcycles. Dying to hit the open road, commute to work have a week end or Sunday morning breakfast ride, catch up with your buddies, looking for an excuse to get out of wall papering your mother-in-laws kitchen? I know you’ve checked out the dealer’s show rooms and found even a modest used bike won’t fit in your limited budget.

Help is here with my step-by-step process to rebuilding classic bikes. Rebuild the classic bike of your dreams and have fun doing it! Late ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s bikes are great platforms for a budget build. They have most of the high-tech features without all the complexity on today’s modern bikes and they are plentiful, cheap and easy to maintain. Parts are readily available; new, used and NOS are just an eBay click away. Many Internet stores such as Bike Bandit, Dennis Kirk, Old Bike Barn and others have what you need as well.

The Yamaha XS400RK Seca stripped and showing potential. 

Over the last 48 years I have acquired, enjoyed and sold 29 motorcycles; from miniscule 60cc entry-level 2-stokes to high-end Ducatis and BMWs. But the biggest bang for the buck are those transitional a’80s Japanese and Euro bikes sitting in some one’s barn, garage or back 40.

A derelict non-runner can easily be brought back to their former glory, beauty and functionality. “Neglect” can be your friend – it is what makes these non-runners such true bargains. You’ll hear it all the time “it ran great when I put it away, but!” and that but means it’s been neglected and you just might have found the perfect candidate for your bike build on the cheap. Another “but” is don’t be hasty; take your time and compare value, make offers hold out for the right bike at the right price. You shouldn’t pay more than $500.00 and often times less.

The “new” bike starts to take shape.

Here’s the plan:
1. Decide what style of bike you want – Standard Naked, Cruiser, Dual Sport, Off Road or Sport
2. Make the purchase a bike that is not abused – neglected is what you are after.
3. Read Motorcycle Classics for inspiration.
4. Join an owners group forum – you’ll find help there
5. Get a shop manual.
6. Make a list and acquire the parts you will need.
7. Make the repairs and prescribed maintenance.
7. Show it off to your pals post pics for your forum members.
8. Have fun and enjoy! So your wife’s not impressed – neither is mine.

Here’s the drill to breathe fire into your new ride: 1. Thoroughly clean the whole bike.
2. Drain and replace all the fluids gasoline, oil, coolant (if water cooled) and dispose of properly.
3. Check tires for tread depth and dry rot; inflate or replace as necessary.
4. Inspect brake pads and shoes; clean or replace as necessary.
5. Adjust and lubricate the drive chain – if equipped.
6. Change spark plugs, filters and battery.
7. Disassemble the carburetors and meticulously clean; reassemble with rebuild kit
8. Add fresh gas and fire it up

Close to finished.

Sound too simple? Well sure there are always little gremlins, but with the advice of your new found forum buddies you’ll soon be thanking someone for the solution to your problem or finding a source for parts.

Resurrecting the dead two wheels at a time
I personally did five of these “on the cheap” builds last year with a 1987 BMW K75, 1982 Moto Guzzi V50, 1983 Yamaha XS650, 1983 Honda Shadow 750 and a 1984 Yamaha Virago 1000. I’m presently building what I call a bit of an orphan bike (only imported two years and parts are a bit scarce). It’s a Yamaha XS400RK Seca and I’m transforming it into a great little street fighting screamer bike that can match bar ends with many of the small bore current sport bikes in realistic, practical and semi -egal street riding. No track days, but not out of the question.

The Budget
Obviously yours will be different; this is a good illustration of what I’m spending on this “on the cheap” build. The beauty of this plan is once the bike is running and street legal you can always do upgrades and modifications over time and still be enjoying your ride without any monthly payments to the bank.

The finished build, totalling just $1,000 for the bike and parts.

Bike: $200
Carb rebuild kits: $50
Levers, throttle and clutch cables: $100
Battery: $50
Oil, filter, spark plugs: $50
Brake pads and shoes: $75
Air filter: $25
Fork seals: $25
Chain and sprockets: $150
Tires: $200
Paint: $50
Misc. hardware, light bulbs: $25
Total: $1,000

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