Rebuilding Classic Bikes on the Cheap

| 4/1/2011 12:08:26 PM

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cheap build 2 
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.

cheap build 5
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.

cheap build 4
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

cheap build 3
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.

Richard Backus
7/28/2011 9:09:38 AM

You'd be surprised how well you can paint with a rattle can, especially if you use lacquer. While it may not be as durable as enamel, the benefit is you can wetsand between coats. I painted a Norton Interstate tank with rattle cans once and nobody could believe it. I ended up with about seven hand-rubbed coats and it looked spectacular. Richard Backus/Motorcycle Classics

7/28/2011 12:09:10 AM

I didn't write this story but I noticed several readers posted about the low cost paint job. Some automotive paint stores have the ability fill spray cans with custom mixes of automotive paints. It's more expensive than a can of Krylon but if applied correctly you can get a very good and very durable finish. In my experience two full size spray cans are enough to finish a tank and two side covers. Depending on the paint and how you prepare your project you may also need primer and clear coat.

6/9/2011 9:17:02 PM

This may be true for newer bikes but an older bike may be much more especially if the engine needs rebuilding, and many of the parts need replacing such as cables and hoses, tires, spokes, shocks, etc. as well as updating the electronics.

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