Does this sound like you?
You’ve got a bike with some sentimental value, or that you got a killer deal on, but it has major issues. You might be feeling elation or despair, or both, but you are now definitely in need of some parts. Depending on the bike and parts needed, the best solution might be buying a whole second example of the bike you are trying to fix.
The first thing most people consider is purchasing new replacement parts direct from the manufacturer or the aftermarket. Everyone loves fresh, shiny parts, and you can trust that they are fully functional and will be for years to come. You may be pleasantly surprised at the manufacturer’s support of new for your older machine, but the hard truth is that some significant components might not be available new anymore. Then trouble is, a shopping cart full of new, off the shelf items could well exceed the value of the bike they are intended for.
So, if you are faced with a major project and lengthy shopping list, chances are you’ll be looking to the used market. You could scour eBay for all of the parts you need piecemeal, or your time could be better spent searching for a complete parts bike.
The Kawa-Saki Bomb
I recently faced this very dilemma working on a project of mine; a 1988 Kawasaki EX500 affectionately named The Kawa-Saki Bomb. The bike had been sitting for over ten years but was given a new lease on life through the sacrifice of one of its brethren.
My EX story started when the bike was handed down to me by my uncles (thanks, Michael and Dave) as a non-running, but 90% completed project. It was free, with the stipulation that they get to ride it when I finished. The bike was initially bought in California to take road racing, and was modified by swapping on a Ninja 600 front end and wheels. These bestowed the little EX with stiff, better performing front forks, dual front brakes, rear disc brake, and wider tires.
While these upgrades may have improved lap times on the track, it was apparent that the Ninja 600 parts were a detriment to the 500 for casual street riding, where I spend my saddle time. It was time for the bike to return to its original factory configuration, before spending money on the new tires it also desperately needed.
Reason #1: Cost
Once I’d determined the direction of the EX500 project, I began my hunt for stock parts. The shopping list consisted of a complete front end (triple clamps and fork legs), as well as front fender, front wheel, front brake caliper, rear wheel, sprocket, rear brake lever/footpeg assembly and linkage. Not exactly a short list. Even if Kawasaki hadn’t stopped producing most of these ten years ago, the price would have been prohibitive. Perusing eBay, I found incomplete front ends for over $300 with no brakes, leaking fork seals and without shipping costs.
I thought to myself, “if I need practically a third of a motorcycle, why not just buy a whole one and sell what I don’t need?” Since the EX500 had enjoyed such a long production run, I turned to Craigslist and found a complete 1989 example with a seized engine and a spray can paint job for that same $300, o.b.o. Perfect. One day and just $200 later, I was the proud owner of the ideal donor bike with everything I needed at a quarter of the cost of all of the parts separately.
Reason #2: Parts you don’t know you need
The one part of the donor bike that the young owner hadn’t spray painted was the fuel tank. Given the bike’s 30 year age and the neglect it had clearly received, the tank was shockingly pristine inside and out. My uncles’ bike’s original tank was functional but had seen better days, so why not swap it out for this gleaming tank that I now had? I wasn’t looking for a tank but, it turned out to be a significant improvement to the looks of the bike.
This became the theme of the project and was a completely unintended benefit. Parts like helmet locks, luggage tie-down hooks, and a factory Kawasaki under-seat pouch for the registration were all little things that my bike had lost in conversion to track use. I certainly could have lived without them, but they were surprisingly satisfying additions to the project. Plus, hiding in the parts bike’s airbox was a like new K & N air filter.
Reason #3: Sell extra parts, keep spares
An upside to starting with a whole parts bike is that any parts you don’t need for your project may have value to other people. As soon as everything I needed was harvested, I immediately made posts on EX500 specific forums and Facebook groups. Eventually, I sold enough parts to make back my initial investment and then some, meaning that I actually made money by fixing my motorcycle.
Some parts I chose not to sell, to keep for the inevitable breakdown of a 30-year-old motorcycle. Electrical components like the coils, starter, and stator take up little room, have an unlimited shelf life, but a limited lifetime in use. Other parts, like the clutch cable and clutch, are parts that wear out over time. Now I have replacements in stock should the need ever arise.
Downsides and Pitfalls
Like anything else, a project like this is not always that easy. The parts I needed turned out to be in good working condition on the first reasonably price parts bike I found. Ending up with bent or broken components, or not finding a good parts bike is a real risk to be considered.
Another impossible to avoid downside is that your new purchase is going to take up space in your garage or driveway. Not only can this create potential problems when you first bring it home, but it absolutely will when disassembled into a million pieces. Be prepared for the look on your significant other’s face as you ask them if you can keep a stripped down motorcycle frame in the closet of the spare bedroom. Moreover, watch out for landlords.
However, if you’re goal is not to break the bank and you have the space, the time, a little know-how, and the willingness to get your hands dirty, buying a parts bike can be the best way to complete your project. It goes without saying, that having the Clymer manual for the bike before you start taking it apart, or even assessing the project, is the best way to start. The Kawasaki EX500 from 1987-2002 is covered in manual M360-3. Best of luck and happy wrenching!