Your First Vintage Motorcycle Restoration

Anyone can go out and buy a new Fat Boy. Not everyone can say they restored their own 1942 WLA. There is something magical about riding a classic bike, something rare that you don’t see every day, and the pride that goes with owning it is something you won’t forget. Before starting out though, take a few minutes to look over these thoughts.

1942 Harley Davidson WLA 750 cc FlatheadYou should know what you are getting into, before you start. The old saying is “Quick, Good, Cheap. Pick two.” There is a lesson there. Restorations take time and money to be done right. If you have less cash, you will have to piece it together over time. If you have only a few months before you want to take it to a big show, you’ll have to drop a lot of coin to farm it out to different rebuilders and get it done. One of those methods, either a lot of time or cash, should be the route you choose. After all, if you don’t have the time/cash to get it right the first time, will you have enough to do it again when it fails?

Start the restoration process by learning everything you can about the ol’ bike. The internet is an amazing research tool, and formerly obscure motorcycle data can be found in just a few seconds. Look for a digital version of the owner’s manual, or any factory data. Find out if there is a club for your bike, either digital or physical, and ask their experts. Poke around forums and see what similar questions have been asked, and answered. Look into parts vendors, eBay, and garages that sell “old junk” (New Old Stock). Even books, while appropriately old-school, can go in-depth and teach you something new about old carburetor rebuilding. Amass as many knowledge and parts resources as you can before starting.

Have the proper place, and tools. Your backyard is not the best place for a quality rebuild, and will likely lead to a failed project sold at a loss. No, you don’t need Jay Leno’s garage either, but some kind of workshop or shed to orderly scatter parts and collect them later. Keep it organized, tools in their proper place, and parts organized by type. You don’t need another mess causing marital troubles.

Once you’re ready for teardown, start with the best tool you own: a digital camera. Take tons of pictures, at all kinds of angles. Get in close and get detail shots of the more complex systems. These will be a handy reference when reassembling. Continue to take pictures as you disassemble.

Know when you are in over your head. Not everyone has an English wheel, or the artisan’s skill needed to fabricate some of the parts you may need. It is okay to send out the block for hot tanking and honing if you do not feel comfortable tackling those projects as a newbie. Sure, a main goal is to learn, but the ultimate goal is to have a finished bike. Prepare yourself for an adventure and a history lesson. It’s a fun trip.

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