So you’ve got a good chunk of change burning a hole in your bank account, and a desire to spend many hours working on, and swearing at, some old machinery? Sounds like you need a vintage motorcycle. It doesn’t have to be all wads of cash, busted knuckles, and fruitless searches for obscure parts. Read on as we cover how to buy your first vintage bike.
First, do NOT buy the first vintage motorcycle you come across, even if you are itchin’ to ride. Know what kind you want, as a café racer is a different experience from a cruiser, and neither is for everyone. Also decide on a brand before you start looking, and do your research. Hit up experts on brand-specific forums, and ask what to look for.
Realize what you are getting into. Most vintage motorcycles need some kind of work, and even well ridden and maintained bikes will likely have some issues compared to new. If the bike you select has minor flaws, just use them as bargaining points to reduce the asking price. However, remember that a 50 year old Harley Davidson will always be easier/cheaper to replace parts, than on a similar aged Yamaha or BSA.
When you have found your potential next motorcycle, examine it thoroughly. If you drove to meet the seller, see if the engine is cold. A warm engine might be a sign that the seller warmed up the engine to operating temperature, in order to hide that smoky, rough start.
While you are down there, take a look at the exhaust. Discoloration or rust is often a sign of many hours on a bad tune. The excessive heat that is destroying the exhaust affected the rest of the engine too.
Check the ground for leaks, specifically asking where the motorcycle is usually stored. Dark splotches on the cement could mean an expensive or time consuming repair in the bike’s future.
Check the tension on the chain. It should have about an inch up and down travel, with no slop. Rust should be minor, if any. Also check the teeth on the sprocket.
Open the tank and look inside. Some rust is to be expected on a motorcycle that pre-dates the Nixon administration, but excessive rust and sediment is unacceptable and means more work and cash on your part.
Moving forward, test the electronics and make sure all lights and signals work.
Examine the forks closely, looking for leaky seals. Compress the front suspension, then look for fluid on the forks as they expand out from the seal. If there is a thin film of fluid, the inner seals need replacing. It’s not a deal breaker, but is time consuming, or expensive at the shop.
Also, look over the bike for crash damage. Look for new and shiny cooling fins, body fairings, or handle bars on a motorcycle that is otherwise used and dirty. That is a clue that something was recently replaced. Granted, it could have been routine maintenance or an upgrade, so don’t be overly suspicions of some new parts.
Finally, check the title. Make sure the VIN and year match when compared to the bike, and compare the mileage as well. The first two will help prevent you purchasing a stolen motorcycle, while the last one is an indicator of how much it was ridden during its life. A high mileage motorcycle is a reliable motorcycle that rarely saw downtime in the shop, and that’s what we all want, right?