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Your First Motorcycle Restoration

    So you have been thinking about restoring an old Japanese motorcycle for the first time. This usually begins while perusing the web, or reading a magazine. You see a picture of an old bike..that you just got to have, or, it's just like the one you had as a teenager. Before you get lead astray, you need to consider some things. There are a series of questions one has to ask ones self before showing up at home with a rat bike...because most projects begin as beat to death, ready for the boneyard, sat under that there tree for thirty years quality motorcycles. 
    Ask yourself the following questions first:

Will my wife/ girlfriend/ live in have an issue with this?

    Well, if they do, you could use one of the following rebuttals to their criticism. "Do I stop you from going to fill in the blank? My favorites are tupperware/ pampered chef/ scensy parties??
    If this fails, you could inform them that the bike is an investment and will appreciate in value over time, which is why it must be restored correctly. What you have to watch out for is the much loathed, " well if you are getting a bike then I'm getting a fill in the blank , mink coat, new jewellery, a jaguar xk, ect. Although this has never happened to me, I have seen the effects of it on others and it results in misery. Either dump her, or don't get the bike. 

Do I have the spare cash to fund this restoration?

    This question is directly related to several other questions such as, how much will the parts cost? How much of the work am I doing versus paying for others to do? Do I need to purchase tools/ rent garage space/ power and heat costs?  There are a lot of things related to doing a restoration that one doesn't see when looking at his/ her dream bike, which have to be considered before getting balls deep. Do try to purchase a bike that is fairly complete and not a total pile of shit. Saying that, regardless of how good it looks, assume it's a complete rebuild from the get go. If you go into a project with this mindset the only surprises will be finding that some parts are in good shape. 

No free rides...
    Restoring a motorcycle is a commitment of your time, and likely a handsome sum of money. While you may know someone who has parts, who will give/ barter them to you, chances are you will be laying out some cash. If you are one of those people who want something for nothing, stay away from motorcycles because there are no free rides when restoring. If your plan is to resell this bike looking for profit I hope you live somewhere other than Canada, because there is no money to be made here selling restorations. If you are doing a restoration for you, because you genuinely love a particular model, then good on you, and when the final dollar figure for the restoration is revealed, you won't mind so much. 

How do I save without cutting corners, and get the same results?

     There are those who do concours restorations on motorcycles. I'm talking sand blasting, paint, chrome, balanced and blue printed restorations.....big dollars, unlimited funds restorations. The result is a beautiful motorcycle, worthy of any award winning machine and i applaud them all. For most of us the task is to get the best results possible without going into the poor house. This article is geared towards restoring a dirt bike, which by their nature, don't have a lot of chrome, custom paint, and a lot of the things a road bike would have. This being the case you need to decide if you are building this bike to be ridden, or to display. If your choice is the latter, then you will be going totally 100% original with all o.e.m. parts, which will be a little more expensive. If the bike is to be ridden, then there are a few ways to beat the system.
    The cost of sand blasting and powder coating the chassis will put you out over five hundred dollars by itself. Back in the day, chassis were painted, so consider sanding the chassis, and using rattle cans of primer, and enamel paint. it will be more labour intensive, but will cost around one hundred dollars, and if done correctly, will look factory original. 
    Fuel tanks and body work seem to be the most abused part on a bike, and unfortunately, they are also the most noticed parts aswell. In many cases these parts can be blasted/ sanded, painted, and new graphics applied. the biggest issue is being able to replicate the paint to look like the original. This can be a problem with some bikes, especially those that used candy metallic paint. Ebay is your friend here as often new old stock replacement parts are available. They will cost a fair bit, but you need to consider the cost of refurbishing what you have, and what a refurbished part will look like as compared to new old stock.  i have found that going the ebay route is less expensive, and looks better in the end. 
    The same can be said for replacing wheels. When you compare buying new hoops and relacing a wheel to buying a good replacement from ebay it's a no brainer. Having said this, if you plan to race the bike I would send the wheel to Bucannan for a new hoop and heavy gauge spokes. 
    Rather than spend hundreds on fenders, perhaps consider using period styled plastic fenders like the Preston Petty units, now being reproduced by Strictly Hodaka. They are totally functional, and would look great on most of the older Japanese dirt bikes. Take any bearings that need replacing to your local bearing house. chances are they can match them up with new ones, that work just as good as original ones at a fraction of the cost. Don't be affraid to get some gasket material and cut your own gaskets, especially for those bikes where parts are no longer available. it takes a bit of time, but is less expensive and time consuming than hunting down a non existant original. There are other way's to save a few bucks yet achieve the same result, you only need to think things through. logic is your friend. Another point to keep in mind is that back in the sixties and seventies, manufacturers tended to use the same parts for several years, so don't be scared to pilfer parts from the same model of machine a few years older or newer than yours. Another point is that there are some parts from one manufacturer that will fit anothers' bike. Case in point, the counter shaft sprocket from a 76 yamaha dt 175 perfectly fits an 82 kawasaki ke 175.
     When asking for information about older iron at your local dealer you need to keep two things in mind. Firstly, the chick behind the know, the one with the massive cans,,,isn't old enough to remember what a 71 kawasaki f-5 looks like. You need to talk to the oldest, greasiest looking dude in the work shop...the one smoking a cigar...he probably knows. Secondly, most dealers only care about selling new bikes and don't care about your old one. Some even refuse to look up part numbers, order parts, or the classic, "the part is obsolete", even when it isn't....been down this road many times. Your best bet is to look up the parts your own research, and provide your dealer with the part numbers. You can look up almost any part for most old Japanese bikes at  On the way out of your local dealer, by all means take some time and strike up a conversation with the honey working the counter because if things were to get serious she probably won't complain about you having a motorcycle. 

Unleash the power

     A restored bike deserves a restored engine. There is no point in spending the time and pesos on restoring a bike only to cheap out on the engine, because it will fail, and may actually cost more depending  on the damage. Two stroke engines aren't complicated, and with the exception of a few specialty tools and a good manual, you should be able to take it apart. I make it practise to replace every seal, bearing, oring, gasket, and the bushings in the gear box. In addition to this the entire shift mechanism will need a good inspection to gauge the wear. I also replace the piston, rings, wrist pin, and bearing, followed up by a hone or overbore of the cylinder. The crank may or may not need rebuilding, inspection will tell the tale, but if there are any doubts, get it rebuilt while apart. the clutch will need  a good going over for  both the basket and plates. If you feel uncomfortable, or lack the tools or skill to do this work, by all means, farm it out, but be sure whom ever gets the job is familiar with vintage engines, because they are a different animal than the modern stuff. 
    Another important decision is whether to use o.e.m. or after market parts. Personally, I try to keep as much of the engine components o.e.m. but there are times when certain parts aren't available, and after market is the only option. With stuff like pistons and clutch plates I tend to use wiseco pistons, and barnett, or ebc clutches. I have found that properly restoring the typical single cylinder two stroke engine will set you back around $1000.00 and that includes the labour, which is usually half of the bill. 

Stop and Go

     When it comes to the final drive and braking systems I tend to use modern, after market parts because in many cases they work better and last longer than the original equipment. I prefer sbs or ebc brand brake shoes with slots cut in the face to catch the dirt and dust. I use o ring chain usually manufactured by ek or tsubaki, but these are my own preferences. With sprockets you can go either way, but I tend to use sun star steel sprockets. For vintage bikes I really like the look and feel of msr handle bars. As for control cables I usually use a mix of o.e.m. and motion pro brand, but it really depends on the bike and what is available. 

Final Words

     This article is based on what i have seen and done over the years when restoring a motorcycle. What works for me may not for you, but I hope my ramblings got you to consider some possibilities. In the end, it all depends on you, your taste, your choice of bike, your mechanical skill, and your bank account. Put all this together and the sky really is the limit. If you take a look at the links section of this website there are some fine companies listed, both in Canada and U.S.A. that specialize in vintage parts or high quality reproduction parts...use their services because it's worth it in the end. Finally, If you do end up single because you chose the bike over the broad don't sweat it...she must have been a barbie girl to begin with, and you are better off without her.