Tech Tip – Buying a project bike: Jay LaRossa

Jay LaRossa

Some tips for buying that 30, 40, 50 year or older bike.  First you have to decide on the level of build you are capable of and what you want to do.

1.  Are you going to revive a barn fresh find that the motor seized 30 years ago and it has sat in the barn since?

2.  Are you going to buy a bike that has sat for a year or so and ran when parked?

3.  Are you going to buy a running bike that someone has already done a few custom things on?

4.  Are you going to buy a bone stock unmolested running bike?

We’ll start with Option #1, this will be by far the most expensive and time consuming option.  Be prepared to spilt the cases on the motor and spending a long time locating parts for the rebuild.

Option #2, probably the cheapest option, but all you can go off of is some strangers word, that it DID run when parked.  So prepare for the worse, carbs will definatily need to be cleaned out, new battery and possibly fix electrical problems.  Ask the owner why it has been sitting?  Usually bike started to sit when it developed a problem and the owner didn’t have time to fix it or the money.

Option #3, this could be a good option, because usually the person is selling the bike because they do not have the money to finish it or lost interest.  You should be able to pick up a bike like this for fairly cheap unless the owner thinks because they put all this custom stuff on it, that it is worth a fortune!  Bad part is your buying someone else’s taste and possibly it not being put together right.

Option #4, at least with a unmolested bike, you know it hasn’t been messed with and there is no shady work done to it.

General rules when buying a bike:

1. If it’s a running bike, when you get there, make sure the motor is not hot, like it was just running before you got there.  That usually indicates that it might have problems starting or running when its cold. Also make sure it is running on all cylinders.

2.  Check for oil leaks and look for signs of the motor just being cleaned.  Could indicate it has a bad oil leak.

3.  Check the dip stick for the condition of the oil.

4.  If it is a running bike, ride it and run it through all the gears and make sure it shifts smooth and doesn’t pop out of gear. Plus make sure the bike stops and the brakes work properly.

5.  Make sure all the electrical components work, check all the lights, running and stop, turn signals and starter button.

6.  Check stuff like the condition of the chain, fuel lines, petcock leaking, rear shocks leaking, forks leaking around seals, tire condition.

Usually the better of a bike you start with, the better the final product will be and the easier it will be to build.  The motor work will take up most of your hard earned cash, so remember that when purchasing a bike.  Hope this helps you make your decision on buying yourself a new project.  Now go pick up that bike and get your ass to work in that garage!!

– Jay, Lossa Engineering, Long Beach, CA

1 reply
  1. maxwell
    maxwell says:

    hey jay what you are doing is bad ass!!! these cafe bikes are the real deal i’ve been searching here around oregon for a project and thanks for your advice on what to look for it helps. anyways just wanted to say keep up the good work… later


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