If you are asking yourself – why restore a motorbike when several other agencies are doing proper professional restoration for some dollars, then you have never seriously loved your bike.
And if you want to know the passion and joy that one experience in restoring a motorbike – then go meet a coffee maker who brews his morning cup – from start to finish.
Drinking an espresso out from a machine – and treating yourself by preparing it all by your self are two distant experiences – which can be never ever compared.
Restoring a bike is like manufacturing it – or inventing it – all by you! You get so much information about the bike which is all self experienced, and more importantly the emotions while restoring are priceless.
The first ride on a self restored bike – gives an eternal glow on the riders face, a sense of confidence in his ride and an extremely happy and satisfactory heart.
So let us start – A start to finish – step by step guide to restore a motorbike.
Locate the Bike for restoration
The first step is to select an appropriate machine you want to restore.
Generally bike riders restore their own old bikes, lying in their garage. These bikes have already gone past their time, and if you are looking for something like this – then you need to do a lot of refurbishing.
If you are looking to restore a bike – which is still running on the roads, then it will need basic restoration and some finishing touches.
So firstly make sure which kind you want to restore – and if you don’t have either of them, look for a decent purchase on any of the online or offline bike selling platform.
Great places to find bikes online:
Visit your local Mechanic and get some Manuals
The second step is consulting a local adviser and buying some manuals. Generally we commoners don’t know much about a bike’s parts and their availability, especially if the bike has grown too old.
So a local help is always the best start. Visit your local garage or mechanic and show the model of the vehicle you are looking to restore. He can take a look at what needs to be done to your bike and help you make a plan to rebuild it section-by-section.
Most importantly he will give you practical suggestions about your bike – whether it is repairable or not, how costly the restoration is, and lastly how much life this restoration is going to provide to the bike. These questions will actually help you take a decision early on. If he gives you a thumbs-up, then it’s a green signal for you to start.
The next thing is to look for service manuals. Do not confuse these manuals with owner’s manual which generally comes with the purchase of the motor.
An owner’s manual just covers the basics and is of very less to no help if you are restoring. A service manual will guide you through everything from changing your oil to completely rebuilding your engine.
Choose one from the three most common Service manuals.
- The Haynes – This is the most basic version which covers only the essential details of restoration. If you have a bike which is not too old and needs some basic level servicing and restoration – then this manual should be enough. It just focuses on the important basics like, oil changes, tire changes and engine rebuilds.
Check out Haynes manuals here
- Clymer® Manual – If the bike needs some heavy work, then you will need this manual. It covers wide technical details and has more step-by-step guidelines on how to work on them. Clymer Manuals have in-line specifications for all bike parts and even tightening specs all sizes of bolts.
Check out Clymer Manuals here
- OEM Service Manual – This includes every single detail of your bike, specific to its year and model with all the content that you require. This manual is actually used by technicians and other motorbike servicing companies.
Quick Tip – Buy the manual that fits your need from Amazon or other online portals – but when restoring the bike print a hard copy. Because when you get sweaty and dirty and black – in oil and grease and rust dust – you will probably not want to touch anything on your phone or I-pads.
Photograph while Stripping the bike down
After the manual – the first thing you will actually do – is stripping the bike. Take a very important note before you touch your bike. Photograph everything!
Placing the wires and small screws and nuts in their place is very important. And mostly this is where people mistake a lot. Losing parts are worse and putting something back together exactly the way it was – is very difficult. If you will have photographs – you will be able to arrange things the way they actually were.
Check the Battery and the Electrical Units
You can start your build process by checking the battery as it is the most basic and requires almost no mechanical work. Below is a checklist you need to follow:
- Check the voltage on your bike’s battery.
- Charge the battery. This will usually take about 10 hours so you can leave the battery on charge and till then work on some other parts.
- If the bike has not aged much then the battery might be usable. However if it is not working then you will have to replace it. And in that case – buy a new one.
Once your battery is fully charged or you’ve purchased a new one it is time to check your bike’s electrical system. Ignite your bike and turn on the headlights and press the turn signal buttons. If the lights are sharp and shiny then the bulbs are good.
Other than these the lights on gauge cluster (which displays information like speed and distance) should be properly illuminated.
If they are not in working conditions you will have to buy new bulbs for headlight and turn signals. This will cost you around 120$.
If the gauge cluster bulb is not displaying light – then you need to purchase a small bulb which fits right below the display panel. The bulb is cheap but the real challenge is to reach the bulb placement holder which will need a lot of your effort.
If the bulbs are fine and the issue is with wiring – then this will need a lot of your time. You will need electrical testers to make sure which wire is not working and then you will have to replace it. Again this will not be expensive but it will be time consuming.
Do you want to make restoring bikes your career? Learn about the best motorcycle technician schools here.
Clean or Rebuild the Carburetor and the Gas Tank
Old bikes have carburetors for fuel delivery system. There is a likely possibility that it might have rusted or blocked. So the next thing is cleaning it.
Clean the Gas Tank along with the Carburetor. You can use mild acid with some tools to scratch off the rust and dirt.
Note – Keep some soft brushes and mild acid handy – because you will need them a lot in your restoration process.
You will get to know the actual working condition of the Carburetor once you start the bike. If the bike fires well, then you are lucky – but if the bike is not performing – then the problem needs more than cleaning.
You will need a full rebuild! Because the fuel pipe must have choked out –
Pull the carbs out and take a look at all the jets and gaskets. If the gaskets look more brittle they need restoration. Purchase a carburetor rebuilds kit which has new factory jets and gaskets, and replace the new one (gaskets) in your Carburetor.
A full Carburetor and Gas Tank rebuild will cost you round about 250$.
Check the Spark plugs
After the fuel system restoration – remove the spark plugs. If they are dirty and you are unable to locate the spark terminal, you should probably replace them. A single spark plug will cost around 10$, and their quantity depends on the model of your bike.
With this – the fuel system and the crucial parts of your ignition system are mostly rectified.
The Chain and the Sprockets
Now we will be dealing with the restoration of the mechanical parts of your bike. Restoring these will not be time consuming and mostly will be inexpensive too.
Chain and sprockets mean a lot in your ride. Check out if the chain has any signs of rust or extensive wear. Look for stretched out chain portions too. If the chain looks shiny and stiff then you can continue with it – but just for your note – it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to go with a whole new chain while restoring a bike. And the reason is – that rust makes the metal brittle, and if the chain is weak and breaks while you are on the run, it can be pretty dangerous.
Secondly check your sprocket teeth. If they are worn down and not sharp – replace those as well.
If you have a shaft driven bike (because earlier models of motorbikes were shaft driven) then you will not need this part, or else you will have to spend an easy 170$ on a new chain set and front and rear sprockets.
Check the Tires
Your tires are for your bikes – what legs are to you. So they really are very important. Make sure they are in good condition before you take your bike out on the roads.
Start with a wash. This will remove the dirt and small pebbles and mud and will give a clear view of your tires and wheels condition. Check the general wear and tear of the brakes. Look for cracks. If the rubber is in a depleted condition or you are not having a good balance on the bike – change the tires.
Rust on the rim of the wheels cane be removed but they should not be out of shape or have dents. If there are any you might need to change new wheels altogether and that can be expensive.
Along with the tires – check the tubes – because if the bike is old there is a good chance that the bike will not be installed with tubeless ones. Tube generally should be in a good condition as it is inside and protected. Check out for punctures – if there are any fix them.
If you are buying a new set of tires check the manual for the recommended fit – but as you are buying a new set – you can always go for your personal choice. You can change the original fit to a bigger and larger one. And you can also buy tubeless ones for a better and puncture – free experience.
Good Quality Front and rear tires should cost you around $350.
Change the Brakes and look for the Shocks
The next one in your check list should be brakes. If your bike is new than mostly it must be installed with disc brakes, but if it is a vintage vehicle than chances are that it might be sporting drum brakes.
Disc brakes are generally easier to maintain and have a lot more stopping power. Take a look at your rotors and replace the pads.
You will need to do some exercise in bleeding the air out of your brakes or else buy a vacuum bleeder and do it the quick and easy way.
The next check is on the calipers and pistons. If both are in good condition i.e. if they are not completely rusted than a basic cleaning should be enough. Too much rust and pitting means you need to replace them and for that buy a caliper rebuild kit.
The total average cost for pads and caliper rebuild should come around 160$.
Drum brakes are an enclosed system. Pull off your wheel–either just the rear wheel or the front and rear wheels (this depends on your bike’s model)–and remove the drum cover to check the condition of your brake shoes.
If the shoes are not in good shape you will have to replace them which will cost you around 60$.
Along with the brakes – look for shock absorbers as well. The absorbers should not be rusted at all and if you see any signs of rust or damage on the springs – buy new shocks.
Now it’s time to change the oil. Your service manual will have the information about the best type of motor oil for your bike. If you don’t have it – then Google your bike’s model number and check for the appropriate oil.
And along with oil – purchase a new filter too, because generally filters don’t last long and must have become dusty.
Cost of Oil and a new filter will be around $60.
With this – you have completed all the basic elements of a rebuild.
Customize Your Bike
This step is optional – because your bike is ready and complete and can hit the roads. But it’s always good to personalize your bike – so if you want – read further to look where you can make you bike look YOUR’S.
- Handle bars – You can select from the different available styles of handlebars. Some handlebars have height – and some are low. Choose it according to your fit.
Generally older bikes had wide handlebars – so make sure if they are still good for you.
You can also select good grips for you because the old ones must have definitely worn out.
New Handlebars and Grips must cost you around 200$.
- The Frame of the bike is the next that you might want to customize. Because of time – the frame must have become the worst sufferer – the paint must have worn out, its shine faded, and several dents must have left their marks.
You need to clean and polish the frame – the rust had to be removed and all the oil & grease – and work a little on dents. The next thing you can do – is to paint it according to your likes. Do not forget to use a primer before you paint and a sand blast before the overall process would be an icing.
You can select a different shade for the tank and other parts and put some real brand logos or other tattoos to give it a modern rodeo look.
- Extras – You can add protection to your bike too. For example you can put side plates to cover the battery and air filter. Add an upholsterer to the seat and saddle it with brown or any other royal color leather.
Complete the Paperwork
After all the processes – your bike must be shining and glossing. But remember the last step – proper paperwork and licensing to legalize the motorcycle and make it road worthy. Traffic police in States are attracted to a lot to old vintage bikes – to inspect their paperwork and number plates.
Make sure that if the bike is purchased, then the documents are transferred on your name. And also get all other required certificates and checks done for your bike. You will never want to get police raided in your very first – after restoration – biking experience.
So after completing all the above mentioned step to step processes – take out your bike in the wild – and you will feel the beast back in you again!