By Tom Mehren
Restoring a bike is certainly not something you do alone. Although you may end up doing most of the work, you’ll need a little help along the way from various resources. One day you’ll have stripped bolt you have no idea what to do with, the next you need a photo so you can remember how something goes back together. Here are a number of resources to consider as you wind your way through your project.
If you’re adept at creating web pages, why not make one with all the names, phone numbers and hyperlinks to other websites you’ll need along the way. That way you can access it even when you’re away from home.
Tell all your riding pals you’re planning on restoring a motorcycle. You’ll be amazed at the level of interest this will stir in people and how many conversations will sprout from just saying "I’m going to restore an old bike." From this one simple line you will be provided a wealth of information about others who are out there that can help you out.
When it comes time to do your reassembly consider bribing your best rebuilding pal you got to join you, not so much to help you out physically, but to sit on the side lines as a devils advocate and question your every move. Someone bouncing their wisdom back to you could save you hours of doing certain steps over again to get it right. Be sure to pay this person well with either some good meals, cash or offering to do the same for them on their next project.
Are you a member of any clubs? I don’t mean like AMA or Honda Red Riders, but about a local club, or a vintage club? Within specified club organizations you’ll be able to meet more individuals with your same interest in restoration.
In fact, you don’t have to live near a major metropolitan city any longer to establish close relationships with like-minded enthusiasts. Today the internet affords all types of people a chance to talk with each other, assist one another with their restoration and yak in general about progress.
But if it’s real time chatter your looking for, there’s nothing better than making it down to the local meeting of vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. These exist in many cities. If there’s not one in your town yet, write a charter and get it going.
Clubs have been a grand resource for me to find aficionados of the bikes I rebuild, general help when I need a truck or a ride, and people who know other people…that know other people…who have parts and services I need.
As you prepare for your restoration plan to buy a few books ahead of time. Books are important because not only do they hold a wealth of information, but they also hold some ever important pictures. When all those raw pieces are sitting on the floor the day you get ready to re-assemble, you’ll want as many photos and diagrams as you can get your hands on.
Clymers makes some decent repair manuals which are readily available through dealers and on the web. From time to time they’ll pop up on auction sites, but watch out for over inflated biding (more on this later), especially if they are still in print.
Chilton’s used to make a number of manuals as well and they can still be found at used book stores and online.
The web is a wonderful place if you’re doing a restoration. Bookstores, auction sites and enthusiasts sites all hold a wealth of free information that will put you on target for getting your bike looking the way you want.
And save every photo and graphic you can. That’s all free. In fact start a little folder on your desktop for your project and just start heaping in all the digital media you can so it’s readily available to you when you need it later.
I go on auction sites and look at parts I don’t really need. Then viola, there’s a photo of how I need to place a coil, or position a wiring harness and I save that image to my folder.
As you’ll see in a moment, the concept of having a laptop fired up during your restoration is not as weird as it sounds.
Parts catalogs are handy because they show many assemblies for various parts of a motorcycle. Look up clutch and you will see all the plates, where certain bolts go, the direction of various parts and so on.
Does someone make a CD ROM with information about your motorcycle on it? During a recent restoration I came across a CD ROM of the parts micro fiche from the very same model I was restoring. You bet I snatched a copy of that up and had it on hand every moment of the rebuild. Because of it I was able to be certain every washer and fitting was in the accurate position as I rebuilt the swing arm mount, fork rig and placed the motor back into the frame. Without it I would have been guessing and spent extra hours re-doing certain assemblies.
Yet another good reason to have all the books and photos you can since obviously there won’t always be a parts catalog available for your bike on CD ROM. Is there one in print you can get your hands on?
Back before the days of computers at dealers, parts catalogs were printed microfiche, just like the way you used to research newspapers in the library back in the days. A number of collectors kept these fiche catalogs when dealers switched to computer fiche, and today they pop up on auction and collector sites with regularity. A set for your bike may be out there. These are quite cumbersome to navigate and if you can’t get your hands on a fiche reader, the big black box used to read these sheets, you’ll need to learn how to get handy with a device such as an overhead projector. Bell and Howell was a major supplier of both the published media and the readers.
Dealers may be a good resource for you. No doubt you’ll need parts, solvents and chemicals specific to your bike. If you’re lucky enough to select a bike that still has some replacement parts available, expect to be seeing your dealer with regularity.
Selecting the right dealer is important. You’re looking for three critical things here.
First off you want a parts person who will be helpful to you throughout your restoration, and is genuinely interested in your progress as you go along. Many parts employees have restored motorcycles, or at least portions of them somewhere along the way in life. If you find a parts person who has done similar bikes to the one you are doing, there will be a wealth of wisdom this person can offer you along the way, at no extra charge.
Secondly you want to pick a dealer who turns parts orders around fast. I once needed a rubber tank gasket, which my dealer allowed me to order over the phone on Saturday. They transmitted the order that night and by Tuesday the part was in. Dealers who take more than a week to get readily available parts aren’t doing you or them a service. Granted certain parts may take longer to get.
Thirdly price is a consideration. You’d like the lowest price, but beware; many dealers have their systems set to sell older parts at higher margins.
Shop around. Locate a few good dealers for your needs. You may not find the lowest prices at the dealer with the best parts guy on staff, so make your purchases accordingly. I typically buy the little stuff I need from my local dealer, although it costs a bit more, they turn orders around fast and have a lot of knowledge between their parts team. For the real expensive stuff I drive further because the prices are better.
And remember, that many dealers will take phone orders and even ship the parts to you provided you have your credit card ready when you call. No need to drive from here to kingdom come if you know what you need.
NOS, OEM? What’s that? Sounds like some strange language that could have existed when there was a land bridge between Australia and the Philippines. I just made that up of course, I’m not aware there ever was such a land bridge available.
Anyhow what it means is New Original Stock/Original Equipment Manufacturer.
When you see the term it’s usually being sold off by a private party or a small business not directly affiliated with the manufacturer.
It’s a good idea to get a few of these NOS/OEM guys in your back pocket at some point because when your dealer comes up short on availability for certain parts, one of these third parties just may have it, or know someone else in their circle that does.
The business of NOS/OEM involves small business types who travel all over the world buying up overstocks and close outs of parts on virtually any kind of bike (or car for that matter). What it means for you is that the part you need may still be somewhere in brand new condition.
When it comes to motors I pass the buck to my local service shop. The cost of tools, hassle of all those gaskets, valve measurements etc… is just something I’d rather leave to a pro who lives that life day in and day out.
Dealers typically don’t want to touch a motor more than 12-15 years old, because of poor parts availability and the fact that their younger technicians aren’t trained to work on vintage bikes.
Dealers also don’t like older bikes and motors because they are like a house of cards. While they fix one thing another thing breaks, the price goes up and the next thing you know the customer doesn’t want to pick the bike up because the repair bill is more then the bike is worth.
Dealers also don’t want to see your "project bike" in the spring or summer when they’re up to their ears in every fair weather riders "Get me ready to ride" business. Truck down your restoration to the service department in June and you’re likely to hear something like "Bring that bike back in November and let’s see what we can do with it."
An independent service only operation usually means there’s a bit more TLC and patience going into the project. My local service guy squints a little when I tell him I’m coming over with a 30 year old motor, but he’ll take it, run through it, put it into top shape and get it back to me without much hassle.
Local service only establishments tend to take the older bike work that dealers are turning down. They still know what old style points are and usually have a lot of passion for working with vintage bikes and engines.
Motorcycle Restoration 101 is an ongoing series of tips about restoring motorcycles. The entire series is available on CD-ROM from the Sound RIDER! Store.