By Tom Mehren

Tearing It Down

You’ve picked your bike out, made a few new friends, gathered together a few books to guide you and your garage is outfitted and ready to go, so now it’s time to…go on a drinking binge? Ah, no, that’s probably not a good idea; remember you’ve got this incredible piece of machinery just waiting for you to bring it back to life. Let’s tear it down.


All through life your friends have told you how mechanically inclined you are, so this is a chance to really show your stuff. As you tear down you will slay many dragons along the way, but keep your chin up, have fun and later will feel the pride that comes with doing it yourself and see the fruits of your labor in the rebirth of the machine.

Session Time

Begin your first session without any set time. Work as much or as little as you like and take breaks along the way. One thing will lead to another and before you know it you’ll have a carcass of a motorcycle before you.

As you work along, there aren’t many guidelines to follow in terms of the order by which you break the bike down, other than what you are restricted to by way of how the bike is put together.

I like to start by removing the carburetors and doing the rebuild on them before taking the next part off the bike. Others may want to do the entire tear down, clean each part up and then rebuild. It’s up to you.

Nasty Bolts and Nuts

Along the way you may encounter some rusted bolts ands nuts. You may try turning them with as wrench, but before you try too hard, consider spraying them with rust solvent and coming back to them 6-12 hours later. In the meantime there’s always plenty of other things to do.

Getting Rid of Rust

Your mission as you tear down it to eliminate every spec of rust from the bike before any repainting or rebuilding occurs. To do this you will use a few different tricks.

Wire Brushes & a Scotch Pad

Wire brushes and abrasive pads are our friends. They work wonders at getting rid of rust and bringing a piece back to it’s original look. When you begin the process of rust removal start with a wire brush. If it’s a tight spot, use an abrasive pad like a 3M Scotchpad.

Abrasive pads are also finer than a metal brush, so if you’re dealing with a shinny surface use the pad instead of a brush.

Use water while you work as this allows you to move the brush easier and keeps the dust level down. Wipe the part with a rag now and then, inspect and keep scrubbing until you’ve eliminated the rust.

In some case you will be able to remove the discoloration. This is typical on frames and some aluminum parts.

For frames and other parts you will eventually paint, remove as much rust with a wire brush and abrasive pad. While working with the water feel free to add a little naval jelly to the mix. And don’t forget to wear your thick gloves during this process as Naval Jelly and skin don’t mix together well.

Finally use a rust to oxide conversion liquid (Rustoleum makes one) which will turn the rust to an oxide and allow proper bonding of the surface during the paint priming stages.

For shinny metals such as stator and clutch covers we’ll go another route. Begin by purchasing a few assorted buffers to fit your electric hand drill and a few different grades of jewelers rouge which come in sticks. These are compounds made to smooth and clean metal at high rotating speeds. Apply the rouge to the buffer and buff until you get the desired look.

One final destination for rust you will never be able to reach with your hands is the gas tank. Never fear, there is a product that will help you remove it all and protect it against rust in the future. It’s called Tank Kreem and you can get it at better motorcycle stores. Tank Kreem allows you to get the rust out of your tank and coat it with a polymer which will keep moisture off the metal of the tank in the future. Follow as directed and don’t be shy about letting the process take longer than expected. If you have a lot of rust in your tank it will take anywhere from 6 hours to overnight before it’s all loosened up.

Grab your tank and take it to the hardware store. There you can find corks that will fit the top opening and the petcock opening. While you’re there be sure to get some metal nuts and bolts to add in and shake around while it’s in process to help release rust deposits. Use a magnet on a wire to retrieve them after the second step of the process and test them first with the magnet to insure they are metal and not aluminum before inserting them into the tank.

In general clean every nook and cranny of the bike well and be generous with your water and solvents.

Bag It

As you break down the bike place corresponding parts into your plastic bags so you can keep them together as you clean and rebuild them. This will make it much easier to set up for your rebuild later too. Imagine a nice tidy row of bags and you just go one by one!

Photo It

If you’re short on visual images of the bike in various sections, say you lack a good repair book or the owners manual, use a camera as you break it down to photo areas that might otherwise leave you clueless on the rebuild.

Be Kind To Your Neighbors

If you are working in a common parking area that you share with neighbors be sure to clean up well after each session, put lids on any smelly solvents and drape your project with a drop cloth or two so your neighbors think you’re trying to hide dead bodies in your parking spot. And remember that cats like to mark their turf keep all those plastic bags out of sight as well.

Motorcycle Restoration 101 is an ongoing series of tips about restoring motorcycles.  The entire 10 part series is available on CD-ROM from the Sound RIDER! Store.