How to Buy an Old Motorcycle: What it is Going to Cost to Fix

Posted by on 5/20/2013
Getting it back on the road

I have noticed that there are a lot of new vintage bike owners, whom have never owned a bike and are new to wrenching. Before you decide to go out and jump on the first bike you see, keep a few things in mind when choosing your project. I've put together a list of things to look at, think about as well as what to expect to repair and rebuild and average costs based on the Honda CB360. However the prices are relevant to most Japanese bikes from the era.

Parts to be addressed for safety:

1) Brake system front and rear: (Disc $150 - $200, drum $50 - $100)

The front brake on the bike does 70% of the work stopping brake, thus its function should be tip top. Hydraulic disc systems on the CB360 are usually frozen into a ball of corrosion. The CL and CJ front drum systems are much simpler; however they have significantly reduced stopping power and must be properly adjusted to get maximum performance. All 360’s come with rear drum brakes which are simple to rebuild.

Expect to replace / rebuild:
  • Disc pads / drum shoes
  • Rubber brake lines
  • Caliper seal
  • Caliper piston (depending on condition)
  • Master cylinder
2) Front Fork rebuild: ($50) Front forks keep your front wheel glued to the ground. Check the chrome shafts for excessive rust and pitting, primarily near the lower legs. Pitted tubes will leak and dust boots/covers might be dried out.

Expect to replace / rebuild:
  • Fork Seals
  • Fork Oil
  • Dust boots
3) Rear shocks: ($80 - $300)

While shocks are easy to swap out, finding ones to fit the 360 have proven tough, however we have found some good shocks for the money. Riding on old shocks will feel like a spring board and will affect the handling of the bike in the turns.

4) Chain: ($40- $100)

That crusty old chain is a ticking time bomb!  Running a rusty old chain could break when ridding and... let's hope you are wearing a helmet. Chains are inexpensive, and require regular adjustment and lubrication to live a long happy life. Keep it lubed well and avoid the super cheap chain with curled rollers vs. solid rollers.

5) Tires: ($100 each + tubes, mounting and balancing)

The only thing that keeps you on to the road is your tires. Old tires are typically dry and rock hard. I have even seen some bikes with the factory tires still on them! While there are a handful of cheap replacement tires out of China, don't expect great performance or service life. Additionally tires need to be mounted and balanced and it is a wise idea to replace the inner tubes if their status is unknown. I like using tire balancing beads, easy to uses and cheaper than having a shop balance a tire.

Expect to replace:
  • Tires (Front: 18” x 3 old /  18” x 100/90 ) (Rear: 18” x 3.5 old / 18” x 110/90 )
  • Tubes and Rim strips (rubber band between the spoke nipples and the tube)
Parts needed to get the engine up and running again

6) Carburetors: ($15 - $200)

Unless the bike is running perfectly (doubtful) expect to a carburetor rebuild. Luckily the 360 only has two carbs. If you are very through, and the carbs are in good shape, everything in the carbs can be cleaned very well and re used and only the O-rings need to be replaced. If not a standard rebuild kit replaces the brass parts. We have just found suitable replacement for the slide diaphragms.

7) Ignition system: (plugs, points, condensers) ($50 - $100)

All the 360 versions have a points ignition system. Points need to be in tip top shape for the bike to run well. Ignition coils and wires are usually still good, however plug wire and boots can be replaced. Additionally we have put together a Allen head bolt conversion kit that makes setting the points much easier.

Expect to Replace:
  • Points (L & R sets, @ 0.012” to 0.016” gap)
  • Condensers
  • Spark plugs (NGK B8ES @ 0.032” gap)
  • Spark plug boots
8) Battery: ($50 - $75)

This always needs to be replaced. Hondas are especially prone to poor performance if the battery is weak. The standard size number is 12A-A, Replacement battery is available from NAPA or Wal-mart.
  • NAPA:      PSB 12AA
  • Walmart:   ES12AA
9) Gas tank clean & fuel valve: ($40 - $70)

Is the inside of the gas tank spotless? Chances are it is filled with rust and varnish from old gas, expect to clean it out or even coat the inside with a sealer. Fuel valve will also need to be rebuilt as the rubber parts inside tend to dry rot over time, although just recently new replacement valves have just become available. Try using a few gallons of white vinegar with a handful of sheet rock screws to clean out the tank. Fill it up and shake it around, drain, filter and repeat till it is spotless.

Expect to Replace/Rebuild:
  • Fuel Valve
  • Gas cap seal
  • Coat the inside of the tank
10) Oil filter clean/oil change: ($15 - $50)

The CB360 has in internal centrifugal oil filter that can be cleaned, but requires the side of the engine to come off, thus replacement gaskets are in order. Oil is cheap so change it frequently and buy decent quality stuff. I prefer regular Valvoline 10W-40. Also you will run into the Phillips head screws that hold the covers on to be stuck. Pop them loose with an impact driver and replace them with allen head bolts and put some anti-seize on the threads.

Expect to Replace/Rebuild:
  • Engine side cover bolts
  • Side cover gaskets (come in the complete gasket kit)
11) Mufflers: ($0 - $300)

If you are lucky the mufflers are clean and free of rust holes, however do not be surprised if they are paper thin from rust. We stock replacement mufflers available for the CB's, but for CL Scramblers and CJ's pipes are specific and there are no replacement pipes available. You will have to stick for a clean used set.

I always advise someone to buy the nicest bike that they can afford. The initial investment in getting a bike that is in good versus fair shape will pay for itself in parts, time and how smooth the repair process will be. Clean bikes are out there, but no matter what they all seem to need work to be in tip top shape. Do not be fooled into thinking because a bike is running that it is running correctly. If you are unsure about a bike, then pass, and wait for a bike that you feel more confident about. Owning a vintage bike is a lot of fun, however the other half of the equation is learning how to fix it properly. It takes time and patience to master the art of mechanics. Remember to keep in mind that the repair process will probably take longer and be more expensive than you initially expect so plan accordingly.