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How to Revive an Old Motorcycle: Save Money on Gas/Fuel! Cheap Ride!

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Picture of How to Revive an Old Motorcycle: Save Money on Gas/Fuel! Cheap Ride!
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Motorcycles are a lot of fun. They can also make for cheap and convenient transportation. I will try to describe a few easy steps to revive (salvage) most old motorcycles. You would not believe how many motorcycles are ridden for 5-10 years and then just parked in a shed or barn to rust. In my experience, I've been able to save about 80% of the old bikes I get, with about $25-$75 in parts and 3-6 hours of work. I've been given several old bikes because someone just wanted them out of the way. I've bought others for less than $250, and ridden them thousands of miles. Hopefully this instructable will give you the information you need to do the same.

NEW NOTE: The response to this instructable has been really good. I hope to do another one related to slightly more advanced/unusual issues related to saving old 2-wheelers. I've had a lot of good suggestions (Tires, exhaust,points, etc.) that I hope to include next go round. Thanks for your enthusiasm and your continued patience!!!
 
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Step 1: Choosing Your Bike : Better Safe than Sorry!

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First of all, any free bike is a good bike, even if you just use it for parts. When it comes to actually buying a fixer-upper, you need to check a few things before you lay your money down. The three things (put simply) that a bike needs to run are fuel, fire and compression. These suggestions are for when you purchase a non-running machine.

1. Is it all there? Many broken parts can be repaired easily and cheaply, but missing parts must (usually) be replaced. Pay special attention to gauges, side covers, carbs, sprockets, and brakes. Lots of these parts "walk away" while a bike is lying around unused.

2. Is the engine seized? A seized engine may or may not be a big deal. If you buy one with a seized engine, only pay scrap prices as the engine MAY (or may not) be ruined. I'll show in a later "Ible" how to deal with a seized engine.

3. Can you shift through the gears? Transmission work is no small undertaking (but not impossible) for the newbie!

4. Does it have compression? If you can kick it over (or crank it), check for compression.

5. Consider buying a semi-classic, as these machines are easiest to deal with when searching for replacement parts.

Step 2: Getting Started : The Basics

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Now that you have your new "baby", there are a few simple things to check. These steps will get most old clunkers up and running again.

1. How's the battery? Put it on a charger, or replace if necessary.

2. Drain the old gas, and check the condition of the tank. If tank is not rusty/dirty, replace with fresh gasoline.

3. Replace (or flush) the fuel filter.

4. Clean the petcock/fuel valve. (I use carb cleaner.) Make sure that gas will flow from the tank, through the petcock, through the filter, to the carb.

5. Clean the carb(s).

6. Check the spark plug(s). Clean or replace if necessary.

7. Change the oil, oil filter, and other fluids. Very often a bike that's been in storage will have such deteriorated fluids, that it will damage your machine very quickly (if you run it that way).

8. Put it all back together.

Don't worry, I'll describe the "How-To" for all of these steps (and a couple more), in the next few pages.

Step 3: The Battery

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Check the fluid level in the battery and top up with DISTILLED water, or battery acid. Put it on a trickle charge (I use the 2-amp setting). If the battery won't charge to about 75%, get a new one. When the battery is charged, carefully (+/pos to +/pos, and -/neg to -/neg) reinstall it in the bike.

Note: Some bikes will run without a battery, others will not. Some will run for a while (without a battery), but do serious damage to your charging/ignition.

Step 4: Fuel Delivery System

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1. After draining the fuel tank (Caution! NO OPEN FLAMES!!!!), and safely disposing of the old fuel, check the tank for rust. Light surface rust is no big deal, but flakey/crumbly rust is a problem.

If you have a rust problem, drop a handfull of washers/BB's/pennies into the tank. Fill it 2/3 full of soapy water (I use dishwashing liquid). Put the lid on and shake vigorously. Drain the liquid. Repeat this process with fresh water (no soap) until the water that drains out, runs clear. You can expedite this process with a pressure washer or even a garden hose with good pressure.

2. Check fuel line to make sure it does not leak. If it leaks, replace with new line. When replacing, make sure hose clamps from petcock to filter, and filter to carb are in place and sufficiently tight.

3. Check the fuel filter. If gas doesn't flow through (or flows slowly), try rinsing it out. You may use carb cleaner (sprayed in the reverse direction of the fuel flow) to clean most filters. Be careful and wear eye protection! If the filter can not be flushed, replace with a new one.

4. Check the petcock/fuel valve. If fuel will not flow through it (with the valve turned "on", "res" or "pri"), remove it from the tank. Clean it, and any filter that might be attached, thoroughly with carb cleaner. Make sure fuel will run through it, and reinstall it on the tank. Note: Be careful not to damage any gaskets during this process. Replace any damaged gaskets/seals.

5. On to the Carb!

Step 5: The Carb(s)

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Most motorcycle carbs are fairly simple. Don't be intimidated. My son was a carb-whiz by age 10. It takes a bit of experience to tune them properly, but not too much just to get them "almost" right.

1. Gently remove the carb from the bike. Take care not to damage the rubber intake boot.

2. Remove the bowl. Clean as needed.

3. Remove the float. Clean as needed.

4. Remove the needle/fuel valve. Carefully clean both the opening and the needle itself.

5. Clean any exposed jets (both inside the bowl,on the body of the carb, and in the throat of the carb). Carb spray and a tiny wire/needle will work wonders.

6. Carefully replace these items in reverse order, making sure that the float travels freely and opens and closes the needle/valve properly.

7. Remove the cap.

8. Remove the venturi/slide/piston. Clean all exposed parts (both the venturi and the exposed inner parts of the carb body).

9. Reassemble. (Reverse order of disassembly.)

10. Carefully reinstall carb, one again taking care not to damage the intake boot.

Note: Check out the instructable Star (stasterisk) did on cleaning carbs. She did a great job, and under good circumstances, carbs can be cleaned while still on the bike.

Step 6: The Plugs.

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Pull the plug. Check it's condition. Worn, sooty, fouled, or damaged plugs can be an indicator of other engine problems.

1. You may clean an old plug. A wire brush, carb cleaner, and compressed air do a good job. A lit match held just under the electrode will usually help a fouled plug. If you use a match or lighter on your plug, keep it away from fuel and carb cleaner!

2. If you can't save the old plug, replace it with a new one. Make sure it is the correct one for your machine!

3. Gap your plug to manufacturers specs.

4. Make sure the plug will fire. This is really a test of your entire ignition system. With the plugwire attached to the plug, (But the plug not installed in the head), turn your ignition system on, make sure kill-switch is set on run, and give the bike a kick/crank. If everything is right, you'll see the plug make a fat blue spark. If there's no spark, work backwards(from the plug) through the electrical system, until you find a short, a bad connection, or a non functioning component. Often on old bikes, the points need to be cleaned. I'd try it with a business card first, then spray-on electrical-contact cleaner, then emory (not sand)paper. When your electric problems are solved, it's all downhill from there.

5. While you have the plug out, it's a good time to check for compression. The best way is with a pressure gauge. The other way is to place your thumb or finger tightly over the empty plug hole. Have a friend slowly crank the engine. You'll feel the pressure, and it should forcefully escape around your finger. If you don't have pressure, prepare for a ring-job or valve-job or worse!

6. If you have spark at the plug, and good compression, you're almost there! Install the plug, connect the wire, and you're ready to start the bike.

Step 7: Start it Up!

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Ok, you've got compression. You've got fresh gas getting from the tank to the carb. You've got spark at the plug. Time to start the bike.

1. Turn the key to "On".
2. Turn the kill-switch to "Run".
3. Put the bike in neutral. (On some bikes, you'll want to
pull in the clutch as well.)
4. Put the choke in the start/choke/on position.
5. If it's a kickstart bike, there needs to be
pressure/resistance at the top of the kick stroke. You may have
to slowly rotate the kicker till you find pressure, then
release to allow the kickstart arm to come all the way to the
upright position.
5. Give it a kick, (or on an electric-start) hit the start button.
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fonz917 years ago
Re: Step #4: Some petcock/fuel valves have a vacuum line running to them, and fuel won't flow unless there's a vacuum. Hook up a vacuum pump to test in those cases.
crpt fonz914 years ago
Hi all
For vacuum pump I usualy use a syringe. Works great and it's cheap :)
skunkbait (author)  crpt4 years ago
Great idea!!
skunkbait (author)  fonz917 years ago
That's true. I came across one of those the other day. It kind of surprised me as it was a low-quality, low-tech machine. I'm used to seeing that on newer heavier machines.
Dear skunkbait,

Please help me! I have a Honda motorcycle and the pennies won't come out of the gas tank! I've tried everything (flushing, vacuuming, shaking). please help me!
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Thats pretty nutty.hahaha

Hi. Sorry to correct you, but the big Suzuki two-stroke twin is actually an earlier model. It's a Suzuki T500 (L version) from 1974. The following year was also a T500 (M version) and also the first year of the GT500 (also an M version). In 1976, Suzuki brought out the GT500A, followed by the GT500B in 1977. But that was the final year of the big Suzuki twin, and also the final model year of Suzuki's GT triple range (GT380, GT550 and GT750). A sad year indeed for big two stroke twins & triples aficionados worldwide. The Suzuki GT500 had a single disc front brake whereas the T500 had a BIG (!!) tls (twin leading shoe) front brake. Also the paint scheme on the fuel tank is the same as here: http://www.suzukicycles.org/T-series/T500_models.shtml. I also had a 1971 T500R in 1981 (I was 17yrs young in that year!). Btw, Honda four stroke twins from the CB175 up to the CB500 were always excellent 'projects' to rebuild into v.reliable Jap classic runaround motorcycles. Just sayin'...!

sasadler2 years ago
I trawl CL looking at old motorcycles all the time. I have a collection of pictures... I just love them. My fear of owning a bike w/ a carburetor has stopped me for ever buying one. I am still intimidated, but your post is inspiring!!!

If you live in Seattle, you could totally teach classes on this. There are tons of people who want these old things.

SA
Don't be afraid. If you go for a single or twin carb bike, it's not even that big of a hassle get set up!
The Rambler2 years ago
Wow, you've had a lot of awesome bikes pass through your hands. I'd love to get an older bike like the RD350 or XS1100 you've got pictured or a Honda CB or Scrambler. As far as I'm concerned the look of those is just timeless and so much better than some of the exaggerated styles available now. If I ever manage to get my hands on one I'll have to remember to use this as a reference for repair.
BBELL1012 years ago
Just finished working on my 1965 Yamaha YJ2S Campus 60, and now trying to get it sold. Anyway I am looking into getting another bike, possibly a 1970s Honda CB or Yamaha RD, what is "a lot" of miles on a bike like that? I am looking at a RD 350 that isn't running with 13,000 miles, and I don't know what to think. Help?
Limadito2 years ago
The only word that came to my mind when I see a RD350 is... lust   :-D
colelemi2 years ago
A buddy of mine just dropped off an old motorcycle at my house. He's moving out of the country and can't do the repair work on it. It's in pretty good condition so I'm glad I found this. Thanks!
2 stroke 2 years ago
i would love to get a yamaha rd 350 2 stroke forever
skunkbait (author)  2 stroke 2 years ago
I sure do miss my old one! But I still have a Kawasaki S2-350 two stroke...
as you cna tell from my username is that im crazy for 2 strokes i rode a 4 stroke dirtbike once and i hated it i like the unpredictable and violent powerband of the 2 stroke i cannot wait till the directinjected 2 stroke motorcycles come out check out the ossa enduro 250i a dream bike the expansion chamber under the exhaust is awesome too di incerases fuel economy by 45% and decrases emissions by 90% i think 2 strokes are making a grat come back onto the street
skunkbait (author)  2 stroke 2 years ago
I look forward to seeing the future of two strokes. I like the smell and the sound, but I LOVE the brutal powerband. BAck in the 70's, my father-in-law had one that would wheelie, at highway speed, with the powerband alone- no clutch work! I also still have 3 Harley ring dings and a Bultaco Sherpa-T 350 (trials bike).
i have a 97 honda cr 250 that im selling so i can go to university next year after my 5 years there ill get a new ducati 848 EVO and i will get a husquvarna te 300r which is comming out in 2014 just search direct injectes husquvarna 300 enduro i cannot wait till it comes out i just have to wait 2 years how awsome is that i cant wait for them to make it
potato4133 years ago
Any advice for places to find bikes to restore under a grand? Im looking for something like a cb750 to fix up but cant find anything on craigslist...
sorry i meant bikes at
you can find old bikesmat scrap yards they usually put the good stuff aside and the employees either take it home or sell it
peaksprt53 years ago
Be careful with older carbs. The metal is softer and if you use too much torque on the screws they strip easily. Rebuilt my fist carb which was a 78 Honda Goldwing. I stripped about 5 float bowl screws because I thought they needed to be tight. A good gasket will keep the fuel in. You don't need them super tight.
7070x3 years ago
For much less of hassle, it's worth of getting NEW plugs at any case. I used to ride 1962 Vespa (piaggio) two strokes engine that required me to clean dirty plug so often. Real pain in the butt, though actually what I usually did only sand off the poles of plugs and bend it inward somehow makes it easier for it to spark.
When doing this, also check the spark plug cable derived from the coil. Often, connection isn't so free at this point. What I'do: unscrew plug from its house, cut the outer skin of plug cable about 2-3cm. Roll up the bones, make them neat and clean. Put it back on. Check if it fires again (kick start it) and connect it to (-) ground.

abadfart4 years ago
i picked up this 1980 Honda cb650c for $400 and it was running but it stalled on my way home and it turned out that i was only running on three cylinders so i cleaned the carbs and now its only firing on one but i have full compression.
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Hmmm, this might sound stupid, but how much gas do you have in it?

Is fuel flowing out of the lines going into the carbs if you detach them and turn the gas on at the tank?

What did you do to clean the carbs? Did you clean all the jets and blow out the idle circuits with compressed air or carb cleaner?

If all else fails, try new plugs.
i used a bath and soaked the carb parts then put them back together that didn't work so i replaced the fuel line but thats because somebody had trimmed it to nothing at all so i gave in and got 4 new plugs and it is now running but its slow jets are gummed up on the right 2 carbs. i got my bags on today and will be putting a windshield and highway pegs with a stereo on latter and im having my friend paint the tank. and im just going to ride it for a couple of days and see if it fixes the slow idle.
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If the jets are gummed up, the best way to fix it would be to remove the jet, take a small piece of wire (like from a wire brush), and poke all of the crud out of it (be careful not to scrape the brass), then blow it out with compressed air or carb cleaner.
ok its running now but i need to sink the carbs but i don't want to spend the cash on a balancer. i think i see my next instructabul
skunkbait (author)  abadfart4 years ago
Twin carbs on a bike like that shouldn't be TOO hard to get ALMOST right. It is definitely possible to set four carbs by ear/sight/feel, but it's a lot of trial and error. Get them running as similarly as possible (spark plug condition, after a little running will let you know if they are similar). Also, soome bikes kinda need the intake to be through a common plenum. If so, get it as close as possible, and then re-install the airbox, BEFORE you decide if it's REALLY right or not.
well i think I'll try this and tune it up
skunkbait (author)  abadfart4 years ago
That looks good. I may make one of those.

Doing it by ear/feel is difficult.

-Make sure all cylinders are hitting.

-With airbox off, and engine running, try to determine if each carb is drawing a similar amount of air. You may have to get creative here.

-If it has good power, and all cylinders are firing, then you go through a series of in-and-out tests with good spark plugs.

- If you can get the bike to run well, place four clean plugs in. run for 2 minutes and check. IF ALL THE PLUGS ARE THE SAME COLOUR, AND NOT SOOTY OR OILY, then it's probably as close as you can get without the right equipment. CHeck periodically to make sure one or more is not running rich/lean.

- If one (or more) plug is fouled/sooty/etc, then adjust the MIXTURE (usually not the idle) to the corresponding carb.

PS- Get a good diagram to tell you how to read your plug conditions.
sad day i got it running and balanced but then i sprung a fuel leak and am now waiting on a new set of o-rings from e-bay
skunkbait (author)  abadfart4 years ago
We've all been there! I'm dealing with a set of leaky petcocks on a '76 Yamaha this week....
well i got new rings at a Yamaha shop and got it balanced using my Frankenstein carb balance but am now having trouble with hard acceleration, if i role on the throttle slowly it works fine but if i crank on it is splutters, pops and smokes. im thinking it could ether be a air leak or the less pleasant bad accelerator pump what would your thoughts be on this?
skunkbait (author)  abadfart3 years ago
I'm dealin with the exact same issue on my everyday rider!

Sounds like an air leak. Might also be a fuel supply issue. Don't forget, tight new rings might even give you probs until they are broken in.
do you think it could be to tight of a fit of the ring on the pilot screw?
skunkbait (author)  abadfart3 years ago
Hmmmm??... I kinda doubt it, but I have seen stranger things.

I actually thought of something else on the ride home from work this morning(65 miles!), but now I can't remember it. I'll message you if I can remember it.
have you had any experience with installing pod filters. i really want it running before i move. ill be down south and it will be warm enough to ride every day.
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