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




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!

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

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

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

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)

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.

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!

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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    278 Discussions


    11 years ago on Step 4

    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.

    4 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 4

    Hi all
    For vacuum pump I usualy use a syringe. Works great and it's cheap :)


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    3 years ago

    In step 4, I'd advise NOT using pennies, as you can't get those things out of your tank with a magnet. Use steel washers/nuts or ferrous BBs, and retrieve them via a strong magnet taped or zip-tied to a paint stirrer or ruler or something.

    Some tanks, like that on my 1980 Honda CB650 have a lip that extends a good 1" or so down thru the tank opening that makes it impossible to shake stuff out of it by holding the tank upside down.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 months ago

    I cant tell you how many bikes I have resurrected over a fifty year span of time, But I can say that I have never seen a fuel tank that I would consider putting pennies or BB's in for any reason' I use different size of and links of chain,diesel, hot hot water, shaking the heck out of it and more hot water for several days, then a gallon of toilet cleaner with chains, and If the bike is worthy I put a liner in it, KBS is the brand I turn to


    Question 10 months ago on Introduction

    My husband has a 2003 Honda shadow looks awesome doesn't ride much. Bike has been sitting 8 months. He puts New gas jump starts it and it back fires and stalls. I told him he needs to take all of the fluid out of bike, and change spark plugs, tune it up, and new battery of course. He will not listen to me, and will not seek advice. Can you please assist me. When he turns it on it's horrible with the misfiring. Thank you :-)


    1 year ago on Introduction

    The best advise I heard in 40 years is don't be intimidated get into it and have fun.


    3 years ago

    So i have acess to an old bike, ive been eying it for months now,
    its an old 1991 yamaha rx-100
    its a very popular bike back in india
    i really would like to fix it , but i want to do it myself or not at all
    but i have no experience in any kind of garage work(i very desperateltywant to be able to do it)
    it a total noob,but i have sense in fairly good amounts. I'm tight on cash too
    does it make sense to you people(pro/semi-pros) for some one like me to attempt fixing it?

    i could send in a picture
    btw parts are not hard to find
    but ill be doing every single thing for the first time,
    also its pretty beaten un , no one has used it for 3-4 years now , it has rust in some places externally but the transmission seems not to be working

    (please say yes)

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Get a Haynes manual for the bike on ebay, some basic tools and go for it. Read the manual, check YouTube videos, join a discussion group for that bike and ask lots of questions. I'm not a mechanic or anything but I've changed the oil, replaced batteries, spark plugs and performed other basic maintenance on my 1994 Suzuki GS500. Unfortunately, I left this bike in my garage unused for 10 years and I'm doing my best to revive it. Youtube and my Haynes manual are teaching me what I need to do. Go slow, ask questions, and don't rush it. Use common sense and be cautious with fuel and electrical systems. Take care and I wish you success.

    Alex R.


    Reply 3 years ago

    (its for my 18th birthday,liscense day)


    3 years ago

    I've got a 70s ducati here that I want to try to run. I have mechanic experience but I'm afraid of rust, on things like bolts...I'm afriad I'll strip something after its been siting so long


    3 years ago

    Thank you for this Instructable! Very clear instructions, and a fantastic guide for getting my baby up and running again. Currently working on cleaning out the carbs at the moment. This definitely gave me the confidence to get underway on this project after 3 years of "Eva" sitting in the garage. Thanks again, and looking forward to your advanced tutorial!


    3 years ago

    Really like this instructable ! Recently used it to revive one of my own. I would like to add if I may that one tool everyone should pick up before jumping into a bike that has been abandoned in the weather is a manual impact driver. As most of your fasteners will be Phillips head screws that tend to round out with just a screwdriver.


    3 years ago

    Hi, any advice before I start up a bike thats been standing for about a year. 80s yamaha xj 650


    4 years ago

    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!

    2 replies

    As soon as I saw the metal lip that the tank on my Honda CB650 has, I knew right away there'd be no way shaking stuff out would work!

    For anyone with a tank like that, I'd advise NOT using pennies, as you can't get those things out of your tank with a magnet. Use steel washers/nuts or ferrous BBs, and retrieve them via a strong magnet taped or zip-tied to a paint stirrer or ruler or something.


    4 years ago on Introduction

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