The Rat Bike

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The worse the economy gets, the more popular motorcycles become. They’re a cheap – and fun – way to get around. “Rat bikes” – older models that maybe don’t look showroom-new anymore but run fine – even more so. You can still find mechanically sound, if  a bit aesthetically impaired, rat bikes for $2,000 or so. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a lot less so. As an example, about a year ago, I stumbled on a 1983 Honda GL650 Interstate. This is a middleweight touring bike with a windshield, fairing and lockable, weatherproof storage compartments – making it ideal for longer trips and much more practical/useful than a sport bike. I snapped it up for $1,400 with 12,765 original miles on the clock. I now have a 60 MPG bike that’s a lot more appealing to me than a 50 MPG – and $25,000 – hybrid.   

A buddy scored a couple of older Nighthawks – each of them costing less than $1,500. They have some dings; the chrome’s not perfect anymore. But the bikes are 100 percent solid, mechanically.

But, older bikes have their owns set of issues. The first of these is that many dealers won’t touch a bike older than 15 years or so. Some draw the line at ten. Many people do not know about this informal rule – and get a surprise when they take their newfound oldie in for a valve clearance check and carb adjustment.

This is very much unlike the situation with cars. You can take a 20-year-old Honda to virtually any Honda dealer – provided it’s a four-wheeled Honda.

I’m not sure why this is – but be advised, it is.

In any event, it’s important to factor this fact into your decision whether to buy an older bike – especially if you can’t do most major (and even minor) work yourself. Ask around and see whether there’s an independent shop/mechanic in your area you can go to. There probably is – with the caveat that specialists are often even more expensive than a dealer.

The second issue is related to the first: parts. Both availability and expense. The first is fairly obvious, even if many don’t think about it much.

The second less so.

The good news is that, for most major brands (Honda, Kaw, Harley, etc.) basic maintenance stuff (oil filters, brake parts, etc.) usually remains easy to find either at the dealer parts counter or through aftermarket mail order suppliers such as Dennis Kirk ( or (for the Japanese stuff) Sudco.  Even after the bike is 30-plus years old. I have a ’76 Kz900, for example, and it has never been a problem to get those things.

Sometimes it takes a few days for them to get here via UPS. But no big deal.

However, after about ten years or so, the availability of factory-new replacement trim parts, electrical bits and pieces and even things like factory footpegs/grips, etc. often begins to peter out – especially if the bike was not a popular model that was produced in large numbers over a period of several years. Watch out for low-production bikes built only for a year or two – like my one-year-only ’83 GL650. If I ever need certain parts unique to this one model, built for only one model year, I will be on a Mission!

Honda is better than most in terms of parts availability – chiefly because while old man Honda himself was alive, it was official company policy that Honda would continue to manufacture parts for all the bikes it ever made – all the way back to ’60s-era Honda Dreams, even. But old man Honda is dead and gone – and the policy has changed. While it is still generally easier to scrounge parts for older Hondas, it’s not as easy as it used to be.

You may have to scrounge the used market (or eBay) to find what you need. It’s smart to stock up on spares for stuff you know you will need eventually – such as grips and pegs. Aftermarket stuff can usually be made to work, but factory stuff is preferable.

But here’s where you can get burned: While the cost of a rat bike itself may be miraculously low, sometimes, the failure of a major/critical component can render the whole works a money pit quicker than you can say ElectraGlide in Blue.

Example: A croaked alternator/stator on some bikes can be a $400 deal; radiators are similarly expensive. Ditto CDIs and other electronic components without which the bike will not run. And which renders the bike effectively worthless both to you and to anyone you might try to sell it to.

Of course, these are precisely the parts most likely to croak on you, if you have an older bike.

Certain older bikes, in particular.

Like cars, some bikes (and brands of bikes) are known to be more (or less) trouble-prone than others. Given the repair-to-worth ratio of a $2k bike, it is doubly important to take a little time to research the known history of any older bike you’re thinking about buying. Fifteen minutes of Googling is usually plenty of time to discover any significant red flags. The Internet is a wonderful tool. Irate owners of a problem bike can be counted on to leave lengthy posts about their experience. And it may not be that the bike’s “bad” – just expensive to fix.

Check owner’s boards for the make/model of bike you’re interested in. The info is readily available. If you don’t find anything specific, ask around. If you’re thinking about an old Honda CB750, say, find an owner’s BBS (or general Honda bike board) and leave a post asking previous owners and others for their input, pros and cons. Ask people you know who know bikes, too.

Be aware that water-cooled bikes are more complicated – and potentially expensive – than air/oil-cooled ones. Check for obvious signs of marginal maintenance such as dirty, obviously old brake fluid in the master cylinder, chewed-up sprockets, indicator lights that don’t work and gauges that read abnormally – or not at all. Listen for weird noises – and look for things like excessive smoke. Does it start easily? Does it shift smoothly? The usual, common sense checks. Trust your intuition. It’s usually right.

Bottom line, a low-bucks rat bike is a great bike to have – provided you’re careful about which one you grab by the tail.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. Eric,

    It’s funny you wrote this post, even though it’s old now. Back in the late 00s, I worked with a guy who had an old Moto Guzzi V50 sitting in the garage. I went to look at it, and for such an old bike, it was in good to very good condition. He offered it to me for FREE! It had a few things wrong with it, such as a bent gear shift lever. I Googled the parts, and they weren’t available. Shoot, even the tires aren’t made in that size anymore! I told him thanks, but no thanks, because I didn’t foresee being able to get the needed parts to make it rideable again… 🙁

    • Hi Mark,

      Free is my favorite price! I would have taken the bike and found used/NOS or alternative parts. A gear shift lever is easily fabricated if necessary and I bet there are tires available; maybe not the exact OE size but one up or down and they’d fit, probably. Failing that, new wheels – wheels that fit – could be adapted.

      This is fun to me – but I realize I’m a sick dude!

      • I didn’t think of that. I think he’s still around; I’ll have to give him a call to see if he still has the bike. I was just thinking of getting the bike on the road, while keeping it as close to NOS as possible. Anyway, I was just confirming what you say about bikes that were rare, such as your Silver Wing…

  2. I have a ’93 Honda Nighthawk 750 that I swear has been through a dozen owners. It was so cheap, I couldn’t pass it up. Replaced the chain and sprockets, de-rusted most of the chrome, put on new mirrors and cheap Chinese turn signals, gave it a tune up, carb balance, lovingly buffed it with rubbing compound and had fun riding it. I screwed up and encountered a patch of road grime in the depth of a 180 degree hairpin – you can guess what happened.

    But I’m fixing ‘er up again. But this time, I’m starting to think I should just leave the tank dent, rattle can the scant paint, pull the muffler cones out (that 750 sounds mean as hell that way) and just ride the rat. It’s already gained the name, “DumpsterHawk”.

    Regarding 3D printing, it’s only a matter of time. SpaceX’s Space Ship II has 100% 3D printed ROCKET ENGINES. I’m guessing if you can 3D print man rated rocket engines, bike parts won’t be a problem.

  3. OT but generally germane is this stunning piece of idiocy

    Best line

    “In September 2011 the EU imposed an austerity package on Portugal. This included putting high tolls on the excellent motorway system. But the Portuguese had never before charged motorway tolls, so there are no toll booths to be able to collect the money.
    Under a directive from the EU, the Portuguese Government overcame this by installing cameras along the motorways, telling all Portuguese number plate motorists that they must pay the tolls. But how?
    They must go to the Post Office after 2 days – but before 5 days, to pay cash.”

  4. An interesting book which touches on this is Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work

    The guy who wrote is is a former academic who now runs a vintage bike repair business, he uses a lot of stories from his work to make his points.

  5. You’re absolutely right about these bikes, Eric. They’re cheap rides, and they engender feelings of loyalty in a rider because they give you so much transportation, for such a low price, but they can be a hassle if you’re not mechanically inclined. I’ve owned 3 older bikes and dealerships refused to work on them. Told me to buy a new bike. Individual mechanic shops would do so, but take 3 weeks or more to get a bike back to me, due to parts issues and individual shops are harder to find these days. So now I buy my bikes around the 4 – 5 year mark, and by the time they start refusing to work on them, I’m ready to move on anyway.

    One thing I see a lot of in Albuquerque are mountain bikes with some small, cheap engine bolted to the frame, driving the bike at about 40mph – it’s funny to be sitting in traffic and see one of those whiz by your car, or to be driving 40, and see one keep up with you. Great gas mileage and suitable in most of the West Coast, except the Pacific North West, where they get all the rain.

    • It’s hard to go wrong with something like a KLR650 – that bike has been in production, largely unchanged, almost forever. A ten year-old one is pretty much like a two-year-old one; i.e, most parts are the same – so it’s still very easy to get parts (and even service) for one of these. And the best part is there’s not all that much to service!

      The Nighthawk series is like this, too. The 750 version was built in huge numbers, until very recently – and parts are still readily available.

      • I see quite a few KLR650s for sale, many with very low miles, useful mods, and reasonably priced. Definitely one that’s on my “must ride” list.

        • These are great bikes. I’ve owned them – and can vouch for them. The larger cc (650) can be ridden anywhere; people do cross-country tours on them. They are absolutely highway-capable. The smaller (250 cc) version is strong enough for short highway runs – and brilliant everywhere else. Though street-legal, with good tires a KLR250 will go almost anywhere off-road. And get 70-plus MPG all day long, too.

  6. BMW parts are sooooooo expensive they will make you cry. Even used bits cost a pile.

    However, as others have pointed out there are safe and reliable options for virtually all bikes out there. Many bits can and will fit other bikes with just slight modifications. Also, alternators and starter motors can be rewound at most electric motor repair shops. Not only will this save you a pile of money but if the repairman uses a good quality wire the rebuilt motor may actually be better than the stock unit. While the factory repair manual electrical diagrams appear very daunting the actual premise is very basic and most riders can easily do electrical repairs themselves.

  7. Another also, did you guys see this, lotsa motorcycles in it:

    Is This What Freedom Look Like?

    “You see a few police cars come along… and notice how nobody pays them any attention. It’s like they don’t exist.”

    Whoa, I can’t hardly imagine.

    Wait a minute – I can – barely.
    I went to Mexico once, a long time ago, when I was there I said I never wanted to come back! Never!… I wonder why I did. … I think I was tricked.

    Everybody freaks out when cops are about in my town, as has always been the case. … Things are sooo upside down here.

    • It has been said – and I agree – that the typical person (i.e., the non-criminal, the person just trying to get through the day, do their thing) has more to fear from a cop than a (non-official, non-uniformed) criminal.

      I’m in my mid-40s and have never been robbed at gunpoint by an ordinary criminal. But I have been robbed at gunpoint literally dozens of times by cops. Cumulatively, the total I’ve had to “stand and deliver” – in the felicitous phrase of the appropriately named highway robber – comes to thousands of dollars, over the past twenty-something years. It’s dressed up, of course – in order to make the cop feel better about himself (he’s just keeping us safe, etc.) and also to douse the rage of his victim by getting him to accept what’s done to him as something other than it is. That being, a robbery at gunpoint.

      I do not especially fear louty-looking thugs approaching me on the street. I’m not a tough guy, but I’m bigger than average – and I usually carry a big gun. If the thugs come at me, I am reassured by my physical capacity to resist and defend myself – and also by the fact that the law is still (for the moment) on my side, should I be forced to defend myself.

      But I do fear Officer 82nd Airborne. Not because he’s bigger or tougher than me. But because it does not matter how big and tough he is. I am just as fearful of a bloated lout in uniform. Or even a female a third my size in uniform. Because I am legally powerless to defend myself against them, no matter what I’ve done (or not done) and no matter what the cop does to me, no matter how outrageous. To do so much as raise one’s hand to ward off a blow – to try to retreat and get away from an assault by cop – is the equivalent of the opening bell at a boxing match. Only you’re not allowed to box back – and there’s no retreating to your corner, or ref to end the fight.

      In court, the cop’s statements will be taken as gospel truth simply by dint of the cop’s having said them. Your statements, on the other hand, will be treated as “hearsay” – if the judge allows them to be heard at all – and dismissed out of hand absent your $lawyer$ managing to get incontrovertible video evidence into play. If there’s video evidence. If the evidence is admitted. If you had the money to hire a $lawyer$ to operate the levers of the system – levers you and I and other Mundanes are not allowed to touch.

  8. The title and the first photo Cracked-Me-Up!
    I have just gotten to know about rat-rods, I never thought about rat bikes.
    Rat bikes makes a whole lot more sense to me than rat-rods though. Way more.

    I always liked the Nighthawks, glad to see you pin them up.

    Also, I keep coming across references to 3D printer building, I think that shit is going to revolutionize things.
    BrentP wrote, “The rapid prototype plastic parts generally decay over time. They are only meant to be used for a short while.”
    Having worked with injection molding before, I have to wonder, how is the factory product any different? Time plus, and things will catch up, I imagine.

    BrentP wrote, “I’ve left the parts from various projects on or in my desk for years only to find they have become very weak and brittle.”

    Maybe i’m misreading what he writes, but, Dude, I have a thirty year old bucket that works as well as ever. I suppose it depends on what the starting product is made of?
    Were 1930’s telephones made from injection molding? Cause the ones I’ve come across are just about bullet-proof.

    I dunno, after working with injection molding before, replicator magic seems like an easy step from here.

    THe one part I hate about reading EPA is it makes me want a bike. Ya know, Ferfal writes about thieves knocking riders off their bikes to take the bike, maybe having a non-high-pro-glow bike would discourage that? Maybe?
    Or am I too forward thinking here?>

    I do so miss the thrill and freedom of riding a motorcycle. Pure joy.

    • Despite obvious similarities I think the rat rod and rat bike phenomena come out of two different cultural backgrounds. I first encountered rat bikes in the highly politicized European anarcho-punk alternative custom bike scene of the ’90s (anyone remember AWoL magazine?). The rat thing sat right next to the post-apocalyptic survival bike thing, with a lot of overlap between the two. It’s a design approach I still enjoy, even if it has become diluted, as these things do, to the point where you get people striking a pose in a matt-black BMW X5, quite oblivious to where the whole matt-black thing came from.

      I suppose rat rods had an initial spurt of sincerity, though I think that was more in movements immediately prior but outside the rat rod movement. Very soon it became a mere adjunct to the exercise in supposed cultural slumming that produced Von Dutch as a rootless fashion label, a process I find personally offensive. There is more than a little, “dahlings, let’s all dress up like trailer trash” to it.

      All that has left the rat rod thing an unhistorical pastiche of caricature “’50s” cues, bobby socks and games of chance, like the stage set for an experimental off-Broadway paraphrase of West Side Story. It is a contrived thing.

  9. I have two 35 year old BMW “airheads” (R series) bikes. The 1978 bikes were the last non-computerized non-pollution-control BMWs, and the older BMWs are therefore easy to maintain. BMW continues to supply parts for all the older BMW bikes. There are also a number of used part dealers, as well as about four national magazines devoted exclusively to the older BMW bikes. The R series bikes are quiet, vibrationless, structurally overdesigned (somewhat heavy but extremely reliable). Their semi-collector status means that reliable (nearly new condition) BMW R series bikes usually go for about $3000 to $4000. When they were built they were state of the art racing/touring bikes with excellent handling qualities. Some of us appreciate the combination of owning a piece of history, good performance, and excellent handling an R series BMW provides. Owners of the older BMW bikes typically keep them in nearly new condition.

    • I see older Rs around my area fairly often. $3-$4k for a solid, reliable – and classic/collectible – old bike is a good deal. That’s in the same ballpark as my classic Japanese stuff (Z1s, triples, etc.)

  10. The other thing about “rat bikes” is that you don’t even have to stick to factory stock parts if you don’t want to – the aftermarket is a great source for better than stock parts for popular bikes. Shocks and tires, to name two, have VASTLY improved over the last 30 years. Select the correct tires and many older bikes with a reputation for squirrely handling can be transformed (though the opposite can occur too if you are not careful). Also, a bike doesn’t care what junkyard bike say, the front master cylinder came off of, as long as the piston volume and stroke are correct, and it fits, you are done. There are lots of 80’s bikes that sport upside-down fork front ends, complete with modern wheels, tires, and brakes, not bad, again, if you know what you are doing, and do your research. And although we all love to hate it, eBay is still a treasure trove for used alternatives to very expensive or unobtainable parts. But don’t neglect the online forums and bike clubs, because people will be glad to sell cheap or give away parts to a fellow enthusiast…

  11. Man, good luck with the rat bikes. I was asked by a parts guy at a Kawasaki dealer “why don’t you just buy a new one?” for a ten year old 454. That was in ’95… I’m now in a ’97 Honda Valk and can barely get critical parts. The ethanol has killed many carb bikes and that matters alot. I finally went with a used Harley because at least they have used standard parts for the critical stuff for years (exhaust O-rings for example). The Japanese bikes have largely become ‘throw-aways’. Buy them with that in mind. A couple of grand every few years is ok. Just don’t get too attached.

    • I’ve got five older bikes – two of them pushing 40 years old. I haven’t had a problem with ethanol-laced “gas” – with the following caveats:

      Never, ever store the bike with ethanol-laced gas. At minimum, store with fuel stabilizer and run the bike for at least 30 minutes once a month – topping off the tank with fresh fuel at the end of the ride. If the gas has been in the tank for more than two months, drain it. Also the carb fuel bowls. My experience has been that the biggest problem with ethanol-laced gas is that it degrades pretty quickly.

      I fill my tanks with pure unleaded regular prior to the off-season – mixed with stabilizer. You can find non-ethanol gas in most areas now. I run each bike for 30 minutes once a month, no matter what – even if it’s just running it on the center stand! “Just sitting” is probably the worst enemy any old bike has.

      Also: Most carb rebuild kits will come with ethanol-compatible parts.

  12. I had mentioned before in another column comment section I scored a 91′ Bandit 400 fairly cheaply last month. It’s coming along quite nicely. Though limited in sales here in the US it did well globally and was something of a part bin special when manufactured, so parts availability hasn’t been an issue.

    Carbs & Brake components are all shared between multiple models…so I’ve been able to cross reference stuff accordingly when not specifically listed for my Bandit 400.

    The internet has made this so much easier than 15 years ago…not only can I get a wealth of info. on problems/fixes, and cross reference parts…but I just ordered uprated rotors from China for a half what the going rate is normally if I went with OEM or name brand suppliers.

    The engine is a transplant from the popular in Japan GSXR400.

    I agree with Eric, when you go to fix one problem sometimes you stumble into others and peeling back the layers of the onion can start to get pricey…but in the context that even a lowly new 650 is going to set you back at least $7k, with higher insurance and taxes you’ve got a lot of leeway if you get the prospective vintage bike low enough to start.

    Of course, I’m doing my own wrenching…if I had to rely on a dealership the metrics would be totally different.

    Yay for the internets!

  13. My theory about why motorcycle mechanics won’t work on older bikes is that since old motorcycles are not usually primary modes of transport, some such “cost”omers may balk at expensive repairs _after_ time-consuming diagnoses, and may even refuse to pay for the diagnostics. A mechanic’s lien is useless to most motorcycle shops, unlike, say, cars — which can easily be flipped at auction: even as scrap metal, a car is worth $200 by weight (about 2-3 hours of labor at typical repair shops).

    • The reason that new bike dealerships don’t work on bikes that are over 10 years old is they share the car dealership mentality; they want to discourage you from not trading your old bike in for a new one. They keep limited parts in stock, so they need to keep parts for the bikes that the dealership is selling now. That is why the automotive industry offered ‘cash for clunkers’. They eliminated millions of dollars of reasonably priced parts by scamming people into buying new cars to increase the profits for the new auto industry.

  14. Eric, what’s your experience/knowledge of BMW bikes? It seems to be a very popular brand *worldwide* but maybe not so here in the USSA. Their line of enduro-dual-sport bikes is really nice but I reckon parts and maintenance are very expensive, no?

    Thanks for the info.

    • Very little! I’ve ridden a few – never owned one. My impression is they’re fairly expensive to own, both to buy and to keep up. Nothing against them, mind. But I’ve come to really appreciate the Japanese stuff – especially the “golden era” Japanese stuff built from circa mid 1970s through the early ’90s. Some, like the Kaw Z1/Kz900/1000 series, were over-built and are just incredibly tough birds – hard to hurt and if you do, they’re simple and cheap to fix. The Honda Nighthawk series is another standout. These bikes are bulletproof, can be configured a variety of ways (sport bike, commuter bike, touring bike) and are extremely affordable to buy/maintain.

      Maybe someone here has insight about BMW bikes?

      • yeah, i’m still learning about the differences between bikes, but from what I can tell I can’t see any real reason to go with a Beamer except for status. The Japanese know how to make a bike and do so for a lot less money.

        BTW, in a previous post you commented on some of the fallacies commonly associated with owning a scooter, one of which was safety. To wit: Last week I was driving the car down a backroad that I frequent, speed limit 55 as usual, and lo and behold but this dude has got his little runt of a scooter maxed out at around 40mph. Of course he’s got a line of cars backed up behind him anxiously awaiting the chance to pass; and worse, I couldn’t really tell at first what the hold up was because the dude was so low to the ground that his head barely appeared above door height. It was nuts and now I can totally see your point about how important it is to keep pace with traffic whether on a bike or in a car. Strike one for the scooter.

        • I’ve got a 250 cc Vespa scooter. Top speed close to 80. I always ride with the flow of traffic. But I agree, small scooters can be a problem.

          Also good advice is: While riding a scooter or motorcycle, never piss off automobile drivers. You don’t want road rage directed against you. So to scooter riders I would caution: Don’t hold up traffic. If you can’t keep up with traffic, pull over to the side of the road and let the cars pass.

      • Buying a BMW, even used is like buying a house in a neighborhood with an HOA. You are automatically inducted into the cult. You have no choice in the matter. Older ones are really cool. but parts are getting hard to source. New ones are ridiculously expensive to maintain from what my friends tell me.

        • It’s a cult, alright, but there are two denominations.

          There are the yuppy Bimmer-worshippers who wouldn’t know a good car if it ran them over, but buy the label; they’re the same superficial crowd who buy every other name brand because, you know, it’s “in”.

          Then there are the cult members who appreciate fine machinery…more often, they’ll buy the BMW “M” cars. Some, like me, buy them used for a huge discount.

          Yeah, the parts and upkeep are expensive. But the machines themselves have soul. They’re responsive; the engines feel like they WANT to give more, like they’re striving to please you. The handling is crisp and dynamic; I think a good set of tires on my wife’s infiniti would put it right on my car’s upper G-limits. But it doesn’t feel the same. There are now Japanese engines–like the Lexus IS-F and the Hyundai Equus–with 5-liter V-8’s that make more power than the M5’s s62 V-8.

          But they don’t feel like they’re really trying. They’re a bit like an electric motor; it’s not a passionate thing, it doesn’t speak to you, it’s not soulful. It’s an appliance.

          I feel like one of those guys defending Ferraris in the era when any modestly powerful muscle car was faster and 1/4 the price. But I swear, there’s something to the good BMW’s that’s sublime, if you like that kind of thing.

          I hate the yuppies. They ruin the BMW name.

        • I never got inducted into the cult, but your friends obviously don’t know much about BMW’s. I can sell you one for a very reasonable price, say $3000.00 and you can ride it until the hubs rub. I just happen to have 12 BMW’s and know how to save money on them. BMW’s are actually very cheap to maintain because BMW did the hard part which is they are well-engineered and you just need to know people like me or others in the cult that share knowledge and offer parts for reasonable prices. Most older Jap bikes are in a junkyard. BMW’s are more collectors items.

      • I’ve been riding and working on BMW bikes since 1978. The old boxers are cheap to ride and maintain yourself. I have eight 4-cylinder K-bikes which are much more complex, like cars, although after working on them, you will find that they are alike and share many of the same parts. I can sell these K-bikes with reasonable mileage for $3000 or less depending on the overall condition or restore them. I have sources to get my parts at MC junk yards, suppliers and repair shops that work on the older BMW’s for dramatically reduced prices. Eric, contact me if you are interested because most of your readers in this reply column don’t have a clue about BMW’s when they think that BMW’s are expensive. I have 12 of them which cost me less than what most people pay for 1 bike. A new scooter costs about 3 times more than I paid for any of my BMW’s.

        • What are some of the BMW bikes you have? I never thought about BMW bikes much until I met a guy with one. It is a huge bike and he goes 100 mph everywhere. His bike even has reverse!

        • Hi Morgan,

          Good info – thanks for taking the time to post. I admit I’m one of those who’s a little skeered of BMW bikes, for all the reasons mentioned. Good to know there’s no reason to be!

          • Eric,
            If you want to be scared of a used bike, consider that 1st picture of the rat Norton. Old English bikes are notorious for ongoing problems unless you either know how to totally rebuild them or know a friendly mechanic that can sell you one that he has gone through. That is why I’ve ridden BMW’s for so long. I rode Nortons and Triumphs before that and they require constant maintainance. I even went to mechanics school to ride my Norton which helped until I scattered the engine all over the road at 100MPH.

    • A good rule of thumb on ANY “vintage” transportation is that unless you’re willing and able to perform at least minor repairs and maintenance yourself, it’s a money-losing proposition. Repair shops for the most part are oriented to “plunder” as much as they can persuade the mark to part with. That’s fine for the deliberately ignorant, but it’s a necessary part of making vintage machinery a paying proposition. Besides, guys tend to waste too much time watching Ghettoball on TV anyway. Be a man and learn not to be at the tender mercies of larcenists with an ASE certification.

      • Doug, you’re right!

        And anyone who rides is by definition physically able to do basic stuff such as an oil/filter change, spark plug change, chain adjustment/cleaning/oiling, shaft drive service, changeout air filter – even a coolant change and brake service. Bikes are (generally) very easy, as far as the routine maintenance stuff goes. Elaborate tools are not required. A decent repair manual, basic tool set and patience will git ‘er done.

    • Bought a BMW R1200 C Phoenix last month.

      2001 with 14K miles, great shape, never dropped. $7K, plus another $1500 for tires, brakes, belt, tune-up, fluids, wheel bearing, etc. Dealer detailed & delivered after for free.

      Liked the cruiser look & many features rare in other bikes:

      Brembo anti-lock brakes, heated handgrips, shaft drive (no chain noise or lube), air-cooled (no radiator to break), 3-spoke wheels (no 100+ spokes to clean), low seat with folding back rest, adjustable suspension, boxer engine (80+ years, bug free), more.

      Bought Kisan flashers for head & brake lights, increase visibility, excellent products.

      Nice to have a bike for weekend rides, low fuel needs, beach parking & backup for car when needed. Always gets compliments when parked.

      Been bike-less too long, good to be back in saddle.

  15. Interesting story about a 3D printer building replacement parts for one of Leno’s steam engines:

    I can see where this sort of “parts warehouse” will become the norm for restoring old vehicles and other antiques over the next few years. Once you have the pattern, you can crank them out one at a time. Sure, it’s not as fast as having the original diesets and presses, but there may only be a few dozen models remaining. So what if it takes a day to make a part.

    • The rapid prototype plastic parts generally decay over time. They are only meant to be used for a short while. I’ve left the parts from various projects on or in my desk for years only to find they have become very weak and brittle.

      Now investment casting from a rapid prototype is another story. The parts are fairly robust but they do tend to have weak points and assembly often needs to be done with care. Now are they worse than casting quality of 1910? Probably not, so with the thick walls and bosses and such of the period they are probably fine.

      How the technology is used must be thought through carefully. The manufacturing process of the part being replaced must also be considered. For instance replacing a die cast part with rapid prototyping via investment casting may require design changes to produce a working part that will last.

      These articles always make it seem like replicator magic. It isn’t.

      • I have always been fascinated by the 3-D printer technology and only wish I worked somewhere that I could have access to using one of these.

        So Question to anyone in the know – Could the 3-D printer be used in reverse to make a one time mold for a metal (not plastic) part – sort of like Lost Foam Casting technology – or is there some issue preventing this?

    • I’ve been following this pretty closely myself, I think it’s going to do for manufacturing what the internet did for the printing press. It will be revolutionary and it’s going to change everything, and I mean EVERYTHING.

      If you haven’t already, look into laser metal sintering technology. There’s a German outfit called EOS that’s been selling a machine that can do 3D fabrication in aluminum, titanium and steel. Direct, high resolution parts that just need polishing. It’s amazing.


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