Spring Cleaning…

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Some of my bikes are more than 40 years old now – which is a long time in human and machine terms.'75 S1 250C

And yet, they all still function as new.

Unlike me.

Well, with a little TLC every now and then.

But that’s the cool thing about them. For the most part, a little TLC is all they need. Usually in spring, after the Dead Zone of winter and the 3-4 months of mostly sitting, waiting, in the garage.

Clean/adjust carbs. Maybe adjust the point gap (the old triple only; the others have been upgraded or didn’t come with points). Flush out the brake lines, refill the system with fresh fluid (I do that once a year) and check the air in the tires, check the tires themselves, etc.

Once every ten years or so – depending on the bike – a more involved pre-flight may be needed. A hone/bore job, new pistons and rings; maybe a complete tear-down and rebuild. But all within the penumbra of my toolbox and skill set. Except for paintwork  – which I farm out when it becomes necessary because I never got any good at it.

Mechanically, though… and (key point) economically speaking – the old stuff is effectively eternal. You can keep a pre-EFI, pre-emissions, pre-got-damned computer-controlled bike  going pretty much as long as you keep going – without huge expense. If anything, it’s the reverse – because what you put into the bike is amortized over time in the form of transportation and value.

The bike provides a ride. It takes you from Here to There. Every mile you ride counts as an economic return on your investment, so to speak.

Not unlike putting money into the house you live in.'76 Kz900

And with an old bike – especially a really old one (30-plus years) that’s by now become at least a curiosity and possibly collectible – there is value in the machine itself.

Steady value, at least.

Often, increasing.

Once a bike reaches a certain vintage, its value stabilizes. Unless it is allowed to physically deteriorate, it will no longer depreciate. It will usually be worth at least what you paid for it as long as you own it – and not uncommonly, more as the years go by.

I paid $1,200 for my ’76 Kawasaki Kz 900 some 20 years ago. The bike is not only worth at least as much now, I could probably recoup most if not all the money (and work) I’ve put into it over the years.

Might even turn a profit if I decided to sell. Forget it!

Old bikes actually a good investment. Or at least, they’re not bad ones in the sense that it’s hard to lose real money on them, provided you take decent care of them.

Which – again – is fairly easy (and inexpensive) to do… well, aside from paintwork.'75 S1 250 detail

New bikes, in contrast, have become like new cars. They are, ultimately, throw-aways. Because – like cars – they are now Borg-like fusions of mechanical and electrical things. There are mobile computers now as much as they are motorcycles.

ABS, stability/wheelie control; multiple ride modes, digital fuel injection, 02 sensors and cats.

All of which will work without a hitch … until it doesn’t doesn’t. At which point, you’ll probably be looking at a Big Bucks repair that’s beyond the penumbra of your tool box and skills – or parts that are beyond the penumbra of your budget.

Meanwhile, the value of the new (but now used) bike has declined a great deal. You buy a new 1,000 cc sport bike today for $11,000. Eight years from now the bike might be worth $4,000. Are you going to spend  $1,000 to have the fuel injection system repaired? Another $800 for a new ECU? Then a new catalytic converter and 02 sensor?

Gotta pass smog and state inspection, remember.

All the hassles – and expenses – that beset modern cars now afflict modern motorcycles, too. They have, like cars, become things you use for awhile and then throw away. To be replaced with something else.

Rinse, repeat.'03 ZRX1200

I’d rather the spring ritual of cleaning/adjusting the carbs, tweaking and tuning.

Isn’t that part of what makes it fun?

Over the decades, I’ve come to know my machines as intimately as women I’ve known. What they like – and don’t. Their good points – and bad. I have developed relationships with them, something I’ve never felt I had with anything that’s modern.

In part, because you never really get the chance to know them. You use them for awhile and then they are used up.

Time to get another.

Something’s lost along the way. 

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  1. Just fired up the 75 Honda CB750 that was my late father’s bike. It’s been sitting about 20 years in a shed. Got it last summer, got it running (roughly) fairly easily, poured some sweat and TLC into it and finally got it to stop leaking fuel from the overflow tubes. Great bike, lotsa power, handles nice. Brings back lotsa memories. Simpler times.

    • Hi Marc,

      I had a CB once,too – they are great bikes! And this isn’t just an affectionate reminisce. Honda overbuilt them (just as Kawasaki did with the Z1900, which was inspired by the CB). They are capable of enduring much abuse and will last almost forever with decent treatment.

      Plus, they look great and are a pleasure to ride!

      • Those were nice bikes. A friend had one and sold it. I would have bought it but we were going through a wet period at the time, so wet I had two sets of wheels and tires for my pickups, one set pure mudders. I considered the mile of dirt road to the pavement(my driveway was fine)…..and back every time I rode it. It was normally a “locked in” trip in the pickups so…….One of the disadvantages of living in the boonies. Others had a lot more gripes than that. What do you do if you have a munchy for a milkshake at night? Find a substitute or make one if you have ice cream.

      • Those were nice bikes. A friend had one and sold it. I would have bought it but we were going through a wet period at the time, so wet I had two sets of wheels and tires for my pickups, one set pure mudders. I considered the mile of dirt road to the pavement(my driveway was fine)…..and back every time I rode it. It was normally a “locked in” trip in the pickups so…….One of the disadvantages of living in the boonies.

  2. I hear you loud and clear, Eric. I want my motorcycle to be a *mechanical* device. That’s why I’m not enamored of the new stuff. Plus–and this is subjective–the target audience for these new motorcycles has all their taste in their mouths. AND–if I may continue my rant–I don’t like riding a motorcycle in either the front-leaning-rest or the gynecologist’s chair position. Something in the middle, you know, with the footpegs UNDER you. What a concept! But there’s a solution, and you’ve hit upon it: Just get one of many millions of 30+ year-old cycles out there and give it some love. You can buy many for a buck a cc or less. Have fun!

    • Amen, David!

      My ’03 Kaw ZRX1200 is the first – and probably only – bike I ever bought new. It was among the last of the Old School UJMs… big DOHC four, fed by carbs. No computer. Not much plastic bodywork (so you could admire – and get at – the engine). I will probably keep it the rest of my life, even after I can’t ride it any longer (if that day ever comes). Just being able to sit in the garage and look at it is enough…!

  3. I hear ya: I specifically got a 2000MY Harley Dyna because it was the last year for a carburetor on the Big Twin. My theory is that guys that wrench on their bikes are becoming a scarcity. New guys getting into motorcycles nowadays (i.e. millennial’s) never wrenched on anything, so they don’t want to mess with any of the tinkering. (or fixing/maintaining for that matter). They just want to get on and ride, like you say in the last sentence of your essay. Also though, is that old guys are now getting to where they don’t wanna mess with that stuff either. (mainly due to their age, is my guess.) They too, don’t wanna futz around with tinkering/repairing. A guy in my office just finished tuning his rebuild the way he liked it, and traded in for the top of the line HD dresser. (Those new HD Ultras are essentially louder-piped Gold Wings now…)Now, he was about a year or so into it, so I empathize how one can get tired of those things.

  4. Nice article on the maintenance of older MCs to keep them running as new condition.

    In one respect

    In part, because you never really get the chance to know them. You use them for awhile and then they are used up.

    Time to get another.

    Something’s lost along the way.

    This will empty one’s wallet in quick fashion. 😉

    The Yamaha SR400 is one of the closest new “old” MCs out there. Its MSRP is a bit pricey @ ~$6000 FRN but I think it is a nice looking MC.

    With so many inattentive and otherwise poor drivers around here, riding a MC requires extra attention to one’s surroundings.

    • Thanks, Mith!

      I like the SR400 also… except for one thing… the fuel injection (and computer that comes with).

      Rip it all out; install a Mikuni or Keihin carb… throw the computer in the woods!

      • Eric,

        How difficult would it be for one to carefully store the FI components to reinstall at a later time? (assuming if one chose to not deal with the carborator)
        I am guessing that if one is somewhat mechanically inclined and good video/diagrams are available then it should be reasonably possible.

        A side note, about how much of a mpg hit would carbs have compared to FI?

        • Hi Mith,

          Removing the FI/Converting to carbs would probably be easy; IIRC, most FI bikes use throttle bodies, so it ought to be easy to mount the carbs. You’d just need to size/jet theme cables adjusted, etc.

          I doubt there would be much hit, MPG-wise.

          The chief advantage of the FI is cold start performance and lower emissions.

      • I had a motorcycle moment today standing outside the grocery store filling 5 gallon jugs with RO water. Guy takes off from light on his not too good looking Harley dresser. He revs it up a bit, easy, real easy, like he’s trying to avoid using much throttle and he lets off to shift into 2nd and this poor old bike let out a huge backfire. It didn’t sound healthy as it slowly accelerated in 2nd. I felt sorry for the bike, had nothing but disdain for the owner.

          • It appeared to have the stock muffler type pipes some had, small bore and what looked to be one each side. Or either they swaged into a single pipe. What ever it was, you could tell it wasn’t mine just because the chrome was dirty and hadn’t been shined in a long time.

            If you’re gonna have a bike, esp with lots of chrome parts take care of it. But the paint was dull too.

            • I have an ’83 GL650 (Honda), a ’76 Kz900 (Kaw), an ’03 ZRX1200 (Kaw) and a ’75 S1 (Kaw)…working on getting a Goldwing!

              • I have a lot of friends with Goldwings(make a lot of money)and they all are committed to them to the point of having one after the other. According to them they are monsters in the power dept. 1800 cc’s is nothing to sneeze about, torque or HP wise.

                My neighbor has a ’96 Suzuki 4 wheel drive two seater, an old Red Bull car with coolers built into the back instead of a trunk. He fishes a lot and it’s the berries for going wherever you need with low range and all. It doesn’t have nearly the power of a Goldwing. I’d take one myself but you’d have to give it to me, no way I could/would spend that sort of dough on a bike when I need other things like a another car and another pickup….badly.

                On another note, I just watched a great movie, one I found today in the sale bin at Wally along with several others I already have. Cloud Atlas is the name of it. it’s replete with great actors and has an anarchist theme to a great extent. It’s also about 4 hours long. Don’t know how this slipped under the radar but I suspect it’s much like the old ’98 film, Fight Club, not to a statists liking, the long and short of typical movie reviewers. I had never heard of it but looked at the description and the actors and decided $3.74 wasn’t a bad price so I picked it up. I won’t regret it and will watch it again tomorrow. There’s a great deal that can be missed. it encompasses a timeline from the middle ages to the future and everywhere in between. The same actors play parts from all those eras, great stuff.

                I’d recommend this to anyone but especially to libertarians and pure anarchists. It’s complex enough I can’t go into detail about it more than just saying it’s a great movie. I don’t think anyone will get all of it the first time. I watched an hour or so and then started it again to try to understand everything said and done. Don’t miss this one.

              • Eric,
                I have some nice older BMW K100’s & 1100’s that you might like. I think they are more fun to ride than the Goldwings from the same era. (1985-93) I think I have 8 of them that could be finished up rather easily. I have ridden most of them, so they just need a new home. (My addiction for motorcycles got the best of me.) I have a 85 K100LT that has 27K miles from New York.

                • Thanks, Dr… I’d love to … but things are bad here, financially and otherwise. I’m just trying to keep the ship from sinking. No new (old) bikes for me, for the foreseeable future.

    • Mith,
      I just looked up the SR400. I had a 86 SR600 and didn’t know about the 400. I lucked out and got one that I figured out later was a track bike because of all of the performance mods. It was one of the best handling and fun bikes I ever owned. Sudco sells carbs set up for MC’s if you need a good solution. You can also find older used bikes on Cycle Trader, EBay, etc. that have carbs for a lot less than $6000. You can also contact me because I have numerous older BMW’s from the 70’s to 90’s for less $$$ that you can finish off the way you want. I have a lot of sources and mechanics that I know who could help if it is outside of your mechanical abilities.


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