Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, I featured a Yamaha X750 with lots of period goodies that needed a lot of work. When I concluded the post, I said “I hope someone brings this bike back to life. Will it be you?” Well, apparently contributor Cas Vanderwoude decided he would take up the mantle. Even better, he’s going to be sharing his trials and tribulations so we can be entertained by his suffering:
Chapter 1: Preparing for the arrival of your new baby
So, some readers will have noticed I bought a 1978 Yamaha XS750 after it was featured on Bike-urious. Some of you might think it was not a good idea to buy a motorcycle sight-unseen through eBay. And maybe you are right. However, it’s not my first rodeo so I know what to expect (always expect less than you think you will get). I thought rebuilding this bike in real-time and simultaneously writing about it would be fun. I am hoping to attract two types of readers – the newby who has been thinking about doing something similar and the old-hand who has done this before. This serial is mostly aimed at the newby and I’m hoping that as I work through this build, I can impart some of what I’ve learned, encourage you to take the plunge and take on a new hobby, and most importantly, show you the pitfalls and mistakes only learned through bitter experience.
I’m also hoping experienced builders and collectors will chime-in with advice and recommendations. I hope to learn stuff as well as no one has a monopoly on wisdom. So, all you old, crusty builders out there, here is your chance to help out.
So let’s first go through the reasons I bought this particular bike. I live in Hawai`i and shipping anything here is expensive. It will cost as much as the purchase price to get this bike to me in Hilo. Don’t worry – I’m getting used to having to pay a bit more for living in paradise…
When I’m looking for another project, here are the things I look for:
1. WHY??? Why do I want to buy this motorcycle? This is a really important question. Buying a “project” is a nice way to get into classic bikes, but it is not a cheap hobby. If what you want is THAT motorcycle, it will be much cheaper to buy a finished project. Trust me on this please! The ONLY reason to buy something that needs to be restored is because you want to take that special journey. It will cost you much more than you think, it will be VERY rewarding, you will learn many new skills, but you will pay for that. A much cheaper option is to buy someone else’s restoration. Yes they will tell you about all the money they invested but eventually, you will buy it for much less than it will cost you to come up with a similar finished product. Me – I love building almost as much as riding. All the costs, failures, lessons-learned are part of that beautiful journey. Think about which of these people you really are – the rider who wants THAT bike, or the person who wants to spend the next few winters in their basement workshop covered in grease and other unpleasant stuff. Me – I’m a lost cause. Bring on the pain!
2. The three R’s – rarity, rideability and righteousness. HUH? I hear you ask… Well, first rarity. A rare motorcycle has a greater value than a non-rare one. Look at all the Ford Model T’s out there. A great car, but not worth as much as other cars produced in smaller numbers at the time. There is a downside to this – parts and such will be more difficult (and more expensive) to buy for a bike produced in smaller numbers. Next is rideability. It’s real cool to restore a pre-WW1 motorcycle for example, but when you are done, it’s not something you will ever ride to work on or just “go-ride”. It will be a show-piece, maybe residing in your living room for the rest of its life. Much better is to buy something you are going to really enjoy riding. After all, that’s why you’re doing this right? Third is righteousness. This is harder to define unless you have lived in the period when the bike was new. Was it a cool bike back in the day? Remember, there were a lot of dogs and I’ve owned my share of these. Stick with the cool ones because there was a reason they were more highly regarded – they were better than the others. In the event you choose to sell your bike one day, this will also affect price…
So – how did I do with this one? The XS is not especially rare but it was only manufactured for 4-5 years so there is some rarity. Period tests extolled the virtues of the XS as a good sport-tourer. Maybe a bit heavy but able to stand up to the competition at the time (the Triumph/BSA triple and the Laverda). As far as righteousness goes, the Yammie might not quite meet the grade. Although highly regarded at the time, it does not seem to have the cult following of some other bikes of the period. I think this model is a “sleeper” and will rise one day. I think I scored a B-.
3. The next thing I look for is the holy grail: a low miles, unmolested, one-owner bike that’s been sitting in a garage for a long time. This does not guarantee you that it’s free of problems, but it sure does help. Let me explain. An old classic bike that has had a multitude of owners will also have had a multitude of repairs – by different people. Each person that has worked on that bike in the past has had their own way of doing stuff. Nuts and bolts will have been rounded off, wiring will have been cut, repaired, patched and butchered, parts will have been replaced with the wrong replacements. In a nutshell, it will be a mess when you get it into your workshop. Pay a little bit more now and save a bundle in problems and dollars later on. You might not find the perfect holy grail – but it is a way to judge (and compare) something you are looking to buy.
Well, I ticked all the boxes with this one. Not only is it a one-owner, all the paperwork from the sales receipt onwards is included with the bike. The previous owner raced these and this was his street bike. It’s entirely possible I’m gonna get some internal racing improvements I had not counted on. Some of the after-market accessories are probably worth the purchase price alone. Definitely an A+ on this.
4. If at all possible, buy a “runner”. If you find a bike you want, and it can be started and ridden, you need to buy it. Remember, a non-running bike sitting in some person’s garage is probably there because it has probably suffered some kind of expensive failure. Too expensive for that owner, at that time, to repair it. A runner is the best example of a worthwhile project. I bombed out here. Buying sight-unseen has disadvantages and buying a non-runner is also not ideal. However, I’m giving myself a C- on this. But – the seller was a bona-fide motorcycle dealer. They hooked up a battery and all the electrics worked, and there was a spark. These are all good signs.
5. Look for originality. Paintwork, bars, seat wheels etc. An original bike is worth more, but more importantly, it will tell you something about it’s history. When I see a bike that has been modified, repainted, or generally messed with, I suspect there are hidden flaws as well. Add to this the cost of sourcing those original parts that have been lost. Remember, the original purchase price is the smallest amount of money you will spend on your project. From here on in, the bills are going to pile up. Buying something that looks original will definitely save you money in the long run.
Well, I’m going to give myself an A+ on this one. Aside from the period-correct accessories, this looks to be a very original example.
So now what? I have to prepare for the impending delivery of my new baby. What can I do before she arrives? Ask any expectant parents and they will tell you the three most important things are deciding who will deliver the baby, the nursery (ok, the workshop) and learning how to care for the new arrival.
I’m in an unusual situation here because I live in Hawai`i. Everything is expensive here because it needs to be shipped at least 3,000 miles. But if you are in the lower 48, things are easier. Regardless of where you live, the love of your life is probably only $600 away. Shipping within the USA is not too bad. But, there are pitfalls. There are two ways to ship a motorcycle – one is palleted, and the other is bare. A palleted motorcycle will be less likely to be damaged in transit, but shipping will cost more. Add up to $300 to the budget. I’m lucky to have my “regular guy” who I trust to take care of shipping. William from the Shipping Shack is an expert and always comes through for me.
Of course, you can always pick her up yourself. You have a truck right? And a few tie-down straps? Well, here is a video on what might happen:
It’s not as easy as it looks. Always have someone else there to help. Be sure the ramp you buy is curved, not straight. The straight one will almost always catch the underside of the bike as it enters the truck bed (see previous link for confirmation). Once loaded, use a good quality ratchet strap to tie down the front end. Push the bike into the forward corner of the truck bed, attach a ratchet strap to each side of the handlebars or upper forks, and cinch it down to take all the “bounce” out of the forks. Many YouTube videos that show us how to load a bike correctly have one error (in my opinion). I think its best to wedge the front wheel into the front corner of the bed and not have the bike pointed north-south. I think it’s the safest way. But here is a fairly good demonstration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wEPbSwQGqQ.
I’m not ready to get into tools and stuff yet (maybe a future chapter). But – here are a few things that are a must-have. First, a motorcycle lift. This thing will make your life so much easier. Trust me on this one. Discount stores like Harbor Freight sell a budget lift for less than $500. Check listings on Craigslist in your area, or make your own. Depending on how fancy you would like to go – here is a nice simple one:
The other vital item you need are a couple of sturdy storage bins. I’ve tried them all, and the ones that suit me best have non-rounded corners and vertical sides like this one from Home Depot. They are sturdy, stackable and hold more than some others. Every part you take off the bike should go into the bin. Bag and Tag. You will thank me later.
And finally, like all expectant parents, you will need a camera. I keep a dedicated camera in my workshop at all times. Whenever I dis-assemble anything – I take photos as I go. These become absolutely invaluable later on when I need to re-assemble stuff. Trust me on this – there will be gaps in your life when you will have other life things to do, and as time passes you will forget just how that thing fitted into this thing. Digital photos are a treasure trove when it comes time to re-assemble things. I don’t use my iPhone or expensive SLR – I keep a point-and-shoot one just for this job. Someday it will fall into an oil tray or something which is why I keep a cheap one just for this purpose.
The first thing I do when I buy another project is to find online resources. Pretty much every motorcycle model has its own group of dedicated followers. Find the forums and discussion groups they hang out in. These folks are a goldmine of information and most of them are just dying to help you out. The next thing is to look for online sellers of parts and the like. One of my favorite ones is CMS because they have parts lists online so you can work out what you need. Its nice to buy from them, but the parts fiche they have is invaluable. Number 3 is to source workshop manuals. The factory manual (if you can find one) is great to get because it will be very accurate. The Haynes and Clymer manuals will be better at showing you step-by-step how to do most things. Get at least one of these if not both.
So thus ends chapter one. If you are aspiring to build, restore, customize a classic motorcycle, then I hope some of the things I wrote about are useful. There are many traps and pitfalls out there. Remember, you will never make a monetary profit from this game. Me – I buy high, spend good money to make the best bike I can, then sell low. But, what I have learned, and the pleasure I have gained is priceless!
But wait, there’s more! Continue on with Cas’ journey in Part 2.