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Discussion Starter #1
Hi, my name is Luke and I'm new to bike builds! I'm looking for recommendations for a bike to build this summer. I've been around engines my whole life, but I'll take any help I can get. I can't wait to get into it! thanks for the help guys!
 

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Sigh.

ok....Let's start with the basics:

1) can you ride? do you have a license? do you currently own a bike that runs and you can ride it? <-- if the answer is no to any of these questions, then stop. Forget about your bike project, and go either get a license, a running bike, or both, and practice for a year of operating a motorcycle and not getting killed by a car. Now is actually a great time as the roads are pretty empty due to quarantine (if you are going to ride and not shelter in place - ride to places where there are no people).

2) It's nice that you have been around engines "you whole life" (which I am going to assume is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years), but motorcycles are not like cars and engines are only a part of the whole equation. How a motorcycle suspension works is very important and something you can only get a feel for by using a motorcycle.

Assuming you haven't fired off an angry tirade at me by now let's get into the basics:

If you really want a crash course in all the systems on a motorcycle from the backside of your tools, my advice is to save up abut $5K, buy a wrecked evo sportster, and build yourself a hardtail chopper out of a catalog. Why? well it's simple....no I mean it's a really simple motorcycle with a huge aftermarket support which means you can solve most problems by throwing money at a catalog and having the solution show up in the mail. You'll learn how to service an engine, how to install it in the frame, how to service forks, how to set rake and trail, how to wire, how to work on carbs, how to plumb basic hydraulics, how to paint, all of it. It's the best skill building exercise I can think of where you end up with something that isn't entirely worthless at the end, and if you screw it up all your parts will still have some residual value and you can sell them. You can probably do this as well with a yamaha xs650, old Triumph 650, or a cb750 as they have good aftermarket support, but an HD really is the gold standard in this realm.

Don't like that answer? Think you are too cool for choppers? want something that is genuinely old? Don't want to be around Harley people (I can't blame you)? You came here for too cool for school racers and nobody is gonna tell you otherwise?

then your next option is buying an old bike and making it run if it isn't already, and then modifying it. Again, budget about $5K. Here are your checklists:

You want a bike that has:
1) Good Aftermarket support
2) A history of that model or marque being used in racing by more than two weirdos for one season
3) a large knowledge base
4) clubs, groups, and social owners whom you can lean on for marque specific advice.

Ideally The bike you buy should:
1) Have a title
2) Run, be ride-able, and be registered fairly recently
3) be complete, and not have it's frame cut by some other pie in the sky "bike builder"
4) be assembled.

You can be a little flexible about #2, but the others are pretty firm. Don't drag home something in boxes where you spend 200 hours of your project fishing through a coffee can trying to find the one weirdo sized screw the PO took out and then lost on his garage floor.

Now is a good time to point out - THERE IS NO REASON OTHER THAN COSMETICS TO TAKE A BIKE COMPLETELY APART. I know you've seen TV and youtube and those guys break it down to a million tiny pieces and then throw it back together in an hour, but 1) they have done this before and can literally pick up a bolt off the floor and know exactly where it goes, 2) they are super organized, you just do see that because it's super boring - labeled bins and baggies don't make for good TV, 3) all modifications really need to be done on an assembled bike so you don't have to re-do them again when you find out something hits something else, or you can't service something you could before.

Here are a basic list of old bikes that I happen to think meet most if not all the criteria on this list:
  • 1969-1978 SOHC honda CB750
  • 1973-1982 KZ900/KZ1000
  • BMW R series airhead (any year any size)
  • old Triumph/BSA 650 twin or norton 750 tiwn from the 60's-70's
  • 1970-1974 Honda CB350
  • Any tonti framed moto guzzi
  • Yamaha XS650
  • Suzuki 1970-1975 T500/GT500
  • Yamaha RD350/400

Yes, all these bikes are popular, and as such finding one may cost you more than the $400 xs400 your neighbor down the street is selling because it hasn't moved in 30 years, but there is a reason the XS400 is cheap, you can't get parts for it and are going to have to make literally everything for it.

So, any questions?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you for all the advice!!! haha not gonna lie I was a little heated in the beginning, but it got better as I kept reading. I now realized that I have quite a lot of work in the upcoming years. I don't have my license or a running bike. Those were the first two items on the agenda. I have just been briefly looking online for bikes for sale.

I've been researching fixable bikes. You had mentioned the honda CB750, I've seen those around and also the XS650. these seem to, as you said, have high availability and being popular it is more than likely going to be easy to find parts.

Having said this I definitely need to get my license first but I'm super excited to start. I'm going to take into consideration everything you said and I'll keep you updated.
Thanks again!
 

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I'm going to recommend you get a smaller bike then any of those to start out and preferably one that is much newer, complete and running. You need to learn to ride a motorcycle first.
 

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Following up on this.

Find an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) riders course near you. There may not be any for a while, but if you live somewhere that isn't under total lockdown yet, and MSF course is is essential, and at the end they will give you your license if you have your permit going in. Your state should have either a motorcycle specific manual or a chapter in the driving manual that covers motorcycles. Read that.

If you are in an area where you are under lockdown, I am not sure how you are going to buy a bike or get a license. However tinkering with a motorcycle is a good way to pass the time. I've been using the time under a shelter in place order to fix some of the deferred maintenance on the bikes I ride as well as making progress with my projects.

If you want some reading to kill time while you wait, get a copy of Keith Code's "A twist of the wrist" as well as a copy of "Proficient Motorcycling" by David Hough. Twist is really geared toward performance riders but it has a great way of explaining about your attention on a motorcycle and an analogy on how to spend it and budget it wisely. Proficient will help you think about riding in general and some of the things you'd rather not learn by trial an error.

I learned to ride on 1970's motorcycles, but that is because in the 1990's when I started riding they were cheap 20 year old used bikes. Now they are 40 year old used bikes and good ones cost money, and the ones that don't need a lot of work. 10-20 year old bikes are now 90's-00's motorcycles, and should be inexpensive and not need too much if you care for them.

When learning to ride, It is important to have a bike that doesn't distract you too much while you are riding. An old old bike that breaks often or has "quirks" isn't a beginner bike. Its a good second bike for you, but not a good first one.

Some bikes I would consider:
  • 90's-00's Ninja 250 and 500 (ex500), and 650R (the parallel twin one, not the 4cyl sport bike)
  • 90's -00's Ducati 600 or 750 monster or supersport
  • Suzuki sv650
  • 883 or 1200 evo sportster
  • suzuki savage (now called the S40).
  • 90's kawasaki zeyphr
  • 1991-1997 suzuki vx800 (this one may be a little rare)
  • K75 BMW
  • TU250
  • 2009 and up UCE Royal enfield bullet.

I am sure others will add to this list.
 

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Learn to ride dirt good and you will be able to ride anything.
&Nothing is easier to ride then a 160 pound 4-stroke motorcycle with a one finger clutch, awesome suspension brakes and power.

 

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Very good advice. Learn how to slide the rear tire and how to “low side” the bike if you need to get off of it while you and it are moving. Enough time dirt riding and you’re going to end up over the handlebars. You will end up going off the “high side” of the bike, too. It’s much better to experience these inevitabilities of riding motorcycles while on the dirt (instead of asphalt), see what they feel like and how to avoid them. Your landing on dirt will likely be softer than on asphalt and you won’t need to worry about getting run over by a car after your body has come to a stop. On the street is the wrong place to learn how to ride a motorcycle.
 

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Find an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) riders course near you. There may not be any for a while, but if you live somewhere that isn't under total lockdown yet, and MSF course is is essential, and at the end they will give you your license if you have your permit going in. Your state should have either a motorcycle specific manual or a chapter in the driving manual that covers motorcycles. Read that.
This. This. And more this.

Fantasy vs reality. There are countless bikes for sale in the typical locations because the fantasy doesn't match the reality. I see ads all the time for Ducati superbikes with super low miles and always some BS excuse on why it's for sale. "Bought a house" like that's somethign that happens with no forethought. "Don't have time to ride!" Uh huh. By some horrible coincidence your life changed in a huge way right after you bought it.

No, the reality is everybody has this fantasy about what a motorcycle is. Then they get one and son of a bitch, it's not what they thought. I know people who didn't even finish the training because bikes weren't anything like what they thought they would be. And if you can't even commit to a weekend of training the chances you can finish a project and then learn to ride is about zero.

So yeah, find an MSF course. Take it. Get your license. Buy a bike that runs and ride it. THEN buy a bike to use as a project. Buying a project and using that to get into riding is a pipe dream. It doesn't work that way. 99% of the time that ends up with an over priced bike listed for sale that "only needs a battery and the carbs cleaned to run! Selling because my dog wants a kitten so the wife says it has to go! I have more into it than the asking price!" Well no shit you do.

MSF course. License. Running bike. Just do it.
 
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