There’s something very alluring about the world of classic motorcycles.
With more and more riders having more than one bike tucked up in the garage, the idea of having an old bike to tinker with and take out on sunny Sundays is becoming increasingly popular.
But how do you go about getting your first classic bike? The line between classic and banger is very fine indeed and a bad purchase decision can be a real money pit and a truly miserable experience, so we’ve put together these frequently asked questions that will hopefully help you decide if the classic life is for you.
Just how old are classic motorcycles?
The fact is that there are literally thousands of different vehicles that fall under the classic banner.
The general consensus is that a classic is defined as a bike that is 20 years old or older, as that’s when many classic insurance policies kick in. While most would consider the term ‘classic’ to mean old Triumphs and Harleys, the reality is that motorcycles like early Honda FireBlades, bikes that many of today’s riders will clearly remember being launched, are actually classics too.
Officially, the term classic applies to vehicles built more than 40 years ago. At that age, the tax category can be changed to ‘historic’ and they become exempt from road tax and the MoT test. Many enthusiasts will also apply even more definitions to the really early stuff, categorising pre-World War I bikes as ‘veteran’ and those between the wars as ‘vintage’. That’s getting really specialist though, and for the purposes of this article we’ll assume that the oldest bike you’re considering is from the 1960s.
Can I still get spare parts?
That’ll depend on your bike. With most modern classics, like your FireBlades and GSX-Rs, there are plenty of parts out there. Some can be purchased brand new from dealers, while there are usually still enough bikes floating around breakers yards to donate their spares and give life to their brethren.
For popular old bikes, such as Triumph twins, there are a number of specialists manufacturing new parts for the bikes – often using the original factory tooling. When trawling classifieds the term NOS can often be seen cropping up. This means ‘New Old Stock’ and are parts that were made at the time of the bike but which have been sat on a shelf ever since.
Do beware if the bike you’re lusting is obscure. An early 1990s Italian two-stroke from Cagiva or Gilera might sound like a good bike with which to start your classic career, but finding spare parts is likely to have you tearing your hair out and spending more time trawling the internet and less in the garage or on the road.
Who are the specialists?
Most classic bikes will have specialists who work on them regularly and know them inside out. These mechanics can be an invaluable source of information and spare parts, as well as someone who can carry out the bigger jobs that you’re not able to.
Research the bike you want to buy and speak to the specialists. They’ll be passionate about the bike and will be able to give you some points on what to look for, and might even be able to sell you a bike themselves.
What’s a good first classic?
Only you can decide this, but first and foremost it is likely to be a machine that you are passionate about. Maybe it’s what you lusted after as a teenager, or a model your father rode back in the day. It’s no surprise that the market for 20-odd year old bikes tends to harden up, when the teens that couldn’t afford them first time around reach middle age and hanker after their lost youth.
That said, a good classic is most likely something that has a good support network of specialists and spares. Two-strokes like Yamaha’s iconic RD350LC and Brit bikes such as BSAs, Nortons and Triumphs are always a popular choice.
This is a question that you need to ask yourself before committing to purchase, especially if the bike you’re looking at is in need of some restoration work.
Where can I buy a classic bike?
Everywhere! Obviously eBay and Gumtree are good starting points, while some of the specialist classic bike magazines still have classifieds sections at the back.
If you know what you want, owners clubs are usually a good place to start. They’ll often have magazines and forums with classified sections, and members usually have their ears to the ground and know who’s got what for sale. Online, you’ll find plenty of websites and Facebook pages dedicated to the various sub categories of classic bike out there – so if you fancy a 1980s two-stroke, you can be pretty sure that there’s a bunch of like minded souls out there with a social network for you to join.
Auctions can be a good place to pick up a classic, especially if you’ve got a healthy budget and fancy something that’s historically significant, and shows like the MCN Festival of Motorcycling and the Stafford Show are usually littered with enthusiasts selling bikes.
The good thing about old bikes is that they often come up in the strangest of places. It’s not uncommon to unearth a ‘barn find’, a bike that’s been laid up for years and left largely forgotten about. These can be risky to buy, but if you fancy a project, or unearth a rare gem, there can be some serious bargains out there.
Do you want to tinker or ride?
There are plenty of ‘projects’ out there. For some, the joy is in the riding and for others the pleasure is in the building. Rebuilding a classic is not for the feint of heart. If you like the idea of a classic but don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, it’s definitely advisable to start off by looking for a solid runner that needs a bit of TLC than to buy a bike in boxes of bits. You might end up paying a little more, but your sanity will thank you for it.
What’s the appeal of a classic bike?
This is something that’s different for all riders. For some it’s a chance to own and cherish a motorcycle that they once adored as a youngster, or a bike that’s historically significant. For others it’s the rawer and more mechanical feeling that many older bikes give. Modern bikes are usually very smooth and sophisticated and can no longer be worked on by the home mechanic. For some, part of the attraction of owning old bikes is the fact that they can you can tinker with the bike, restore it and carry out your own repairs.
What about modifications?
Websites like Bike Shed and Bike EXIF have made customising cool and while many of the purists may wince, the scene has helped give a second life to many clapped out motorcycles.
While no one likes taking an angle grinder to pristine classics, the shed built scene has also pushed up prices on many an unlikely bike. Models like K series BMWs, Honda CX500s and Superdreams were once unloved bangers but now command good money – even as basket cases. The concept of taking an old bike and building something totally unique is very in just now, and well worth considering if you want a project and like the idea of creating something individual out of it.
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