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How to buy a motorcycle project you will actually finish


Lots of us buy restoration projects with the best of intentions to take that run-down, old, tatty and bargain purchase and make it as good as, or even better than new.

The truth is there are a number of reasons why so many of the bold ambitions become abandoned and forgotten projects that are ignored for a period of time before being sold on to the next bright eyed enthusiast, with just a tinge of shame as we hand over the keys and logbook.

It doesn’t have to be like that though. We’ve pulled together a list of simple guidelines to enable you to pick out a project that you will be able to finish. You just have to choose the right one in the first place.

We’re all faced with weeks and maybe months of staying at home as this country and the rest of the world attempts to fight the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, so picking a project to restore could help tackle some of the boredom.

Being locked away at home doesn’t have to be boring and as well as restoring an older motorcycle you can use the experience to learn new skills.

Pick a project that interests you 

This might sound like simple advice but it’s amazing how many people end up with a restoration project just because it was the first one they found, a mate gave it to them or they ended up bidding on something online that really wasn’t the right thing for them.

The easiest projects to see through to the end involve the bikes that capture your imagination. Maybe it’s the same model you learnt to ride on when you were a 16 or 17-year-old. Perhaps it’s that bike you wish you had never sold, or the one you always wanted but never quite managed to own.

Just buying something because it’s cheap really doesn’t mean it will be finding a space in your heart that will keep the motivation going through the days when nothing appears to be going right.

Choosing a motorbike you have feelings about will ensure you have that first ride once it’s completed in mind and this will keep you going.

Join an owner’s forum or club

You are about to embark on a restoration journey but it is almost certain someone else has already travelled the same path; all you need to do is find them and ask to share their knowledge and online owner’s groups and clubs are the best source of information.

It almost doesn’t matter how rare your motorcycle or scooter project might be, there’s almost certainly going to be an active owner’s forum or Facebook group out there. Some of the knowledge out there is almost scary in the level of detail but as fellow enthusiasts they are almost always keen to help.

The network around these forums also stretches to include those who sell parts, offer upgrades and other services and expert mechanics who can help with tips. You may also find some previous restoration projects documented on YouTube.

Don’t choose a unicorn! 

No matter how skilled you are at working on motorcycles, there will almost certainly come a time when you will need to buy some parts; even if that is only an oil or air filter.

If you’ve chosen a bike that is so rare or so unusual or was only made in that variant for a very short period of time and it’s older than 15 or so years old, finding parts can be tough.

Manufacturers do not have to keep making parts beyond about 15 year after the final year of production so you then fall back on enthusiast owner groups and the secondhand market; both of which can be awesome reserves of parts and information.

The rarer an example of motorbike you choose as your restoration project, the harder finding parts can be. Companies are still out there manufacturing parts for old Nortons and Triumphs, because there are still plenty out there and demand remains for parts. Try finding a replacement fairing for a Cagiva Freccia and you could well be embarking on a long, expensive and futile journey around Europe.

Just bear this in mind unless you really, really like a challenge or you can hand make parts at home.

Start simple

If you’ve never attempted a restoration before, kicking off with something reasonably simple in terms of the work needed, or the engineering involved can help make it more likely you will end up finishing the work.

Tackling something like a Honda C90 Super Cub or similar can help you learn some basics before moving onto a more complex project.

Don’t choose a project with the intention of making money

The ratio of people who restore a motorbike with the intention of making money versus those who actually make any profit is massively skewed towards the former! Do it for fun and enjoyment and leave the profit making to the professional workshops out there.

There is a chance you can make some money but the reality is often that the work, time and parts that go into a restoration outweigh the end value of the restoration project. That said, try to avoid the commonly found ‘money pit’.

Use professionals to do the bits that you can’t

There are some elements of restoring motorcycles and scooters that are best left to experts unless you know you can do it well. Skills like spray painting may look like anyone can do them, but in reality, much like hairdressing, it’s very easy to do, but much, much harder to do well.

The other side of spray painting is the amount of equipment you need to buy can be higher than it costs to get a few parts painted by an expert.

Don’t buy anything that’s stolen

This sounds like simple advice but imagine spending months working on a project only to find out when you come to tax and MOT the bike that it pings up as stolen. Perhaps disappointing doesn’t quite cover that feeling…

An online check and advice can be found at the official government website

Make your workspace as pleasant as possible 

A freezing cold garage is not the sort of environment that’s going to entice you to get on with some work on a project so investing in some kind of heating and/or insulation can help make that work space much nicer.

Just be aware the costs of electricity used by a fan heater for long periods of time can be high.

Some floor covering including those clip-together rubber tiles or old carpet off cuts can take the cold concrete away from the soles of your shoes and keep you warmer for longer. Others will even work on their project indoors, or in a conservatory. Oh, and make sure you’ve got some music to listen to as well, you’ll be spending many hours on this project.

Learn to take a break

There will come a point in any restoration where a seized bolt will snap, a screwhead will round off or a part will be unavailable. Your spirits will drop, your motivation will evaporate and you will quite possibly utter some choice language. This is normal!

If you need a break from it to find some motivation again, set a period of time and vow to get back to it after a few days or a couple of weeks. Tell yourself you aren’t going to be one of the people who lets it drag on for years! 


  • Set a budget to buy and restore your project; and make sure you stick to it
  • Set a timescale that’s achievable but also motivational to keep you busy
  • Buy tools as you need them to spread the cost
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Discover the benefits of heat, penetrating spray and the joy of a seized nut or bolt finally moving
  • Searching and buying for projects with a few drinks inside you can be disaster; remember don’t drink and buy!
  • Remember, there is always someone who has taken on a bigger task than you!

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