Tips for Buying

What is the best way to buy a classic Japanese motorcycle?

Be Realistic. I get it; you had a bike when you were younger; it was the one that you were glued to its brochure. Dreams of it kept you awake at night; you saved your paper route money hoping to buy it! I get it! Classic Japanese Motorcycles is what I have been about for over the last fifty years. Just look at my blogs and you will understand that classic bikes have, and continue to be, huge in my life!

You are used to thinking of how that great bike looked in 1972. Or the restored bikes that you have seen recently at classic motorcycle shows. Let’s get real— what you may not know is that the owners have often spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get it looking like it did when new.

So, let’s apply some reality, before we get started. You see a bike you want advertised—expect some cosmetic bumps and bruises. Probably some mechanical items will need repair before you can safely ride it. So be prepared to spend several hundred dollars getting it road worthy: new battery, fluid changes, tires, brakes and often quite often carburetor repair. Also, please remember that you are dealing with a mechanical product that is often decades old.  

Classic Bike versus a Modern Bike. A word about safety here. If you will be counting on your bike for basic and especially high-speed transportation, you should probably consider buying a newer, modern bike. I am not saying that a well-maintained classic bike is unsafe for riding.  Many people use them as such, and they will perform adequately. If they have good tires, brakes, and regular maintenance, they are very suitable for most any kind of riding. However, there have been major breakthroughs in engineering technology and especially fuel injection and anti-lock braking that make a newer motorcycle safer than a classic bike.   

Who to Buy From A good way to buy a classic bike is from a dealer who will give you some type of warranty—unfortunately in most cases that is a pipe dream! The next best source is to buy your bike from an individual that is proven trustworthy in the marketplace. Someone who from your first contact shows lots of pictures from all angles and who has posted a video of the motorcycle starting and running. Check with your local ride club or Facebook group to see if the person is credible.

Who Will Work on it for you?  Here in Columbus, Ohio, (and probably in your city) main line dealerships have a stated policy that they will NOT work on motorcycles over eight years old. I guess it is understandable; classic repair parts are sometimes very difficult to source, so why should they spend time with a bike sitting on a lift stand waiting for parts. If you look hard, you may find a shop that will do your classic motorcycle repairs. However, please don’t fall over when they give you a repair estimate because they know that often they are the one and only source for classic repairs in their area. 

Does it have a valid title in the seller’s name? Work with someone who is willing, after they believe you are serious, to send you a picture of the title showing ownership in his name. A title that is not properly notarized by the prior owner will not be acceptable to the BMV.  If the seller cannot offer a valid title, think long and hard before you buy. You will likely never get a replacement title. In Ohio it is nearly impossible. Also, since a bike without a title is not insurable, you will never get a license plate to ride it on the street. Also consider that the bike could have been stolen somewhere along the way. The original owner may pop up, and then your trouble really begins.

Viewing the Motorcycle. If the motorcycle is physically close enough to see, make an appointment and take a motorcycle knowledgeable friend with you. Start by checking the oil level. If that is low or non-existent, you must wonder about maintenance that may have been neglected by this owner. Have him start it, and let it sit there on the stand. Will it idle down smoothly after a couple of minutes, or does he have to keep it revved up? Have the owner ride it and show you that it performs. Look for obvious issues listen for funny sounds. Does the headlight work, high and low beam? How about turn signals, running lights, stop light, and horn? These items may have to be inspected by your local government before you can get a license plate. Do not be surprised if the owner will not let you take a test ride because there is considerable liability involved.

Also please understand that some issues a bike may have can be hard to diagnose without a full-blown inspection. Once I purchased a gorgeous Honda CB350, probably a cosmetic 9 on a 10 scale, that would start and run—but not great. I was sure I could fix it without much problem, so I bought it. I almost fell off my chair when my mechanic called to tell me that the bike had a hole in one of its pistons!!!

**DO NOT RIDE ANY MOTORCYCLE FOR ANY DISTANCE OR SPEED WITH TIRES MORE THAN SEVEN YEARS OLD, EVEN IF THEY LOOK GOOD! ** Rubber deteriorates, and that tire is spinning around at hundreds of RPMS. You do not want to take the chance of a blow out and possible accident. Check the two-digit manufacturing date that is stamped on the tire to check out its viability.

I want a really good-looking bike to match my memories. Should I buy a classic bike in the condition that I want, or should I try to buy one that has potential but that I can fix up and restore myself?

Unless you are very mechanically inclined, skillful in the art of paint/ body work, have a good source of classic parts (especially color matching cosmetic items), you will usually spend a LOT more money and time trying to restore it yourself.

I hope this information is helpful, as a seller I don’t mind answering these questions about any motorcycle I am selling.