First Time Restoration of a Classic Motorcycle

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Images courtesy of Honda Canada.

For the average mechanic with a set of good quality tools, the restoration of a classic motorcycle will not be beyond his or her capabilities. However, the task is an extensive exercise in mechanising and must be approached in an organized way.

Having a clean well laid out workshop is a must. However, some beautiful classics have been restored in not much more than a garden shed. As long as the mechanic is organized, the end result will not reflect the lack of workshop space.

During a restoration, the mechanic will be faced with many parts. Even the most experienced mechanic can get overwhelmed by the number of parts that go into making a motorcycle. Therefore, it is important to group the various systems during disassembly. In addition, taking hundreds of photographs is essential for later use as a memory jogger or to detail the restoration should the owner decide to sell it later.

For example:

  • Frame, forks and suspension
  • Engine
  • Electrical
  • Fuel system
  • Auxiliaries

In addition to these categories of components, the mechanic can also subdivide the various components into details requiring refinishing, such as powder coating or re-chroming.

Before buying a classic with the intention of restoring it, the potential new owner must undertake considerable research (due diligence at this point will save a lot of frustration or expense later). A major consideration at this point must be the parts’ availability of whichever motorcycle is being considered.

For example, a Triumph Bonneville from the 60s can be restored by using new parts for almost every item, whereas a more recent machine such as the Honda Canada CB750F in our article on its restoration proved difficult even for the Honda importers to come up with certain parts.

Having decided on the motorcycle to be restored and having purchased a suitable machine, the mechanic will be anxious to get started by disassembling it. This must be avoided in the case of a first time restorer as damaged or lost parts will set the project back considerably. In addition, the temptation to "fire it up" must be avoided, especially if the bike has stood for some time. (For every lucky story of a bike firing right up after being stood for twenty years, there are probably ten times that detailing how a valve hit a piston, or it locked up as the bike had been in storage due to a failed oil pump!)

Positioning the machine on a lift or low table should be the first priority. This will give access to all the various components and make working on the bike that much more pleasurable.

Having positioned the bike, the next task is to arrange a number of containers for the various subassemblies. All parts removed must be labeled, photographed and cleaned before being placed into plastic bags (its good practice to spray metallic components with WD40 or its equivalent before bagging them). In addition, some mechanics prefer to do a detailed examination of each and every component as it is removed from the bike; any parts that are deemed due for replacement can be entered onto a list ready for ordering as and when required.

As mentioned in the article on engine disassembly, it is advisable to disassemble the engine while it is still in the frame as the frame gives excellent support when loosening high torque nuts such as those found on the end of a crankshaft, for instance. Needless to say, during mechanical work the mechanic is trying to avoid damage to the machine. Having a stable platform (engine in the frame) will help considerably. 

In most professional workshops, the engine will be rebuilt at the same time as other components are out for re-chroming or painting, primarily to keep the process moving forward. For example, the engine and gearbox can be fully disassembled on the bench (having partially disassembled it in the frame) as the frame and associated parts of the same color are out at a specialist being powder coated. The same applies for items that are in need of repainting: the fuel tank and fenders being typical examples.