Buying A Classic Motorcycle

OK, so you've made the decision about buying a classic motorcycle and you've almost certainly decided which machine you want. The very first step is to get capital approval from your better half, so I'd recommend a nice romantic candlelit dinner in a good restaurant, to set the scene and get her in the right mood and then you can breach the subject of how much fun it'll be to possess your own little piece of history that'll be sure to appreciate in value considerably faster than the invested capital. Once she has said yes, we can get onto the next step.

Buying a classic motorcycle is indeed a good investment but to get the best return from your money, you need to bear in mind that buying the right classic motorcycle for your needs, tastes and finances isn’t quite as easy as buying an ordinary secondhand motorcycle.

You first need to check the authenticity of the machine. Classic motorcycles fall into three basic categories, which are: Genuine ex-factory machines, machines that are genuine but have had frame/engine swops etc and ringers/replicas. So, let’s take a closer look…….

Genuine Ex-Factory Machines

These machines, although usually the most expensive option are usually the best investment. They should have the original configuration of engine, frame and forks etc and this can usually be checked against the serial numbers on the machine. Don’t always expect matching numbers as such because some manufacturers often had a numerical difference as the machines left the factory. For example, with the Vincent range of motorcycles, some but not all, left the factory with a difference of 1900 between engine and frame numbers. The easiest way to check this is with the aid of the Internet. That nice Mr. Google will have all the answers to these questions. I often find the chat forums for the particular marque to be particularly useful. Whilst you’re on the internet, you can also check a few images and sites to ascertain originality of such things as speedometers and other odds and ends. There are far too many different classic motorcycles for me to give a complete list of individual tips for every individual manufacturer so look very carefully. The way to tell the difference for example between an ordinary BSA frame and a genuine BSA Rocket Gold Star Frame is that the Rocket Gold Star frame has a kink in it to accommodate a larger oil filter. Incidentally, a genuine RGS will have the RRT2 high ratio gearbox that was designed for the Isle of Man TT circuit. Some classic motorcycle owners clubs also hold excellent manufacturers records and are a great source of information.

Home-Assembled Classic Motorcycles

This is a very broad category. At one end of the scale, you have hybrid machines such as the Triton, which are perfectly legitimate and very collectable classic motorcycles. The Tritons are usually made up of a Triumph Bonneville engine and a Norton Featherbed frame. This machine gave the best of both worlds for the bikers of the time. The Bonneville engine was lighter, faster and smoother than the Norton and the Norton Featherbed frame ensured top class roadholding and handling. A popular modern improvement to the Tritons is the addition of modern, often Japanese braking systems. Purists might scoff at fitting Japanese brakes onto such a classic British motorcycle, but hey, a Triton and other hybrid machines of similar type are really all mongrels anyway and as they allow an extra bit of individuality and personal taste into the classic motorcycle world, why not!

The other end of this part of the market are usually home assembled machines with engine and/or cycle part swops. The way to check these is again by checking engine and frame numbers and also by internet reference. Google and other search engines really do make life easy nowadays huh? I wouldn’t necessarily rule out these home assembled motorcycles. As long as you know the history and the facts about what has and hasn’t been done, you can still end up with a good machine but the fact it’s not an ex-factory original should be reflected in the price somewhat.

Ringers & Replicas

These machines are usually a more ordinary machine made to look like a more special motorcycle. If you know this is what you’re getting for your money, then it’s up to you to make the decision about whether to buy or not. If you do, you’ll probably end up with a nice looking and riding machine but don’t expect the value to increase as quickly as if you’d bought a genuine ex-factory classic motorcycle. If you’re not absolutely sure of the authenticity of the offered bike, go back to the internet search engines and do the research as detailed above.

General Motorcycle Inspection

Here is an example of a completed Inspection Report Form and my comments are written in red. In addition wheel alignment can be checked by (with the front wheel straight) run a piece of taut string from the front of the front wheel to the rear of the rear wheel. The string should touch both sides of both tyres and if they don’t you need to check for frame alignment.

Also when buying a classic motorcycle, I would recommend the removal of seat and fuel tank to look for frame damage and also odd bits of insulation tape in places you wouldn’t expect. If you find any, remove it and look for welds etc that shouldn’t be there. Any evidence of welds etc might mean either frame repair or something worse. If you suspect something’s wrong, walk away and look for another classic motorcycle for sale.

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