Restoring Vintage Japanese Motorcycles

Updated on January 17, 2019
rodericktaylor profile image

Rod Taylor has been riding for 36 years, in that time owning over 50 motorcycles.

What to Look for When Buying a Vintage Japanese Bike

Restoring vintage motorcycles can be both rewarding and very frustrating.

I am a motorcycle nut and have been riding for 36 years, in that time owning over 50 motorcycles. Many of my 'vintage' motorcycles were brand new when I first owned them.

Not all vintage Japanese bikes are worth the trouble. Many early Japanese bikes were absolute 'classics' when they were released, and an equal number were absolute dogs, or even worse, death traps. Some bikes had almost 'bulletproof' reliability, and some had inherent mechanical faults. Some bikes seem to stand up to the ravages of time, and some definitely do not. Some bikes are relatively easy to get parts for, and others are downright impossible.

An excellent starting point when considering buying an old bike is to go online and read up about the model and year of the bike. Se if you can find old motorcycle magazine reviews from the days when the bike was released. Look up forums and bike clubs online and post a few questions about the bike you are looking for. Google the bike and see if you can still purchase any parts for that model bike. Ring up motorcycle wreckers and see how available second-hand parts are.

Now that you have done that, let's look at some basics:

Is It Running?

Now, this is one of my rules that I stick to. I only buy a bike that is still running; the cosmetics are often far easier to deal with than its mechanical issues. If the bike is still running, although it may be worn, it can be rebuilt. If an engine is a non-runner, it could have been sitting outside for years; the entire internal is probably corroded. Considering that Japanese bikes use alloys that turn to white powder and steel that rusts, you may find that most of the engine is of no use.

Is the Petrol Tank Leaking?

Have a look in the tank for rust and around the bottom of the outside of the tank for little pinholes. Leaking rusty petrol tanks can be a nightmare to fix; in most cases, you can throw them away, unless they are so rare that you are willing to shell out big bucks for an engineer to cut and weld new pieces.

Do You Want to Risk an Old Long-Parked Two-Stroke?

Also, remember that a four-stroke engine is full of oil and a little more sealed up than a two-stroke engine, which usually only has gearbox oil. So two-strokes often fare poorly when left for a length of time without starting. It's easier to tell the condition of a four-stroke engine, for instance, if it has poor compression (easy to kick over) and it rattles, knocks and blows smoke, then it's probably time for a rebuild... but at least it runs. Two-strokes, on the other hand, especially vintage ones, are rattly, noisy and smokey from new; it's much harder to pick up a serious mechanical problem, like a big end knock or a broken piston. Two-strokes are very simple engines, especially the old ones, but will run amazingly with the most horrible things wrong inside, like a broken piston skirt, broken ring, etc. But they are just waiting for that magic moment to self destruct and throw you over the handlebars.

What's the History?

This is where a few intelligent questions arise. Like: How long have you had the bike? How many miles have you done on it? Have you worked on the bike?

Have a look for the tell signs of bodgy mechanics, like silicone gasket goo around engine joins, burred screws, cracked engine cases, wired up bits etc.

Be Gentle

If are lucky enough to get an old bike with a good running engine, but that has not been used much for years, then change the oil and spark plugs and clean out the fuel system and carbies and most important DON'T THRASH IT. An old bike needs to be gradually bedded in again, almost like running in a new bike. Run the bike for short periods and then check everything, gradually increasing the duration of each ride. Remember, everything is old.

Electronic Ignition

Bikes pre-late 1970s have points and a relatively simple ignition system. Electronic ignition systems came in primarily in the '80s and can be very hard to source and very expensive. $1000,00 for a new one is not uncommon. Be VERY careful working on the electrics on bikes with electronic ignition systems, even the power from a multi-meter can blow them up.

Water-Cooled Two-Strokes

Water cooled two-strokes also came in during the late 70, but mainly 80's. Be wary, the water pumps have seals and bearings, when they wear, they generally leak water into the gearbox. Check the gear box for brown milky oil.

Power Valves

Many two-strokes also introduced power valves, for example, Kawasaki KDX. These valves gum up with carbon and used oil, they can seize up and fail, but the bike will still run without them... as long as the disintegrating bits don't fall inside the engine. If the bike is old and has done some miles, count on replacing the power valves and the water pump seals, shaft and bearings... this ain't cheap.

Where You Can Get Parts

Finally, there are some really good sites on eBay supplying new parts for old Japanese bikes at very reasonable prices. I have had no trouble getting parts for my 1973 Honda MT250 Elsinore (a very nice simple classic bike that was a revolution when released). Same for my 1973 Honda XL100, another classic, reliable bike. I have very easily rewired the bikes and found flasher cans, indicators, brake switches, mirrors, side plastics, decals, cables, and speedos all cheaply on eBay from all over the world.

Restored Bikes

MT 250 Honda Elsinore after restoration
MT 250 Honda Elsinore after restoration
MT 250 Honda Elsinore before restoration
MT 250 Honda Elsinore before restoration
XL 100 Honda after some TLC
XL 100 Honda after some TLC

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image

        andrew birse 

        14 hours ago

        looking to have a 91 suzuki katana 1000 bike is complete

      • profile image

        Geedaddy1056 

        8 months ago

        I am looking to do something with an 81 Honda CB900 Custom. This the dual range, shaft driven model... what I have in mind is lowering the back end a bit, custom fuel tank and some other peripheral changes that are fairly basic/universal kind of stuff. the big obstacles lie with lowering the rear end I think... Any Ideas? And/ or does anyone know of anyone who makes custom wheels that may make a smaller (like15") rear wheel, perhaps a bit wider & will take a lower profile tire & will still work with the shaft drive?? Any thoughts??? Maybe photos from someone who has done one of these??

      • profile image

        Peter 

        6 years ago

        The tricycles are: Hyogo HMC V-twin 1500ccm and Daihatsy SB-7 750cс, the third one I will know soon.

      • profile image

        Peter 

        6 years ago

        Hello, I have three Japanese tricycles need the restoration. May be you can recommend who can make it?

      • profile image

        martinnetsims 

        6 years ago

        hello there grant i got it from a mate so i think this is there contact

        filling address , there there most competitive in the game ,say myself-netsimsy told you to ring

      • profile image

        cobleighb 

        6 years ago

        I am attempting to make a 1976 Honda 250MR street legal. To do so I need an operating brake light. The 250MT is a street legal bike with a brake light switch. I would appreciate is someone could send a pic or describe the location and manner of attachment for the brake light switch on the MT, that I may duplicate on the MR. Thanks.

      • profile image

        Capt Caveman 

        7 years ago

        Hi all, I have a 1976 CB100 that i imported from bali last year, can anyone tell me where to get parts and what model would she be.

      • smmotorb profile image

        smmotorb 

        7 years ago from New Zealand

        some good advice, great hub. I used to have a Honda KL 100, great bike, reliable and they hold together pretty well. great for wheel stands.

        Keep up the good work

      • profile image

        frustrated 

        7 years ago

        getting away from jap bike's, most are no good up till 78, getting an OLDER CZ 250 this time,

        and ENJOYING IT, if i could get this 86 kx 500 to fit me than id be happy.

      • jafruminc profile image

        jafruminc 

        7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

        Hey this is a very helpful hub. I have been looking for ways how to restore vintage bikes. Thank you for posting!

      • profile image

        dean 

        7 years ago

        iv got it bad

        iv got 5 xl 100 81 to 85

        one sl70

        and a sl100

        in the years to come you will see the bikes

        the 81 to 85 xl100 ar basically street legal xr100

        and iv got 5...

      • profile image

        Simon Wilkinson 

        7 years ago

        Yep, great fun. See http://motorcyclerestorations.blogspot.com/ for my efforts on a TY175 and an NVT Rambler 125.

      • profile image

        Russell 

        7 years ago

        I'm looking for a pitcock for an 86 Honda 700s Nighthawk as well as the front brake mastercylinder. Can you help me?

      • profile image

        Smitty 

        7 years ago

        I forgot my E-mail like all us old goofy people do. smithcycles@wimaxexpress.net I've also got a start on a web site smith cycles.com thanks

      • profile image

        Smitty 

        7 years ago

        I've been doing this rebuilding and restoring and boring and buying wrecks only on hon yam kaw and suz for 39 years and still into it wide open, as of today bought a 71 yellow SL 70, and have xl 70s and xl 75 and 80 and ss125 red and the blue one and cd 175 red and blue and a rough barn find cl 125 twin and all the 305s have no money in my pockets yet I got the junk, whoevever dies with the most junk wins right LOL.

      • profile image

        Pablo 

        7 years ago

        I'm planning on getting a Kawasaki 750 H-2 Mach IV in working/good condition (ideally a '73) and modifying it into a cafe racer. My question is what is the smallest (preferably a Kawasaki from 1970-75) frame I can bolt the engine onto?

      • profile image

        Jack Carter 

        7 years ago

        I forgot to enter my email in the previous request.

        It is hdtd4@comcast.net

      • profile image

        Jack Carter 

        7 years ago

        I have a Honda Trail 50 (about a 1970) that I would like to get restored for my grandson, and I am looking for someone to do this in the Steubenville Ohio area. Any suggestions?

      • profile image

        pat 

        7 years ago

        just brought 3 rv suzuki 1976 =+ two frame any one got some tips new to the resto game

      • profile image

        Dano-87 

        7 years ago

        Ive got a 1970 yamaha 2 stroke 250 roadbike,bike is complete and in great shape for age.ITS FOR SALE CALL WITH OFFER 715-307-3312

      • profile image

        blue warwick 

        7 years ago

        am doing up a 77 Xl100 Does anyone know of a good condition fuel tank?

      • profile image

        skiman 

        8 years ago

        Great to read. I have a 1976 Elsinore that is is decent shape other than the throttle being stuck. I have no idea what the bike is worth, although I have had a few people ask if I want to sell it, I think because it is in good shape. Any idea?

        Thanks

      • profile image

        NOS Honda Parts OKC 

        8 years ago

        We have several NOS Honda parts for all different models! On our website we have a full inventory list of items we have in stock. Remember these are NEW items in original packaging! Reasonable prices and shipping available! Check out the list, if you need any parts please just email me the part #'s and I will gladly look them up, price them, and email you back!!! All payments are done through our paypal account and customer service is our # 1 priority!!! Thanks!

      • profile image

        Kirk C, 

        8 years ago

        This 85 honda CR 250 wont idle,

        or it's hard to start,

        Maybe Carb need's redone,

        the bike wont idle at all,

        Need the answer to this?

        what's a good pipe for this bike?

        It has a DG on it, leaks exhaust,& spit's oil out the joint between the silencer and stinger,

        Do Keihin PJ's have Idle circuit's?

      • profile image

        edward 

        8 years ago

        someone out there help me with handlebar's and throttle for 77 honda cj 360?

      • profile image

        Kirk C, 

        8 years ago

        I need help on redoing this 77 cj 360 honda,

        It need's handlebar's and a thottle,and seat,

        run's good, and fun to ride,

      • profile image

        Kirk c, 

        9 years ago

        I like the 74 Elsinore 250M,

        the 74 Suzuki TM 400, and the 74 TM 250 also,

        all Three are good bike's,

      • electricsky profile image

        electricsky 

        9 years ago from North Georgia

        My husband just wrecked a motorcycle. Luckily he wasn't seriously hurt. I would show him your hub but don't want to encourage him riding anymore. Good hub though.

      • profile image

        foreignpress 

        9 years ago from Denver

        Thanks for the great insight. I'm looking for a Honda CB-360T to restore. Your hub has put me on the right track.

      • profile image

        Kirk c, 

        9 years ago

        Ive got 3 bike's,

        one's an 02 Kawasaki Vulcan 750,

        One's an 85 Honda CR 250,

        Too Tall for me to get on,

        and the last one is an 86 Kawasaki KX 500,little bit better than the Honda 250,

        I got the Honda and the kawasaki in the last few month's, But they are too tall for me,

        I bought this KX 500 thinking it would be ok,

        but when it got here, I cant get my let over it or Ill fall backward,

        Really make's me angry,

        Must be some way to lower the 500 Kawasaki So I can enjoy it?

        If I had my way?

        Id get a 72 TM 250,& 400 Suzuki,

        a 74 Elsinore 250M,

        75 KX 400 Kawasaki,

        An orange 73 Maico 400,and a 73 CZ 380 with yellow tank,

        Please help me with this KX 500 ok,

        Kirk C,

      • profile image

        Honda Yerk 

        9 years ago

        Just picked up a '74 MT250. Restoration commenced as soon as I got it home! I also have a '66 Dream, '72 Scrambler, '74 XL125, '06 CB900F and a '78 KZ650.

      • profile image

        hondanut 

        9 years ago

        great article i love the elsinore bikes like the mt250 definitely A great read for newcomers i personally have 2 older model xr's and one ct70 k3 and i must say there are a lot of things to watch out for incl. getting overpriced used parts like an engine that has damaged timing for morew than the same engine with very low miles in good order watch out out there

      • profile image

        no1gtkid 

        9 years ago

        I am currently attempting to restore a 1974 Honda XL100. She is in decent shape but still has loads more that can be done. This is my first restore orproject on a motorcycle. I have mainly done 4x4 trucks/suvs and Mustangs. My biggest challenge is finding resource infromation on parts.

      • HKrafston profile image

        HKrafston 

        9 years ago from Columbus, OH

        Nice Hondas. I usually work on old Toyota MR2's but a bike might be a fun change of pace.

        Thanks

      • rodericktaylor profile imageAUTHOR

        rodericktaylor 

        9 years ago from Australia

        Thanks it is fun and when I have finished I start looking for the next project. It's nice to take your time and do a bit at a time. The final result is very satisfying.

      • MX Race Fane profile image

        MX Race Fane 

        9 years ago from OKLAHOMA CITY

        What fun! I have been looking for an old scooter to rebuild. I joined your fan club. Thanks

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, axleaddict.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://axleaddict.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)