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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Restoring a Motorcycle


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The beginner motorcycle mechanic can learn a lot from the failed first rebuild projects of others. It’s tempting to start removing things and tossing what looks like junk when you first wheel the bike into your garage, but don’t.

Here are some common tips on things to avoid during your first motorcycle restoration project.

1. Throwing Out Parts

Even if you think or know you’re going to replace a certain part, don’t throw out the old one just yet.

Aftermarket and even used parts have been known to not work the way you expect them to. Before you go tossing anything, wait unit you have the new part in hand and functioning properly on your motorcycle.

2. Losing the Cam Chain

If you’re rebuilding the engine, the most challenging part of reassembly is often getting the rings and pistons into the cylinders and the head back on.

If you’ve gotten that far, don’t relax just yet! Be sure to rig up something that will prevent your cam chain from falling back into the engine.

If you don’t install the cams right away, you run the risk of dropping the cam chain, which will either lead to a marathon creative fishing trip down the hole in the cylinder block or removing the cylinders altogether and having to wrestle with the pistons again. Don’t drop the chain.

3. Installing a Transmission Gear Incorrectly

Guess what, the transmission you removed so haphazardly has to be installed a certain way.

Everything from gears to thrust washers to circlips have a proper orientation. Best case scenario is that you won’t be able to finish reassembling the bottom end until you fix the problem. Worst case scenario you kill your engine.

Study your manufacturer’s service manual and online parts fiches to make sure you’re installing your transmission correctly. Better yet, take pictures and make notes for yourself when you take it apart. You can even tape the left side of everything if you need to.

4. Installing Gear Shift Forks/Mechanism Incorrectly

Just like your transmission gears, your shift forks and shifter mechanism has a proper orientation upon installation. Get it wrong and you’ll either bend your forks and have to replace them with expensive OEMs or hope you find used ones within service specs OR you just won’t be able to shift at all.

5. Using Too Much Force

Old motorcycles, especially crusty project bikes that have been sitting and collecting dirt and dust for a few decades have a tendency to tighten up. Seized screws, bolts, pistons, etc. – there’s a good chance you’re going to find something stuck when you’re tearing down your bike.

More often than not, you should not try to hulk-out on it. Put the hammer down and trade it for some penetrating lubricant like PB blaster. Let the seized part soak and repeat. If that doesn’t do the trick, move on to your heat gun.

And if heat won’t free it, carefully use your impact wrench.

6. Popping Tire Tubes

Installing motorcycle tubes and tires doesn’t seem all that difficult until you’ve popped three and busted your knuckles.

Like many other tasks on your motorcycle, installing tubes and tires requires finesse and patience.

Beyond that you should be using some quality tire irons and some soapy water or talcum powder. If you still find yourself popping tubes, give the zip tie method a try.

7. Aimlessly Hacking Stuff Off

Many first time builders start their projects because they have a certain bike in mind – be it a cafe racer, bobber, chopper, scrambler, whatever.

With their bike in mind, the stock frame usually doesn’t look like it will foot the bill and so out comes the hacksaw or grinder.

STOP. The first thing you do on any motorcycle project is not chopping up the frame. That’s not even the second thing you should do. Focus on the basics and the important stuff before you start concerning yourself with the cosmetics. When you’re ready for that, be sure you know what you’re hacking off and what will need to go in its place. Figure out what you’ll need in terms of welding and tube bending and whether you’re going to need some help.

8. Over-tightening Bolts/Stripping Threads

Related to using too much force, but on the reassembly side of things. It can be exciting to start putting the bike back together. Again, don’t rush. Pay attention and check the manual. You’ll want to make sure you’re tightening things in their correct sequences and their proper torque values. You’ll feel it when you strip threads and it is not a good feeling. Invest in a quality torque wrench and double check the setting before you start tightening things down. You’ll be happy you did – otherwise, you’ll get to learn how to tap and re-thread your bunged up threads! No fun.

9. Not Torquing or Properly Tightening Bolts

On the other side of over-tightening is failing to tighten properly. There are torque specs for every critical bolt on your motorcycle that can be found in your shop manual. Get yourself a torque wrench and tighten things up correctly. Otherwise, you’ll end up with oil leaks, dangerously loose parts, or a destroyed engine.

10. Not Measuring Service Specs and Limits

Finally, one of the cardinal sins of motorcycle maintenance and old bike rebuilds is not adhering to the service limits and specifications in your original manufacture’s service manual. If you’re going as far a rebuilding the engine, it’s well worth your while to confirm the wear of internal parts.

Otherwise, you’ll button it all back up just to realize you’re going to need to tear it back down again.

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