Classic motorcycle owners.

My brother got a 1970 Triumph Bonneville this summer and it has started me jonesing for an old English bike again. When he got his it was set up as a chopper and was pretty ugly. After a bunch of work he has transformed it into a bobber style bike and looks pretty good now. I don’t know if I would go that route or not, I would probably keep it more stock. I’ve been watching e-bay and Craig’s List a lot recently for something that would work for me. I even had a deal going for a 67 BSA Spitfire but the seller backed out.

So with all that said are there any classic or vintage bike owners that have any advice, caveats or “forget about it sonny, run away”'s to pass on?


p.s. I already have a bike I like but my brothers Triumph just makes me think I’m missing something with my 1975 Honda CB500T.

Spiny Norman and I rode up to The Rock Store one day, and there was a BSA sitting there. It was orange with ‘750 Rocket 4’ in blue script on the side cover, and had alloy wheels and Öhlins shocks. Nice blend of old and new. I want one.

But I’ll probably buy a Royal Enfield Bullet (my local dealer, they also sell Urals). It’s a ‘classic British bike’, though it’s built in India, and brand-new. Cheap, too. The downside is that it’s basically a ‘classic British bike’, and also that it’s slow. But I already have a fast, reliable bike and a moderately fast, reliable bike.

Bonny owner here. Some of the mates have Nortons and a Velocette, so my comments are generalised.
If you are a restorer, parts require the utmost of patience to obtain, if they exist.
Some of the electricals suck entirely and are better replaced. Like my entire wiring harness. IE, instead of one large current carrying wire, the stock used several paralleled; when one breaks from fatigue or whatever, the rest get overamped and the ride comes to an end amidst a cloud of smoke.
I try to keep the bike stock, but having some machining capability means it has home-made parts. Knowing a machinist will be an asset if you intend to ride.
One of my friends used to race on the Isle of Man. He balanced the engine and fussed a bit with the cases. The bike starts with one kick, doesn’t leak any oil and doesn’t dance on the centre stand.
Even a basket case is likely an investment given increasing rarity.

I suppose it depends upon how classic you want the bike to be, something like a Suzuki GS1000 would be pretty good, fast enough, reasnoable handling, reasonably reliable, and in the US you can pick one up from one of the sunny states in good condition.

If you want something to raise a question or two, then a Laverda 750 SF would be a great option,

Decetn electrics, solid cranks and bottom end - dead solid, good electrics, good handling. I would not recommend the faster SFC version as a good one costs a fortune - my view is that these were much better made than Triumphs and were better performers.

You could also go for a Laverda Jota, most folk will send large money on the earlier versions, however the later ones, with the 120 degree crank is far smoother - again, very reliable and a much better price prospect.

The smaller 500cc twin Laverdas such as the Alpina were nice bikes, but they got thrashed - very noisy indeed but fun.

I had an old '74 AMF/Harley 350 Sprint years ago…

You’ll need a pickup truck to go along with this bike.

I have a '73 Norton Commando that I bought as a wrecked chopper. I truly believe that I took the most expensive route to classic bike ownership, apart from paying someone else to restore it. In the long run, you’d be better off finding a clean, good running bike than a basket case.
Parts availability is something to consider, too. The more common brands like Triumph, Norton and BSA are easier to find parts for than, say, an Ariel or Vincent. Most Norton Commando parts are still being made. Online Commando parts catalog.
Oh, and check out

Not an old English bike, please. As mentioned above, count on replacing all electrical components. And carry multiple flashlights with a roll of duct tape. My experience was with two BSA; late 60s; owned from 1970-1972; occasionally ridden; often trailered/trucked home.

You’ll need Whitworth Tools. The fasteners are specially designed to be rounded off by metric/SAE tools no mater how close the fit appears.

Get a bike with as many carburetors as possible; I’m including the “box-o-spares” that should be included with any purchase. Be familiar with crafting gaskets/seals from roadside scrap or pieces of your riding apparel. Most repair/rebuild kits come WITHOUT the gasket/seal that has actually disintegrated. Hmmm - tuning the carbs - fond memories - getting so sotted (British term included for nostalgia) I would fall asleep on the porch and not get to ride.

They were pleasures when operable. I just had more of a life than spending most of the week working on them to get a day and a half ride in on the weekend.

Thanks for the comments. I finally jumped in. I do really like the styling of the 60’ Triumph and BSA’s but I ran across an opportunity on Craig’s List that I just couldn’t pass up.

I am the proud new owner of a 1976 Triumph bonnevile T140. It is going to be a project for my brother and I this winter as it is a basket case in the sense that it is all in baskets (and boxes and milk crates.) The person I bought it from had started doing a rebuild on the motor and never finished it. Talking with him all of the tear down, cleaning, polishing and machining have been done and it’s ready to bolt back together. He also had all the new parts I will need to put it back together including new pistons and rings. My brother asked him a lot of questions and was satisfied with the answers. I figure if we can’t get it together and running I could part it out and recoup my investment ($1200) That would be a shame though as it’s a matching numbers frame/engine and what I really want is the working bike. :slight_smile:

I started out looking for an older english bike and ended up with a newer bike than I currently have. At the end I figure I should also have a pretty good understanding of how it works.

Wish me luck.

Does anyone remember the James motorcycles? I don’t know if they are classic or not but I owned a Model 98 and a Model 125 when I was fourteen. They certainly improved my creativity as to keeping them running, but the result generally wasn’t worth the effort. I still dream about them from time to time, though.

Since you ended up with a bike of similar vintage to mine, specific tips for you.

Verify the case bore for the primary side main bearing, preferably with micrometer precision vs. a pair of calipers. The hole should, at the largest, be line on line with the bearing for a Loctite fit, within a grand or two for a press fit. If you measure ovality in the seat it is evidence of the outer race moving. If you have this condition there are solutions.

Inspect the wiring harness, particularly the already mentioned paralleled runs, specifically terminations.

When you get the carbs back together on the engine, use hose clamps on the balance hose between the two. One end slipping off causes ragged performance and can be hard to spot as a cause.

Probably obvious, but replace all the case hardware with socket head or Torx, preferably in SS. A little Neversneez on the threads.

Congrats on the purchase. Mine has been reliable since re-build, though not like a Honda. Can’t beat the handling, footpegs must be an inch shorter now.

Thanks for the tips. I will look into them all. I heard the same comments about the handling from the shop I usually take my Honda into for work.

Having done the “classic” route (which ends too frequently on foot or in the back of a truck), I now enjoy the style of England with the precision of Japan.

I have a Kawasaki W650 and a Honda GB500. Neither has ever had any problem. The Kaw looks more like an old Trumpet than a new Trumpet. The Honda handles better than a Norton, but alas, isn’t a Norton. Much slower, but will be sure to get you home. Both have 130w headlights that work.

Now, when I want to take a nice long walk, I leave home in my Jeep!

I purchased a 78 Yamaha 650 that was not running and lots of it was in boxes.

I like the old 650’s what can I say.

Anyway, after checking EVERYTHING over and over again. It still would not run. Not so much as a pop.

Rebuilt the carbs, full tune up, double and triple check timing. Compression, everything was spot on.

But not so much as a pop, burp or backfire. Nothing.

Spark plugs are sparking, compression is good, it is getting fuel (or starting fluid) but the engine would not do anything.

I went through these tests over and over……

It was maddening. With spark, compression and fuel it should at least do SOMETHING.

I finally pulled the valve covers to check which valves where opening on what cycle of the engine and compared that to the points opening and closing.

The engine was ‘rebuilt’ by the previous owner. He rebuilt it 180 degrees off.

This is not something that I would typically check for.

I switched the left coil to the right plug, and the right coil to the left plug and it fired right up.

It runs, but not very well. I suspect it has ignition advance problems.

I may rebuild it someday.

Anybody want a ’78 Yamaha 650?

Wow, those do look good. That Kawasaki really does look more like a an old Triumph than the new ones. I think the new ones suffer from what a lot of modern interpretations of old vehicles do. Bloat. I know they are fitting a lot more stuff as far as safety and comfort go but they always end up looking like they need to go on a diet compared to the originals.

I just did a valve adjustment on my Suzuki 82’ GS750. Thankfully I didn’t have to mess with shims.

I’m toying with the idea of picking up a complete 78’ Bonnie that is sitting somewhat disassembled in my friends’ garage. He’s never going to finish the job and it would be a fun ride.

Nice. It wasn’t a friend but that’s essentially where I’m at. I’m heading down to gather up the motor bits tonight. I’m going to bring them into my regular shop and have them go over all the machined bits and new pistons to make sure all the tolerances are up to spec. That way I know I’m starting with a good set of bits.