Buying a new motorcycle can be straightforward. You do a bit of research and find a dealer with the bike that interests you. But buying a vintage or classic motorcycle is often trickier and takes some extra study and considerations.
One of the first things to do is to familiarize yourself with what is considered a vintage or classic motorcycle, as well as the terminology for older bikes to make your search easier.
When (and what) to buy
What you buy will depend on why you want a vintage motorcycle. Is it because you want a project to work on, because you’re feeling nostalgic for a motorcycle you owned years ago, or is it just that you want to ride something a little different than what’s on a showroom floor today?
If you’re seeking a project, you'll likely find plenty of options. Older and used motorcycles that “need a little work” can be easy to find online or through a local vintage motorcycle club. Depending on how much work they need, or the seller’s attitude, you may be able to get an older bike for a low price.
Because many bikes in that condition can require a “buyer beware” attitude, some of the things to look for in a fixer-upper include:
- Do the tires and rims roll properly? If not, it may indicate that the bike has been in a wreck.
- Is there rust on the frame and/or in the gas tank?
- Does it start? How well does the engine idle?
- Do the headlight, tail light, speedometer and tachometer work?
- How does the battery box look? Are there signs of rust or acid damage?
Knowing what you're buying helps you understand how much work and extra cost will be involved. It always helps to take along a trusted friend or mechanic who knows vintage motorcycles to ensure you aren’t overlooking a repair issue that needs attention or considering a bike with replacement parts that are difficult to obtain.
Ready to roll
When buying a vintage motorcycle that's street-ready, one of the first things to check is the status of the title. Make sure the seller has a clear title and is authorized to sell this bike.
Because there are hundreds of different models to choose from when it comes to vintage and classic motorcycles, it’s important to do your research in advance on any bike that interests you. Know what kind of maintenance it will require and whether or not you’ll be able to do that maintenance yourself. (If you’re good with a toolkit, there’s good news; older bikes are less complicated and, therefore, easier to work on than modern motorcycles.)
Parts and maintenance
Research the costs of repairs and replacement parts for each bike you’re interested in; the relative rarity of older bikes means those parts may be more difficult to find. This will help you determine the true cost of the bike. For example, Japanese vintage motorcycles from the 1960s and 1970s are usually easy to find and have a reputation for reliability, but their replacement parts may end up costing as much as the motorcycles themselves.
On the other hand, American models made during that same period have inexpensive replacement parts, but there were several models from that era with poor production quality.
Researching a bike thoroughly will increase the likelihood that you find a quality older bike. Once you pick out the perfect vintage bike, keep it protected with a classic motorcycle insurance policy designed for the needs of an older bike.