My shop is in an over-sized two-car garage attached to my home. My work is a calling, in the theological sense of the word. Ethical and moral questions arise every day – they are hard, sharp, unambiguous and unavoidable.

The Wretched Truth About Restorations

Posted: December 13th, 2012 | Author: Administrator | Filed under: Editorial, Engine, Forks & Steering, Frame & Body, Fuel & Air, Ignition, Timing, & Electrical, Motorcycle Repair, Wheels, Tires, & Brakes | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

Greetings Chris,

I have researched available motorcycle restoration shops on the East Coast and have found your shop one of the best suited for my project. I would like to determine if your willing and able to restore a vintage Yamaha 80 enduro shown in the pictures attached? If so, to what level of restoration are you capable of achieving? And how long would this take? Further, what ballpark pricing can you provide?




Thanks for your note of inquiry – and the very flattering words about my shop and work.

First, I need to know that you know the First Law of Restorations; you will end up spending waaaaay more than the finished product will fetch on the open market – two to three times more is the rule of thumb – and the multiple is higher with smaller displacement bikes.

So let’s see if I can scare you off right now. Mechanical restoration/rebuilding will run $3k – half parts and half my time. Cosmetic restoration will be another $3k – about half for first-rate factory correct paint and decals and half for re-chroming which, when properly done, means stripping the old chrome from the part, filling the deeper rust pits and other defects with a conductive metal filler, a heavy layer of copper plate to fill the smaller pits, a layer of nickle to keep the copper from showing through the final layer of chrome. This process is sometimes called “triple chrome.” Better add another $1k to cover things like tires, seat re-upholstery, and this, that, and the other thing. That’s $7k – and no matter how realistically I think I am estimating time and money, everything takes longer and costs more than I had expected – even when I know this and take it into account. That may be the Second Law of Restorations; everything will take longer and cost more than even your worst-case estimate. A final bill of $8k could happen. And all this for a bike that will be worth no more than $3k when done – probably closer to $2k.

I have been doing this stuff long enough to have learned a few things; nobody ever complains about getting a bill less than they expected. Dealing with a panicky customer as the running estimate is regularly revised upward is no fun. I’d rather scare you to death right now.

I’ve just come in from the shop – 11pm – after an afternoon favor checking out a problem on my sweetie’s son’s bike turned into eight hours of pro-bono work – time for a bit of supper.

Existential Motorcycles TEL: 828-6839289 Web:
Alexander, NC 28701


Greetings Chris,

Thanks for your carefully thought out email below. Your thoughts and details provided are worth close observation and consideration. With the economy in its current state and no prospects for any improvement in the foreseable years ahead, I must fully think through what makes sense for me moving forward. I will let you know if I decide to proceed in the coming months.

Happy Holidays and warm regards,



Thanks for taking my bucket of cold water over your head so well.

Now I can ethically add that there are many excellent non-monetary reasons/rewards for/from restoring a bike – all better reasons, in my way of reckoning, than money.

And it could be done in two stages; mechanics/functional restoration one year and the pretty bits the next.

But it will be expensive and time-consuming.

Under no circumstances should you compromise your financial health to take on a proper restoration. It sucks all the fun out of it – and the damned bike becomes the cause of it all. And I become the dealer man for whom you are stealing the children’s lunch money to feed your habit. Pure poison. If/when you do this, have the cash on hand and set aside.

I do take extensive notes as I work and lots of digi-pix. On long-term projects I send these as updates every day or so – kinda helps the customer come along for the ride – and adds considerable value to the results – builder’s notes and documentary pix impress the hell out of buyers. But most of all, it’s fun for everybody. I enjoy telling stories of the day’s work and it helps me to review my work and confess my sins. Yes, I break the code of the Mechanics’ Guild and freely admit that I make mistakes and, sometimes, really fuck things up. I’ve made just about every damned-fool mistake you can think of and broken every tool and part. But a funny thing happened – as the years rolled by I made fewer and smaller mistakes. I still make mistakes – sometimes even dumb ones – but for quite a while now (knock polished alloy) they have been non-catatrophic and recoverable errors. And every one still a lesson of some sort.


Existential Motorcycles TEL: 828-6839289 Web:
Alexander, NC 28701

7 Comments on “The Wretched Truth About Restorations”

  1. 1 Existential Motorcycles The March 2013 Website of the Month | Life on 2 Wheels (& other stuff) said at 3:21 am on March 10th, 2013:

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  2. 2 John Duggan said at 4:33 am on October 7th, 2013:

    I just bought a 1973 Honda CB350F. I would like to restore it myself. This will be my first shot at this. As such I could use some advice like, where do I start? Motor, frame. wheels? They all need some attention. The motor does not run but turns. I think I can figure this out as I go along (after all the point for me, is to learn something new) but I know I will need some guidance along the way. Are you available for this?

  3. 3 Administrator said at 7:49 am on October 7th, 2013:


    I cannot say if I will have both the knowledge and time to answer all your questions – and there will be many – but I can give you a few words about the general approach to a restoration.

    First, most amateurs do it backwards – the shiny stuff first and the oily stuff second. There are a couple of reasons for this; people can easily see and appreciate the time/money spent on cosmetics but not on function. But, unless the heart of the beast is sound – a smooth and stout engine/trans – the rest is wasted.

    So the first step is to get the engine up and running well. Adjust the valve clearances to spec and do a compression test and, ideally, a leak-down test. Compression on a cold engine should be at least 140 psi with no more than 10% variation among the cyls. Leak-down less than 10%. If the engine does not meet these standards, you must rebuild the top end and do it right – over-sized pistons/rings and the cyls. bored and honed to match, a good 3-angle valve job with new guides and seals, new gaskets and seals everywhere. You will write a check for between $1.2k and $1.5k for this – $600-800 for parts and machine shop work and whatever of the rest you hire done by someone like me. And I strongly urge you to do so unless you have rebuilt an engine before on your own. There are a lot of ways to ruin all those expensive new parts and machine shop work and I can almost guarantee that you will find one or more of them on your first attempt. Start with a single-cyl. air-cooled 2-stroke and work up from there.

    Next, build the bike twice – first purely for function without a lick of work on the looks. There will be a lot of bits that are removed and replaced an number of times until you get them just right – and each time is an opportunity to nick/scratch/dent/drop or otherwise fuck up the looks. When the bike is finally running flawlessly after several good 100+ mi. road tests, then you can strip it down to the bare frame, do the cosmetic restoration on the parts, and reassemble it all again.

    Don’t cheap-out on the parts or specialist work – if you can’t afford to do it right, you can’t afford to do it at all.

    You will end up with more $$$ in the bike than its market value when you are done. But see my essay discussing the difference between price and value.

    Have I scared you off yet?


  4. 4 Administrator said at 6:20 pm on November 8th, 2013:


    Thank-you for your kind words about my words. I take a bit of care in their selection and am pleased when someone notices/cares.


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