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?

Regards,
R

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R,

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.

Cheers,
Chris
Existential Motorcycles TEL: 828-6839289 Web: http://www.existentialmotorcycles.com
Alexander, NC 28701

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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,
R

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R,

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.

Cheers,
Chris

Existential Motorcycles TEL: 828-6839289 Web: http://www.existentialmotorcycles.com
Alexander, NC 28701