How much does it cost to restore a Motorcycle?

I've only done a full restoration on one motorcycle so far; my BMW R69S, and I kept pretty close track of the money I spent. I didn't keep track of the time I put in on the project, which is unfortunate, because the time spent was considerable, and knowledge of it would be helpful to someone who wants an accurate idea of the full cost to restore a motorcycle.

After finishing a complete restoration, I've been more sensitive to the economics involved in motorcycle restoration. The most important thing to remember is that no matter what kind of motorcycle you are restoring, you'll probably end up spending more than it's worth, no matter how well restored it is. Unless you're wealthy, it has to be a labor of love. You'll never recoup the money  you spend, and if you think you'll make a profit; forget it! It ain't gonna happen!

If you want to make a living restoring motorcycles, you can only do so by charging other people to restore their bikes for them. It is possible to make money buying and selling old bikes. You have to spend all your time at swap meets, visiting garage sales, and flea markets, and buy old bikes, then resell them without putting any major time or money into them. 

Look here for a complete rundown of the costs for my R69S restoration:

Here's a simple example:

I decided that I needed to clean up the wheels on my BSA 441 Shooting Star. I had several old wheels that I could get hubs and rims from that were in reasonably good shape. I bought 2 sets of stainless steel spokes from Buchannan's, a can of black spray enamel and a can of silver spray enamel, some new bearings, and a pair of Metzeler ME-77 tires. Here's what it all cost me.















I had access to a bead blaster to clean the old hubs and hydraulic press to put the bearings in with, and I'm not afraid to try lacing up wheels myself. The labor in the list was to have a local motorcycle shop true the rims after I laced them, and mount and balance the tires. These are real costs rounded to the nearest dollar, not estimates or guesses. If you have to buy new rims (my used ones polished up adequately), expect to pay another $90.00 - $150.00 per rim. I was also able to use the existing brake parts after cleaning them up. In addition, I  put in over 8 hours of my own time cleaning, repainting, polishing, and assembling.

After all that, I have nice presentable wheels, but they are not concourse quality. I'd guess that for show quality, you'd have to spend at least 30% more for the extra effort involved. If there had been any major corrosion, or any reasons to discard any major parts and buy replacements, it would have added even more to the price. I could imagine that the total cost for wheels could run over $1000.00 if you had to have all the work done for you, and were required to replace the rims as well. This is for a motorcycle that I'd be lucky to sell for $3000.00 in perfect condition!

I'm not trying to say it's a waste of money to restore motorcycles. What I'm trying to do is illustrate that you need to be motivated, and really want the bike when it's done. An old motorcycle isn't a good investment, but it is gratifying to have a bike that you basically built yourself, and enjoy riding it. When you're done, you know every nut and bolt in that bike intimately. If you did a good job reassembling it, you also know that it's put together so that it will be safe to ride, and you can trust it to get you up the road.

All content copyright Carl Best, 1997-2001

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