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Bike-buying guide: Thinking of buying a classic motorcycle in SA?

2016-09-12 13:11

REMEMBERING THE CLASSICS: If a classic motorbike is what you're after, best take of advice of these tips. Image: Dries van der Walt

Dries Van der Walt

Cape Town - Retro bikes have become very popular lately, and many manufacturers have a retro offering in their line-up.

But what if you want to go the whole nine yards - buy an actual classic rather than a modern bike made to look old?

If you plan to venture into the world of classics for the first time, there are a few things you need to consider.

One of the first is to decide what you want to buy; not just brand and model, but also age. As a rule, the older the bike, the rarer and more expensive the spares will be.

Limited-production exotics may be more valuable than mass production machines, but spares for those may be much harder to come by.

For your first classic it is a good idea not to go too old or rare - the late 1960s and 1970s is a good period for a first classic.

Image: Dries van der Walt

An expert in own right

Once you have decided what you want, become an expert. Read everything you can find on the specific bike, and chat to members of forums or owners’ clubs dedicated to the model. There are many unscrupulous sellers out there, and having good background knowledge will help prevent you from buying a lemon. Becoming a member of an owners’ club is also a good idea, as it will help you source spares and resolve technical problems once you have bought your classic.

For a first-timer it is almost always better to buy a complete, running bike rather than one that needs massive restoration. As with any second-hand bike, carefully check out the bike’s mechanical and structural integrity, and have a police check done to ensure that you don’t inadvertently buy a stolen bike and risk forfeiting your investment.

Remember that many classics are more maintenance intensive than modern bikes, but the hands-on nature of owning a classic is part of the appeal. Older bikes are usually easier to work on than their modern counterparts, and getting to know your classic inside out is a rewarding part of owning one.

READ: Basic Motorcycle Riding – Starting out

Motorcycles don’t take well to just standing, and when you own a classic much of the experience is in actually riding it. I (and I assume many other riders) love the feel of an older bike - to me they seem to have more character than many modern machines. That said, there are safety considerations to bear in mind when riding a classic.

Image: Dries van der Walt

Know what you're buying

While older bikes have much less performance than their modern counterparts, they lag even further behind in terms of braking and handling. You also don’t have the additional safety net of modern electronic rider aids such as ABS and traction control. Take the time to thoroughly familiarise yourself with your classic’s handling, braking, balance and performance before you do any kind of spirited riding.

As mentioned before, maintenance is an important part of owning a classic, and sooner or later you will need to find spares. Some of the bigger owners’ clubs have their own suppliers of parts and even commission the remanufacture of hard-to-find spares - joining one of them might be worth much more than the membership dues.

Alternatively, take advantage of the ease of finding and importing things via the internet. This has the advantage of allowing you to source spares from regions with climates that have been kind to the old stuff. Lastly, a vibrant industry has grown from supplying the classic motorcycle Industry. There are specialist suppliers that have a good selection of remanufactured and replacement parts for many popular models of older bikes to make your spares buying a lot easier.

Owning a classic can be either extremely rewarding or extremely frustrating - which experience you will be in for will depend on the level-headedness with which you approach it. If you do decide to take the plunge and buy your first classic, here’s to hoping it will bring you many years of pride and joy.

Image: Dries van der Walt

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