When MotoSport decided to undertake the biggest giveaway in its history, we quickly discovered just how difficult a venture we got ourselves in to.
Finding a 20 year old dirt bike did not come easy. As a refresher, to celebrate our 20th anniversary we wanted to honor the past and decided what better way than to giveaway a 1999 Kawasaki KX125 Ricky Carmichael replica race bike complete with all the graphics he ran. Creating the graphics was the easy part, finding the bike? Not so much.
We have no idea how many exist out there but in terms of those available for sale, we would have probably had an easier time getting one of our dedicated desk jockey's to qualify for the 2019 Washougal Motocross.
We checked out Craigslist and Cycle Trader and as it turns out either no one wants to giveaway their 1999 KX125 or these bikes come few and far between. We found one - just one. Thankfully, it was in good condition and we agreed on a price with the seller and were not left stranded and scrambling. We got lucky.
Your search for the vintage dirt bike of your dreams might turn up some pretty trashed models or owners asking waaaaay too much. Then you could find something promising only to encounter a breakdown in negotiations or communication. Remain patient and keep looking until you find the right bike.
At any rate, after zeroing in on the 1999 125 KX that eventually became the giveaway bike to celebrate our 20th anniversary we learned finding the bike was actually the easy part because restoring and finding parts took nearly two months.
Next, we needed the talent to do pull the restoration project off and who but none other than former MotoSport employee Rory Sullivan. He now runs his own riding school called Radius Offroad just outside Portland and guess what? Sullivan qualified for Washougal this year and rode alongside Eli Tomac... at least for a bit. Sullivan, a lifelong rider and enthusiast, also starred in the making of our 2016 Yamaha 250X giveaway so he was the perfect choice for not only the videos but as someone with the expertise and know-how to tear down the old bike and put it all back together.
Lots of veteran riders love the idea of throwing down some laps on those vintage dirt bike that made Champions of yesterday's stars, but the restoring process sometimes leaves them stranded in a rut. So, we asked Sullivan some of the things he learned about restoring the 1999 125KX and what advice he could pass along to others with a similar passion for restoring old dirt bikes.
1. Find a Descent Base
Don't grab the first rust bucket you find. You will save yourself a lot of trouble if the dirt bike has a solid foundation you can work with. But, sometimes this doesn't pan out and you have limited options.
2. Take Your Time
You won't finish a bike restoration project overnight or even after a week. Stripping a bike, finding original parts and putting it all back together takes time and dedication.
3. Old Bikes are Simple
No surprise here, as technology increases, you will find older bikes far more simplistic to work on than modern bikes.
4. Take Care with Bolts and Threads
When taking apart an old bike, Sullivan says to take care of all the bolts and threads as they might have seized and will easily break off or strip. Taking your time here really helps keep your project moving forward even if at a snail's pace.
5. Keep All Parts
Keep and inventory all parts from the old bike even if you plan on replacing them. You never know and if something arises during reassembly you might need that old part you threw away last week.
6. Replace All Bearings
OK, you can throw away the bearings. You want to replace all bearings even if they appear in good condition.
7. Standing Room Only
You will stand and stand up a lot. So much so, your feet will hurt. Take breaks and call it a day before getting too tired.
8. Vapor Blast
Spend lots of elbow grease on shining the old parts back to somewhat new, or pay a fair price and get them vapor blasted for a brand new look at a fraction of the time. This often comes at a much-needed break time from the restoration project and allows you to take a breather while parts get cleaned.
9. Parts Unknown
Depending on the age of the dirt bike you plan to restore, expect to have some issues finding both aftermarket and OEM parts. Even MotoSport has its limits on available parts for older bikes, so if we don't have it, try Craigslist and eBay.
10. It Still Rips
When you tighten that last bolt, you now have a fully functioning dirt bike. Old dirt bikes provide an amazing amount of fun and in the case of the 1999 Kawasaki KX125 Sullivan rebuilt for the 20th Anniversary giveaway, it remains competitive with modern bikes.
Keep searching, don't give it and most of all take your time. You've lived this long without your prized dirt bike, take an extra day or even a week to ensure proper completion and full restoration.