The astonishing barn find or the Craigslist miracle.
Whatever you call it finding an old but salvageable dirt bike is the stuff dreams are made of. Well, at least for those who ride and actually dream of stumbling upon an old school catch worthy of your time and financial investment.
Of course, you want more than a bare, rusted frame of a 1986 Honda CR125 but if your uncle has a country place where he's preserved for you an old machine down in his barn thank him graciously and understand work lies ahead of you.
We're not talking about a true restoration project and we won't get deep into the weeds for this article as lots, LOTS, could be wrong, can go wrong and likely will go wrong on an old dirt bike treasure regardless of how well the previous owner took care of it. A barn find or an old gem sold on Craigslist likely hasn't felt the weight of a human in some time, thus anything goes.
Hopefully (and assuming for this article) the engine is intact and the transmission functions because withering away in the dark tends to cause more cosmetic problems you'll need to address before it's ready to roll. Therefore, let's look at the most common issues we've discovered that owners of a new, old bike encounter.
1. Missing Parts
This is probably the biggest hit against the pocket book. Whoever put the bike aside years ago likely planned on returning to it much sooner rather than never. Perhaps that Uncle of yours or the seller on Craigslist meant to replace the clutch or change out the brake pads but life got in the way and before long couldn't remember what they needed and then shortly after that completely forgot or gave up on fixing the bike.
Ask the previous owner about any missing parts but then perform the check yourself. We're speculating you know something about dirt bikes if you're purposely buying an old dirt bike, but if not, get a knowledgeable friend or competent mechanic to give a once over and locate any missing parts.
We'll bet you that new, old dirt bike needs new tires. Any bike regardless of age that has tires more than a year old needs new ones. Therefore, a barn find typically means one covered in dust and possible mildew which doesn't happen in three months. Get new tires and you'll take a huge step towards ride day and notice just how awesome it looks already.
3. Seat Cover
Check out the seat and seat cover. Full of tears or even chunks of padding missing? What's more, a seat that looks intact might crumble the moment you sit on it. Foam tends to dry, harden and crumble especially when exposed to temperature extremes over time. For comfort's sake, it might be worth investing in a new seat or seat cover anyway.
Old dirt bike = rusty dirt bike. Hopefully it's superficial rust which is easily removed and contained. A bike showing rust eating through metal like a cancer is probably not one you should have bought in the first place. Once you've cleaned the dirt bike and brushed off any residual rust coat affected areas with WD-40 or a hard parts dressing like Maxima Suspension Clean .
5. Chain and Sprockets
The integrity of the chain and sprockets, even if new, or used with low hours before put away, is compromised. Rust, moisture and good ole Father Time have their way with metal and the chain is especially vulnerable. At the very least, replace the chain but it's always a good rule of thumb to change both sprockets and the chain together.
Photo: Tom White - The Early Years of Motocross Museum
Lastly, it goes without saying - Change everything in liquid form. Fluids, be it gas, oil, brake fluid, etc., evaporate, leak or change composition over time. Depending on storage time, it's likely little if any fluids remain but regardless you'll need to change every ounce of anything that pours into your dirt bike.
Flush the brake lines and radiator before adding new fluid. Inspect the gas tank too. Old gas turns into varnish and if the tank wasn't drained prior to the dirt bike's long rest, you're probably going to have to clean the tank and carburetor. The hard way. Spraying carb cleaner won't do the job, the areas coated by the varnish need scrubbing.
These tips should not only get you started working but get your dirt bike started. As you work on the bike you'll get a closer look at what else might prevent the bike from operating appropriately allowing you to address additional issues you come across.
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