Classic Motorcycles

By Chelle Cordero

April 22, 2016 4 min read

The power of the bike, the speed and wind rushing by, the feeling of being enveloped by the elements, it can give a rider the ultimate feeling of freedom and power. The crowd notices when you pull up. It's a heady feeling to arrive at your destination on a classic motorcycle.

A classic motorcycle is an icon from a time long ago, a time that represented freedom and political ideals, a historical period that fascinates. From the first American-made motorcycle in the early 1900s (the company was first called the Hendee Manufacturing Co., and later the name was changed to the Indian Motorcycle Co.) through today, the sleek lines, throaty noise and powerful engines of motorcycles have been admired and desired. Other motorcycle companies began the manufacturer of popular bikes such as the American Harley-Davidson and Indian, English bikes like Royal Enfield and Triumph, the German DKW. In 1953, well after World War II, the outlaw biker film "The Wild One" starring Marlon Brando, helped to further romanticize the fascination with the powerful and free-spirited machines and their riders.

Like all machinery, parts wear and need replacement. While technology continues to improve on the control, safety and economy of modern-day motorcycles, fans still yearn for the models of yesteryear. As parts break down, motorcycle enthusiasts must decide on trying to preserve the genuine antiquity or allow it to fade.

Many of today's motorcycle manufacturers have answered the pleas of the riding community and feature modern bikes designed to be reminiscent of the early icons while still focusing on fuel economy, safety and durability. But what if you have one of the actual vintage machines? How can you maintain it and preserve the authenticity when many of the original parts are (allegedly) no longer manufactured?

Classic motorcycle enthusiasts offer a few suggestions for restoration. You have to decide if the look and lines of the bike are more important than the legitimacy of the parts. Do you want to ride it or show it? For instance, if you are replacing the wheels and tires, you might be able to find used and authentic pieces for sale (try eBay, junkyards, etc.) that are in reasonable shape; however, the original equipment is still old. If you want to race the bike or do serious cross-country riding, you may want custom-designed wheels and spokes that copy the earlier look.

Many motorcycle retailers thrive on making new sales and may not be helpful in finding original equipment manufacturer parts based on the age and model. Other times, parts are interchangeable and you might have better luck asking for a specific part number rather than "a thing" for your "1989" bike. Some companies make and sell copycat parts that look like the original but may be a different material altogether such as fiberglass fenders instead of the old rusted ones. Sometimes modern aftermarket parts will last longer and work better, such as brake systems. Once again, check places where you might find used authentic parts.

When considering true restoration, try to replace the engine mechanical parts with OEM pieces when available even if you need to compromise on body parts. Paint is another area where you may need to compromise since many manufacturers have limited runs on signature colors. One advantage of restoring original parts is that they were often painted, so you can sand down the metal and spray paint (enamel) for a good finish.

If it is the look and feel you want but you don't have the patience, skill or funds to painstakingly restore a classic motorcycle back to its original glory, then check out some modern classics picked from sources including automotive and motorcycle magazines as well as consumer groups: the 2016 Triumph Bonneville, the Yamaha XSR700, the Indian Chief Vintage, the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, the Moto Guzzi V7, BMW R Nine T and the Royal Enfield Classic.

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