Buy­ing your first Ja­panese clas­sic

Motorcycle Monthly - - The Inside Line To Classic Japanese Iron With Stev - Words and pic­tures: Steve Cooper

The VJMC has a long and proud her­itage of res­cu­ing old mo­tor­cy­cles from al­most cer­tain doom. Years be­fore the cur­rent fran­tic fis­cally mo­ti­vated clas­sic scene got go­ing the club’s mem­bers were restor­ing bikes that, frankly, no one else gave a damn about.

Times have changed and what was once old tat is now highly de­sir­able. And when the so-called clever money went for the ex­pen­sive and iconic stuff many of our mem­bers just smiled qui­etly to them­selves. When the bur­geon­ing mon­eyed ranks be­gan throw­ing ob­scene amounts of dosh at those must-have megabikes many knew the true value was not in the com­mer­cial as­pect of the bikes but, rather, lay in their tech­ni­cal work­ings al­lied to the ease with which they might be re­stored.

What fol­lows is by no means ex­haus­tive but should at least guide as­pi­rant and would-be fet­tlers, re­stor­ers and en­thu­si­asts along the cor­rect path. Don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read; in­for­ma­tion in mag­a­zines decades old is very pos­si­bly out of date. For ex­am­ple Yama­has are not any harder to re­store or ob­tain parts for than any other make.

The eas­i­est and most in­spi­ra­tional way of get­ting into the whole thing is to buy a run­ning ma­chine with a UK plate and pa­pers. Run­ning bikes are in­fin­itely more re­ward­ing than dead ones; a sim­ple but easily over­looked maxim. Sellers telling you it only needs a lit­tle bit of work and a set of plugs are prob­a­bly spin­ning you a line. If it’s that easy to fix, how come they haven’t done it and added two grand to the price?

If you are new to the clas­sic scene then be aware that all that glis­tens is not gold. Many an old shon­ker has been tarted up with fresh paint, some T-Cut to the frame and overzeal­ous pol­ish­ing of age­ing chrome. A £250 blow over of a tank and two side pan­els in­stantly trans­forms all but the most ob­vi­ous dog. With­out doubt a run­ning clas­sic is a thing of joy. It may not throw big num­bers on the clock but the sense of speed is just as great. Pretty much any Ja­panese bike from 1963 to 2000 will be re­li­able and re­ward­ing to run and own. Any bike from any­where in non-run­ning con­di­tion is likely to be the ob­ject of po­ten­tial frus­tra­tion. Sim­ply put, buy a work­ing mo­tor­cy­cle not a money pit!

So what to buy? The cor­rect re­sponse should be ‘how long have you got?’ There is no one size fits all so­lu­tion but ini­tially the bike should have the fol­low­ing mer­its. It ap­peals to you aes­thet­i­cally; if it doesn’t float your boat look else­where. It needs to fit you; if you’re 6ft 7in a pe­riod tid­dler may leave you se­ri­ously cramped be­cause they can be very small.

Check out the bulk and mass; older Ja­panese bikes are sub­stan­tially weight­ier than the equiv­a­lent mod­ern ma­chine of the same ca­pac­ity. For ex­am­ple Yamaha’s XS1100 is 70 ki­los heav­ier than the mod­ern MT-09 from the same firm. Pe­riod candy paint and acres of chrome can be wor­ry­ingly be­witch­ing and be­guil­ing. Buy some clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle publi­ca­tions, our sis­ter mag­a­zine Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Me­chan­ics is a good place to start. Look on line at places like Bike Trader and eBay and get a feel for the price ranges and fi­nally don’t set your heart on just one model based sim­ply on a whim. A Suzuki GT250 is just as vi­able as a Yamaha YDS7 and like­wise there’s lit­tle in re­al­ity to choose be­tween the con­tem­po­rary 500/550 fours of­fered by any of the Big Four. If you buy from a dealer be pre­pared to pay more and make sure that if the bike comes with a war­ranty (and quite a few do) it cov­ers the things you can’t fix for a rea­son­able pe­riod.

The Vintage Ja­panese Mo­tor­cy­cle Club has been en­cour­ag­ing and sup­port­ing new­com­ers since 1982 so if any­one knows about old Ja­panese bikes it’s likely to be us guys. Chances are there’s a lo­cal sec­tion near you; we have al­most 50 of them across the UK and Ire­land and if they can’t help there’s strength in depth else­where within the club.

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