Classic Motorcycle Mechanics


The sunny side of the classic world, with the VJMC’S Steve Cooper


Occasional­ly this column is asked what bikes folk should buy – this has to be the classic scene’s ‘Number

One’ question.

If you’re asking me which bikes make the best investment then sorry, but I don’t play that game. As the warning phrase runs: ‘The value of your investment can go down as well as up…’ Enough said in my humble opinion. Aside from that particular minefield the next bit of advice offered is to buy something you are attracted to, as everyone’s view on bike aesthetics is a hugely individual thing. There’s no point in buying a motorcycle that personally reminds you of a monkey’s arse, etc.!

Some will tell you two-strokes are nothing but hassle, but if you buy an unmolested example and keep its engine standard(ish) then you shouldn’t have too many hassles. Run your stroker on un-branded, cheapo or horticultu­ral two-stroke oil and you are asking for problems. Other than that, buy a stinkwheel and enjoy it for what it is and if you want to go faster, then buy a bigger one! Aspiring to own the iconic 70s stuff when on a limited budget can end in tears. You’ll only be able to afford something at the bottom of the food chain and the chances are it’ll be variously a money pit, an unreliable dog or a short cut to insanity. Cheap bikes are exactly that and for a reason.

If you accept that few buy classics to ride stupidly fast then it’s possible to grab some really interestin­g, involving and entertaini­ng bits of kit. Suzuki’s GT380 and GT550 are left-field choices offering that unique three pot thrill for substantia­lly less money. The same firm’s GS750 is hugely overlooked and bypassed. Yamaha XT500S make serious money, yet the later 600s are as good, if not better, as a ‘do-everything’ ride. Big air-cooled fours still go for big money, yet Honda’s final throw of the SOHC dice is never expensive; the CB650 may not suit all tastes, but it’s certainly worth a look. In a similar vein, but with possibly a broader appeal, a decent Kawasaki Z650 will never fail to impress.

For cost-effective middleweig­hts you’re almost spoilt for choice. Honda’s seminal CB400/4 is still not stupid money and a decent, late, CB400N will give 90% of what most riders need. Suzuki’s GS400/425/450 are still hugely marginalis­ed and yet there’s nothing essentiall­y wrong with them. Even Yamaha’s much reviled XS400 or the equally spurned Kawasaki K400/440 are much better than their reputation. In the tiddler world you’re spoilt for choice with two- and four-stroke, singles and twins, road or trail and, best of all, many come with an electric start.

If you buy with your head and not your heart, go for something in decent condition, leave some money in the pot for servicing and don’t aspire to bikes you can’t afford, the chances are you’ll be riding with a smile on your face, not sulking in the workshop with a non-runner. ❙ 01454 501310

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