Leaving a vintage motorcycle unused and exposed to the elements for extended periods unleashes the destructive forces of time. This is our first hand advice on how to preserve a vintage motorcycle to make sure it stands the test of time.
It’s a scenario I’ve found myself in far too often. I start talking to a client about customising their motorbike, only to find out it’s been sitting at the back of a shed decaying for the last 10-20 years, adding a whole lot more time, money and work to their dream bike build. Sometimes the damage is so far gone we have to rebuild whole engines, completely rewire the electrics or strip the paint back to the metal to start again.
Preserving a vintage motorcycle isn’t rocket science, and even if you don’t have any immediate plans to start a build – the advice we’re about to give you could save you thousands when the time comes.
If you leave a motorbike to sit idle for years at a time, you’re setting yourself up for a tonne of mechanical problems. We’ll start with the fuel system. If you have left fuel in the tank it will degrade over time, leaving behind a gummy residue that can clog carburettors and/or fuel injectors. If you try to start the engine again it can lead to poor combustion, sluggish performance and at worst, engine damage. Even without old fuel, your engine’s going to suffer its own problems. When engines aren’t maintained they can suffer from seized components, rusted cylinders and stuck valves. All this renders the engine basically useless. It becomes incapable of firing up with the same satisfying roar that it once held, if it’s able to fire up at all.
SOLUTION: First and most obviously, proper shelter. A climate-controlled garage or a dedicated storage facility is the ideal place to store your old motorcycle. Shielding your bike from extreme temperatures, moisture, and the harmful effects of UV rays. I’m lucky enough to have convinced my partner to store my bikes either in the house or under the insulated patio area, no idea how I got away with that. However, if a dedicated undercover storage area isn’t available, invest in a high-quality motorcycle cover designed for outdoor storage. They can go up to $200-$300 online, which is a lot less than you’ll pay fixing the damage down the track. Make sure the cover offers proper ventilation to prevent moisture build-up. These covers should only be used as an absolute last resort, they will not preserve a vintage motorcycle long term.
When it comes to fluids, A lot of people assume draining the tank is the way to go, it is definitely not. We recommend leaving the tank full of fuel, however turning the fuel tap off, and draining the carburettors is recommended. Draining the tank will introduce moisture and result in rusting the inside of your tank over time.
The electrical system is not immune either. Wiring harnesses and connections deteriorate due to exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations. Corrosion can wreak havoc, causing electrical failures and rendering your vintage ride powerless. Even rubber components, such as hoses, gaskets, and seals, can dry out and crack, leading to fuel leaks, air leaks, or oil leaks, which can spell disaster for your bike and can cost you hundreds repairs/rebuilding.
SOLUTION: Even if it’s not being ridden, set a reminder on your phone or put a note on your fridge so you don’t forget to do a little maintenance , it honestly doesn’t take much. Regular maintenance is the key to vintage motorcycle preservation. Turn the motor over, or start it up every 3-6 months, regardless of how much it has (or hasn’t) been ridden. Make sure all the moving parts like the cables, levers and suspension are lubricated to prevent them from seizing or wearing. Take the time to inspect and clean, and lubricate electrical connections, ensuring they are free from corrosion and moisture.
There’s nothing more heart-breaking to me than seeing an incredible vintage paint job that has been neglected, scarring its once beautiful lustre. The vintage paintwork, once an expression of its era, starts to show its real age as the paint starts to fade, peel or corrode. Leaving anything out in the sun for long extended periods is a bad idea, motorcycles included. The sunlight’s relentless assault on the pigment robs your bike of its former glory and this also applies to leather work. Your seats and handlebars are just as susceptible to drying and cracking. This is assuming you’ve just left your bike out in the yard somewhere without cover. I’d safely assume you have the bike stored in a shed somewhere, where no use and temperature variances over years and years of inactivity will also wear away at the aesthetics.
The final enemy that lurks in the shadows is rust. If moisture can find a way into the metal components of your motorcycle, it will kickstart a chain of events that will corrode your bike piece by piece. Before you know it, five years later rust has eaten away at the exhaust, engine components, critical joints and even iconic chrome accents. You’ve seen it before, shiny chrome with splotches of rust that looks like sores on a leper.
SOLUTION: Beyond investing in a proper heavy duty covering, for aesthetic care, clean and wax the paintwork periodically to protect it from Sun damage. Treat leather components with a suitable conditioner to keep them supple and crack-free. Apply rust prevention treatments to metal surfaces and pay close attention to areas prone to moisture buildup, such as exhaust pipes and engine casings.
Owning a vintage bike isn’t a set it and forget it type of thing. Its preservation requires regular care and vigilance to make sure it lasts for decades to come. If you know what to look out for – sun damage, rust, dust etc, and tackle them before they become an issue, your vintage machine will remain a time capsule of its glorious past. Remember, maintaining a vintage motorcycle isn’t just about preserving its functional value – it’s about safeguarding a timeless work of art for future generations of bike lovers to admire.
What are your tips for how you preserve a vintage motorcycle to last?
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