The home of Aussie Vintage Motocross

You know, this restoring old dirtbikes is a helluva fun thing, but man is it expensive!

When I first got into the whole vintage thing, it blew me away as I bought up big on old magazines and assorted memorobilia, snaffled a few basket cases to do up, and attended my first ever vintage MX events.
This is back in 1998 or so, mind you, so I was hardly in the vanguard of the scene. But it was still relatively early in the piece and most people didn't have a clue that there was such a thing.

The advantage to this of course was that stuff was cheap. eBay had only just appeared and was a good source of parts, but by and large finding bits required a lot of scouring websites, wreckers and Just Bikes.
Still, they were cheap parts, and a lot of things like plastics could still be had NOS.

My first restos were a TT500C, TY175, and a YZ125F, but this was before I got into VMX. I'd bought these bikes during the early 90s just because, and had restored them to a point and then onsold them. They cost next to nothing. The TT was an ex-forestry bike, picked up in fair condition for about $300. I think I spent about $1200 cleaning it up, polishing and painting what I could, and buying brand new plastics from Yamaha. I sold it for $1400.

Once I discovered the VMX thing, I bought a whole bunch of bikes - YZ125X, RM250B, another 500 Yammie, RM125S and so on. I began buying parts, and probably spent about $3000 on parts for these bikes. But none of them ever saw the light of day - I sold them all off to finance an HL500 that I got the opportunity to own. Right there I suffered my first big loss. But it wasn't earth shattering - maybe $2000 all up.

Fast forward to 2005 and I found me a nice little TM125 for $500. In the meantime I'd owned a bunch of great bikes that I'd bought in one piece, all the hard work already done. They were my race bikes, and when I sold them I lost very little. But the TM was to be my next big resto project and this one was fun. I just bought everything off eBay that I could in some sort of frenzied bargain hunt. By the time I'd finished, I had a very nice looking TM125 sitting in the garage. Brand new everything, fully rebuilt engine, Circle F pipe, etc etc. But... it cost me over $5000. Then when the chance presented itself for me to buy a long time lust object, a YZ250G, I sold the TM to help pay for it. That was REALLY dumb. I think it went for about $1800. I guess I could've asked more, but how much more would a TM125 with no particular claim to fame be able to sell for?

Still, I paid no heed to that wallet numbing hit, or my wife's increasing state of agitation over the steady drain of funds. I'd owned an IT175G once upon a time and always wanted another one. At about this time one turned up on OzVMX and I grabbed it for about $300 I think. The plan - a quick and dirty tidy up rather than a fullblown concourse queen. I wanted to go vinduroing. Well, I won't labour the point, but as usual, eBay and me just don't really go together. Or rather, we shouldn't. Cos again I bought far too many bits for it, and also completely rebuilt the engine from the ground up.

This time, the end result is a tidy bike but nothing special. If you looked at it, you'd think "not bad". If you wanted to buy it, you'd probably be willing to part with around $1800 for it. Maybe. But the cost of parts is steadily going up. Whereas restoring my first few bikes cost next to nothing, these days it's a bit of a sellers market. Mt IT is now a very good bike, but it's cost me a shade over $3000 to get here. What the? I look at people like Doc who wheel out immaculate works replica RH250s that they built from an old TS185 for $450 and shake my head. How the Hell do they do that?

And now, I am starting to feel ill about the YZ250G project. I've had a lot of help from forum members on this one, and scored some nice deals on parts. But... it cost me too much initially, and to get it to where I want it needs a LOT of parts and work. My guesstimate on the final build price to create a pretty pedestrian racebike? Around $6000.

You know what? It's fun, but there's a definite trend. The price of restoring ancient dirtbikes is steadily going through the roof, and I for one can't justify it any longer. From here on in, I'll only buy bikes that have already been rebuilt. Their owners can do my dirty work and bear the cost of depreciation. Me? I'll be laughing all the way to the track.

I think.

The TM125 project. Very nice, but expensive.

My IT175G. Getting close and looking nice.

The next money pit, the YZ250G project. Hiding in the garden shed to keep me from getting all angst-ridden.

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Comment by Mark Boddy on December 9, 2009 at 10:16am
AllBalls is expensive. I have compared bearing prices in the Canberra region a few times and found that Capital Bearing Supplies in Fyshwick are the best and so that is where I get mine from. They sell quality SKF bearings. They are just across the road from Speciality Fasteners.
Comment by Brent J on December 8, 2009 at 1:33am
I've limited my range of bikes a bit and stuck to fairly common models (XT500's & TM125's) but on the other side I have a great range of spares so long term I hope to keep my costs down that way. As boring as it may sound if I stick to what I've got there's a few years work under the house! However, what the hell will I ever so with 5 Yamaha 500's and two TM125 Suzuki's????????
Comment by Graeme M on December 8, 2009 at 12:54am
Oh yeah, one of my 'good' buys was the front spokes. $45 US from the guy in Thailand looked good when I grabbed them off eBay, but with the exchange rate at the time, and the shipping charges, I think it ended up around $100 for the spokes. I was a bit cheesed off with myself over that given I have bought complete spoke sets for under $50AUD in the past...
Comment by Graeme M on December 8, 2009 at 12:51am
You may be right and I could perhaps shop around better. But the local Yamaha shop charged me $20 for a front sprocket. I use a HD RK Chain which retails at Canberra Kawasaki for around $90. I used a spare rear sprocket I had here, but I usually expext to pay around $45 at the local shop (I bought an aftermarket rear for the YZ250 off eBay). The airfilter was bought through Uni Filter Australia and with postage cost $55 delivered. Swingarm bearings etc - well, I bought a set through a guy in Brisbane on eBay - a complete AllBalls set, $157 delivered. I didn't try new as my previous experiences with such things from Yamaha was that they are prohibitively expensive, but maybe I am wrong there?

That said, I had some good luck here and there - good cylinder for $75, brand new NOS head for $25, complete front end and good pipe for $150.

Note that I do have enough left over bits to build a second bike, if I had an engine - frame, forks, hubs, tank, pipe, airbox, etc. So I guess the value of that lot could be offset my total outlay.

Maybe I just don't try hard enough to get the cheapest stuff possible...
Comment by Mark Boddy on December 7, 2009 at 11:09pm
You are right; it paid to get good donor bikes. And because I could pick the best bits from both bikes and both bikes had some good stuff on them I didn't need to spend anywhere near that much. And I do my own engine work. Both bikes had recent rebores. One had a recent crank rebuild but a stuffed clutch and rear wheel. The other had a recent seat recover, Renthal bars, a stuffed crank but a great clutch and good rear wheel and sprocket. The worse bike actually ran and rode ok even though the crank was about to go.
I fitted new tyres, grips, air filter, front rim, etc, and powder coated the frame.
My friends say I am good at getting stuff for bargain prices and looking at what you paid for your stuff I think they are right. eg. Air filter $60 !!!! I paid less that half that on ebay. Grips $35 !!!! I paid less than that and got genuine Magura natural rubber.
Why do chain and sprockets cost a fortune? Counter shaft sprocket around $12 to $14. Rear sprocket $20-$30. RK chain $45.
Swingarm bearings and bushes $160 !!! Is that thru Yamaha Australia?
I have a parts list on PDF and always check prices on boats.net before ringing my local dealer and asking for price and availability. If the Aussie prices are ok I buy local otherwise I get them from overseas. I don't care if parts are genuine Yamaha either. My levers and perches are Magura and cost much less than Yamaha through a large US supplier.
Comment by Graeme M on December 7, 2009 at 2:15pm
Sounds like an OK strategy, but even then I can't see how you'd really reduce costs that much. there are just some things that cost a lot of money. In my case, it's made worse by the fact I pay someone to rebuild the engine. The IT for example needed a rebore, rod kit, new seals throughout (and some of the seals and bearings are not easily sourced other than genuine and cost a fortune), and some minor welding etc as the cases were cracked.

So, the total engine bill including piston kit, rod, gaskets etc was $1500.

Then you have the stuff you have to replace:

Tyres $200
Air filter $60
Chain and sprockets (I cheated and used second hand, but new would cost a fortune)
Cables $100
Swingarm bearings and bushes $160

Then some stuff I just wanted to have
Seat cover and fitting (some foam repairs needed) $150
Decals $80

Then the smaller bits
Decent muffler $45
A couple of wheels $100
Grips $35
Paint $35

Then there's a whole pile of just doodads and stuff - chain roller, chain buffer, fuel petcock, airbox door, ignition coil, toolbag and so on.

Not sure how to do it a lot cheaper. Sure, I could do without the toolbag, or the chain roller or the fuel petcock and just get by with what I had, but I like to have that sort of stuff new. In my case, I did manage to score a lot of bits cheaply, like a second cylinder for $75, and a complete spare frame with various odds and ends for not much at all, and so on.

But, it's still a lot of bits that cost money. So, the answer has to be, shop smarter in the first place and buy a bike that needs little work. because any decent resto will cost several thousand dollars.
Comment by Mark Boddy on December 7, 2009 at 9:44am
I believe that the trick is to always have two donor bikes for each project. And make sure that each bike has some thing good about it. You then have two of everything to choose the best part from. You can sell off what you don't use or don't want to keep for spares. My IT175 cost me much less than yours did and it is mechanically a new bike.
Comment by Graeme M on November 28, 2009 at 11:00am
I think it can be done on the cheap to some extent, but only if that's your aim. If like me you want the bike to not only look good but to have anything replaced that needs it, it just costs. A full resto and engine rebuild on most bikes will be between $3000 and $6000 as a minimum. But then you get these guys who find a bike for $500 and all it needs is some tyres and a piston kit and off they go. I guess I never find those, the ones I buy are cheap but rough. My best buy was my HL500 that had been in regular light use and only needed a piston kit to keep running just fine.
Comment by Neil Gabriel on November 27, 2009 at 1:54am
Yeah, after racing pre 75 back in the mid 90's, then on modern bikes till now I decided to buy a 1984 YZ250L. The ebay scouring began. I have bought parts from all over the world and blown the budget completely. I thought I could do it on the cheap, but was I wrong. Its only expensive on the day. I am looking forward to racing it next year. I would have been beter off buying a bike allready done though.
Comment by Graeme M on November 20, 2009 at 10:04pm
Yeah, Fletch, I agree. For less than the cost of a single modern MXer I have built two very nice vintage dirtbikes, so it's not like this stuff will really blow the bank. That story is a bit tongue in cheek - it reflects the fact that every time I buy an old bike to do up I tell my wife it'll only cost a few hundred but then I cut loose on eBay and before you know it I've spent a pile. I just can't help it. And I love it!

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