I've been exchanging some PM's with a member here that is looking for his first bike and is on a serious budget. He's been picking and asking me about some of the older and cheaper bikes in the B&S area and I just sent him this reply to his request for me to look over one for an 80's vintage bike. I thought some of you other first time or budget shoppers may get something out of this too.
Most older bikes from before the 90's are going to need some work on them. And often more than what the owner suggests. For a bike that old you will want to flush and evaluate the braking system and dissasemble/evaluate/regrease the rear suspension pivots and steering head bearings. If the braking system shows any signs of slugishness in the lever or movement of one of the pistons in teh calipers then it's likely time for a full rebuild.
This is serious shop time but I would very strongly suggest it be done since these are things that affect your safety. None of this work is particularly hard or complex but it does requre a place where you can take apart the front and rear suspensions to do the work or money added to the budget to have a shop do the work.
WIth the age the bike and usually lots of miles under it I would also strongly suggest that all the wheel bearings be replaced. Water sneaks in past the seals over time and/or grease dries out and the bearings end up wearing.
New tires may also be involved if the ones on the bike are very old not only in kms but in age. I've seen what happens when a rider tries to push the tires and they are more than 3 years old. It's the difference between the wheel locking up and the bike falling or lowsiding and a safe emergency stop or making the corner that the rider entered too fast.
Depending on what needs to be done you're looking at $200 (just basic relubing and brake fluid flush and wheel bearings) to $700 (tires, all new bearings and total brake system rebuild worst case scenario) just in parts. If you have to pay to have this work done then add in another $500 to $700 for labour. Or (this part pertains to the guy I sent the PM to but may apply to any of you) get the bike if you're definetly commited to riding and work on it while you wait for and attend the Action school. That would give you time to learn the wrenching ropes and do a good job in the work plus spread out the expenses. Obviously you need to find a small area to set up and do the work and get a basic tool set. And a shop manual would be a real asset. They are worth their weight in gold when doing this sort of work.
Having bought and ridden a couple of older bikes and fixed them up to ride I would not recomend you ignore this basic work of inspection/relube/replace where required. So figure this sort of work on ANY bike older than 10 years old should be done before riding it more than around the block.
I found some pretty scarey stuff in both my 91 Honda track bike and the 91 dual sport I've got now as well as some REALLY bad stuff in the old 82 Honda 6 cylinder CBX that was stored in a leaky shed for a couple of years. A week after I got the CBX I went to just push it across the garage to set it up for the once over work and the brakes were seized. The fluid in the system had turned to Jello. When I took it apart there was white water corrosion crystals in both the front and rear calipers. This is the sort of stuff that will make you crash if not set right.
Not trying to scare you away. There are some older bikes that have been cared for and kept up for their whole life and could safely be ridden with no work. Sadly those are few and far between and you need to ask about when such ongoing details were done. If they have a recent date as an answer then great. If you get a blank look or negative answer then add on the time and money cost to the overall budget.
You'll have to use your own judgement on the condition of a "just ride it" situation. For example there is one bike on the B&S forum just now that would be a "just ride it" bike. The fellow fixed it up for his wife to learn on and ride. He's an excellent mechanic and I'm sure he went over the whole bike from stem to stern to make sure it was not going to let down or endanger his wife. So while it is a lot more money up front you could ride it immediatley with a great expectation of no troubles, certainly nothing safety related. There are a few other deals like that around but they do come at a price.
So you need to determine if you want to pay up front and just ride, buy cheap and then pay a shop to do the work or save some money and learn to work on your own bike. Expect to put about 40 to 50 hours into it before it even rolls with you under it. That's a lot of hours I know but I'm expecting you to be slower because you're learing as you go. It also includes the running around time to order and buy the parts you will need.
That's it. Hopefully this helps some of you new riders looking for a lower priced deal to go into it with your eyes open before you open your wallets. I know it's my usual "book" but hopefully I included enough meat and potatoes so you understand some of the factors involved.