Restore 59 of the Best Beginner Motorcycles

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There are thousands upon thousands of models and makes of motorcycles. This can make it difficult and frustrating to browse through a lot of classified ads in search of the right project.  Many people are not familiar with the mechanics of motorcycles and don’t know how to start their first project. This article will help you narrow down your options.  Below is a list of the motorcycles I’ve restored.

Which are the best motorcycles for beginners?  The easiest motorcycles to restore are generally Japanese brand motorcycles made between the late 60’s to late 80’s.  They are easy to locate, simple to fix, and very affordable compared to other motorcycles.  Here are some ideas:

Honda:

  • 1973-1976 CB200
  • 1968-2008 CB250
  • 1968-1973 CB350
  • 1975-1990 CB400
  • 1965-1974 CB450
  • 1971-1973 CB500
  • 1978-1983 CX500
  • 1981-1982 GL500
  • 1974-1978 CB550
  • 1983 GL650
  • 1979- 1985 CB650
  • 1983 CX650
  • 1961-1968 Super Hawk
  • 1969-1990 CB750
  • 1975-1990 GL1000

Kawasaki

  • 1977-1984 KZ200
  • 1992-2000 BJ250
  • 1972-1974 350 Mach II
  • 1968-1980 KZ350
  • 1974-1984 KZ400
  • 1979-1985 KZ500
  • 1981-1985 KZ550
  • 1982-1990 GT550
  • 1976-1983 KZ650
  • 1976-1983 KZ750
  • 1982-1985 GPZ750
  • 1977-1990 KZ1000
  • 1980-1986 Z1100

Yamaha

  • 1982-1986 SR125
  • 1980-1984 SR250
  • 1977-1981 XS250
  • 1980-1983 RD350LC
  • 1976-1982 XS400
  • 1973-1974 TX500
  • 1975-1978 XS500
  • 1987-1990 XV535
  • 1970-1983 XS650
  • 1980-1983 XJ650 Maxm
  • 1982-1985 XJ750 Maxim
  • 1972-1975 TX750
  • 1976-1981 XS750
  • 1981-1990 XV750 VIrago
  • 1979-1980 XS850
  • 1983-1990 XJ900
  • 1981-1986 XV920
  • 1986-1990 XV1100
  • 1978-1981 XS1100

Suzuki

  • 1990-1992 GN250
  • 1980-1981 GS250
  • 1972-1977 GT380
  • 1978-1984 GS400
  • 1980-1983 GS450
  • 1979-1982 GS500
  • 1968-1976 T500 Titan
  • 1977-1978 GS550
  • 1981-1983 GS650
  • 1976-1978 GS750
  • 1980-1988 GS850
  • 1980-1990 GS1100

I really try to convince people to go with a 1960’s to 1980’s Japanese bike for their first build; aside from them being incredibly easy to find, easy to work on, and cost very little to get a decent one, the end results bring absolutely stunning motorcycles that my past clients have gone crazy for. This is what I will do.

It’s easy to find

You can search for motorcycles below $1,500 on any online classifieds site. The majority of search results will be motorcycles from the above list.  It is important that your first restoration/rebuild job be easy to complete. If it’s easy to find that also means that parts are going to be easier to find.

I recommend that you buy your first few restoration projects directly from a local person., that way if there’s something major wrong with it or if you just have general questions the seller is probably more inclined to be helpful, speaking from experience.  

If you find a motorcycle that isn’t far from where you live, your significant other is also more inclined to let you get it because the effort of getting it is a lot less.  Your partner/spouse can come along to look at the bike with you. It will show them how excited you are and help you convince them.

It’s easy to work with

Motorbikes made in Japan were very simple.  There weren’t a lot of electronics, the only things controlled electronically were the lights ,the timing, and the battery charging system.  The main harness runs from the front to back of the bike, with smaller branches for the lights.

At first electrical work seemed daunting to me, but I’ve done enough of it now that I can build a completely custom wiring harness out of new wire just by looking at the old one.

You can easily find electrical diagrams online, and they are free.  You can find information on older Japanese motorbikes online. There is a large community of people who are familiar with them.  

These make them easy to build for the first time. Many European motorbikes of this generation are equipped with sub-par electrical wiring compared to Japanese motorcycles.

These carburetors were easy to take apart and rebuild. They can be done in as little as a couple of hours.  Carburetors are a double edged sword on these old motorcycles. When they are clean (which doesn’t take too much effort) they run incredibly well.

The ability of these carbs to function can be affected by even the smallest dust particles. They can be finicky even with higher ethanol levels and newer gasoline.  But by feeding them non-ethanol gas and keeping them clean you’ll have years of fun from that little carb. Click here for my top 10 essential tools when fixing a motorcycle.

Comparable to other motorcycles, the cost is quite low

With all the motorcycles that I have restored over the years I have never paid more than $900, even my 1969 Triumph.  Sellers list their motorcycles for a higher value than they know they’re worth in hopes that someone will just pay the full asking price.  However, the cost will vary depending on where you live.

We could buy motorcycles at incredibly low prices when we lived in Idaho and Utah.  Now that we’ve moved to Mississippi I’ve noticed that prices are a little higher on average, But if you wait and continue looking, you will still find amazing deals.

You don’t want your first few motorcycle restorations to be large monetary investments.  A lot of people build their first motorcycle and then get overwhelmed by the process and end up selling it at a fraction of what was paid. This is just to make up for some of their losses.  

Spend $1,000 on your first motorcycle and not $4,000 on a rare European bike. If you get in over your head and have to sell it, it’s much better to lose as little money as possible.

Finding parts for Japanese motorcycles is a lot easier and cheaper nowadays because of the café racer revival.  Many online shops offer as many parts as possible for your rebuild. Check out my list of essential information for restoring Japanese motorcycles.

If you have done some restorations on your motorcycle or have a larger budget, I recommend that you look into older European motorcycles such as BMW, Triumph, Norton and Royal Enfield.  

They are more expensive initially due to high demand and low supply. However, they retain their value or increase in value much faster than Japanese motorcycles. You don’t see them around as much as Japanese motorcycles, so they really catch people’s eye when you ride past.  That’s one of the reasons riding my Triumph is so much fun.

This video series covers everything you need to know about how to rebuild and restore a motorcycle. This series includes hard-to-tackle components such as body work, carb rebuilds, and electrical as well as helpful tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else online. Click here for more information if you’re interested in restoring or building your dream motorcycle!

The List Contains the Top Rated Motorcycles

I have worked on or rebuilt quite a few of these bikes. Each one of them has unique characteristics and features that I love, but some are more special than others.  Below are my top 5 picks from the above list.

1. 1980 Yamaha XS850

It was my first motorcycle.  I was working in an appliance store in northern Utah, and sustained injuries while moving a fridge.  After being out of work for several weeks, I felt like a crazy person who had to stay home and do nothing.  I had always wanted to learn how to work on motorcycles and build a café racer so I decided to jump in and give it a go.

I came across an advertisement for a 1980 Yamaha XS850 Triple in Central Utah.  The couple had recently inherited another motorcycle and didn’t need the Yamaha.  I rode the bike around the neighborhood, and it seemed like a good candidate for a new rebuild. They accepted my offer of $800.  

I quickly loaded the bike up and took it home. It took me two months to get it where I wanted it.  Now that I’ve done so many rebuilds I look back and realize that it didn’t really look that great, but for my first project I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

I liked a few aspects of the XS850.  The low end acceleration was my favourite feature. Amazing was the ability to accelerate from a stoplight in first.  Although I couldn’t lift the front tire from the ground, it felt very close.

The XS850 is equipped with three cylinders. This means that there are three exhaust pipes from the engine’s front. They look great!  The majority of motorcycles from that generation have two or four cylinders. However, the XS850 has three cylinders which sets it apart visually. It also had a faster top speed than any of my top 5 bikes, which isn’t surprising since it had the highest engine displacement by 100 cc’s.

There were also a few things I didn’t particularly like about this motorcycle.  The electrical system of this motorcycle was so fragile and wrapped with electrical tape, it took forever for me to find the right wires.  The endless searching for the right wire led to other broken wires, which meant I ended up with a much bigger problem.

Two of these bikes were my creations. Both had very brittle wiring issues.  Yamaha must have used a particular type of plastic that is more brittle than other wires. I also didn’t like how close together the carburetor openings were together which made it extremely difficult to install pod air filters.

2. 1974 Honda CB500T

The Honda CB500T (T stands for Twin, as in two cylinders) is one of the prettiest motorcycles I’ve ever rebuilt. I received constant attention while riding around town and was stopped to take pictures by many people.  It’s a really good feeling when you park and walk into a store and when you come out there’s someone standing by your ride taking a picture.

The engine design was another thing I loved about the CB500T.  It looked stunning when the engine covers had been polished. The exhaust pipes from the engine were covered in white exhaust wrap, and finished with shorty chrome tips.  This motorcycle sold in 48 hours from the time I posted it up for sale. The seller also received 3 offers before he was able to take it home.

Because of its classic design, this motorbike will be more and more popular over time., but it isn’t without fault.  I wasn’t impressed with the power or speed when riding.

It was great for cruising around town at low speeds and looked awesome doing it, but when I needed to speed up in a hurry to get around someone it was as if there just wasn’t anything left for the engine to give.  

3. 1971 Honda CB500 Four

I loved the CB500 four-cylinder CB500 more than the two-cylinder.  I liked the gas tank more, the engine design, the exhaust pipes, and that it was a kickstarter.  It ran twice as fast as the 2-cylinder version. This is probably because it could breathe better with twice the number of cylinders.  

One thing I didn’t like about the design of the motorcycle was a separate oil tank on the right side.  It’s a nuisance having hot oil by your right thigh, and if you’re trying to get the open-frame look it creates a problem.

This is absolutely one of the best looking motorcycles I’ve ever worked on, which is why I love it so much.  I think it’s classy and is a testament to the Japanese engineers of the late 60’s and early 70’s and how they pretty much put American motorcycle companies out of business because they could make better and cheaper motorcycles.

4. 1980 Honda CX500

This motorcycle rebuild actually came from parts of 3 different CX500’s.  I purchased 2 of these bikes that had been damaged, and 1 frame that was high enough to make everything.  

The two motorcycles that were damaged came in boxes. I had to sort through all the parts. This rebuild cost me $1200, and I ended selling it for $5500.  This motorcycle was also featured in several online motorcycle magazines, which was something I was proud of.

This continues to be my wife’s favorite motorcycle I’ve ever built, and I hope to build her another one someday that she can ride around.

This motorcycle had many things I loved, including the tank, the swooped frames, and the engine design.  This was probably the best looking paint job I’ve ever done. It was a two tone red and darker red paint job. And the clear coat was so glossy that it sparkled like mad.   

This motorcycle has a completely different frame. It is distinctive because it has a large swoop which points towards the rear. It was copied from a Moto Guzzi engine of the same generation, which Honda was later sued for. This was an amazing look.

The problem with this engine was that they tried to make the liquid cool, but the coolant passages in the coolant were so small that it caused cracking and warping problems.

5. 1980 Honda CB750

This is hands down my favorite motorcycle I’ve ever owned!  They are fast, fun, and beautiful. Honda began the construction of the CB750 in 1969. From the start, they were making engineering advances.  CB750’s first engine was sand-cast aluminum, something that had never been done before.

If you can find one of these you’ve hit the jackpot! It is Honda’s longest running model, with manufacturing running from 1969 to 2003.  They were the first to harness the power of overhead camshafts on motorcycles and began winning races on international circuits. The CB750 was the fastest motorcycle of the early 70’s and is still a blast to ride almost 50 years later.

I have restored and worked on a lot of CB750’s, and they will always be on my list of best motorcycles to own and restore.  

A man in Utah sold me the first CB750. He was too old to continue riding it.  It was heavily loaded with saddle bags, windshields, radios, and radios.

Although I don’t know the exact weight, I did weigh everything I took with me and it weighed in at over 400 pounds.  I didn’t do a full rebuild on the first CB750 I had, I just repainted the tank, the fenders, cleaned up the wiring harness, and polished the engine and sold it for $3,000.

Similar Questions

What is the average cost of a motorcycle repair?  If you plan to do the upgrades and rebuild yourself, expect to spend $700 – $1,000 in addition to the purchase of your motorcycle. I generally buy used motorcycles for about $500 – $900 because of where I live, but the price of your motorcycle will depend on the area you live in. Find out how much it costs to rebuild a motorcycle by clicking here.

Is it possible to turn a motorcycle into a profit? It’s possible to turn a motorcycle into a profitable business. You need to know your budget and skills, have the right workspace, find the right motorcycle, and take the time to make it look great before you start. You can read my article for more details.

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