Help me find a good beater bike!
March 23, 2010 9:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking at older (70s-80s) motorcycles. Which makes and models are the easiest to obtain parts for these days? Which makes and models should I be looking at in terms of cheap cheap beater bikes?

I've traded in my two wheeled vehicles for a car, and am starting to miss riding already. I'm stalking craigslist at an unhealthy rate trying to find a bike for around $500. There are plenty of older Kawasakis and Hondas, as I knew there would be, but there are so many more models than I'm familiar with. Can anyone help me sort through this and find a small, reliable cruiser for my riding and wrenching pleasure?
posted by piedmont to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Look for a Suzuki GS model. The late 70's GS 400s and GS550's are a pleasure to ride and can be had dirt cheap. They are small enough to be easy riders, but have the juice to cruise long distances at highway speeds. There is also a very active online community and parts are relatively easy to find. check out
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:51 PM on March 23, 2010

If you've no objection to late 80s early 90s bikes (or small, slow bikes), you should have a look for Yamaha XV 250s, their entry-level cruiser that sold shedloads. You should be able to find one in good condition for the price you're after.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:57 PM on March 23, 2010

I used to ride an 83 Yamaha XS 650. I picked it up, in part, because of the availability of parts.
posted by FlamingBore at 11:39 PM on March 23, 2010

More Kawasaki KLR 650's have been produced than any other bike. Should be, therefore cheap and parts prolific...
posted by dkippe at 1:41 AM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are not going to be your own mechanic, I'd do a little research first and find out if there are any good shops or individuals in your locale who work on the brand you ultimately select.

During my brief flirtation with a 1987 Yamaha 400 SECA two years ago; a bike that had insanely low mileage and looked and ran very nicely, I ended up spending a lot of money on a front brake problem. It was ultimately solved when my shop finally figured out that the otherwise mint looking front brake hose was deteriorating from the inside.

I ended up dropping over $400.00 on the repair since it required multiple trips to the shop and by the time they replaced the hose, nearly all of the other components of the front disk brake had been replaced.

The shop I used supposedly specialized in vintage Japanese bikes, but I was unhappy about the time it took to resolve things as well as the amount of time the motorcycle sat in their shop the summer I bought it.
posted by imjustsaying at 1:43 AM on March 24, 2010

Seconding cosmicbandito's suggestion of the Suzuki GS, the engines are nearly bulletproof and won't give you much trouble--I bought an '81 GS650G a few years ago and rode it till I wanted something sportier. Spent a lot of time on the GS Resources forum, too, they're a really cool bunch of people and will be thrilled to help you out and answer any questions you can think of!
posted by Jinkeez at 6:24 AM on March 24, 2010

Ideally, you want something that sold a ton back in the day, and that still has a rabid fan base. Examples include BMWs and Harleys, as well as Honda CB-series bikes and, somewhat less so, the Suzuki GS-series. All those sold large numbers, ensuring a base supply of used parts can be found, and have a large base of aficionados who run forums and listserves, staff specialty shops, and continue to produce parts and accessories.

What you don't want is something that sold a bunch back in the day but that has few fans now (which includes most of the under-400cc bikes, small cruisers, etc), or something that was made for only one or two years, because no matter how beloved it is you will never be able to find used parts.
posted by Forktine at 6:27 AM on March 24, 2010

Seconding the XS650. It has support and parts easily available. It's a basically bulletproof and simple design and a limited amount of dealer support is still available from Yamaha. Also people seem to enjoy hacking them up. Sadly they are becoming more rare now and you'll be hard pressed to find one on Craigslist or eBay for less than a grand, but I'm sure there's one sitting in a shed within 50 miles of where you are now that the owner will let go for a song.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:55 AM on March 24, 2010

I was just coming in here to suggest the Kawasaki KLR, but dkippe beat me to it.

Let me just add that in addition to the KLR 650, there is also a 250 model. The KLR 250 was my first bike and it's a wonderful bike to ride and also a simple bike to maintain. The great thing about both KLR models is that they have been produced without substantive mechanical changes for more than two decades, so there is no shortage of parts and documentation.

At $500, you're going to have a lot of trouble I imagine finding any working street legal motorcycle with a title. But if you bump the budget up to just $1000 you might start finding perfectly serviceable KLR 250s.
posted by 256 at 7:15 AM on March 24, 2010

thirding those early 80s yamahas. they can still be found in the $1000-ish range, are easy to work on (but don't require constant tinkering), and lots are parts to be found.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:56 AM on March 24, 2010

If you're willing to up your budget a little bit, an older Kawasaki EX500 or Suzuki GS500 would be a great choice. Both were cranked out for years, so parts are still available, they're simple, easy to fix, and both have a substantial online community.

If your budget really is $500, though, you might want to focus on condition of the bike as much as specific model. A somewhat oddball bike that's been well-maintained and has consumables like tires and chain in good condition might be preferable to a beat-to-hell example of a more popular model.
posted by zombiedance at 11:59 AM on March 24, 2010

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