Abused bike needs help.
March 30, 2010 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I have a motorcycle that's been stored outside for a year and I'd like to get it running.

I live in California, and when my friend moved to the east coast, he left me his bike (1996 Kawasaki Ninja). That was about a year ago. I have my motorcycle license, but I don't know anything about bike maintenance. I'd like to get the bike running, but I'm not sure where to start. Should I just take it to a mechanic? If so, can anyone recommend a motorcycle mechanic in the Berkeley, CA area?
posted by heliostatic to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're thinking of doing it yourself, I would check out some forums. You'll need tools and space to work in though.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:48 PM on March 30, 2010

You have two choices... mess with it yourself or pay to have someone do it for you.

The battery is probably dead (and may need to be replaced), chances are good that the carbs need to be cleaned, the tank drained of old gas.

It needs an oil change.

If it was me, I would drain the tanks, fill them with fresh gas, and try to charge the battery and see if it will start. If the battery won't charge, replace it and see if it will start. If it starts, all is good.

If it didn't start at that point, and I wasn't qualified to rebuild the carbs (assuming it isn't fuel injected), I would take it to a mechanic.
posted by HuronBob at 6:51 PM on March 30, 2010

Most of the work is going to be with the fuel delivery system. Start with removing the tank, emptying it, replacing it with good fuel. Clean out the fuel lines. Clean out the fuel pump. Clean the fuel filters. Does it have carbs? Probably. Pull those, clean them really well, put them back on. Will probably need a new battery, but maybe not. Then check brakes, tires, all the hoses, etc. General inspection.

The big problem is that when bikes sit, the gas evaporates over time and leaves behind deposits that gum up the works. I don't know why having the engine sit for a long time is so much worse on bikes than cars. Maybe because the parts are tinier in respect to the size of the gunk particulates, but whatever the reason, cleaning the carbs/throttle bodies really well (and everything else that the gas touches) will probably be a good start.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:53 PM on March 30, 2010

Oh yeah, and change the oil filter while you're changing the oil (not everybody does; my bike's manual says to replace the filter every other oil change). I change the filter with the oil every time anyway (cheap insurance).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2010

It totally depends on what he did before he stored it. If he drained the carbs and the fuel tank, you won't have to do much.

The basics are put fresh gas in it, charge/replace the battery, air up the tires and lube the chain. Doing an oil & filter change is a good idea too. If he didn't, the carbs will need to be cleaned. It's not difficult, but unless you know what you are doing, you should get a mechanic to clean them.

check out BARF (Bay Area Rider's Forum). It's one of the best forums on the net.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2010

In addition to the above, if it's been stored outside and it's been rained on, it couldn't hurt to lubricate the chain. (With the bike on the centre stand, the engine off and in neutral, you'll be able to roll the back wheel all the way around to get at the chain. Wipe the crap off with rags, spray on liberal amounts of chain lube, then wipe off the excess. Repeat as frequently in proportion to the frequency of your riding).
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:21 PM on March 30, 2010

I just went through roughly the same thing at this time last year with an 82 Kawi (in Oakland, actually). Go ahead and buy a new battery, grab a bottle of Sea-Foam and follow the directions (1/4 bottle in the tank, top it off with gas), lube the chain, and see if it starts at all.

If it does, lucky you. Check the brake fluid (on the handlebar in a little reservoir, and toward the rear wheel in a larger reservoir), make sure the brakes work and take it for a spin.

After a year outside it will probably run a little rough, so then you should start thinking about more in-depth work - pull the carbs to clean them out, possibly relining the gas tank, etc.

If you feel like you are in over your head on the fix-it-yourself angle, Hayasa Motorbikes (near Laney College in Oakland) is a great shop that specializes in Japanese bikes. Tyler, the owner, can be a bit gruff but he's super helpful and I'm pretty sure there is no one in the area that knows more about fixing older bikes.

Other helpful links:
Ninja Carb Cleaning
Aftermarket Kawi parts
Electrical Connectors for Japanese bikes
How to read spark plugs
Kawasaki owners' forum - great for search for vague problems ("clicking at low speed" and "carbs leaking" saved me some hassle)
posted by casconed at 8:45 PM on March 30, 2010

One other thing to watch....a year of sitting outside in the california sun will have done terrible things to the rubber parts of the bike. Make extra sure that the brake hoses aren't cracked and really check the tires well. Otherwise, seconding the Seafoam and carb cleaning.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:22 PM on March 30, 2010

I got a bike started that has been in a garage for a year by re-charging the battery, changing the oil, putting in a new spark plug. Then kick starting it a several times and running it round the yard. Think I might have bump started it eventually and it ran like a dog at first. But it was a pretty basic bike with none of the fancy extras.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2010

I would probably do the following, partially to reduce the number of variables:

- Put the battery on a charger, or buy a new one.

- drain and flush the fuel tank and lines, as well as the float bowl on the carb. I wouldn't mess with removing the carb and doing a big-time cleaning until after it runs and I can see whether it is necessary. (You might not even have to go that far- just kick the throttle a couple of times and make sure the accelerator pump squirts fuel into the carb. Then smell it. If it smells like gas, you are probably good to go. If it smells instead "dull" or "oily", go through the whole flushing procedure.)

- change the oil and filter. And air filter.

- pull the spark plug(s), check its condition, and squirt some oil or fogging oil into the spark plug hole. While the plug is off, turn the engine over by hand a couple of times to make sure nothing is frozen and to work the oil around. Don't put too much in- a drop or two. Reinstall or replace the plug. As long as it is the right gap and not covered in gunk, it's probably good enough. On the other hand, spark plugs are cheap, might as well just change it. Don't fall for fancy magic plugs, just use whatever brand and specs came with the engine.

- try to start it. If it runs, good. Once you know it will run, then you can do the rest of the tune up and maintenance procedures. Much easier when you know where you are starting from. If not, do the standard air/spark/fuel diagnosis.

- Before you ride it, check the brakes and whatnot.
posted by gjc at 6:09 AM on March 31, 2010

Best answer: All of the above advice is good, and the following are my suggestions on top of what others have said:

Take out the sparkplug(s) and spray a bit of P'Blaster or Marvel Mystery Oil on top of the cylinders before starting it. The rings may have corroded to the walls of the bore, and you don't want them to go skittering across the liners. A little penetrating oil will make sure they come loose without causing any (much) major damage and prevent oil loss later. While you're at it, go ahead and put new plugs in. That'll run you about $4.

When you start taking things off, bug spray is handy to have around. Trust me on this.

When you drain the oil, pour an extra half quart thru to drain before you seal it up and add the new oil, this will make sure all the old gunk gets flushed out of the system. Make sure there's no water in the old oil. If there is, there's a very high likelihood of your internal bearings having problems. Change the oil again after you put a hundred or so miles on it. This may seem like overkill, but you really don't want old oil hanging around the system, if you can help it.

When you turn on the gas petcock for the first time, carefully inspect all fuel lines for seeps or leaks. Replace anything that seems at all dried out or worn. Leaking fuel on a hot bike is no joke.

Change the brake fluid. Sitting outside will have allowed the fluid to absorb water and this is bad news for bake systems. It's simple and will take you about 30 minutes, but it will save you locked up brakes which are no fun. Also test the brakes at full pull in the yard. Trust me, it's better to find out that your pistons are shot in the yard than five miles away at a stop light. Pushing a bike with locked up brake pistons is also not fun.

If after you put in a fresh battery you still don't have any luck getting it to fire or run, carefully inspect all the wires for cracks, and make sure the frame grounds are all nice and bright, corrosion will be the first, most likely issue with any electrical problems.

Once you get it going, get some new tires ASAP. You tires are undoubtedly dry rotted and will have flat spots which will make cornering interesting until you get a nice round set.

All of this can be done by anyone with a socket set and a nearby auto parts store. If you are at all comfortable with basic mechanical work (and really, you should be if you're going to ride around on an older bike) you won't need a mechanic. After this buy a shfop manual and see how much more you can do. This bike is pretty simple and should be very easy for you to maintain yourself.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 6:11 AM on March 31, 2010

Best answer: Chiming in here to second Tyler at Hayasa on 10th St. in Oakland. He resurrected my wife's bike after it sat outside but in a semi-sheltered spot for about 18 months. I tried most of the methods recommended above with no joy, but he got it running (pretty well, too, and for a very reasonable price). He was upfront about how far he was willing to go with it (he wasn't about to do a carb rebuild/cleanout, for example).
posted by harkin banks at 9:11 PM on March 31, 2010

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