Hidden costs of building/driving a modified motorcycle in SoCal?
July 11, 2012 4:25 PM   Subscribe

I want to fix/build/restore/modify a motorcycle and put it on the road in Los Angeles, California. Think a 600cc cafe racer or something similar. I can do all my own work, have a welder, mill, and all necessary tools. What are the hidden costs and problems? Any idea what this will cost (time, $$) to take it from Craigslist to city streets?

I'm also interested in a more general description of the time+money cost of getting a bike on the road in LA. Assume it has a pink slip.
posted by fake to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
After a certain year of manufacture, it has to either be CARB compliant or have more than X miles on it. I think X is 7,000, but I'm not sure.
posted by mollymayhem at 5:11 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If the bike hasn't been terribly mistreated you may be able to get it road worthy in a few days. It will probably need a battery, spark plugs, wires, tires, etc. You'll need to drain it and replace the motor oil and trans oil. Kick it over to move the oil around and check for spark and fuel delivery. Which reminds me that you'll need to check/replace fuel lines and filters too.

Essentially, and forgive me I'm just assuming this is your first time, you just need to give the bike a good once over.

I just remembered one hidden worry and that's wiring/wiring harnesses. I ran into a lot of trouble with an early '80s Honda because some of the wiring was corroded and cracked. It took me a couple of weeks with a multimeter to find all of the faults.

I could write a book about this so please feel free to MeMail me if you run into anything you can't easily figure out.
posted by snsranch at 5:22 PM on July 11, 2012

How much do you know about working on motors? Depending on your level of experience, that will change how much time you spend wrenching on this thing. Motor rebuilds and repairs are a huge time sink on my motorcycle and moped projects.

I have a similar shop setup to yours and most frame/suspension modifications are done with ease. Motors eat up alot of time with figuring out how to rebuild them and spending the time babying them until they're 100% trustable.

I think you'll spend six months and $1K getting something on the road. Maybe pay a little more for something with a bombproof engine if you're not looking for a possible rebuild.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 5:23 PM on July 11, 2012

That's a hard question to answer. I had a dirt bike that I bought for $900, put over $1000 in it to get it road worthy/legal, and it blew up in six months. Now I'm working on a Harley that I got for free and all it needed to get running was a new battery and an afternoon chasing wires, and now I'm just trying to make the time to replace the clutch plates. Its totally a toss up, especially if you're buying something that isn't running.
As far as modifications, the cafe look is more about taking things off than putting things on. If you're good at sticking together that aren't really made for each other you can take tins from any bike and fit them on any other bike.
posted by gally99 at 7:16 PM on July 11, 2012

Yea, I agree thebigdeadwaltz, there could be problems with the valves, rings, the case leaking like crazy. Worst case scenario is that the case has water in it and the whole motor is locked up. Typically though, I don't think it should ever take 6 mos or $1000 to get straight again.

If there's a problem with the valves, just take the head to a machine shop...$200 done. Rings and pistons can be done at home. If the bottom end is all locked up, ya just need to open it up, clean it out and reassemble. At that point you may have trouble finding gaskets, o-rings, seals and the like, but there are places where you can find them and/or ways to make them yourself.

Having rebuilt everything from giant industrial diesels to air cooled VWs, Harleys and Vespas I have to say that my favorite thing is being able to pull a motor, throw it on my bench and tear it down.

Here is a project bike that I WISH I had. 1975 3 cyl 2 stroke Suzuki. Awesome and Fast!
posted by snsranch at 7:42 PM on July 11, 2012

Thanks for all the great info. This is not my first project - though it is my first motorcycle. I restored my first car (a VW Beetle, had lots of help from my Dad).

snsranch, I'll very likely be memailing as things come along. Right now I'm looking at a Suzuki S40 as a base for modification. Simple, great parts availability, cheap, and powerful. That Suzuki you linked is also quite awesome.

I have a laser cutter and have manufactured gaskets for my Dad's hotrods and the like.

mollymayhem's answer is very interesting to me and exactly the kind of weird CA specific gotcha I was hoping would come out.
posted by fake at 11:45 PM on July 11, 2012

Powerful? The S40's anything but powerful. It's definitely cheap and simple, though.

I'm a little unclear as to what exactly you're envisioning. Can you be more specific about what you have in mind? (Personally, having gone through major repairs on a couple of bikes, I wouldn't buy anything that wasn't running well enough to ride as-is. With a non-runner, I'd figure double the cost of the bike itself to get running again.e)
posted by asterix at 12:36 AM on July 12, 2012

I would ride the hell out of this. (S40 Cafe Conversion!)
posted by snsranch at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2012

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