How to buy your first vintage motorcycle

May 1, 2016 i Men's Health

Sure you want one. An old-school bike is a symbol of freedom with a bargain price tag. But that decades-old beauty can harbor some ugly secrets. Before you commit, take these three precautions.

Do a compression test

Hit up an auto supply store for a compression test kit, which should run you about $65. Pop out the spark plugs, plug the compression reader into a now-empty port, open up the bike’s throttle, and give the ignition a few kicks. Anything below 100 psi means the engine is weak or about to give out. Ideally you want it above 125, says Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles in Austin.

Sniff the gas

Pop the cap and take a whiff of the fuel sitting in the tank. If it smells sharp and rancid, like rotting wine or paint varnish, the fuel is oxidized, and you probably have sticky gasoline gumming up the lines, Stulberg says. To get the bike in running shape, you’ll need to rebuild the carburetors, do an ultrasonic cleaning, and retune the bike, all of which can add up to at least 20 hours of work.

Examine the tank

Feel for damaged mounts or cracked paint by running your hand along the edges of the fuel tank. Paint cracks could be a symptom of a slow leak, says Stulberg. You’ll know for sure if you feel anything that’s wet or goopy, like honey. A leak is potentially bad news: It’ll cost hundreds of dollars to replace the tank, and that’s assuming you can locate the parts.