How to Restore a Motorcycle

by Donna Thacker

Let's first determine the difference between restoring and customizing. To customize your motorcycle means that you are free to change anything you please, such as parts and paint schemes. To restore a motorcycle means that you will be returning it to its original look, including stock paint and parts. Older motorcycles that have been restored are wonderful to own. The job of restoring them is a challenge, but in the end you will be rewarded with a wonderful piece of history to show off!

Disassemble the motorcycle down to the frame. Check all of the parts as you take them off and make notes on which parts need to be repaired or replaced. Also note any missing parts. Do this in an area where the parts are protected from the weather and nothing will be disturbed, just in case it takes awhile to find the replacement parts you need.

Look through any old photos or publications that you have that show the motorcycle in its original state. If you are the original owner, this part is easy. If you bought a used motorcycle, it can get a little harder to determine what it looked like originally. Be concise about parts--you want exactly what it originally came with, not something close.

Work on the frame first. If you can do the job, sandblast it and primer and paint it to its original color. if you aren't qualified, look for someone who is and send the frame to them. Do the same thing with the tank and fenders. If you are not qualified to do the work, it's less of a headache to let someone qualified do the work for you.

Search for the parts you need to replace. There are many online sites and retail businesses that carry used motorcycle parts (see Resources below). Let any of your motorcycle friends know about your project and what parts you need. Chances are that someone will know someone that can help you.

Rebuild the engine. Tear the engine totally down and inspect all of the parts carefully. If anything needs replaced, you may have to search your sources again for parts. Be patient, as sometimes it can take awhile to locate just what you need. Search for new tires, too. Make sure you know exactly what size the motorcycle originally used.

Put everything back together, working carefully so you don't scratch or damage anything. Photograph the stages as you go so you have a record of what has been done and what you still need to locate.


  • check Motorcycle swap meets are great places to find older parts or to network for information.

Items you will need

About the Author

Donna Thacker has been a writer/photographer for over 15 years. She held the position of associate editor/writer/photographer at Biker Ally Magazine. She currently is a photojournalist for The Biking Life, and has been featured on the front page of The Greenville Advocate, The Hillsboro Journal and The Sorento News. Thacker also designed and published several booklets of historical interest for local organizations.

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