Although I have only restored a few XT500’s and SR500's, my philosophy stands the same with every build I do. I was going to wait to write this article, but I was inspired by one piece of wire attached to the clutch actuation arm on the 500 engine build. I believe preserving a motorcycle is more than just making the automobile as original as the day it left the factory, but to honor all those who owned it before. I believe it is our responsibility to not only restore the bike but preserve it as it was used throughout its life. In the end though, the bike is yours and you can do whatever you heart desires.
After restoring some Brough Superiors for the world's largest Brough collection, I learned a lot. Some vehicles are worth and deserve to be 100 point concours automobile, and some should be passed down from one owner to another. When I start out working on a bike and or a engine, I do as much research as I can on the previous owners. Usually the old owner enjoys talking about the memories they had with the bike. You’ll hear stories of their first kiss after a ride, or how they came in too hot and over shot a turn, or how they let their friend ride it and that's what the scars are from on the side case. These stories tell the history of the bike, to me I always try to honor the scars or strange modifications that don’t devalue the bike. When it comes to aftermarket modifications, I always wonder about the form and function of it and what was the purpose of it from the previous owner.
One particular bike that stands out was on a Honda CL77/72 (CL72 cylinder and head). The previous owner was a rancher in western Kansas. He added Harley Davidson passenger pegs, which obviously didn’t fit and trashed the threads. Along with a metric bolt for the headlight switch. To me these were the perfect modifications/repairs from the rancher, and I kept them in place as I restored the bike. Being in Western Kansas in the late 60’s there probably weren't many Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) bolts laying around. Being a rancher and still wanting to herd his cattle or ride the bike into town, he fixed the bike with what he had to make it run. Unfortunately, he also thought everything should be painted the same color as a 60s fords engine block, Old Ford Blue. The seat, the tank, the fenders, there was overspray everywhere. I kept the frame as original as possible and only updated bearings/seals that were bad and or not visible. Like other bikes I also kept the stock yellowed cable housing and only replaced the cables (resoldered the ends). The front end of the bike, I did a full front end rebuild and replaced the old fork oil with fish oil. A bit odd, but originally that is what would have been in the bike. I over-restored the tins by adding a clear coat to the Cloud Silver. Being that it wasn’t 100% original I wasn’t worried about over/under restoring it, I wanted it to appear as original as it could be without dishonoring the previous owner.
I have only truly preserved one bike, a Yamaha SR500 with the White Brothers tune kit. A Mikuni VM36 carb and a White Brothers exhaust. When I mean preserve, I mean I took it down to every nut and bolt, oiled everything, then put it back together. For me when I assemble and disassemble the bike, I try to mimic how the original tech would have done it and what tools they would have used. That means 6 point sockets, JIS screw drivers (you can also grind the tip of your #3 Philips). I only modified three major parts on the Yamaha SR500 (I did replace all bearings). I repainted the White Brothers Header and I bought the original style tires in inches not mm. If you have noticed the equivalent mm tires don’t fill out the fenders like the original inch spec tires. I always use the SAE standards when it comes to vintage bikes and tires over the metric system. I added used stock pegs to it as I knew it would be a starter track day bike for me then I could put the original pegs back on. For me this was one of the best bikes I have ever owned. I got to enjoy it, preserve it and pass it on to its next owner. I was the second owner of the bike, I found the SR in K-15 Motorsports Storage area when I was working there. If my memory serves me right Bob Troxel mentioned a mother dropped it off for her son during a war to get it serviced. Then they never came back to get it.
The biggest thing I hope some of the newcomers to modifying / restoring these vintage bikes do is talk to the previous owner, get their stories and their knowledge! It may influence you on how you want to ride, treat, modify, restore the bike. Its the stories and experiences that make this community great, so try and get the most out of each adventure. When you do the motorcycle becomes much more than just a machine, now it has a story behind it!