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Old 11-01-2009, 01:18 PM   #1
dorkpunch OP
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Joined: Aug 2006
Location: Blackfoot, ID
Oddometer: 5,373
How To: Reviving an old dead bike.

I'm sure this has been done already, but I just (re)found this going through a bunch of old stuff from my website. Maybe someone will find it useful or can add to the list! This is in no way a comprehensive list, so use it at your own risk!


We'll assume you are working on an old Honda XL350 that's been sitting a while, most likely out in some farmers field behind the barn were it ran out of gas many years ago, and the farmer never got around to dragging it back home. This is not meant to replace your clymers, but give you a good place to start from. I will try to be as general as possible so much of the information will be useable on other old dead bikes.

First Impressions.

It helps if you have a plan in mind already. Is this bike going to be restored to pristine condition? Custom built into something else? Just gotten running for the neighbor kids to fart around on? Keep your plan in mind. If it's the first time you've even seen the bike, visually check it over. Look for things like:
-loose or missing bolts? Check at critical points like the swing arm, axles, handlebars, forks, seat, spokes, and engine mounts.
-is the spark plug in tight?
-how are the chain and sprockets?
-is the muffler rotted out? This can be expensive if it needs attention!
-any missing parts? Things like side covers, toolkit, headlight, signals, etc, etc.
-how are the tires? Tread? Holding air?
-are the brake, clutch, and throttle cables free?

Rock the bike back and forth and test the brakes to see if they both engage and release properly. Test the transmission by putting it in gear and clicking it through all the gears. While its in gear, pull in the clutch and see if you can push it without it turning the engine over. Check the gas tank- is it rusty? Gas in it? Does the gas smell rotten? Next would be the oil. Check for level, color, and smell. Many people say if the oil smells burnt, walk away. I've never worried about the smell to much. How is the compression on the engine? If its really easy to kick over then you might have a problem! Get as much history from the owner as you can!

Once you've got a good idea of what it may take to get the bike back to useable shape, you can start your dickering! For our purposes, you bought the bike and have it home. Lets get it running! Number one thing to do is check the oil. Make sure the bike is level. Take the dipstick out, wipe it and set it back in the hole. Don't thread it back in! (procedure may vary from bike to bike) Check the level, and if needed, add a little bit more. We will be changing the oil pretty quick, so if it's a little low, don't worry to much.

Got Spark?

How about spark? Pull the spark plug out, plug it back into the coil and rest it against the head. Kick it over and watch for spark. Don't be to disheartened if there's nothing there yet!

Make sure the kill switch on the handle bars and the key switch are both on. If you don't have a key, you can just unplug the key switch. It will work fine without it. The XL's don't need a battery to run. While you're at it give the wiring a once over and make sure everything seems to be plugged in to the right places. If everything looks okay and you've already tried a brand new plug, its time to check the points. Look on the left hand side near the top of the engine. You will see a small aluminum cover held on by 2 screws. Underneath you will find the points! That is, assuming you get the screws out without stripping them. For some reason, after a couple of years the soften to about the consistency of warm butter. Back to the points- if they sat open for several years, it is likely that there is a layer of corrosion covering the contact area of the points. This can be cleaned with some thick paper or very fine sandpaper. Turn the engine over until the points are closed. Gently pry them open and set the paper or sandpaper in the points. Let the spring back down to clamp the sandpaper, and then wiggle it back and forth for a while until you get a nice clean smooth surface on both points. You want to do this as carefully as possible and take as little material (other than crud) of the points as possible. While your at it it's a good idea to check the wires coming in to the points and going out from the points for breaks and loose connections. If you did it right, you shouldn't need to re-set the timing. Check again for spark. It may take 2 or 3 good cleanings before you have a nice healthy spark. You still don't have spark? Time to get the voltmeter out! We'll save that for another day…

Got Compression?

You should have an idea of what the compression is like. If you have compression tester a good time to test it is while you are checking the spark. Typically, 120-150 psi is enough for a bike to run. I have seen 2 strokes run on less than 50 psi, but not well. If your compression is low and you have a 4 stroke, check and adjust the valves. On any bike that has been sitting for extended periods it is very likely that the rings have rusted in position and are doing much compression. This can be fixed by taking the engine apart, removing the rings, cleaning them and the groove, and re-assembling the engine with some good engine assembly grease. Easier said than done. Right now we are just testing the compression.

Got Gas?

So you now have spark and enough compression to at least get a pop out of the engine. The easiest way to start here is to squirt a little gas into the carb and give the bike a good kick. If the bike doesn't fire, than you likely still have a problem with spark or compression. You'll have to spend a little more time on those subjects. If the bike does fire, then we need to get the carb cleaned! It is always a good idea to remove and clean the tank and install a new inline filter when bringing a bike back from the dead. It will save you many hassles down the road. While you've got the carb apart thoroughly soak all the holes and parts with a good carb cleaner. If you have access to compressed air, blow out all the passages. GENTLEY. Many carbs have pressed in parts and if you blow to hard in the wrong hole, *POP*! And your microscopic part just shot across the shop at light speed. For really dirty carbs with a lot of corrosion and scaling inside, I use a small dremmel with a wire wheel at low speed. Plugged jets can also be cleaned with wires plucked from the wire wheel, but this isn't really recommended as it can scratch and score the holes altering performance. Make sure you clean the needle and seat well, or you will have gas pouring all over the place. Check and adjust the float height as per the recommendations of your manual.

Getting ready to STOP.

So you got it running halfway decent. It still needs some work, but LETS TAKE IT FOR A RIDE! It is always a good idea to be sure you are going to be able to stop on an un-proven bike. Double check the brakes and the kill switch. Have an emergency plan, and wear your gear!

Getting ready to RIDE!

Before the true maiden voyage, Check and lube all of your cables again. Test the lights. Double check anything you may have had more problems with while getting the old girl going. Of course, its always a good idea to take some tools with you just in case. And while your on that maiden voyage, keep a sharp look out for "new" dead bikes to bring home!!

"I've been going to this high school for SEVEN YEARS. I'm no dummy!"
-Charles De Mar.
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Old 11-03-2009, 02:21 PM   #2
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Nice work.

I have a couple of CL350s sitting around waiting for winter work. You have given me a few good ideas.

Anyone have more to add?
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Old 11-03-2009, 08:35 PM   #3
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here's a good one for old 2 strokes. if you know nothing about the bikes history, and it's a bear to start cold, it's generally rings...
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Old 11-04-2009, 05:55 AM   #4
No Marks....
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Joined: Sep 2009
Location: Michissippi & Nuevo Mexico
Oddometer: 2,318
I just look them over but never try to start them. I do see if the motor turns over. If they have been sitting outside in the midwest it will be bad. I assume that I am taking everything apart on the bike anyway. I know it will need parts. That is just a part of doing restorations.
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Old 11-04-2009, 08:01 PM   #5
You break it we fix it
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Joined: May 2009
Location: UP State New York
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I used to buy and sell a lot of bikes when I first started, a lot of them did not run when I looked at them, put away at the first start of the cold weather, the gas goes flat after a few months someone tries to start the bike coats the plugs with flat gas fouling them, the battery is weak and before you kown it the bike will not start. I have gotten some really good deals in the early winter buying bikes that ran a few months ago but would not run when the owner tried to sell it.

I would empty the tank and shake it all up, get rid of any loose stuff in the tank add fresh gas. Pull the plugs and sand blast, drain the bowls and then charge the battery and try and start. Worked for me many times
Bob Brown
Christian Sport Bike Ass.

Custom Painting
Plastic Welding Gas Tank repair & Sealing
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Old 08-26-2010, 05:35 PM   #6
Joined: Jun 2010
Oddometer: 21
xl 350 - carb "fun".
so, having replaced nearly everything - what is the likelihood of the needle and needle jet having worn? seems to be running rich only in the 3-4thousand which is enough to slowly choke the spark plug up. aparently "factory settings" were rich.
and moving the needle one step leaner has only managed to stop the bike altogether.

any help?
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Old 06-08-2011, 06:22 PM   #7
Mr. Ray
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What about if your clutch seems to be siezed?
It's about this big.
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Old 06-08-2011, 08:28 PM   #8
dorkpunch OP
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Location: Blackfoot, ID
Oddometer: 5,373
some of the old honda's were notorious for sticky clutches- I had a TL125 that if it sat for more than a month the clutch would be stuck. Usually, just putting it in gear without the engine running and rocking it back and forth with the clutch lever pulled in was enough to pop it loose. If not, and the bike runs, start it, push it to get it moving, and click it into gear. Ride it for a little bit with the clutch lever pulled in and see if it loosens up. This is, of course, after you have checked all of the adjustments in the clutch cable and are sure that the actuator on the left side of the engine is actually pushing the rod in...

If that doesnt work, pop the right side engine cover off. BUY AN IMPACT DRIVER WITH THE RIGHT SIZE PHILLIPS BIT. You'll thank me later. If the basket is really grooved, that might be your problem. A lot of bikes (except for the XL's...) you can see the clutch basket through the oil fill hole.

"I've been going to this high school for SEVEN YEARS. I'm no dummy!"
-Charles De Mar.
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Old 06-09-2011, 03:48 AM   #9
Mr. Ray
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Thanks dude. Perhaps tonight I will try this out with the trusty impact driver and get this thing ready to ride to work.
It's about this big.
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