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TECH TOPIC: The Real Costs of Maintenance



--The Real Costs of Maintenance

Hint!: they arise (and rise!) from not doing things correctly in the first place!

An Insight:

"One of the reasons I kept this bike, even though I keep spending more and more time and money on it, is the simple fact that I will never have to take it to a mechanic. If something breaks I'll know how to fix it........if I am on a trip----I won't be at the mercy of a local repair shop (and I'd rather spend a couple hundred+ for new tools while on a trip if needed to do it myself then get ripped off).

In my opinion, this is what makes a 'biker' and a "guy who rides motorcycles" different."

An Observation:

It is a common myth that people believe that because these classic bikes are inexpensive to PURCHASE, that they are also inexpensive to MAINTAIN or REPAIR. That is the wrong, wrong, wrong way to think about it; a VERY BAD idea. Thinking like that will inevitably (almost 100% guaranteed) lead to frustration and added expense.

Among the many nice traits of these bikes is that they actually are simple enough for the average person to work on and to do repairs on SUCCESSFULLY by themselves, as they were a pretty well-engineered design (except for the fusebox!) and very durable, easy to work on.

But "easy" doesn't mean "cheap" and if you are willing to skip steps in order to save a dollar or two, or a minute or two, then in many cases you're going to be doing that old Fram oil filter commercial thing: "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later". And that "future payment" is going to involve a lack of performance and more time and effort on your part until you eventually just give up, or buckle down and do things right.

The rule of thumb in the boating or aviation world is this: whatever you paid for the vehicle, expect to spend 10-20% PER YEAR of that purchase price in maintenance costs. Just because you could "afford" to buy the vehicle doesn't mean that you can "afford" the yearly preventative and service maintenance costs; and if not, well, then eventually you learn quickly why people say that a boat is just "a hole in the water that you throw money into". That's not really true, but that's what people who don't understand that on-going PROPER maintenance and repair costs need to be factored in when determining the real "price" of a bike, especially an older one which is going to require not just the normal on-going maintenance costs, but most probably also additional costs to make up for the previous owner(s) lack of proper maintenance.

The issue that arises with older vehicles is that the purchase price is quite low. That's a blessing, in some ways; but in other ways, that's bad because it lulls people into the belief that the maintenance "costs" (time AND money) will be cheap too. A MUCH BETTER WAY to understand it, I believe, is like this: IF your 1982 XJ650 Seca could be purchased BRAND NEW, today, the price would be $X (let's say, $8,000 ?). THEREFORE YOU SHOULD REALISTICALLY EXPECT THE AVERAGE ANNUAL MAINTENANCE COSTS WILL BE $ 800 - $ 1,500 PER YEAR.

And never mind that maybe you get "free oil changes and service/maintenance" as part of a new-vehicle "warranty"---you PAID for those "free" maintenance costs in the purchase price of the bike, rather than in smaller chunks on down the road. In fact, "free" service warranties are really just a way of allowing a new vehicle purchaser of FINANCING those service and maintenance costs into the purchase price, rather than paying cash every 6 months for those maintenance and service fees.

And many (most?) OEM vehicle sellers make more money off their customers from those financing charges (assuming a purchaser finances through the OEM financing program, which most people do) than they make off building the vehicles! THAT'S why they offer the "free" service to you, so they can build up that purchase price, and thus financing fees, by "hiding" the 10-20% additional yearly costs into the purchase price. This gives people the completely wrong ideas and understanding about what the true, REAL costs of vehicle ownership are.

On used vehicles with no "free" warranty, those service and maintenance costs become very real, very quickly.

I understand and appreciate that some people are going to wildly disagree with me on the above statements, and that's cool. And since I offer parts for sale (for these bikes), many will say that I'm just trying to push people into spending needless amounts of money. Well, that's one possibility.

The other one is that the OEM engineers and manufacturers and experienced (honest) mechanics will also tell you pretty much exactly what I'm portraying here: doing things right actually saves you time and money in the long run, and that all complex mechanical objects (from your lawnmower on up) requires periodic, proper maintenance if you expect it to perform to the level it was designed to perform to, and have the life expectancy that it was designed for. These things aren't magic. They aren't due to luck. Having a bike perform properly is not akin to winning the lottery, i.e. some people get lucky and others don't and that's just life. If you dig deep, if you could stand over the shoulder of those who are successful and those who aren't, the ways in which success is determined are pretty clear-cut and straight-forward, as outlined above.

As are, unfortunately, the ways in which a lack of success are achieved.

A Great Question:

"Let me ask for your unbiased opinion.

Based on my calculations, I am looking at sinking $1000+ in this bike to get it in great shape. since you are very familiar with these bikes do you think it is worthwhile? I am torn, I am looking for a nice starter bike and this bike seems to fit that bill. I don't think I could get a nice bike for that price. If I did I would probably be looking at doing some of the same things that I need on this bike. Carb tune etc. My concern is that I spend 1000 now and then something else goes and then I am sinking another grand later.

Let me know what you think."

A Serious Answer:

Like you noted, you'll have to spend a bit of $$ now to both make up for previous owner's neglect, and also to acquire a lot of the tools needed to perform some of the tasks. The tool expenses will, of course, not repeat, but parts costs on older machines can and will be a factor. So you're looking at spending a significant amount of money up front, and with hopefully reduced amounts going forward into the future.

Of course, they are very nice starter bikes in the sense that they are relatively easy to ride and to work on, something that later model bikes can't always lay claim to. Plus you're going to learn A LOT about working on bikes with one of these! There's no real economic "value" to that besides satisfaction and knowledge and the ability to maintain/tune/etc. your bike in the future, which again goes further towards reducing the maintenance costs of the bike in the future.

Is it worth it? From a "can I sell it at a profit stand-point in a few months?" perspective, the answer is: probably not. Although the prices of the bikes continue to escalate, parts and labor costs to put one of these into tip-top shape almost never get recouped upon resale.

Hope these insights help with your decision making. They are great little bikes.
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