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--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 SUCESSFULLY 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 tempted (by the :twisted: devil?) 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 maintanence 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".

Now, 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 wildy 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 some thing 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?" persepctive, 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 re-couped upon resale.

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

From Our Experience:

Since the carburetors are THE most troublesome (and thus most expensive) aspect of these bikes, let me offer a few dozen words and insights about them, their service, and expense:

These carbs are quite simple, mechanically speaking.

The process of making DARNED SURE that you get them unbelievably, positively zestfully clean is a matter of stick-to-it-ness and resisting all attempts to take "shortcuts" or to brush off the tedious aspects of it. Many of the passages in these carbs are tiny, and it's that "tiny-ness" that bites most people, as they don't want to or don't realize the amount of effort that has to be undertaken to deal with such small passages.

If you read through these forums, you'll see many tales of woe of people who are now "cleaning" their carbs for the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th time BEFORE they get it right. The problem is, they never really "cleaned" them correctly the first, 2nd, and 3rd time. After all of the frustration and hassle involved, by the time they get around to the 4th go-around, then they understand that when people who have SUCCESSFULLY rebuilt carbs say things like "you'd better make SURE that you get clear flow through each and every passage, and you'd better polish that piston diaphram bore", etc. aren't just saying that to be over-the-top retentive about their own habits and style of working on these carbs, what they're really doing is issuing an experienced WARNING: do it right, or keep doing it again, and again, and again. And although they're kind of fun little critters to play with, taking them all apart and putting Humpty Carby all back together again, well, it's time better spent on other things.

One last note: "cleaning" the carbs (internally, not just making them look pretty on the outside) is just one of the small subsets of tasks necessary to the proper REBUILDING of the carbs. I cannot stress this point enough. The use of the term "cleaning" is used as if it were the end goal of the process; in reality, the proper way to think about it would be this:

"A complete and exceptional level of carb CLEANING is a vital and necessary part of the process of properly REBUILDING the carbs."

And what are the other componets of the rebuilding puzzle?

a) replacing the worn, missing, or necessary "wear parts" on the carb.

These would be the idle mixture o-rings, washers, and maybe even the springs.

The carb bowl gaskets.

The carb throttle shaft seals.

The float valve needles and seats.

Any incorrectly sized or damaged jets.

Inspection of the piston rubber disphram for any holes, thin spots, etc.

b) Proper "service" work to the carb bodies, especially:

- polishing the piston bore for silky smoothness.

- repair or clean up of any stripped threads in the carb bodies.

- replacement of any damaged or worn parts. In fact, the ability the recognize what is damaged and worn (besides the parts above which are designed to wear out) is the most difficult part of the entire task, since it requires a level of experience: are my needle tips worn? What, exactly, does a worn needle tip look like? How "smooth" is smooth enough? Etc. This is where the advice and experience of the members of this forum are invaluable.

c) Proper "settings" of the various components during re-assembly:

- the float heights

- the "basic or bench synch" of the throttle valves

d) On-bike "settings":

- first and foremost, the measurement and setting to specifications of the valve train (shim) clearancs. Failure to do this "wastes" 90% of your efforts involved with the carbs.

- final synch (using some type of manometer and the YICS tool if your engine is YICS-equipped)

- idle mixture screw setting, preferrably using a Colortune plug.

A few last thoughts about these carbs, since they are THE most troublesome aspects of these bikes, and something to consider:

- the four carbs concept is really neat looking, and certainly performance oriented to the extreme.

- for many of us who had lots of experience with automotive carbs, just beware that while these Hitachi and Mikuni carbs are a bit different in operation (and thus parts), a carb is a carb, and they're pretty basic little devices. The main difference is that the fuel circuit passages on these carbs can get bizarrely tiny, especially if you're used to working on automotive carbs (which have canyon-sized fuel passages compared to these carbs).

- like I've said, the cleanliness part is really just tedious work, with a couple of "tricks" thrown into the mix, given the small sizes you're having to deal with. The "rebuild" part is basic mechanical knowldege and skills, knowing which way to turn a screwdriver to loosen vs. tighten, when and how much force to use or not, being organized, stuff like that.

- but the "tuning" part will require some special tools, but no type of any rocket-science knowledge or skills----once you master the rebuild and tuning process with these bikes, you are pretty much a Carb Tuning God, as these carbs are about as "complicated" as it gets with carbs. I mean, VERY few vehicles have multi-carbs, not until you get to the really high-performance machines level in the automotive world.

- well, as "complicated as it gets" until you start adding pods, etc.----which if you do, I sure hope you've got every last one of the basics listed above down to a science, and you can do it all, properly, and blindfolded, too!

- finally, if you do not have a service manual(s) for your particular bike(s), and you're going to wrench on it and want to do things right, then the only thing I can conclude from such a course of action is:

a) you're already an expert, or.....

b) you aren't really serious about doing things right, and that's okay, too---just don't expect good, quick, or cheap results!
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