Thursday, 10 March 2011

How to buy your dream motorcycle for £50.

Bear with me on this one, and try to pay attention as it could take some effort to keep up.

It was at around this time while using the Citroen BX and the Honda VF400F that I started to collect parcels from a bike breakers based just outside Hereford for Her Majesty's Royal Mail.
And it was over cups of tea in convivial company that opportunity knocked.
One of the owners of the breakers had a rather fab Yamaha XS650, which was one of the sexiest bikes to come out of the Japanese factory in the 1970s.
This one had an 840cc Halco conversion and looked mean and rangy and likely to devour anyone who came near it.
I sat on it once and started it running, and it felt as if it was possessed by demons.
I had wanted an XS 650 for years, and bemoaned the fact that I would never own one to its owner.
He pshawed, and suggested that I could, with a bit of jiggery-pokery, easily raise the money for one, if  I would but follow his example.
He told me that opportunities for the shrewd were many in the second-hand motorcycle business, and pointed out that he and his partner had started their now highly successful business with a £20 wreck of a Yamaha 250, which they had broken for spares.
This was 1995 - eBay year zero. Hardly anyone had the internet - my mum was the only person I knew with a web connection - 25.6 kbps of Apple Mac/Netscape power.
In those days, children, we had things called small ads, and before PayPal people were happy to send each other cheques, wait for them to clear and then send off goods.
Or there was Cash on Delivery for a fee.
"Please allow 28 days for delivery" was another mantra.
Anyway it was explained to me that when broken into bits the XS250 had been advertised in magazines, sold in those bits for £300 and they'd used the money to buy other worn out bikes, until the business had snowballed and these two blokes were sitting pretty in a converted chicken shed packed with tonnes of bike spares.
They were desperate for stock at this time and offered me £50 commission for any old bike I could get them. So I kept a careful eye on the back gardens I came across as I chugged around in my post office lorry till I found an old  CX500 leaning up against a shed.
The breakers gave the owner £50 for it, and were as good as their word and paid me £50 too - and promptly sold the exhaust system and the speedometer for £100.
I was inspired and spent my £50 on a selection of tea chests containing most of a BSA Bantam.
yeah, mate, of course its all there

I did nothing with them, but sold them on to a bloke who wanted the equivalent of a grown up meccano set to restore for £150.
In the back of a Llantrisant superbike dealership I found a Yamaha SR500 which I paid £150 for, which was sold to the breakers for twice the money and then I bought another SR500 for the £300 which they bought for £400.
So that was a journey from no money at all to £400, and all in the space of three weeks.
For £300 I bought an incomplete Suzuki GS550 chopper, which I sold for £550.
Look at the state of that thing. Also, look at the state of the road damaged by my leaky Citroen BX. You can see why the council were vexed....

And then for £450 I bought a Honda CB650 four with a very rattly primary drive chain.
just, why bother?
Funny bike, your CB650, Bit of parts bin special, with a bored out CB550/4 engine, and all sorts of left over bits from Honda's other models of the day.  It was made in that curious period when Honda forgot how to make motorcycles.
It came out at the same time as Honda's first DOHC fours and it was almost as if they didn't have confidence in the new bike and were worried the punters would be frightened off by two camshafts and four valves per cylinder, so they knocked this out as a sort of safety valve in case it all went horribly wrong.
The Yanks got the CB650 Nighthawk, which had too many exhaust pipes and stick on plastic chrome panels on the tank.
I rode round on it for a month or so. It was quite pleasant in a pedestrian sort of a way, sort of neither old nor young, and a bit chubby round the middle.
As for primary chain, well as the bike dealers used to say,  "they all do that, Sir" and indeed they do - just before the chain punches a hole in the bottom of the crankcase.
By this time the missus was getting wise to the plan and declared, as she had once done before, that she wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle.
So we cut a deal.
She would stop moaning about this constant flood of motorcycles and contribute some cash and I would get her a bike to learn on.
So I swapped the CB650 for a Honda CM125 and £550 - the CM125 being  for her to learn on and bought a very ratty Honda CB400/4 for £50 to restore for her once she'd passed her test.
Yeah, I had a Harley once

While searching for parts for this I saw an advert for another CB400/4 in a classic bike magazine, but this one was  in Melton Mowbray - 250 miles across country.
The owner said he wanted £200 for it and he claimed it was a runner and it had an MoT, so I thought  it would save a lot of messing about, but the downside was the owner said it wasn't terribly original and could do with a tidy up.
Sometimes, though, you go with gut feelings, so I sold the ratty 400/4 for £75 to the breakers (slinging it in the back of my Post Office lorry to get it there. tsk, tsk.) and rented a van to drive to Leicestershire.
When I got there I was met by bearded gent of indeterminate age. I can remember him now, the build, the clothes - army jumper, lancer jacket, jeans - even the length of his grey brown bushy beard, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you how old he was or what his face looked like.
He spent most of the time after arrival apologising to me for wasting my time coming all that way for such a dreadful machine and trying to make me have a cup of tea.
He took me to garage at the end of his garden, and there, sandwiched between a concours condition BSA A10 and an equally gorgeous Velocette Thruxton was an utterly immaculate Honda CB400/4 - Original paint in maroon and gold, perfect in every detail but one.
absolutely fabulous

By "not terribly original" he meant he had changed the exhaust system for an Alfa 4-1.
The Alfa was an aftermarket exhaust system, cheaply made and noisy as hell. It was essentially some steel tube, chromed, with a load of glass fibre wadding rammed down it and what any self-respecting hoodlum did when they bought one was drill off the end cap and pull the wadding out.
By "needing a tidy up" he meant that I would have to clean the layers of WD40 the owner had sprayed on the perfect paintwork to preserve the bike when he laid it up during the winter.
He had MoT certificates dating back 15 years, and it had covered 700 miles a year. It still had the owners manual and the toolkit under the seat.
It was a superb example of a 400/4. I asked him four times if he really only wanted £200 for it, but he just indicated the BSA and the Thruxton and said that he: "didn't really know a lot about Jap bikes." and he then added: "It's just taking up space."
When I got it home I pushed it into the house and parked it up in the hallway -  there was no way a bike this perfect was being left in the street.
It sat in the hall for a while, and was briefly used as a clothes rack.
Eventually madam decided for the second time that biking wasn't for her so I sold her CM 125 for £300. After flogging the previously mentioned VF400F I rode the 400/4 for a short while, and it was as good as it looked - The legend of the 400/4 untarnished by a decade and a half of time.
But it was all too brief a liaison.
The bike was just too good to be a hack, and there was no place in my life for an unridden museum piece. The only toys I had room for were yellow, plastic and made by Fisher-Price.
I came to a decision that my early starts in all weathers for the Post Office would soon ruin this perfect bike, so I sold it for £800 to a collector, and the profit went on as truly disastrous a purchase as I ever made, of which more, briefly, anon.
Finally though, after breaking open the piggy bank and counting up my pennies, adding the money I'd got for the VF400F to the profit on the CB650,  I found that I had over £1,000.
Enough cash to go and buy my very own Yamaha XS650.

So that's what I did.

And that's how you buy your dream motorcycle for £50.

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