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I've picked up an old motorcycle for basically nothing that's been sitting for a while and I'd like to refurbish it and put it in good working condition. It's a fine bike, but has been neglected a little. I was wondering what things I should do before trying to ride it again?

Some of the things I've thought of:

  • Charge the battery
  • Drain the old petrol and put new petrol in the tank (I've heard this should be done; is this necessary?)
  • Remove rust from brake rotors (are the brake rotors still safe despite heavy rusting or should I replace them?) and other any other parts that are rusted
  • Replace engine oil and filter (has been sitting for a while; don't know when last changed)
  • Check brake fluid levels
  • Replace the chain and sprockets
  • Clean it thorougly

Are there any other things I should do to avoid doing damage after a long time of not being used?

  • How long has it been sitting? – kyle_engineer Jul 13 '16 at 23:52
  • @kyle_engineer About a year and a half, I think. – Ben Jul 13 '16 at 23:59
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As has been mentioned, your list is pretty good. 1 1/2 years isn't too bad depending on storage conditions.

Remove rust from brake rotors (are the brake rotors still safe despite heavy rusting or should I replace them?) and other any other parts that are rusted

Personally I'd probably replace them, but you can clean them up and see (keeping in mind that you have to clean them in such a way so as to not damage the surfaces). If there is too much pitting I'd replace them; if they are warped or cracked - replace them.

The other things I may do would be to:

  1. Ensure oil pan is sludge free and clean. Like I said, 1 1/2 years isn't bad, but if there is nasty sludge and gunk your bike be mad if you clean it out. :)

  2. If carbureted, I'd probably take the carb of and give it a good visual check. It may need to be cleaned out or even replaced depending on its condition.

  3. Make sure the fuel tank is rust-free! Don't want rust getting into the carb/injection and clogging things up.

  4. Inspect/replace air filter. Cause why not?

  5. Inspect/replace spark plugs and cables.

  6. Replace the brake pads. This is just because you don't know exactly what happened to it while stores. If there were oils spilled on it or various chemicals it could severely damage them or at least reduce their ability to brake quickly. This is one of the most life saving systems on the bike, so I'd personally drop the $50-100 to have the piece of mind.

  7. Check all the cables for slack, performance and integrity. It can be dangerous for your clutch cable to break randomly.

Again, a LOT of variance exists because of how it was stored. Most of the items I mentioned probably don't need any attention, but they're worth checking and or replacing.

Last note, if the battery is too low charge it may need to be replaced. A bad battery may charge and start the bike a few times, but whether it holds a charge is another matter all together. So keep that in mind too.

UPDATES

Motorcycle Gas Tank De-Rusting Tips

  • It was stored pretty poorly; outside with a (rather crappy, not properly fitting) rain cover on it. Good point about the fuel tank. How would you de-rust this? – Ben Jul 14 '16 at 0:52
  • There are som treatments that I've seen, but I haven ever done it myself successfully. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but check the lint I added. – kyle_engineer Jul 14 '16 at 1:00
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Your list is good, the reason you need to drain the petrol and replace it with new is that petrol chemically degrades over time. "Stale" petrol does not burn well and may coat the internals of the engine with a varnish that will negatively impact engine performance.

As for the brake rotors, I would replace them rather than clean them. Once you've gone through your list, start the bike and let it idle for a few minutes. Look for leaks. Once up to temperature, rev it a few times, see if the idle is stable.

  • With gasoline (petrol) you also need to consider whether it is laced with ethanol. If so, it absorbs water over time and will cause all kinds of issues with your injection or carburetion systems. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jul 14 '16 at 0:11
  • I drained most of the gas from my bike that had been sitting for a couple years ( probably 2.5 out of the 3 gallon tank). It ran like crap. It would barely run at all. I did a more thorough job of changing the gasoline and it totally fixed it. – Eric Nov 6 '18 at 2:02
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Over time, tires become less resilient (in engineer-speak: their hysteresis decreases) and do a poorer job of conforming to surface irregularities in the pavement. That means available traction decreases.

A reasonable rule of thumb for tire replacement on motorcycles is four or five years, even if there's remaining tread. If this bike has twenty-year old tires: don't ride on them. Replace them now.

You can find the tires' manufacturing date in the DOT-mandated oval on the sidewalls; the first two numerals are the week (of the year) of manufacture, the second two numerals are the year.

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