Restoring a Modern Motorcycle — Part I, Purchase and Inspection

Restoring a Modern Motorcycle — Part I, Purchase and Inspection

This is the chronicle of my restoration project: a 2009 Kawasaki Ninja 650R (EX650 or ER-6F), from purchase through to sale.

Restoring a motorcycle - a Kawasaki Ninja 650
My restoration project - a Kawasaki Ninja 650 (EX650/ER-6F)

I like riding  motorcycles, but it actually pales in comparison to how much I like taking things apart and putting them back together.

On top of that, I've always been somewhat intimidated by motorcycles and engines (being more of an electrically-savvy guy), so I decided to do what I most fear: buying a motorcycle that needed a lot of work, then doing that work aggressively, and selling it.

Why the Ninja 650R?

You can pretty much make a project out of any motorcycle that comes your way. I had a few ones in mind, but chose the Ninja 650 just because it was the most practical example I could find.

You all might be thinking "Why a sod boring bike like a Ninja 650??" Everyone else is restoring classic Hondas, Nortons or Triumphs or whatever. The thing is, for the average mechanic, those are intimidating as hell. You don't know if you're going to find parts, what they'll cost, and it can easily spiral out of control.

Motorcycles always have issues even when you're not going looking for them. So a good project to learn how to do one up is a motorcycle that doesn't have many issues... because even the ones it has will be plenty!

The Ninja 650 is a great project motorcycle for a number of reasons

  • It's really common, and parts are readily available for it — including aftermarket. Parts are cheap because it's Japanese.
  • It's easy to understand — two cylinders, barely any electronics. My version doesn't have ABS, but it is fuel-injected (a blessing)
  • You can find good cheap examples on Craigslist local classifieds
  • The engine itself is easy to work on, should I need to — it is a parallel twin, which means only one head to open up for valve jobs/changing rings
  • They're decently fun to ride, with a pokey 649cc twin making 52kW, revving beyond 10,000 rpm,

I bought my own Ninja 650 from a guy who bought it himself from a dealer (it was a trade in). I got it for exactly what the dealer paid for it — about $1300.

In fact, he lost a little, because while stored at his house someone knocked it over and it got a damaged fairing. He was annoyed, but passed on the savings to me.

The Ninja 650R I bought

The Ninja I bought is a 2008 model, unrestricted (in Australia they sell power-restricted ones for learners), and black. It's totally stock, including exhaust, handlebars, screen etc.

The previous person who used it just commuted with it, but it has around 100,000 kms on it (60,000 miles). That means it's unlikely I'll be able to sell it for more than around $1,500 — maybe $2,000 if I clean it up really well.

But even if I don't sell it, this is an excellent commuter I'd be happy to own!

I paid A$1,300 for it, plus $50 for delivery to my house. That's US$933 invested so far. My goal is to get it out the door for about US$2000 when it's all done. If I lose a little, so what — that's my education I'm paying a few hundred bucks for.

What you should look for

For my first major restoration project I didn't want anything where I'd have to open up the engine and look inside.

This meant, for me

  • No oil leaks (no burning gas, no leaking from side of frame).
  • Fuel injection. It's easy (and fun) to tweak carburettors, but you almost never have to tweak fuel injection. This isn't my opinion — it's from speaking to mechanics who work on motorcycles.
  • No frame damage — aligned wheels, no crash damage
  • Working suspension — forks, rear shock no oil leaks
  • Wheels true — no dent damage
  • No theft damage — key works in barrel, and the barrel is there...

One of my next projects will be one that needs more effort, like opening up the engine. But one thing at a time!

Problems found with my Ninja 650R

Even before I took it off the lot, I knew I'd have to change the

  • Handlebars — current ones are bent
  • Controls — both clutch and brake levers are bent
  • Chain — it has rusted. I'll also change the sprockets (should do them at the same time)
  • Front brake pads, they're worn thin
  • The seat had a hole in it (badly patched)
Repairing an old motorcycle - re-covering an old seat
The torn seat on the Ninja 650R.

Then on a test drive at home I realised

  • The gear selector is a little weird feeling, as is the rear brake (so will replace those, plus the brake lines)
  • The exhaust sounds really boring... is there a cheap used slip-on I can find? (Update: yes, but they all sound terrible, and the Ninja 650R will never sound great!)
Restoring a cheap motorcycle (the Ninja 650R/ER-6F) - the handlebar on the motorcycle, bent
The ER-6F (Ninja 650)'s handlebar mounted. You can't tell it's bent mounted...
Restoring a cheap motorcycle (the Ninja 650R/ER-6F) - the handlebar on the ground
... but when dismantled, you can see it on the ground and it's clearly gone!

This means the bill of work is going to be (in AUD)

  • Change chain + sprockets, re-set chain tension: About $200
  • Change oil and oil filter: $50
  • Change air filter: $30
  • Install new spark plugs (properly gapped): $20
  • Change brake lines + fluids, bleed system, replace pads: $50
  • Install new handlebar, levers, grips, and bar end weights: $200
  • Replace broken plastic: $250
  • Replace bent gear and brake foot levers
  • Re-cover seat with vinyl (and I can do this myself)

Plus, I generally have to clean it up, and re-torque all the bolts.

Restoring a Ninja 650 - Cracked fairing
Cracked fairing. Should I restore it?

Onward... Part 2 will be when I've dismantled everything that needs replacing.