Small inexpensive motorcycles

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Sclass
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Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by Sclass »

Who likes small motorcycles? Or scooters?

I was inspired by a new member to make a thread on small motorcycles. I’ve always had a love for these things since I was a teenager. They’re inexpensive, easy on fuel and easy to park. I learned auto mechanics on them with basic tools…often included in the on board tool kits. I started thinking about it today and realize I owe a big part of my early retirement journey to getting around on these things.

Buying taught me how to find a deal and negotiate aggressively. I bought from newspaper ads, bulletin boards, Usenet, Craigslist or simply by leaving random post it notes with offers on neglected looking machines that had been sitting. I always hunted down great prices. Buy broken then fix. Most repairs were simple - drain old fuel, clean carburetor, patch a tube, add battery acid or grease the cables. Wash.

I rode through college and grad school with fuel economy ranging from 100mpg to 70mpg.

I learned how to read a service manual and follow the step by step instructions. If you want to teach yourself mechanics this is a great place to start.

No insurance back then. Free parking wherever it would fit. Free parts from the local motorcycle shop dumpster.

Lie about the cost at the DMV so I’d only pay minimal transfer fees. Initiation into tax avoidance strategies.

Fun. Freedom. Cheap thrills. Every new place I’d move to I’d immediately start the search for a small motorcycle. When I moved out I’d sell if I couldn’t carry it which was almost always the case. Always Honda singles for me. Slow but reliable. They’re very high quality, easy to fix and difficult to destroy. You often find them forgotten and neglected. Just leave a note with a low offer. Wait for the phone to ring.

I’ve owned about a handful between ages 15 and 52. Here are some of the best. (Same models not my exact bike. I found these images on flikr).

High school 1. 1968 Honda Cub 90. Bought for $85 as a dead motorcycle from my neighbor. Pushed it home and added gas. It started. Fixed! I thought I was a genius. My neighbor was doing me a solid. Nice old guy. 100 mpg. :o Top speed 35mph with a tailwind. My parents were livid. I called it a moped to slip it into our garage. That was the genius of the cub…it was a motorcycle that didn’t look like a motorcycle. Dad didn’t even realize I was running it on our lawnmower gas. Free fuel!

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High school 2. Had to have a “real motorcycle”. Bought a 1972 CL100 out of garden shed. $100. The mom just wanted it gone. It hadn’t run in ten years. Bad cylinder liner. Fixed with a cylinder bought from a junkyard. Rode all over Los Angeles on this as a kid. 90 mpg. Mine wasn’t as pretty as this one but it was cheap wheels.

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College. I needed more speed. :lol: 1976 Honda XL175S. Bought out of the local newspaper classifieds. I bargained with the owner for a month. He finally let it go for $450. It was all the money I had. I had doubled my money on my prior motorcycles. This one had rust in the tank and an oil leak. The leak turned out to be a piece of string wrapped around the output shaft. I fixed both and commuted to school daily on it till my senior year. It averaged 80mpg. Top speed was a disappointing 45mph.

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Grad school. 1982 Honda XL250R. Left note on a dusty bike parked at my apartment complex near my summer job. The owner turned out to work at the same company. He wanted $500 more than he wanted the bike. It needed a tailpipe and he had a replacement in a box that he included. It didn’t fit. That’s when I learned how to weld.

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Current. 1997 Honda XR400R. Bought with no compression. New piston, valves, rings and cylinder from EBay and its back on the road.

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Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

Thats a fun list of bikes and some good stories. Those XR400s were the cool thing when they were first available.

Ive had a few small bikes like yours, they can be a lot of fun. I also used to buy bikes that needed work though they were hard to find in the northern boonies pre internet instead of LA. I haven't had a bike in a long time but here's some I remember:
- A couple of minibikes with Briggs or Tecumseh engines. Fun but terrible brakes and no or bad suspension. Don't sound cool.
- A few kawasaki 100 two strokes. Fast, fun, light, easy on gas.
- A few z50/ct70/xr70s, both Hondas and knock offs. The Hondas were usually used up by 5 different farm kids and then thrown in a barn for 30 years.
- Some random 49cc mopeds like sprees.
- A number of 80s and 90s two stroke Japanese dirt bikes/dual sports.

Later I got into full size bikes and then got tired of the scene / got bored with riding boring roads for only half the year / got into other hobbies / didn't have a garage / simplified my life. I miss bikes a little sometimes but I probably won't ever own one again. I had all those bikes on a shoestring budget. Once in a while I look on Craigslist and am amazed at how relatively cheap bikes are now compared to how much money I have but all the same barriers I was tired of before are still there. Also I am averse to spending money now due in part to this forum. Its a little sad, my 20 year old self would be very disappointed.

Motorcycles can be super fun or super frustrating depending on how reliable they are. They also can be stressful as everyday transport due to the dangers of cars. These days for practical reasons I'd recommend an electric bicycle for many of the same purposes instead. :(

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C40
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Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by C40 »

Wow, you had some iconic bikes!

I live in Vietnam now and in many ways it is a small motorcycle utopia. The roads and cities were designed for mostly bicycle and motorcyle use. Small bikes are the norm here and a large bike is a waste as there are few roads where you should drive over 45mph.

The CUB completely dominated here, though originals are now just collector's bikes. The next iteration from Honda was the Dream and there are still millions of these in use. Old guys love them. People take great care of them and it is normal to turn over the odometers by driving over 100,000km. The next generation from Honda is the Wave. That, and the Yamaha Sirius are the common bikes here. They are economically miraculous. Price to buy a NEW bike is $1,000 USD. Somehow the economies of scale are such that you can buy a good motorbike for the same price as a good bicycle. (!?!?)

Here, Honda's are highly regarded - especially ones made in Japan or Thailand. My landlord has a side-hustle of buying old Cubs and Dreams from throughout Vietnam and reselling them in our city. A 15 year old Dream, well-used, costs as much as a new bike of basically the same design. But only if it has original Thai parts. Anything from China and the value plummets. Now, IMO, the value of these bikes are now more of a collector's item than functional. They do still work well, and people buy them for long-term functional use, but functionally they are overpriced. There are a ton of Chinese clones made now - mostly of CUBs and Dreams. Lots of people ride them if they can't afford a good bike. They cost $500 new. Problem is, they are utter shit. Almost criminal build quality. You can tell by looking, and also from the sound of the engines.

There is a demand for old, original CUBs for people to put in their living rooms as art. Doesn't matter if they run. Doesn't even matter if they are pretty old and ugly. I guess there was recently a sale of a NOS, never used original Honda Cub, for, I forget how much but it was an incredible price (~$100k?). My landlord does sell some high-value Cubs. For $3,000 to $5,000.

I have been riding a 2008 Yamaha Jupiter for the last year. I bought it from a guy who had a bike rental side hustle and was unloading bikes when the pandemic sent his renters home. It could barely start and ran rough, but I thought it would turn out ok. It did. Just needed to be ridden regularly, and have the carb cleaned and adjusted, and valves adjusted, and oil-soaked air filter replaced (which was done by my by a mechanic, on a sidewalk, while I watched, for $10, new filter included). KM/L is ~50-65 (~135mpg). Ergonomics were a bit of a problem, with the bike designed more for shorter Asian bodies. I got a custom seat made for me, which raised the seat by 2-3". It cost $16! Now the ergos are perfect. I was worried that the bars would be too low (nearly all of these Asian motorbikes and scooters have integrated handlebars that ~cannot be changed... Except - in Philippines and Indonesia, they got cooler versions where the front is more like a dual sport, and the bars could be changed). But - the bar height on my bike is still ok with the higher seat. So, any of these popular models are great for me.

Oh yeah, the purchase cost of my bike? $235 !! My higher seat may also function as a theft deterrent, because it is too high for many Vietnamese.

The power on my bike is a bit low. I think perhaps the compression is low. It is plenty for riding around the city, and plenty for country roads. It's a bit underpowered for really steep (15%) roads though. I'd love to rebuild the engine, but I don't want to get into all that entails (tools, workspace, etc.). I haven't even been able to find a service manual in English yet. I did find that the same bike was sold in Malaysia with a different name, so I may be able to get the right person on the phone from Yamaha Malaysia and get it. (they don't have any email contact possibility!?)

I have been wanting to start some moto-touring trips in Vietnam. Because of the ergo problems I had before on my bike, I was thinking about buying a Honda Grom (MSX 125 here). They have handlebars that can be changed, and have the highest km/l rating of any new bike over 100cc. But they cost double the normal bikes I've been discussing so far. So, I think I will either ride my bike into the ground (and just be slow up the really steep hills), or, buy a newer bike of a similar model that has more power. One huge advantage of these underbone bikes is that you can carry things so easily. The step-through area is great. They have hooks, so you can hang a bag on them in a second. The step-through area also has room for carrying large objects - or creates the possibility to carry a large item on top of your legs (which you can't do if a gas tank is in the way). I have carried some pretty large things on my bike. Large desktop computers. A bunch of wood. A bicycle. A huge computer monitor box. Many bags of dirt, plants, etc.

----

In the U.S., I did ride a Yamaha TW200 for a while. Those bikes are great, but in the U.S. it can become tough to ride a slow bike. With all the highways and freeways. I got along ok in Arizona, but when I moved to a big city with a big river, and only freeways crossing the river, I got a faster bike. I also got a bigger bike because the short distance between the seat and footpegs on the TW was a problem for me when riding off-road.

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Ego
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Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by Ego »

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Our first motorcycle was an overloaded Royal Enfield Bullet 500 in India. Foolish. A short clip of us circling around Jaipur looking for a hotel.

https://imgur.com/7mh9KUJ

We now have an inexpensive Genuine Buddy 125 scooter. Fuel efficient and great for parking.

ducknald_don
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Location: Oxford, UK

Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by ducknald_don »

@ssclass Your early bike progression looks very similar to mine.

1. Honda C50
2. Honda CB100N
3. Honda XL 185
4. Honda FT500

They were all great apart from the FT500 that had a common problem with the starter. Single cylinder bikes are so much fun to ride, even small ones.

After that I got married and had kids so put the bikes aside. I ride an e-bike now.

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Sclass
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Location: Orange County, CA

Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by Sclass »

Ego wrote:
Tue May 11, 2021 10:26 pm
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Our first motorcycle was an overloaded Royal Enfield Bullet 500 in India. Foolish.
We now have an inexpensive Genuine Buddy 125 scooter. Fuel efficient and great for parking.
Why foolish? I looked into buying one a long time ago. I had this desire to be different at the time. Somehow British mechanicals manufactured in India scared me away. But I’ve never asked anyone with first hand information about them. I’m assuming it made you miserable? Unreliable vehicles away from home can be stressful.

I rode around in the sidecar of a Ural in the Urals of all places. Luckily my “driver” was a master mechanic and could keep it going no matter what. I’m still not sure if it was a reliable bike or that the owner made it reliable.
ducknald_don wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 6:59 am
@ssclass Your early bike progression looks very similar to mine.
1. Honda C50
2. Honda CB100N
3. Honda XL 185
4. Honda FT500
Indeed. Honda singles. The C50 is probably the iconic equivalent of the Model T. They weren’t the fastest but they were really easy to work on and very durable.

I looked at the FT500 Ascot many times. They were cheap and the venerable XR500 engine was bulletproof. Popular among my classmates in the 1990s. The Yamaha SR500 out handled it but the Ascot was inexpensive to acquire.

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Ego
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Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by Ego »

Sclass wrote:
Wed May 12, 2021 11:25 am
Why foolish?
The Royal Enfield was very inexpensive and a fine machine. Not spectacular. Not terrible. Similar to a motorcycle version of a Volkswagen.

India on the other hand.... I've driven or cycled/motorcycled in 58 countries. Nothing is like India.

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C40
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Re: Small inexpensive motorcycles

Post by C40 »

My bike, 2008 Yamaha Jupiter. 110cc. 73,000km. 140mpg. Bought for $200. Works pretty darn well.

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