25 Old Motorcycles That Are Dirt Cheap Today

These motorcycles may not be the most desirable models on the used market, but that's exactly why they're still affordable.

Most gearheads love searching the web for old cars and bikes, dreaming about becoming the proud owner of some obscure ride most people have never heard of, or at least not seen on the roads in years. However, also thanks to the internet, it's becoming increasingly hard to find a cheap, classic motorcycle these days, as prices have skyrocketed . But surely there must be some older bikes out there that won't cost an arm and a leg? Here's the thing, once a bike becomes a sought-after classic, prices will go up, sometimes almost overnight. One solution to this could be to buy a future classic instead, a bike that is mostly overlooked right now. Fix it up if it's in rough shape, and a few years down the line, when most of these bikes have ceased to exist, one could potentially be sitting on a goldmine.

Updated March 2022: If you're into old motorcycles and want a cheap project — or just something to ride around on for fun — you'll be happy to know that we've updated this article with more information regarding the various models.

However, not everyone is into motorcycles as an investment. Some people just want to enjoy themselves by riding a cheap, old bike and maybe take it to the occasional rally. Well, how about this; Instead of splashing out a fortune on a Brough Superior, check out some of the smaller displacement, vintage bikes - Instant old-school cred, and it'll be easier on the wallet, both to buy and maintain. To some, the following bikes might just be old dust collectors, but not to us! We have a plan — we're going to find the best bargains on the bike market today .

25 Honda CBR600F

For a measly 1,000 bucks, you can get your hands on a first generation Honda CBR600F, powered by an 85hp liquid-cooled inline four engine that can get you all the way to 140-145 mph. It might not have the aggressive looks and performance of modern sportbikes, with a riding position that is more comfy than sporty, but the first generation CBR600 had decent performance at the time.

Honda actually used a wind tunnel to test the aerodynamics, and the brake- and suspension components are better than the standard of those days. As an added bonus, the engine is practically bulletproof. No one will ever tell you it's a beautiful bike, but it's definitely one to consider if you want a cheap and reliable future classic that can be ridden every day!

Related: 10 Classic Japanese Motorcycles We'd Love To Throw A Leg Over

24 Harley-Davidson Sportster Ironhead

The Sportster was launched in 1957 as an answer to the sportier British bikes of the time. Still in production, it has enjoyed one of the longest continuous production runs in motorcycle history. In 1986, the Ironhead engine was replaced by the Evolution engine, which was an improvement in every way imaginable.

Since the Sportster has sold in such massive numbers, spare parts will not be much of an issue. And if you want to turn it into something a bit more special, few, if any, bikes have as many aftermarket parts and specialized custom shops as the Sportster does. If you want to enter the Harley-Davidson world on a budget, the Ironhead Sportster is definitely the bike for you since you can pick one up for a mere fistful of dollars. Even later Evo-engined Sportsters are ridiculously cheap.

Related: 9 Classic American Motorcycles We'd Love To Throw A Leg Over

23 Suzuki GS1000

The GS was a very capable bike back in the day, great for both touring and more, ahem, 'spirited' riding. Speaking of going fast, the GS was very popular in Superbike races. Being a typical Japanese DOCH 4-cylinder 4-stroke engine, very little maintenance is required other than regular servicing.

There's also a decent amount of tuning parts available if the standard 997cc 89 horsepower engine isn't enough - A word of advice though; before making the GS anymore powerful, make sure the brakes are upgraded as they didn't actually work if it was wet outside. These days, it's possible to pick one up cheaper than a CB750 from the same era.

22 Ducati Monster 600

The Monster 600 arrived in 1994, and it became Ducati's biggest success at the time. Looking at the bike it's easy to understand why they picked the name 'Monster,' it really looks like a muscular beast. However, in reality, the 600 is more like a tame housecat. The 583cc L-twin motor delivers around 50 horsepower in standard form, and the hydraulic clutch is featherlight.

The Monster seems to be built purely for twisty roads with its lightning-fast steering, decent suspension, and Brembo brakes. For those who are lusting after that unique Desmo soundtrack, you won't find a cheaper Ducati than the Monster 600.

21 Royal Enfield 350 Bullet

The Royal Enfield Bullet was originally made in Britain back in 1948, but production was eventually moved to India during the 50s and 60s. The bike remained pretty much the same up to 1995, making it the longest unchanged production run of any motorcycle.

If you're looking for a vintage bike with British racing heritage, but you also want a newer bike with plenty of parts available, the Bullet 350 is the motorcycle for you. The Bullet has a large fan base, so if you do decide to get one there will always be someone who can help you out in case you experience any problems... and there's a pretty good chance you will.

Related: This Is Why The 2021 Classic 350 Is A Game Changer For Royal Enfield

20 Yamaha Virago

Back in the early 80s, Yamaha launched the Virago, a cheap entry into cruiser bike ownership for those who didn't want to remortgage their house. The formula proved so successful that Harley-Davidson actually pushed for a tariff on imported bikes over 700cc. Early Viragos has a design flaw in the starter system, so it's advised to go for a later 80s model where this has been sorted out.

Since it's available in a range of different engines, from 250 to 1100ccs, there's a Virago suitable for just about everyone. The smaller bikes are, of course, lighter and easier to maneuver, and the bigger ones offer a bit more space and power. Personally, We'd go for the Virago 535 every time.

19 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

Back in 1975, when the GL was launched, nobody imagined how big the Gold Wing would become, both literally and figuratively. These days the Gold Wing is ridiculed for being an RV on two wheels, but the original GL1000 has most of its weight positioned low, making it surprisingly nimble for its size. Their GL was really more evolutionary rather than innovative, using already existing technology, Honda just executed it better than the competition.

More than 97,000 GL1000s were sold in the U.S. between 1975-79, and today you can pick one up for a song. If you're tall, or just like going for long rides, give the Gold Wing a try... You definitely won't find a smoother bike for the price.

18 Gilera 175

Gilera won the 500cc World Championship six times between 1950-57. Of course, winning races offers great publicity, but to actually make money they had to sell road bikes. Most of the bikes Gilera sold were based on the 125cc overhead-valve single cylinder engine, which later developed into a 150cc and 175cc engine.

For those who are looking to buy a vintage bike with a racing pedigree, the Gilera 175 could be a perfect choice. As an added bonus they aren't very expensive, especially if you're willing to import one yourself. At the moment there are some available online for a couple of grand, which really makes it a bargain.

17 Benelli 250 2C

Looking for a classic 2-stroke bike? The Benelli 250 2C with its 231cc parallel twin cylinder engine could be the bike for you. One downside is that it doesn't have a self-mixing setup, so gas and oil has to be pre-mixed, which can be a hassle. Other than that, it's a well-designed bike with great handling abilities, even if the finish and appearance don't compare to Japanese bikes of the same era.

The Benelli is available in two configurations; Drum brakes front and rear, or a disc brake on the front. Strangely, the disc brake version is not as effective as the drum brake in the rain.

16 Honda Magna

Honda set out to make a different cruiser than those already on the market, in 1982 they launched the 750cc V4 Magna, and actually created a whole new type of motorcycle - the power cruiser. In 1984 Honda had to reduce the engine size to 700cc due to the tariff rates for foreign-built motorcycles, so the Magna became the VF700C in the USA. If 700-750ccs isn't enough, there's also the more powerful 1100cc, but they can be less reliable.

The Magna lets you ride in comfort and style, and you never have to worry about not having enough power, what more could a biker possibly ask for? Oh, you want a reasonable price as well?! We've got good news for you, used Magnas can be picked up cheap.

15 Aprilia Tuareg 600 Wind

The Aprilia Tuareg 600 Wind was one of the most powerful bikes in its class, powered by a 562cc, air-cooled, single cylinder, four-stroke engine pushing out 46 wild horses. It featured a 40mm upside-down fork, adjustable monoshock at the rear, and disc brakes on both ends.

The Touareg definitely isn't a bike for everyone though, those who don't have long legs will have to slide over to the side in order to reach the ground. Not ideal for a bike that's built to spend some time offroad. However, if you do have long legs, the Tuareg makes for an excellent winter-bike, capable of trudging through the snow as if it was built in Alaska.

14 Ducati 600-750-900SS

The Super Sport name goes all the way back to 1972 when Ducati won the Imola 200.

While the 80s and 90s SS isn't exactly a powerful sports bike by today's standards, it does handle well and feels rewarding if you're a smooth rider.

Basically, the Ducati SS is for the rider who wants a Ducati that looks like a 90s race bike but is still cheap(ish) and requires less maintenance than a full-on Ducati sports bike. Featuring the classic tubular trellis frame and a 90° L-twin engine hidden behind a race-inspired fairing, the SS both looks and sounds amazing. Prices range from disturbingly cheap to way too expensive. For those who like working on bikes and don't mind another project there are plenty of bargains out there.

13 BMW K100

The BMW K100 is a four-cylinder 987 cc motorcycle that was manufactured between 1983 and 1992. The K100 was well-made, built to last, and is definitely up there with Japanese bikes when it comes to reliability. Here's a tip; if you decide to look for one, don't let high mileage scare you. In fact, K100s that have been ridden a lot are usually a better buy. If not regularly used, they tend to develop various issues, which can be expensive.

The K100 is starting to gain popularity in the café racer scene, so prices have already seen an increase, and you can probably expect them to skyrocket over the next years.

12 Yamaha FZR1000

Towards the end of the 80s, there was a high-performance bike war between the Japanese big four. Yamaha's engineers decided to take their 1000cc warhorse to the next level and introduced the FZR in 1987, a bike so awesome it would later be crowned "Bike Of The Decade." Capable of doing 0-60 in less than 3 seconds and maxing out at 170 mph, the FZR was insanely fast by 1980s standards.

The FZR was improved several times during the years it was in production, more power and better handling was pretty much the result after each update. Production ended in 1995, and in 1996 it was replaced by the YZF 1000 Thunder Ace.

11 Husqvarna CR 450

Husqvarna has been competing in international off-road events ever since the 1930s, and they have been hugely successful at it. However, when they introduced the CR 450 in 1972 they failed miserably. The new bike was 20 lbs heavier than the bike from 1971, which made it handle like a dog in comparison to its predecessor. The handling certainly wasn't getting any help from the suspension, which was average at best. If that wasn't bad enough, the exhaust would burn the rider's leg.

Why should you buy a CR 450? Because it's the least desired vintage Husqvarna bike out there, which makes it cheap. Buy one, then use modern quality parts to turn it into the bike it truly deserves to be.

Related: 10 Classic Motorcycles You'll Definitely Regret Buying

The R45 was introduced in the late 70s, featuring low weight, and modern styling. The bike was a success and close to 30,000 were sold before production ended in 1985. The R45 is not a powerful bike by any standards, the 473cc opposed twin only makes around 35 horsepower, but it still manages to get to a top speed of 95 mph. The small engine combined with the low weight also means it gets very reasonable fuel consumption.

These days the R45 is becoming very popular with custom bike builders turning them into Scramblers and Café Racers, which, of course, means that prices have started increasing. The R45 was never sold in the States, but they were available in Canada. The similar R65 is also an option.

9 Yamaha TX 750

In 1972 Yamaha announced the TX 750, a 750cc parallel twin powered motorcycle. The bike made it to the showrooms in 1973 and a year later production ended. Yamaha had solved the problems with vibrations that parallel twin engines have, but ironically this new system also caused the crankshaft to blow up.

The TX750s are actually good motorcycles and handle really well. The TX can be just as reliable as any other bike, but you have to perform frequent oil changes and avoid high rpm to prevent it from blowing up. Parts aren't easy to come by, but it does have some enthusiastic fans that can help you out if you experience any problems.

8 Kawasaki Concours/GTR1000

The Concours was introduced in 1986, a sporty touring bike with factory fitted fairing and hard luggage. The engine was pretty much bulletproof, based on the Ninja powerplant but will smaller carbs and less aggressive cams. Except for a few minor modifications, the Concours' design remained practically unchanged from the time it was launched until 1994.

The Concours is a tough and versatile bike, so it would be easy to think it comes with a price tag to match its abilities. Luckily for us, it's actually pretty cheap, especially considering how much bike you actually get for your money. A few thousand dollars should be enough to get you a nice example that can be ridden and enjoyed for years to come.

Related: These Are Some Of The Best Classic Japanese Superbikes Money Can Buy

7 Moto Guzzi V 35

The Moto Guzzi V35 isn't a well-known bike, which is exactly what makes it interesting.

Back in 1977 when it was launched, Italy had just introduced new licensing and tax laws for bikes, making it the perfect time to release the V35 on Italy's busy roads. The V35 had a 346cc transverse V-twin engine that produced 35 hp, making it competitive with engines of similar sizes from that period.

The Guzzi V35 was never sold in North America so you'll have to import it. Still totally worth it if you ask us, especially since they can be bought in Europe for around $2,000.

6 Kawasaki Ninja 250

The classic Ninja 250 is not to be laughed at, it has embarrassed many a sportbike rider on tight racetrack corners over the years. The 3rd gen Ninja 250 was introduced in 1988, and remained pretty much the same until 2008, meaning there are literally tons of parts available, both new and used, if something should break.

Featuring a rev-happy parallel twin that made 37 hp, amazing handling, and excellent fuel consumption makes it a desirable bike for both new and experienced riders, whether it's for commuting or a blast through the mountains. An older bike in running condition can be picked up for a few hundred bucks, making it an absolute bargain.


How to Find a Project Motorcycle

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You’re set on rebuilding a vintage motorcycle but you don’t know where or how to buy one. Here’s a quick list to get you started and some more details below.

Ultimately, it all depends on what you’re looking for in a project and what you want to build.

How to Choose the Right Project Motorcycle

There are a few things to consider when deciding on your project motorcycle, they include:

Where to find old motorcycles:

Depending on the motorcycle project you have in mind, the bike you’re looking at could be failing in every example above, but it might still be the perfect choice at the right price.

If you do your research up front, you’ll be able to better asses the value of the old motorcycle you’re looking at – running or not.

You’ll also be able to get a sense of what it’s going to cost you to restore the bike where you want it to be.

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Where to find a project motorcycle for sale.

If you’re patient, your options are endless – you can drive out to the countryside and knock on every door of every old farmhouse you come across, there’s bound to be some classic motorcycles stored away in some of them.

If you’re like most, your options are little more narrow.

Used Motorcycles on Craigslist & Local Classifieds

The most common and often easiest place to find old motorcycles for sale is on Craigslist or your local classified websites.

Depending on your location, you’ll find a wide range of local sellers with all types of conditions of motorcycles and a huge range of prices.

There’s likely a mix of pros and amateurs and everything in between selling bikes, which goes back to the range of conditions and prices. Sometimes a new baby or a kid who’s in over their head means a great deal for you.

Be patient and wait for the right bike in the right price range to come along – it’s really only a matter of time.

Depending on where you live, seasonality can play a big role in what’s available too. In colder climates, late winter can be a good time to buy as overconfident builders abandon their projects.

Use the MotorcycleZombies.com Used Motorcycle Search Engine to help out with your search.

Local Motorcycle Salvage Yards

Sometimes listed on your local classifieds are motorcycle salvage yards. These typically look like bike warehouses or fields with bike piled upon bikes and parts everywhere.

Finding a complete, titled motorcycle can be difficult, but if you’re looking for a major project or a secondary parts bike, salvage yards are a great place to go.

Prices are usually fair and there’s always the possibility that you’ll find something good – as long as you’re able to drag it out of there.

Project Motorcycles on eBay

There are plenty of project bikes and old motorcycles listed on eBay everyday. If you’re lucky, there might even be some local ones for you to check out.

Shipping the bike adds another level of complication to your project, and if it’s your first time rebuilding a motorcycle , let alone shipping a vehicle, it’s recommended you find something within driving distance.

eBay is great for an initial search. The problem is, most of your local sellers won’t be on there – and the sellers that are on eBay are often pricing their motorcycles for more than what you’d see locally.

So eBay is a good place to get some ideas of what kind of old motorcycles are available and what price ranges might look like, I find it better to stick to eBay for parts rather than complete bikes.

If you’re buying a used motorcycle that’s out-of-state, be sure to look into the steps and costs of shipping a motorcycle.

Motorcycle Parts Availability & Cost

For the first time builder, the availability of used, new old stock, and aftermarket parts for your motorcycle are key to a successful rebuild project – even more so if you hope to restore the bike to its completely stock form.

Once you’ve found a few motorcycles you’re interested in, it’s time to do some price comparisons and a quick parts availability check before you see it in person.

To get an idea of how easy and costly replacement parts for your bike will be you can check out eBay, Bikebandit.com, and specialty sites like Z1enterprises.com – Search by the year and model of the old motorcycles you have in mind to get an idea of prices and availability.

It’s a good idea to check multiple sources before you make your final decision.

If there’s a wide selection of parts – used, new, aftermarket- at reasonable prices, you may have a little more wiggle room on the price and condition of the motorcycle you buy.

However, if you’re finding that it’s difficult to locate parts for a specific motorcycle year/model, that’s an indicator that you’ll want to look for a bike that’s in better condition with most of its parts and components present, intact, and hopefully operable.

Assessing the Motorcycle’s Condition

Once you check out the motorcycle in person, you’ll need to asses the true condition of the bike.

Typically classified ads overstate the positives and understate or fail to mention the problems their motorcycle has.

If you have a tight budget or want to avoid getting into a project that might be too challenging for a first time home-building, do a thorough check with your eyes, hands, and ears to be sure no major problems are lurking in the motorcycle.

Look for damage, missing parts, and any indicators that the bike has been dropped.

Feel for crankcase damage, loose parts, chain tension, suspension and steering play. Listen for abnormal engine noise.

If the motorcycle is advertised as running or firing up, ask the seller to wait until you arrive to start the bike.

You’ll want to assess how the bike starts when cold.

Ultimately, the condition of the motorcycle you should be willing to buy should depend on your project goals.

If you’re looking for a short term project that’s relatively easy, you’re definitely going to want to start with a bike that is in fairly good shape – intact and running probably.

If you’re in it for the long haul and expect to put in a good amount of time and money into your motorcycle rebuild, you can cut some of the upfront cost with a motorcycle that’s in poor shape or even in pieces.

Project Motorcycle FAQ

Check out some answers to the most common questions we get about starting a motorcycled project and buying a used bike.

Should you buy a motorcycle without a title?

A no-title bike is a common situation you’re going to encounter when looking for a motorcycle.

While having the title and ownership paperwork will make things easier for you, if you find the exact bike you’re looking for, don’t let a no-title situation be the only thing that steers you away.

Learn more about buying and registering a motorcycle without a title .

And, find out about registering a motorcycle in your state.

Should you buy a motorcycle that doesn’t start?

A no-start situation is common for most bikes that fall into the “project motorcycle” criteria.

So, should you buy a motorcycle that doesn’t currently start?

In many cases, you’re going to be finding bikes that have been sitting for a while and haven’t started in a long time.

While this may seem a little intimidating to the first time motorcycle mechanic, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

Assuming there is nothing catastrophically wrong with the bike, getting it started again shouldn’t be too difficult.

A bike that doesn’t start will come with some more work involved, but can also help you save some money on the project.

Should you buy a dropped motorcycle?

A dropped motorcycle is not necessarily a deal breaker. In most cases, the damage from the drop is going to be mostly cosmetic or minor.

If you’re rebuilding the bike anyway, a simple dropped motorcycle shouldn’t be an issue. It may even help you get a better price.

However, if by dropped, the seller means the motorcycle has been involved in a major crash or was hit while parked, you may need to do a bit more of an inspection to make sure it’s worth it.

If you notice major damage or bending of the frame, forks, swingarm, or engine cases, you may want to reconsider the purchase or try to talk the price down and use it as a parts bike.

What are some good project motorcycles?

Not sure what kind of bike to get? It really depends on your personal preference and budget, but some popular project bikes for rebuilds and restorations include:

As a general rule of thumb, the more common the bike, the cheaper it will be and the more range you’ll have to do whatever you want with it.

A rarer or highly desirable bike is going to cost you more and is probably best restored back to stock.

Motorcycles from the 1970s and 1980s are often great choices for project bikes as they are often common, cheap, and have a large availability of parts.

Learn more about the best motorcycles to restore .

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cheap motorcycle projects

59 Of The Best Beginner Motorcycles To Restore

cheap motorcycle projects

There are thousands of makes and models of motorcycles, and searching through lists of ads for that perfect project is daunting and frustrating.  Many people have little mechanical experience when starting out on their first restoration/rebuild, so this article will help you sift through which motorcycles would be a good choice.  I have restored over a dozen motorcycles and below you can find a list of what I find to be the easiest ones to restore.

So what are the best beginner motorcycles to restore?  The easiest motorcycles to restore are generally Japanese brand motorcycles made between the late 60’s to late 80’s.  They are easy to find, easy to work on, and cost very little compared to other motorcycles.   Here are some suggestions:

I really try to convince people to go with a 1960’s to 1980’s Japanese bike for their first build; aside from them being incredibly easy to find, easy to work on, and cost very little to get a decent one, the end results bring absolutely stunning motorcycles that my past clients have gone crazy for. I will explain this in more detail.

Easy to Find

If you go to any online classifieds page and put in a search filter for all motorcycles under $1,500 then the majority of those search results are going to be motorcycles on the list above.   Your first restoration/rebuild project should be something you can find easily. If it’s easy to find that also means that parts are going to be easier to find.

I would recommend buying your first few restoration projects from someone local , that way if there’s something major wrong with it or if you just have general questions the seller is probably more inclined to be helpful, speaking from experience.  

If you find a motorcycle that isn’t far from where you live, your significant other is also more inclined to let you get it because the effort of getting it is a lot less.  You can take your partner/spouse over to look at the motorcycle with you, this will help them to see how excited you are about it and will help convince them.

Easy to Work On

Older Japanese motorcycles were built very simply.  There weren’t a lot of electronics, the only things controlled electronically were the lights ,the timing, and the battery charging system.  One main harness runs all the way from the front to the back of the motorcycle, with small branches to the lights.

At first electrical work seemed daunting to me, but I’ve done enough of it now that I can build a completely custom wiring harness out of new wire just by looking at the old one.

Electrical diagrams can be found very easily online for free.  The older generation of Japanese motorbikes have a huge online following and any question you could ever have has already been answered on forums and websites.  

This makes them incredibly easy first-time projects. A lot of the European motorcycles from that generation have sub-par electrical diagrams compared to Japanese motorbikes.

Carburetors from that generation were very simple to take apart and rebuild, and can be done in a few hours.  Carburetors are a double edged sword on these old motorcycles. When they are clean (which doesn’t take too much effort) they run incredibly well.

But with even the smallest speck of dirt in one of the carbs can really put a damper on their ability to function. Even with newer gasoline that has higher concentrations of ethanol they can be a bit finicky.  But by feeding them non-ethanol gas and keeping them clean you’ll have years of fun from that little carb. Click here to see my list of recommended tools that are essential when working on a motorcycle.

Cost Is Very Little Compared to Other Motorcycles

With all the motorcycles I have restored over the years, I never paid over $900 for one, even my 1969 Triumph.  Sellers list their motorcycles for a higher value than they know they’re worth in hopes that someone will just pay the full asking price.  The cost does depend a great deal on where you live though.

When we lived in Utah and Idaho we could find motorcycles for incredibly cheap.  Now that we’ve moved to Mississippi I’ve noticed that prices are a little higher on average, but if you wait a while and keep looking around you can still find awesome deals .

You don’t want your first few motorcycle restorations to be large monetary investments.  The truth is, a lot of people start their first build and get overwhelmed and end up selling it for a fraction of what they paid, just trying to recoup some of their loss.  

Be smart about it and spend $1,000 on your first one instead of $4,000 on a rare European motorcycle . If you get in over your head and have to sell it, it’s much better to lose as little money as possible.

Finding parts for Japanese motorcycles is a lot easier and cheaper nowadays because of the café racer revival.  There are tons of online stores that have popped up with as many parts as you could ever want for your rebuild. See my list of things you need to know when restoring Japanese motorcycles.

For those of you that have either done a few restorations or have a higher budget then I would definitely recommend looking into older European motorcycles like BMW, Triumph, Norton, Royal Enfield, etc.  

These motorcycles cost a lot more initially because of high demand and lower supply, but they also retain their value, or increase in value, a lot faster than Japanese motorcycles. You don’t see them around as much as Japanese motorcycles, so they really catch people’s eye when you ride past.  That’s one of the reasons riding my Triumph is so much fun.

I have created an entire video series about rebuilding and restoring a motorcycle completely from start to finish. This series includes hard-to-tackle components such as body work, carb rebuilds, and electrical as well as helpful tips and tricks you won’t find anywhere else online. Click here for more information if you’re interested in restoring or building your dream motorcycle!

Highest Recommended Motorcycles From This List

I have rebuilt or worked on quite a few of the motorcycles on this list, and they all have special qualities and things about them that I liked individually, but some of them stand out from the others for one reason or another.  Here are my 5 favorites from the list above.

1. 1980 Yamaha XS850

cheap motorcycle projects

This was the first motorcycle that I ever owned.  I was working at an appliance store in northern Utah and got injured while moving a fridge.  I was out of work for several months and was going crazy having to sit at home all day and not do anything.  I had always wanted to learn how to work on motorcycles and build a café racer so I decided to jump in and give it a go.

I found an ad for a 1980 Yamaha XS850 Triple from a couple in Central Utah.  They had just inherited another motorcycle from a family member and no longer needed the older Yamaha.  I went and rode it around the neighborhood and decided it was a great candidate for a fresh rebuild. I offered them $800 and they accepted.  

I loaded up the motorcycle, took it home, and immediately got to work! It took me about two months to finally get it to a place where I wanted it.  Now that I’ve done so many rebuilds I look back and realize that it didn’t really look that great, but for my first project I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.

There were a few things that I loved about the XS850.  For starters, I loved the low end acceleration. Taking off from a stop light in first gear was incredible.  I could never get the front tire off the ground, but it felt pretty close.

The XS850 has three cylinders, so there are three exhaust pipes coming out of the front of the engine that look awesome!  Most motorcycles of that generation are two or four cylinders, so having three sets it apart aesthetically from the others. The top speed of this bike was also higher than any of the others in my top 5 , which isn’t surprising since it had the highest engine displacement by 100 cc’s.

There were also a few things I didn’t particularly like about this motorcycle.  The electrical system on this motorcycle I had was so brittle and wrapped in electrical tape that it took forever to find any of the wires I would look for.  All the searching around for a wire would break other wires and then I had an even bigger problem than I started with.

I built two of these motorcycles and both of them had brittle wiring problems.  Yamaha must have used a certain type of plastic that becomes more brittle than any other wires. I also didn’t like how close together the carburetor openings were together which made it extremely difficult to install pod air filters.

2. 1974 Honda CB500T

cheap motorcycle projects

The Honda CB500T (T stands for Twin, as in two cylinders) is one of the prettiest motorcycles I’ve ever rebuilt. I got constant looks when riding around town, and had people stop me to take pictures quite often.  It’s a really good feeling when you park and walk into a store and when you come out there’s someone standing by your ride taking a picture.

Something else I really enjoyed about the CB500T was the engine design.  It looked incredible when the engine covers were all shined up. The two exhaust pipes coming out of the engine were wrapped in white exhaust wrap and ended in shorty chrome tips.  This particular motorcycle sold within 48 hours of me posting it for sale, and I had 3 other offers before the seller was able to pick up the motorcycle.

This is one motorbike that will continue to become more popular as time goes on because of its classic style , but it isn’t without fault.  I wasn’t impressed with the power or speed when riding.

It was great for cruising around town at low speeds and looked awesome doing it, but when I needed to speed up in a hurry to get around someone it was as if there just wasn’t anything left for the engine to give.  

3. 1971 Honda CB500 Four

cheap motorcycle projects

Both aesthetically and riding wise I liked the CB500 four cylinder even more than the two cylinder version.  I liked the gas tank better, the engine design, the four exhaust pipes, and I liked that it only had a kickstarter.  It was also faster than the 2 cylinder version, probably because it could breath better with twice as many cylinders.  

One thing I didn’t like about the design of the motorcycle was a separate oil tank on the right side.  It’s a nuisance having hot oil by your right thigh, and if you’re trying to get the open-frame look it creates a problem.

This is absolutely one of the best looking motorcycles I’ve ever worked on, which is why I love it so much.  I think it’s classy and is a testament to the Japanese engineers of the late 60’s and early 70’s and how they pretty much put American motorcycle companies out of business because they could make better and cheaper motorcycles.

4. 1980 Honda CX500

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This motorcycle rebuild actually came from parts of 3 different CX500’s.  I bought 2 that were wrecked and 1 high quality frame to build everything on.  

The 2 motorcycles that were wrecked came in boxes of parts, so sorting through everything took a lot of time, but this whole rebuild cost me $1,200 total, and I ended up selling it for $5,500.  I also got this motorcycle into several online motorcycle publications which I was certainly proud of.

This continues to be my wife’s favorite motorcycle I’ve ever built, and I hope to build her another one someday that she can ride around.

Some things that I loved about this motorcycle were the tank, the swooped frame, and the engine design.  This was probably the best looking paint job I’ve ever done. It was a two-tone red and darker red paint job and for some reason, the clear coat was just such high gloss that it shined like crazy.   

The frame is certainly different on this motorcycle. It has a huge swoop that points towards the rear of the motorcycle that is very distinct. The engine was copied from a Moto Guzzi of the same generation (which Honda later was sued for and lost) which was such an awesome look.

But one of the flaws of this engine was how they tried to make it liquid cooled, but so many of the coolant passages were so small that the engine had problems cracking from overheating and warping the cylinder heads.

5. 1980 Honda CB750

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This is hands down my favorite motorcycle I’ve ever owned!  They are fast, fun, and beautiful. Honda began building the CB750 in 1969 and right from the start they were making engineering breakthroughs.  The first ever CB750 engines were sand-casted aluminum which had never been done before.

If you can find one of these you’ve hit the jackpot! It is Honda’s longest running model, with manufacturing running from 1969 to 2003.   They were the first to successfully utilize the potential of overhead camshafts in motorcycles, and quickly started winning race after race on the international circuits. The CB750 was the fastest motorcycle of the early 70’s and is still a blast to ride almost 50 years later.

I have restored and worked on a lot of CB750’s, and they will always be on my list of best motorcycles to own and restore.  

The first CB750 I owned was purchased in Utah for $900 from an older man who decided he was too old to ride anymore.  It was weighed down with huge saddle bags, windshield, double seat, radio, and towing kit.

I have no idea how much it weighed, but I did weigh all the parts that I took off, and it was over 400 pounds of stuff!  I didn’t do a full rebuild on the first CB750 I had, I just repainted the tank, the fenders, cleaned up the wiring harness, and polished the engine and sold it for $3,000.

Related Questions

How much do you spend on average for a motorcycle rebuild?  If you plan to do the upgrades and rebuild yourself, expect to spend $700 – $1,000 in addition to the purchase of your motorcycle. I generally buy used motorcycles for about $500 – $900 because of where I live, but the price of your motorcycle will depend on the area you live in. Click here for our article about the cost to rebuild a motorcycle.

Is it possible to flip a motorcycle for profit? It is completely possible to flip a motorcycle for profit. Before you get started you need to understand your skills and budget, have the right work space, find the right motorcycle to flip, and spend the time to make it look good. For more information, see my article here.

Kyle Cannon

Kyle currently works as a mechanical engineer and graduated with a minor in automotive engineering. He loves restoring motorcycles, has a vast knowledge of how they work, and has sold his restoration projects to customers from all over the United States.

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7 worthy project bikes we’d pick from this 100-motorcycle auction

cheap motorcycle projects

Look, I need another project like I need a hole in my head, but you and I both know that no self-respecting gearhead actually stops looking for new wheeled conveyances to place in their garage. Even worse (better?) is when said enthusiast is surrounded by enabler friends who send them Marketplace ads, Craigslist listings, and auction links for all the things they could probably scrape enough cash together to purchase (but definitely shouldn’t).

A link to this 100-bike treasure trove of an auction hit my inbox last night, and I have since locked my credit card in a safe to which I don’t know the combination. Thus, my only outlet is to share exactly what I would, in theory, buy from this O’Brien Auctioneers sale happening in Appleton, Wisconsin, this weekend.

1970 Harley Davidson Rapido

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The Aermacchi era was a strange time for Harley Davidson, and most HD fanatics reflect upon it with mixed feelings. The Italian brand had hopes to bump market share for the then-limping American manufacturer by re-branding small, affordable motorcycles and stuffing them into showrooms. One such offering was the air-cooled, 125cc Rapido. It was nearly the complete antithesis of everything Harley Davidson had built before, and it failed to earn the reputation that Japanese manufacturers were gaining during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Heck, even Hodaka was a step ahead of Harley here.

That said, the Rapido is a neat little motorcycle and this one appears to be a solid start to a project or basic, street-legal pit bike. We’d love to ride this conversation piece to the first cars and coffee of the season.

1972 Suzuki GT750 “Water Buffalo”

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In an era of lightweight, two-stroke machines, Kawasaki built a water-cooled, 500-pound beast. It only makes sense that its given name of Le Mans is rarely used when referring to the Water Buffalo. A two-stroke, three-cylinder engine sits in a chassis tuned for a totally different experience than that of Honda’s sporty CB750. The GT750 is softer in just about every way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you like to err on the side of ease.

Strong low-end torque and a comfortable seat make for a machine that can be ridden at speed all day, and the WaterBuffalo quickly found fans in what we would call the sport-touring market today. If that sounds like your thing, you can find it here.

1972 Kawasaki H2

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The Water Buffalo above was not the only two-stroke triple in the 1972 market. For those seeking humbling power and speed outside the Suzuki fold, the H2 was waiting in Kawasaki showrooms. Nicknamed the Widowmaker, the H2 packed a serious punch that could easily upset a rider who was unfamiliar with a two-stroke powerband. If you’re only looking at the spec sheet, a 452-pound curb weight paired with a 74-hp rating might not sound that gnarly, but look at the dyno chart and see how that power arrives and you’ll understand the lore.

H2s have always been treasured and this one looks nice and complete—though it needs some work. The listing says that, despite excellent compression, the engine is currently not running. If you think you can harness the Widowmaker, this might be the one for you.

1985 Yamaha RZ350

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Its status as the first motorcycle equipped with catalytic converters is an odd footnote in the history of this speedblock-shod Yamaha. Instead, think of the Z350 as the quintessential two-stroke middleweight superbike. The parallel-twin 347cc engine produces calm, reliable power in factory trim, but the aftermarket offers just about anything a rider could want to turn one into a fire-breathing beast. The engine outlived the RZ series, in fact, when Yamaha transplanted a derivative into the Banshee ATV. Good, original components are hard to find, so restoring this particular bike to factory-fresh is likely a fool’s errand. Our advice? Ride it and enjoy a modified, period-correct machine.

1973 Kawasaki Z1

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Ask car people what the first muscle car was and the debate will be unending—much like the discussion over the first superbike. The Z1 is always part of the early-superbike conversation, though, and for good reason. Packing an air-cooled, 900cc inline-four that produced 84 horsepower, this is the bike that most credit with popularizing the formula now known as UJM (universal Japanese motorcycle). As early sport bikes have lifted in value in recent history, the Z1 has emerged a leader along with early CB750s. Finding good ones is tough and unearthing a good one available for public sale is even harder. This one looks to be a solid restoration candidate.

1975 Norton 850 Commando

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The Commando evolved a good bit over its decade-long production. This 1975 is on the tail-end of that range and as such enjoys a couple nice benefits; for instance, the Euro-style left-side rear brake was left behind in favor of the U.S.A.’s left-foot shift, right-side brake arrangement. The Commando also got a disc rear brake and electric starter, though the latter is known to be fussy in the cold. The red-and-blue pinstripes on this white machine identify it as an Interstate model. Known to be the most oil-tight and reliable of the Commandos, if a Norton is something you want in your garage, this could be the one —assuming you don’t mind some cleanup work.

1967 Honda CB450 Black Bomber

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Look past the crusty chopper look and there is a motorcycle worth talking about here. The Black Bomber was Honda’s first volume-produced DOHC model and only came in one color: black. The engine design was advanced enough that some European organizations excluded it from production race classes, since the DOHC was closer to an advanced, factory-effort engine than a privateer build. The mill was known to be reliable, provided you changed the oil regularly, so there is a decent chance the lump at the heart of this chopper has some life left in it. Build a period-correct chopper or use the chassis as a base for a vintage racer; we don’t think either would be a bad choice.

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Classic Motorcycle Build

Motorcycle projects, article by mark trotta.

There's plenty of choices for a classic motorcycle build, which include many American, British, Japanese, and European models.

Different build styles include stock original, cafe racer, old-school bobber, scrambler, or custom build from mild to wild.

Best Project Motorcycles

Is there really a best choice for a motorcycle project? It all depends on what you're after. Do you want to ride it, race it, or show it? Are you limited to a budget?

Using price and parts availability as perimeters, the following is a selection of best project motorcycles.

Japanese Motorcycles

A vintage Japanese motorcycle will be the most affordable of all classic bike projects. 1970s and 1980s bikes are good choices. Some years and models will be less collectable, but that also makes them more affordable.

Parts for vintage Japanese bikes are more affordable and more plentiful than American, British, and European motorcycles. The majority of engines (and there are many types and sizes) are reliable and easy to work on.

For a street-driven bike, look for one 350cc or bigger. Models with disc brakes and spoked wheels are very desirable.

Honda CB series

One of the most popular project bikes today is the Honda CB series. These include the CB500, CB550, CB750, and others. A ton of these bikes were built, and project bikes in various stages of completion always seem to be on the market.

The bigger CB models (CB550 and CB750) are the most sought after, making them more expensive than others, but the parts are still cheap and the engines are easy to work on. Because of their abundance, there's a large selection of aftermarket products.

Other Honda bikes worthy of consideration are early Gold Wings, Super Hawks, and CX500/GL500 models.

Yamaha XS Models

The XS650 engine was essentially a re-engineered British twin, and has proven itself to be nearly bulletproof. A lot of these bikes were produced, and like the Honda CB's, plenty of aftermarket parts are available.

An area of concern on these bikes is the electrics. Yamaha XS models between 1968 and 1985 had quite a few different electrical systems. Unless you're willing to replace the whole system, diagnosing and finding replacement parts for these could prove challenging.

Yamaha also produced XS750 and XS850 Triples .

Kawasaki Z-series

Not as common as Honda CB's or Yamaha XS models, the Kawasaki Z-bikes can be found in many versions, and usually sell for a bit cheaper. There were, and still are fun and fast bikes.


Classic British Motorcycles

If you want to rebuild/restore a vintage British bike , it'll be more time-consuming and more costly than other classic bikes. The only way to stay ahead money-wise is to do as much work as you can yourself.

Good, original parts for British bikes are hard to come by, and many specialty tools are needed. However, there are many online British Bike forums to seek help and advice.

Owning/restoring a Norton Commando has several advantages over other classic motorcycles. Not only are parts still available, they are nearly all still available as original factory pieces. And there are plenty of modern upgrades as well.

Read: Norton Commando Upgrades

Whitworth tools.

Japanese and European bikes use metric tools, American made bikes use standard (fractional) tools, and vintage British motorcycle use Whitworth tools. These are often confused for, and not the same as, fractional or metric sizes.

Shop: British Whitworth Tools

Many British motorcycles continued using Whitworth sizing into the late sixties, and to make things more confusing, some seventies British bikes had a combination of sizings.

BMW Boxer Twins

The BMW boxer-twin is popular with motorcycle builders for several reasons, including simple design, reliability, and ease of maintenance. And since opposed-cylinder motorcycles have now been around for over a century, they are nostalgic looking.

BMW Oilhead (1994-present)

The R-series BMW's (Oilheads) are an updated version of the original boxer twins. Like all Airhead's, they are shaft-driven, which require less maintenance than most other types of motorcycles. The R-Series bikes are tourqey and have a low center of gravity.

Read: BMW Oilhead Repair and Maintenance

Harley shovelhead.

The demand for Harley Shovelheads was always, and still is high. This makes good examples with original matching parts expensive.

I've looked at and turned down a lot of Shovelhead project bikes. Owners always want top dollar and rarely negotiate, even with basket case projects!

Ironhead Sportster

Produced by Harley-Davidson from 1957 to 1985, Ironhead Sportsters have been the basis for choppers, bobbers, cafe racers, drag bikes, flat trackers, scramblers, hill-climbers, fully-faired track bikes, and even trikes. They're still the cheapest Harley V-twin to be had, and parts are relatively easy to find.

Read: Ironhead Sportster Project

Like British bikes, good, original parts for old Sportsters are hard to find and expensive to buy, and many specialty tools are needed. Any needed engine or transmission work may not be cheap or easy.

Should I Buy A Project Motorcycle That Doesn't Run?

Here's the long answer. You may not know all that a project bike needs until you've got the entire motor disassembled. And at that point, you're already in deep, and depending on what you find, it can get expensive.

A seller will often say, "it just needs a tune-up" or "the carbs need to be rebuilt". Always assume they're lying, or that they truly just don't know. At least check to see if the motor at least turns over.

Since you don't know what it will need to get it running, the only justification for buying a non-running bike, is that the price is right. Another way to look at it is, you're buying the bike for spare parts.

The easiest project bikes are ones that run and have current registration.

It's a good feeling to take an old abandoned motorcycle and bring it back to life. The feeling you get is like no other.

Related Articles:

Five Reasons To Buy A Basket Case Motorcycle

How many is too many projects, motorcycle quotes and sayings, kick-starting an old motorcycle.

Still In The Crate: Zero-Mile 2001 Yamaha YZ250

cheap motorcycle projects

Being brand new and still in the crate sure seems to be making a difference in the bid price of this 2001 Yamaha YZ250. Having zero miles on a vehicle is pretty unusual, when you buy a brand-new vehicle… more»

6,000 Horsepower WARbike Motorcycle!

cheap motorcycle projects

In May of 2022, Larry “Spiderman” McBride made the fastest pass in NHRA Top Fuel Motorcycle history. He ran 5.61 seconds at 268.38 miles per hour. Well, forty years ago, the bike seen here was designed to run 5… more»

1 of 326: 1980s Pulse Autocycle

cheap motorcycle projects

Although the Pulse Autocycle looks a lot like an airplane, it’s technically a motorcycle with three wheels and (usually) a Yamaha drivetrain. Only a few hundred of these were built during the 1980s and it’s likely just a few… more»

1969 Triumph T100C Trophy 500 Scrambler

cheap motorcycle projects

When you ride a motorcycle, are you more of a highway or freeway rider, or are you an off-road rider? Or, maybe you have two or more bikes so you can switch back and forth?  How about one that… more»

Highly Original! 1982 Honda CB900F Super Sport

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Honda’s flagship road bike from 1979 to 1983, the CB900F only came to America in ’81 and ’82. This 1982 Honda CB900F in Centerville, Massachusetts barely deviates from stock, and the 18,000 mile specimen can be yours with the… more»

World’s Fastest 250: 1964 Ducati 250 Mach 1

cheap motorcycle projects

In 1964, if you wanted to be able to go 100 mph on what was the world’s fastest production road bike of the era, this 1964 Ducati 250 Mach 1 was the motorcycle for you. 60 mph is fast… more»

Rare Rally Kit: 1968 Honda CM91 Rally

cheap motorcycle projects

I think we’ve only seen one other example of a Honda 90 with a Rally Kit here on Barn Finds and they’re fairly hard to find. I know that they aren’t a big, bad Harley, but for those of… more»

Two Bikes and Free Trailer: Honda 90 and Kawasaki 250

cheap motorcycle projects

Everyone loves getting something for free.  Free is nice, but what if I were to tell you that the core of the deal is even sweeter.  Take a look at this vintage motorcycle and trailer combination for sale on… more»

Two-Stroke ATV: 1995 Yamaha Banshee 350

cheap motorcycle projects

Still ranking among the best ATVs in history and a favorite among many riders, Yamaha’s Banshee is a powerhouse relative to its normal appearance. I mean, other than the bright purple and yellow paint scheme on the 1995 models…. more»

Continuing A Legacy? 1975 Oldsmobile 442

cheap motorcycle projects

Oh, what a year was 1975! If you were a domestic auto enthusiast, it was a lousy one! No more Plymouth Barracuda, Dodge Challenger, Camaro Z28, Pontiac GTO or SD-455 anything, AMC Javelin, or Buick GS – what a… more»

Selling for Insane Prices: 1970 Honda CT70

cheap motorcycle projects

In the late sixties, kids were tough.  How tough (ask in Rodney Dangerfield’s voice)?  Parents bought their kids motorcycles for Christmas!  That’s how tough!  Now those little motorcycles are selling for the price of a good used Harley!  If… more»

Water-Cooled Shed Find: 1972 Suzuki GT750J

cheap motorcycle projects

Smoke ’em if you got ’em. Two-stroke blue smoke, that is, not tobacco. Anyone who is into vintage two-stroke, triple-cylinder, water-cooled dusty barn-find bikes, this is one for you. If you have a thing for huge projects, it wouldn’t… more»

Barn Brit: 1953 Velocette MAC 350

cheap motorcycle projects

“The company so nice they named it twice.” I just made up that slogan, but it could have referred to either Veloce or Velocette, depending on which era you’re talking about, as the company has been known by both… more»

Two-Stroke 21-Incher: 1971 Yamaha R5B 350

cheap motorcycle projects

I still think of Yamaha as the king of two-stroke bikes from the 60s and 70s. Ok, Yamaha is one of the kings of two-stroke bikes from the 60s and 70s. The seller has this 1971 Yamaha R5B 350… more»

Transmission Swap? 1971 Honda CT70 HK0

cheap motorcycle projects

Honda Trail 70s are coming out of the woodwork lately, they seem to be the “it” bike of choice for restorers and sellers, even more so than the Honda ZA50 monkey bikes. The 70 is more adult-friendly for riding… more»

Barn Find: 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead

cheap motorcycle projects

This is quite a discovery and the current bid price shows just how excited more than a few people are to potentially get their hands on this original 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead with a few authentic accessories. The seller has… more»

cheap motorcycle projects


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Start Your Engines A motorcycle is officially on your wish list, but you may not have decided just which bike is the right one for you. Never fear, because eBay lets you browse every type of motorcycle for sale from used dirt bikes to classic Harley-Davidsons to high-end BMW Motorcycles and Triumphs .

Find Your Motorcycle Make and Model Whether this is your first motorcycle or you’ve been riding for years, you may want to start your search by deciding on a make and model. Yamaha and Honda Motorcycles are rugged and dependable. Or what about a zippy motorbike like a Kawasaki , Victory or Ducati ? Don’t let your head spin—take our giant selection of motorcycles for sale one page at a time. Looking for an off-road motorcycle? How about one of the many great KTM models?

Find Your Own Path When you’re buying a motorcycle, it’s important to think about what kind of trips or treks you’ll be taking with it. Is this going to be, more or less, a dirt bike? Are you interested in cruisers? Are you planning on doing a bit of off-roading or is this a sport bike? Sit back and take the time to do your research before committing to a new or new-to-you used motorcycle.

Pick the Motorcycle Parts and Pieces You Need If you’re interested in building or fixing up your own motorcycle, keep in mind that eBay also offers thousands of crucial parts like mirrors, brakes, handle bars and more to customize your bike however you please. Additionally, check out our giant selection of wheel covers, wheel rims and brand-specific motorcycle parts, too.

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