Project Lowbucks: Buying a Dirt Bike for Dirt Cheap

Oct. 06, 2011 By Rick Sieman

The headline says it all. Cutting to the chase, hereís what we managed to buy for $100: a 1994 Suzuki RM250. Stay tuned in Part 2 and weíll tell you more about our search for a budget dirt bike.

Sometimes you just don't have the money that you need for a real dirt bike. But this doesn't mean that you still don't want one. You can still find one for a steal. You just have to use your head and be very, very patient.

Maybe you work at a fast food joint flipping burgers, or possibly you just cut grass in your local community to make a few bucks. This should not prevent you from getting a real dirt bike. Weíre talking about getting something decent to ride for a few hundred dollars maximum. Don't laugh. It can't be done and I'm about to prove it to you.

First off, don't waste your time looking in the back of all the slick magazines for real bargains. They just aren't there. The bikes listed there are probably fairly new and commanding premium dollars. So, where should you look?

For years now, I have always looked at Craigslist.com, whether I needed a bike or not. You can just run across incredible bargains if you know what you're looking for. Another place is the local newspaper, especially if they have a section with free ads or bargain box ads that are very cheap to run. People with low-cost bikes for sale don't go and spend a lot of money on ads. Craigslist is free, and you can hardly beat that price.

The bike I got for Project Lowbucks is a 1994 Suzuki RM250 motocrosser. Naturally, I found the bike on Craigslist because the price caught my eye. The price? $100! I figured this had to be a real pile of trash to go for that kind of money, but I went to check it out anyway. As it turned out the bike was missing a gas tank and a piston. It was covered with dust, leaves and spiderwebs and obviously had been sitting out in the open for some time.

The seller was a young guy from Idaho who had just moved down to Arizona to his dad's house, and his pops told him to get rid of that pile of junk. I looked past the pile of leaves and dust-covered parts to see what was really there. The frame was not bent or cracked and the wheels looked straight and all the spokes were there. All the plastic side panels, shrouds and number plates were also there, but they were so filthy and covered with dust that you could barely see their color. Same with the saddle.

A couple of bonuses. The bike had a clear title and there was even a nice stand that went with the whole deal. I whipped out $100 so fast that it nearly caught my wallet on fire.  From a lifetime of dealing with bikes, buying and selling, I knew that the title and the frame alone were worth several hundred dollars. I loaded the bike up and took it home.

I put the bike up on a stand and figured I would clean up the whole works. Several hours later, I had all the plastic clean, the saddle virtually glistening, the wheels buffed out, and the grease and dirt removed from the chassis and engine. It was then I really realized what a great deal it was. The wheels were gold-anodized Excel Takasagos front and rear and looked brand-new with all the crud off. At this point, I realized that the wheels alone were worth about 300 bucks and the plastic worth at least 100. I didnít know what kind of shape the actual engine was in, but there had to be at least 100 bucks worth of miscellaneous spares. The forks looked OK (worth another hundred or so) and the shock was not leaking or rusted out.

So I was sitting in the ideal situation. If the bike was mechanically sound, I could afford to rebuild it real cheap. If the transmission was screwed up, electrics shot, and the engine a total mess, I could still make a genuine profit off the bike by selling the parts on eBay or Craigslist.

Now came the important part. After the bike was in the air, I sat down on a crate and proceeded to check out the gears. I found neutral with the shifter and then spun the rear wheel and went down one notch for low. Bingo! We had low gear. Then I went to neutral again and shifted up to engage second-gear. No problem. I kept clicking the shifter up and all the gears seemed to work just fine. I repeated the process a second and third time just check it out and listen for any funny noises. While this seems like a very simple test, if the transmission passes this, chances are it's going to work okay.

While I was spinning the rear wheel, I checked for side-to-side play to reveal any possible bad wheel bearings or funny sounds that shouldn't be there. Then I did the same thing with the front wheel. The front brake was checked simply by squeezing the lever and it worked just fine. The rear brake pedal went all the way down and didn't even slow the wheel up at all. I checked for brake fluid and the reservoir was empty. After locating some brake fluid, I poured it in the reservoir and pumped the brake pedal up and down several times. Success! All of a sudden I had a rear brake.

I turned my attention to the engine; the barrel was on, but no bolts were holding it in place. I took the barrel off and checked the head and barrel liner for damage but didn't see any scratches or score marks. Further inspection revealed that the power valve apparatus had some marks on it, and it must've made contact with the piston at some time or another. That would explain the complete absence of a piston. The owner must've taken the top end apart and noticed that the piston was really screwed up and left it just like that.

I took the rod and moved it up and down but didn't notice any bad play in the part, same thing with side-to-side movement. The crankshaft was moved up and down a few dozen times and the rod seemed to spin quite cleanly with no horrible noises to be heard. So far so good.

If my luck was holding out, I could get some spark out of this puppy and be on the road to getting a decent running real dirt bike. As it turned out, all it took was a fresh plug and hooking up some wires to get a nice blue spark. Things were looking good for project low bucks.

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Here's some good, basic advice when you look for your bike:

1. Don't buy any weird or off brand bike. Stick to Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki or Kawasaki.

2. Don't even consider any of the Chinese ripoff bikes. They're trash and simply getting parts for them is a nightmare.

3. While I dearly love European bikes like Maicos and KTMs, finding one that is easily re-buildable is extremely difficult. Parts are very expensive and people who have these bikes, or are working on these bikes, know what they have and don't give their parts up cheaply.

4. You can go on eBay and find parts for a Yamaha or Suzuki dirt bike that's 20 years old for a good price if you're patient. In part two in this series, I'll share with you the parts I bought for the Suzuki and just how much they cost.

5. If at all possible, take a bike stand with you when you're checking out the bike, and do the transmission test that I described to you. While you're at it, take a look at the wheels, the forks, the shock(s) and miscellaneous things like chain and sprockets. It might seem like a small thing to you, but these things add up rather quickly when you have to buy them and you're on a budget.

6. Whatever you do, please try to check for some kind of spark on the bike.

7. If the owner of the bike doesn't have some sort of title, it could be a real problem. However if he will give you a bill of sale, a copy of his drivers license, a home address and a phone number, that's sometimes acceptable. It depends on the state youíre living in.  Some states are just horrible to try to get a title, and other states are easier to deal with. Check your local laws and regulations before you lay down your hard-earned cash.

8. Speaking of hard-earned cash, carry sufficient cash with you for the deal and don't hesitate to browbeat the owner on that price. If the guy is asking $150 for the bike and you pull $125 and make him an offer, chances are he'll take it.

9. Stay away from four strokes, even reliable ones like Honda XRs and Yamaha TTs. You don't need to get into buying cams and valves. Stick with two strokes. Theyíre simple, easy to work on, inexpensive to maintain and you can get parts for them almost anywhere.

10. Don't go for a real old bike unless it's in very good shape and a popular model. Bikes from the 80s and 90s are probably your best bet.

11. If you see any bike for sale with a paddle tire on the rear, turn around and walk out of there real quick. People who ride in sand with paddle tires tend to destroy their bikes. I don't care who I offend by saying this, but that's a fact.

12. Don't buy bikes with critical parts missing, like the carburetor, shocks or airbox. Getting these parts can be a real pain and costs money that you don't need to spend. Look elsewhere if a lot of parts are gone.

13. If the bike is been sitting outside a lot, chances are the saddle cover is in poor shape and possibly the foam is bad too. Bikes that have been sitting out in the Arizona, Texas or New Mexico sun for a few years, not only will have the plastic faded, but it can be quite brittle too. A simple fall will break this plastic quite easily. If at all possible, get a bike that has been stored inside.

14. Forget about things like dust or bad paint; instead look at the complete package and what can be done with it with the little bit of elbow grease.

15. The best all-around kind of bike to look for would be a 125 or 250 motocrosser.  Street legal or dual purpose bikes can cost almost twice as much to make rideable than a pure dirt bike.

16. If you're looking for a smaller bike, like a minibike, there's a wide field to choose from, as many riders simply outgrew their bikes and stuffed them in the back of the garage somewhere.
 Now that you have the general information and guidelines on what to look for, weíre going to show you some actual bikes that we saw on Craigslist and what they were going for.  This should prove to be a reasonable guide. 
 
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Below is a list of bikes we recently found on Craiglist. NOTE: Normally we donít run photos this crappy, but the quality of many of the photos on Craigslist look like theyíre shot through a screen door. Our apologies.

200cc Dirt Bike - $175
2004 200cc chinese dirt bike. Kick start works every 3rd go-around but carb is clean and bike will run. Good extra set of tires too. No title. $175.
(INSERT PHOTO 200cc DIRT BIKE HERE)
 
Stay away from any bike like this. The Chinese made bikes are terrible quality-wise and if the bike isnít running, who knows what the real problem could be?

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2000 Yamaha TTR 90 - $200
Must go-200 OBO. I'm moving and the bike is just sitting. Carbuerator needs some adjustments and the bike is not running because of that. Works great otherwise. If you know motorcycles then this is a great opportunity. Serious inquiries only. Thank you.
 
Worth considering if youíre looking for a smaller bike.  Make sure the bike has compression, spark and all the gears work.  We called the owner and he reluctantly said heíd take a bit less for cash this day only. And amazingly, he had a title.
 
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1974 Honda XL 125 - $150
1974 Honda XL 125 Dirt/Street motorcycle. Bike doesnt run. Needs top end work. Would be a great project bike or parts bike too. Bike is mostly complete. $150 OBO, Make a reasonable offer and ill accept it.

Donít even think about this one.  Itís a four-stroke and you could easily end up with hundreds of dollars in parts for the top end alone.  Plus, itís a 1974, which makes it almost 40 years old.

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Kawasaki KX 125 Parts Bike - $75
1986 KX 125 parts bike
I have the engine but the crankshaft is bad.
$75.00

Run away, run away! A bad crank and rod could cost you $500 easily with bearings and gaskets.  This one stinks to high heaven.  The only good thing about this deal, is that if you beat the owner down to 50 bucks, you could made some money selling the parts on eBay.

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Kawasaki KE 175 Project Bike - $80
1980 KE 175 this bike is stock and complete
But it needs a new flywheel for the magneto
$80.00  
 
Worth buying if the owner has a title. If itís just the magneto needed, thatís not bad. If itís something more serious, you could make some decent cash parting the bike out.
 
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YZ250 - $600
1982 yz250 needs front fender and throttle assembly two stroke

1982 was a great year for the YZ250.  It had a six speed gearbox, excellent power and good all around suspension. Check it out carefully making sure that it has good compression and a fat blue spark. This bike would/could be a solid vintage racer.

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87 CR125 project bike - $100
ok this is my last post after this the bike goes to the scrap yard, i have a 87 cr125 its missing the head, exhast,handle bars,and radiator hoses, the plastics are not broke but do need painted, i found a head on ebay for 50$, i dont have a title bike was left here by previouse people in our house 12 yrs ago, 100 is the lease i will take so please dont ask any lower 
  
Donít even think about this turkey. Parts alone would eat you alive and thereís no title with this pathetic looking bike. Stay away.
 
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1979 Yamaha DT 125 - $10

I called the owner and found out that the bike had been sitting in the back of a shed for years. It was complete, but he had no knowledge of this bike, or bikes in general. The title was already signed from 12 years ago and was in his son's name. He said it was running when it was put in the shed, and hadnít been touched since then. This sounds like the kind of bike to consider, especially if it looks decent.

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