This article began life as a reply to a posting in our yahoogroup from
a prospective buyer who was looking at a T100. 'Nuff said; here it is:
Once you narrow in on some Tris of interest, you can check the prices.
As with any perusal of sale values, the asking price - or, in the case
of an auction, the various bid prices - have little value as
information. All that matters is the selling price - what the
public as a whole has decided is the true value of the machine under
consideration. And this is not necessarily accurate in every case, but
on an average has to be considered the most valid way to determine the
price of any commodity.
It's a good idea to register with eBay, even if you have no intention of
buying a motorcycle unseen half a continent away (where they all seem to
be!) Because once registered, you can "watch" any sale you choose. This
will get a message sent to your email address each time a bid is made,
and a notification of the final sale price. Furthermore, you can sign
into eBay and click on your "My eBay" section, where they keep a list of
all the items you've signed on to watch. Thus, once they sell, you can
still look back for reference.
Although it's not, imo, completely accurate, since people are buying
machines they haven't ridden or even looked at carefully, there is
validity in the prices bid - for one thing, the seller has to be very
careful to describe any item accurately, or it can cost him/her a lot in
the "feedback" department. Most sellers obey this rule, and consequently
eBay is a good place to see what things are going for.
What Price Range?
Determining the proper price to pay for a motorcycle as rare as Triumph
Twins are becoming can be difficult - prices are changing every day.
There are a few sources, however, which should be monitored for a time
before the serious shopper even begins actually looking at prospective
new additions to the fleet. May I suggest:
Once you narrow in on some Tris of interest, you can check the prices. As with any perusal of sale values, the asking price - or, in the case of an auction, the various bid prices - have little value as information. All that matters is the selling price - what the public as a whole has decided is the true value of the machine under consideration. And this is not necessarily accurate in every case, but on an average has to be considered the most valid way to determine the price of any commodity.
It's a good idea to register with eBay, even if you have no intention of buying a motorcycle unseen half a continent away (where they all seem to be!) Because once registered, you can "watch" any sale you choose. This will get a message sent to your email address each time a bid is made, and a notification of the final sale price. Furthermore, you can sign into eBay and click on your "My eBay" section, where they keep a list of all the items you've signed on to watch. Thus, once they sell, you can still look back for reference.
Although it's not, imo, completely accurate, since people are buying machines they haven't ridden or even looked at carefully, there is validity in the prices bid - for one thing, the seller has to be very careful to describe any item accurately, or it can cost him/her a lot in the "feedback" department. Most sellers obey this rule, and consequently eBay is a good place to see what things are going for.
I've bought a fair number of vehicles in the last - ouch! - 47 years, and have developed a strategy of sorts that seems to get me through the process, which I'm about to share. So, for those of you who care, here's how _I'd_ do it:
First, I try to make a habit of not buying the first one I look at - I figure there's no way of knowing it's a good deal or not until I gather more data on what's on the market. This can be good or bad. I've missed out on some good deals from time to time, but in the long run, I've also passed up some that I was really ready to bite on, but which turned out to be relative turkeys after I looked around some. The considerations, of course, are model - is it the exact one you want, or is it just close? -, condition - can you afford a trailer queen, done to the nuts by professionals, or will you have to bottom-feed, anything from basket case to decent runner, and do the work it needs as you go? Then, of course, there's price - carefully balanced against how the unit stacks up against the first two parameters. It's rare to get a total bargain; generally the three considerations balance and vibrate against one another to equalize everything out, but it's real easy to pay too much for something. A basic rule of thumb I've kept running into all my life is this:
(I should have figured that one out much earlier, but apparently I didn't. I've tried to consider it every time since, though - sometimes forgetting to my peril. That nice (insert name of rig here), that needs just a little bit of work here and there, can usually turn into a nightmare that costs big money to get to the point where it can be unloaded on the next luckless victim.) So consider your would-be purchase carefully. Here are some considerations, and I'll even use as an example my experience buying my latest Triumph - a box-stock original '69 TR6 about ten years ago. I started figuring that they'd all be gone pretty soon, and that I'd better git me one while I could afford it.
For any used item, you don't want to buy somebody else's troubles. Not knowing its recent history, you need to determine he's not flogging it off in desperation - at least not in desperation over something he can't fix and you can't, either. (otoh, the reverse situation has been some good buys for the kid over the years.)
I've always thought the most important answer I can get is that to the question, 'why are you selling it?" Here are some of the better reasons:
The last one I found acceptable was:
There are others, but this is the one I always check first, on the first phone call.
Next, you need to ascertain that there's nothing specifically wrong with the unit. A great clue is the service manual - almost everyone with a motorcycle as esoteric as a Triumph will have a service manual. Ask to look at it, and any "spare parts" he's throwing in with the bike. Look for dirty pages in the manual. This one had lots of oily fingerprints in the gearbox section. (An even better clue would have been some bunged-up gearbox parts in the "spares" box.)
I enquired as to the nature of these clues:
"Been into the tranny, have ya?" To which he answered in the affirmative, but what he said gave me cause to believe he'd pretty well fixed the problem. I made a note to check the shifting and staying in gear carefully on the test ride, though.
Chat the owner up while you're looking around - both at him and the bike. How long has he had it? How did he like it? Don't forget to commiserate with him about the necessity for his loss (while looking forward to his new phase - daddy, owner of newer bike, whatever. Check out his other mechanical units - is/are his car(s) in good nick? Has he got a decent set of tools in evidence? If not, enquire (as casually as posible) where he's been getting his work done on the bike, when necessary. Did it need much? etc. You can learn a lot by getting people talking - and listening carefully.
Look for signs of recent repairs to the bike - especially slew-footed ones. Had the gearbox cover(s) been showing sloppy gasket goo stains all over the place, for instance, I'd have been very suspicious of the quality of the work he'd done. But, there was a good selection of mechanic's tools in evidence in his shop, and a couple of car projects on the go, also looking like they were being done by a guy with a brain. (Rounded-off nuts and bolts, reamed-out philips heads, etc are other bad signs.)
Once you're satisfied with a) Reason for sale, and b)either no signs of recent repairs, or counteracting signs that they've in all likelihood been done properly, (with reason a) also in place), it's time a general walk-around. Look for bent and broken stuff - the little things you don't see at first will live to plague you later if you take it home. Stuff like scraped headlight (they always seem to take it on a get-off) bits, scrapes on pipes and handlebar ends (bent bars are hardly noticable when you're looking at a prospective new bike, but they're gonna be a 100 dollar bill by the time you get finished replacing them - the cables, levers, etc are going to turn out to need some replacing, too.)
Look also for new replacements. A new set of bars, for instance, and maybe a clutch lever as well, which stand out as new from the rest of the stuff up there probably indicate a recent crash - maybe a bonus, but maybe a sign that you should look further for what else (that's maybe more expensive) got bent.) Check the engine cases for scrapes and road rash. What's important to me is not the signs of one or two minor fall-offs, but a multitude of such will mean you'll be discovering all kinds of bent and needs-replacement-to-be-right items for some time, if you take this baby home. And if so, the price needs to be right. Bear in mind that a bent, pranged, or roadrashed headlight rim, bucket, or even sealed beam might just as well not even be there - you're going to replace it - and the unit is worth over 200 bucks these days. Same for a front or rear fender that's "just a little bit" bent, rusted, or cracked from vibration.
I always pay particular attention to the pipes and mufflers. Since they're a very big part of the general look of a Brit bike, by the time you've got it in otherwise good condition, you'll want them in B to C+ condition as well, and they're expensive. Original quality exhaust system will run you close to a G-note in Canada - it's hard to imagine, but check the prices yourself, if you don't believe it. And they're a big part of a restored motorcycle. So look at them carefully on any bike you're dickering on, and ask yourself if they're going to look out of place on the finished product you envision. you can get away with flat black barbecue paint on a rat, street tracker, or maybe even chopper, but nothing but original-quality pipes and mufflers will make it on an otherwise original and clean-appearing Triumph. In the US, it's still gonna be in the $500+ range.
Check the tires carefully. They're over 300 bucks a pair these days, and worn-out tires are a great sign of how well the owner was taking care of the bike, and how well he regarded his mount. Check the brand; Avons, Dunlops, Pirellis, Metzelers say to me that the guy valued his bike, Chengshins or the like don't say much that's good.
You will of course check for signs of oil leaks. Although we pretty well accept that Brit bikes like to stake their territories (and this,btw, is not necessarily true) a lot of oil, especially from one place, is not a good sign. At best, it means it's been awhile since anybody's been in there (wherever there is.) A leaking primary cover, or even gearbox or timing cover, is easy to repair, a leaking gearbox output sprocket seal (behind the primary cover - at the front of the chain) is much more difficult. And nastier still is a pushrod tube leak - by the time these start leaking, it's generally time to do at least the valves, rocker shaft seals, and maybe rings or even rebore and pistons as well. (I've generally found that things stay oil-tight for some time, and by the time stuff starts to leak, it's often a sign that it's getting old enough to need some attention of a more than replace-the-gaskets nature. Oil getting past the head-to-cylinder joint is another not-so-good sign.)
(Hmmm. This is starting to sound like my TR6! Maybe I'd better start thinking about tearing off the top and having a look at a few things.)
While you're looking all this over, keep a running total in your head of about what you're going to expect to fix all this - even if it's not going to be for awhile. Hopefully, you'll find a bike that shows some of these signs, but that you can ride for awhile, and perhaps rebuild in small stages rather than all at once. But still, you need to consider what you're going to spend on the bike after you bring it home, and this should temper your top-line price.
All this done, now it's time to test-ride it. It may not have a plate on it - I've had this happen to me a number of times, and my response has always been to ride it anyway - I'm only going around a couple of blocks anyhow, and you don't want to pay any real money for a bike you've never ridden.
It might be best to have the owner start it for you - many bikes have little idiosyncracies that can take you some time to get used to - and you can have him explain what they are on this particular bike. Tickle carb slightly, not at all, till gas runs out onto the gearbox, priming kick or not, no throttle, some throttle, lots of throttle, it can vary a lot with the bike. Besides, if it takes YOU a lot of kicking to get it going, that means you or the bike are out of touch, if it takes HIM a lot, you know there's work to be done. If a Triumph (or any other bike) takes more than a couple of kicks to get it going, it's either 20 below or there be funkiness below, captain!
When it gets running, listen carefully for noises. It's hard to separate the ticking from the slapping (it's a big help if you've had recent experience listening to known-tight similar models). You also want to pay attention to the comparitive noise after warm-up. Piston slap gets quieter as the pistons expand, for instance, and valve clearances tighten up. But there's really no way to tell how good an engine is without tearing it down and checking the clearances with precision tools.
Look for signs of radical oil burning. Any blue smoke coming from either or both pipes is radical. Ditto for the crankcase breather tube. Remove the oil tank cap and see that there's a steady flow of oil coming back to the tank - more is worse, in this case, as it can indicate excessive oil getting past worn parts in the bottom end, but this is again comparitive, and you need to have seen known-good bikes recently to have even the ghost of an idea. It's a good idea, though, just to make sure that there's oil flow - I always do this check with any bike that's been sitting more than a few days, unless it's fitted with an oil pressure gauge. Check it again after riding it - you don't want to see ANY smoke coming out of there, and ditto for the pipes and the crank breather tube. If it's smoking out the pipes, especially after it's had a chance to warm up, you won't be wanting to ride it before tearing it down and doing a complete top end - from the rod ends up. That'll be a cool grand worth of time and trouble, whether you do it yourself or not. Take it to a yuppie collector shoppe and that'll be the down payment.
When you're on the road, the main thing you can check is the gearbox action. Take it through a normal range of speed in each gear, listening (and feeling) carefully for any signs of "ratching" - strange gink-gink noises. Change the power setting up and down as you do this, and what you DON'T want is it jumping or falling out of gear. Tris will sometimes "fire" out of first or second with high power settings; this can be a problem ranging from something you can ride around to major gearbox repairs - and gears are exPENsive! Not to mention the fact that gearbox repairs are often nightmares which end up requiring the talents of an experienced hand to get right.
As for shifting smoothness, there aren't many gearbox problems which will cause rough shifting - it's usually the rider not getting it quite right, or sometimes bad clutch adjustment. Tri gearboxes are constant-mesh, so there's no issue with worn synchros or any of the things that can cause rough shifting in such as car boxes.
While you're at it, observe the clutch action. Is it slipping (engine revs with bike not going anywhere faster when you apply power) or dragging? (grinds and clunks into 1st gear at initial engagement) It's sadly normal for Tris to clunk a bit into 1st - although it's fixable by savvy maintenance and adjustment. If it's really bad, though, I'd be a bit concerned about the condition of my 1st gear dogs - that's why you check for "firing" out of 1st on the test ride. But it's impossible to tell if clutch trouble is simple adjustment or major replacement without taking it apart first.
How about the instruments? Does the tach work? (Be sure to check the speedo on the road test as well.) Since these things cost over $200 each these days, they're a serious consideration. (It could just be a cable, but then it also couldn't.)
And finally, you might want to have a look at the electrics. Does the ammeter climb as you get to 1000 rpm or so? If not, you can test to see if the system's charging by disconnecting the battery with the bike running - if it stops when you pull the fuse, for instance, you can be fairly sure it's going to be time for at least a rectifier, and possibly an alternator.
Once you've done all this, you're much more intelligent than you were when you started. The next step is to digest all the data and make a decision. This is a good time to keep in mind that, although there aren't a lot of Triumphs around, there also aren't a lot of people interested in them - at least, not in your specific area and time. It's better to lose a score once in a while than to stick yourself with a lemon you haven't thought carefully enough about. I generally try to sleep on it, although I've been known to jump on a deal once or twice, generally with mixed reviews later - sometimes, I'm glad I did, but more often, I'm kicking my ass.
Of course, you can stall. If you have a good mechanic in mind who can do a leak-down test for you, (and interpret the results, vis-a-vis logical expectations for Triumph twins) you might try arranging to truck it on over there and have the test done - this will give you more and better information, and also give you the time to do some mulling over the data you've just accumulated. I used to make it a rule not to buy a car without seeing it carefully underneath - once I was on the cusp of making a deal, I'd suggest that I/we take it up to the corner garage and I'd pay for a lube job. While it's on the grease rack, I can wander around under there (with apologies and explanations to the mechanic, of course) with a flashlight and look for signs of excessive rust, crash damage, unacceptable bentness, etc., and if I didn't buy the thing, well he can tell the next prospect it's just had a fresh chassis lube. This, of course, gave me an hour or so to think, and during this time the car isn't available for inspection by would-be competitors in the wacky world of car buying. The ol' leak-down test is a motorcycle equivalent.
Once you've been through all, or even a part, of all this, you should have a good idea of whether you want the bike, and what you want to pay for it. You should have a rough idea of what you can expect in the way of instant road-readiness, or whether you're buying a project you're just going to take home and apart - a "one-piece basket case." (I don't recommend this strategy. I'm still putting together a '67 Daytona I bought this way in '78. I rode it the night I bought it, and never since. Been through 3 others since, mixing and matching the best parts, mislaying bits all over the shop, it's a nightmare. Gotta consider your attention span in these matters.)
Any rate, you're now ready to make your offer. Whether you're a dickerer or a one-shot take-it-or-leave-it guy, and how the other guy is leaves a whole host of variables, but hopefully you'll sooner or later find the bike you need. Best of luck, and Good Hunting!