So I Bought a $24 Motorcycle

I’ve been wanting to get a motorcycle ever since I tried my neighbors PW50…

Just imagine mini-me cruising around on this little toy of a bike! I used to ride this thing all over our property when I was little. I had so SO much fun and it instilled a strong desire in me to someday own my own. The big inhibiting factor was always the price. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a cheap bike on craigslist for around $300, they may not run great but often they will run. My big concern with the price was always insurance.  I’d always assumed that the cost to insure someone my age on a motorcycle would be astronomical. After the electric moped debacle with the police, I decided to actually look into what it would cost to insure a bike in Washington. A little research revealed that insurance was not required for motorcycles in Washington and that if I wanted to get insurance it would be a measly $10 a month. In summary, I’m buying a motorcycle! After obsessively searching the craigslist of every city in Washington for weeks I stumbled across a guy in Moscow, ID (8 miles from me) selling a 500cc bike for $24!

Alright before Grandpa pips up in the back about it not being safe I gotta remind you that great-grandma Gladys Weller bought her first bike when she was 87 and nothing could stop her from riding. Of course, the fact she insisted on shoveling her roof in the dead of winter doesn’t help my case much, but still. Of course, I know it’s statistically more dangerous to ride a motorcycle. I decided to do a little research on this issue and from a video I found on the FortNine website I found that although motorcycles are more dangerous the chances can be drastically reduced by taking a few precautions; being very cautious the first five months (half of all crashes involve riders who have been on their bikes for less than 5 months), not drinking and driving (alcohol is a factor in 25% of motorcycle deaths), avoid speeding (speed is the top contributing factor in 12% of deaths), motorcycle training (taking a motorcycle training course can prevent 46% of driver fatalities), and wearing proper gear (wearing a helmet is 37% effective at preventing fatalities).  Now onto the bike itself!

The bike is an old 1983 Honda Ft500 single cylinder. It wasn’t very popular at release and production only lasted for two years which will make finding replacement parts tough.

The Specs:

Engine: 498cc air-cooled OHC single, 89mm x 80mm bore and stroke, 8.6:1 compression ratio, 33hp @ 6,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 
94mph (period test)
Single 35mm Keihin CV
5-speed, chain final drive
12v, electronic ignition
Air-adjustable telescopic forks front, dual shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Single 11.6in (295mm) disc front, single 10.75in (273mm) disc rear
3 x 21in front, 4 x 19in rear
Single downtube w/engine as stressed member/56.5in (1,435mm)
Weight (wet):
 375lb (171kg)
Seat height: 
31.5in (800mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 
3.4gal (13ltr)/45-55mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: 
$2,198 (1982)/$2,500-$4,500

What I know right now

The Bad

  • Battery is dead and needs to be replaced
  • Starter relay is broken and either needs to be fixed or replaced
  • Front and rear brake feel like you’re squeezing a wet noodle (brake fluid probably needs to be replaced)
  • The screws holding the cap of the front master cylinder are completely stripped
  • Headlight isn’t turning on
  • Both tires have dry rot
  • Front forks are leaking oil
  • Engine is leaking oil
  • Tach is completely broken
  • Speedometer seems to work but is off by a lot
  • Throttle is stuck and feels like grinding gravel when you twist it
  • Clutch lever also sticks

The Good

  • Engine turns over
  • Very little rust for how long it was left outside
  • Rear brake system should just need brake fluid
  • The engine starts if I hook up a fresh battery and short the terminals of the relay
  • Starter solenoid (the part that apparently breaks a lot on these bikes) seems to be in great shape after cracking open the engine case
  • Turn signals and brake lights work great
  • All switches seem to be in great condition
  • The seat is in great shape
  • Carburetor doesn’t seem to be clogged as I can get the bike to idle comfortably once warmed up
  • Can shift into all 5 gears without error

Next Step

The first thing I gotta do is get the brakes fixed. Without working brakes, I’d wreck it as soon as I left the shop. After that, I gotta figure out how to start it without jamming a screwdriver into the starter relay. Best of all one of my mentors here at WSU gave me some space in the old hydraulics lab where the old electric vehicle team used to meet for the next few weeks untill I can get it up and running!

Safety Update:

Since getting the motorcycle I’ve gotten a snell approved helmet (Click here to see why DOT is a joke) the Scorpion EXO 710, a thrift shop leather jacket, Walmart leather gloves, and wear a pair of leather hiking boots when I ride. I know its not the safest gear but it’s far better than nothing and a lot better than the t-shirt and sandals I see most people riding around in.

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