Bargain Basement

A few years ago, I wrote an editorial about what kind of motorcycle three-thousand dollars would buy, and the results were surprising. Fast forward to now. In my humble opinion, the economy in general and the disposable income for many of us reamins in short supply, meaning good deals are great news..(continued)

Bike of the Month

Along with Harley's Sportster and Triumph's Bonneville, the Norton Commando's entry into the market as a late 60s hot rod made for three genuine super bikes of the era. The trio had much in common; twin cylinder engines sized for superiority, rakish styling and plenty of good, old fashioned macho personality. But of the three, only one would make a true market impact in the next decade...(read more)


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Bargain Basement

Gone are the days when the streets were crowded with over-priced, $75K-$100K Harley-cloned calendar choppers. In fact, I remember not too long ago counting twenty or more custom motorcycle builders listed in Thunder Press. Nowadays I see a lot more strippers; the modern incarnation of the cafe racer. Based on newer builds, these are often rattle-can flat black with Z-bars, barends and the exhausts poorly wrapped in white or grey heat tape. Most look like a bad recreation from Mad Max, but the point is they're on the road. Today’s young riders are wildly creative; prooving one can do a lot with fewer greenback and more imagination. (^JJ Cerilli photo by Ron Boe)

So let's ratchet the ante down a little further, say to just fifteen-hundred dollars? Is it possible to buy a medium displacement motorcycle (500cc or larger) for that little money? Intrigued, steered on to the virtual highway for a quick look to see what was available on our local craigslist. First observation;  there were a lot of clean 250cc machines and small displacement dirt bikes of all shapes and sizes falling into that category, remembering we're looking for 500cc or larger street bikes I looked past them. I also passed on any listing that had “Salvage Title” in the ad. Sure, good riders can be found if the salvage was carried out by a competent wrench, but how do you know? Generally speaking, it's good advice to shy away from any motorcycle that has been severely crashed, and experience teaches one often spends more later trying to save more now. To minimize further aggravation, buy a used bike with a clean title of ownership in the state which you live. In addition, buying a motorcycle with a clean title eliminates the “stolen bike scenario.” Believe me, it happens more than you think.

Included here is the actual text from the ads from our local craigslist; four interesting, potential good buys, and my comments for each. You'll notice my choices were all machines from the Big Four in Japan. In this author's opinion, you get the biggest bang for the buck and all four are well known for their overall quality and reliability. Plus, higher production means more spares available and every motorcycle will need them...especially the $1500-gem. The trick is knowing the what and whatnots.   

1998 Kawasaki Concours 1000

40K miles, no leaks - $1500

For many years, the Kawasaki Concours was THE number one choice for the Iron Butt Rally participants. One thousand miles per day for eleven days straight. Think about that. The were made from 1986 through 2006 before being replaced by the 1400cc Concours 14. The Kawasaki Concours came standard with a wet-sump, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, in-line four-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts, and a displacement of 997cc. Compression ratio was 10.2-to-1, with four 32 mm Keihin CV carburetors and 108 horsepower.  

It has a six-speed transmission with a shaft drive and triple disc brakes. The Concours has a curb weight of 631 pounds, seat height of 32 inches and a 4.9” of ground clearance. The fuel tank holds 7.5 gallons, and it got an average of 36 mpg. It can accelerate from a standstill to 50 mph in 2.8 seconds, and to 100 mph in 9.3 seconds. These are great touring bikes and this one has hard bags. At 40K miles and if properly maintained, the engine is just now entering its prime. Worth a closer look.

1999 Suzuki Katana 600
19k miles runs great. Starts right up - $1500

Suzuki introduced the sports touring Katana 600 at the 1987 Paris Bike Show. The 1999 model year Katana 600 featured a sleek design and was known for its performance and comfort. From 1990 through 1997 the Suzuki sold over 40,000 units of the Katana 600 in the US alone, making it one of the top three selling sport tourers for that time period.

The Katana 600 engine was based on the legendary GSX-R power plant. The 1999 Katana 600 had a 599-cc, DOHC, oil-air cooled, four-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder. The compression ratio was 11.3:1. The engine produced 77.36 horsepower at 10,500 rpm with a maximum torque of 40.57 pound-feet at 10,000 rpm. The top speed on the Katana 600 is about 129mph. It sports 32-mm Mikuni carburetors with a six-speed gearbox, and with triple disc brakes. The dry weight of the Katana 600 is 441pounds and fuel capacity is 5.28 gallons. MSRP was about $6200 when new.

Again, here is another one with low miles (19K) and these are very capable little middleweights. Insurance costs will be lower because of the 600cc displacement. For having lower-overall resale, it's ironic that Suzuki (IMHO) has always been the best overall performance value for the dollar among the Big Four. Parts shouldn't be an issue here. For the money, certainly worth checking out further.

1992 Kawasaki Ninja ZX750
Runs and rides great!18K, newer top end, all fluids are new and the brakes, clutch, tires, etc. are all good. - $1500

This four cylinder, liquid-cooled 749cc DOHC produces 101 HP at 10,500 RPM. The bike weighs about 510 pounds. It is chain-driven with a six-speed gearbox. The gas tank hold 4.76 gallons. These are solid and very fast motorcycles with excellent brakes. Kawasaki build these in various forms from 1983 through 2003. Later model 750 Ninjas were raced diligently and claimed twelve AMA Superbike victories. Kawasaki's road racing team riders were Eric Bostrom, Doug Chandler and Scott Russell. Again, with only 18.000 miles the engine should be fine, although request from the owner the documentation for the top-end work. Hopefully, it was done by a qualified mechanic. If properly maintained, this is a good value!

1983 Yamaha 750 Seca
750 Yamaha 4-cylinder. Shaft drive. New tires, runs good, all original, great transportation! Low mileage, great project for bopper bike or just leave stock for daily transportation. Clean AZ title. $1,100 or trade for guns, big tool box.

NOTE: The following open comments are from VMOL’s Nolan Woodbury, as he recently featured this bike as one of our popular Bike-Of-The-Month segment. See more here:

The smallest of Japan's iconic Big Four in terms of over 750cc sales, Yamaha directed its budget towards their GP effort, cutting edge R&D, and advertising. Lots of advertising. A prime example of early-80s technology-meets-style mindset, the XJ750RH Seca was fast, durable and handled well, but never sold in great numbers. In the USA, Yamaha's dealer network was sparse compared to Honda, making far fewer units available.

“Using Cycle World's June, 1981 test as a basis, that new bike buyer in 1981 was encouraged to look. Not only was the Seca 750 contending for honors atop the 750cc class in acceleration and top speed, it was packed with enough techno-features to satisfy a MIT grad. Start with a full LCD display for monitoring engine and chassis functions (side-stand warning and cut-out, brake/oil/fuel and battery fluid levels, headlight/taillight and more) anti-dive forks, shaft drive and we're just getting warmed up."

"Mechanically based on the XJ 650 Maxim introduced a year before, the Seca 750 features an air-cooled, 2v, DOHC inline four measuring an actual 748cc. Both bore and stroke (65 by 56.4mm) were increased and (rather surprising to many at the time) the engine was not rubber-mounted. The Seca 750's engine / transmission unit was powerful and effective; generating a claimed 76-HP at 9000 rpm. Cycle World clocked the Seca at 12.34 in the quarter and reached nearly 120-mph on top. The UK's Classic Mechanics managed 126-mph in July of 1982. The Seca features a five-speed transmission with wet clutch, swoopy alloy spokes in 19/18” (f&r) and an impressively light dry-weight of only 480-lb.”

One of my good friends piloted a stock Seca 750 on our infamous, six-month “Great Escape Tour” of the USA and Canada back in 1982. I can attest that in 20,000 and twenty-five states including Canada that proud Yammie 750 didn't skip a beat!

So there you have it, Four cool bikes for not a lot of money!  In closing, I wish you and your families a very safe and Happy Holidays and continued good riding for the upcoming New Year. JJ Cerilli

VMOL files, various online sources