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The worse the economy gets, the more popular motorcycles become. They’re a cheap – and fun – way to get around. “Rat bikes” – older models that maybe don’t look showroom-new anymore but run fine – even more so. You can still find mechanically sound, if a bit aesthetically impaired, rat bikes for $2,000 or so. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a lot less so. As an example, about a year ago, I stumbled on a 1983 Honda GL650 Interstate. This is a middleweight touring bike with a windshield, fairing and lockable, weatherproof storage compartments – making it ideal for longer trips and much more practical/useful than a sport bike. I snapped it up for $1,400 with 12,765 original miles on the clock. I now have a 60 MPG bike that’s a lot more appealing to me than a 50 MPG – and $25,000 – hybrid.

A buddy scored a couple of older Nighthawks – each of them costing less than $1,500. They have some dings; the chrome’s not perfect anymore. But the bikes are 100 percent solid, mechanically.

But, older bikes have their owns set of issues. The first of these is that many dealers won’t touch a bike older than 15 years or so. Some draw the line at ten. Many people do not know about this informal rule – and get a surprise when they take their newfound oldie in for a valve clearance check and carb adjustment.

This is very much unlike the situation with cars. You can take a 20-year-old Honda to virtually any Honda dealer – provided it’s a four-wheeled Honda.

I’m not sure why this is – but be advised, it is.

In any event, it’s important to factor this fact into your decision whether to buy an older bike – especially if you can’t do most major (and even minor) work yourself. Ask around and see whether there’s an independent shop/mechanic in your area you can go to. There probably is – with the caveat that specialists are often even more expensive than a dealer.

The second issue is related to the first: parts. Both availability and expense. The first is fairly obvious, even if many don’t think about it much.

The second less so.

The good news is that, for most major brands (Honda, Kaw, Harley, etc.) basic maintenance stuff (oil filters, brake parts, etc.) usually remains easy to find either at the dealer parts counter or through aftermarket mail order suppliers such as Dennis Kirk or (for the Japanese stuff) Sudco. Even after the bike is 30-plus years old. I have a ’76 Kz900, for example, and it has never been a problem to get those things.

Sometimes it takes a few days for them to get here via UPS. But no big deal.

However, after about ten years or so, the availability of factory-new replacement trim parts, electrical bits and pieces and even things like factory footpegs/grips, etc. often begins to peter out – especially if the bike was not a popular model that was produced in large numbers over a period of several years. Watch out for low-production bikes built only for a year or two – like my one-year-only ’83 GL650. If I ever need certain parts unique to this one model, built for only one model year, I will be on a Mission!

Honda is better than most in terms of parts availability – chiefly because while old man Honda himself was alive, it was official company policy that Honda would continue to manufacture parts for all the bikes it ever made – all the way back to ’60s-era Honda Dreams, even. But old man Honda is dead and gone – and the policy has changed. While it is still generally easier to scrounge parts for older Hondas, it’s not as easy as it used to be.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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