Hey everybody, I was hoping to get some advice on a 1968 BSA Lightning. I'm a college student with limited mechanical know-how who has always dreamed of owning a vintage motorcycle, and I've found myself in an interesting situation. A neighbor of mine who I have worked for and am close with has a restored 1968 BSA Lightning that he has talked about selling to me for a below market value price. He was practically given it for free years ago, under the condition that he would do the same when he was ready to move on. My idea is for the bike to be a more or less daily driver in the warmer months, a cheaper and more exhilarating alternative to getting to school/work than my Jeep XJ.
I have several concerns though. Would you all suggest this as a first time bike? I have some experience riding dirt bikes and am a pretty quick learner. I would definitely dedicate myself to learning the ins and outs of the bike, but I am not trying to get myself into a hole where I spend more time fixing the bike than enjoying it.
With a 45-year-old bike, the trouble you'll have with it depends ENTIRELY on how well the bike was "restored".
If your neighbor was given it for "free" years ago, and it is now "restored", then he has put about $3500 in it just in parts, if he did ALL the work, and about $8000 in it total, if he farmed out most of the labor.
If it was just given a "lick and a promise", shined up, new cosmetics, and so on, then it will give you HUGE amounts of trouble and you will curse and swear when trying to keep it running, and you will end up by damning all BSAs up street and down alley as unreliable pieces of junk for the rest of your life.
If, however, it was done right, and the wiring taken apart and all the connections cleaned or replaced, and the engine taken apart and tolerances checked and the sludge trap cleaned and the crank bearings checked and clearanced as necessary, and the carbs rebuilt, and a good ignition and charging system put in, and the gas tank cleaned and maybe lined, and new wheel bearings installed, and the clutch adjusted, and timing set properly ....
then yes, it would make a good first time bike for someone getting into old BritBikes. Make sure you have the Jeep on the road as a backup "just in case", because if you're going to use it regularly, you'll have to maintain it regularly, and if you get busy and forget, then you will need to spend more time with it than with a modern bike or car.
It depends entirely on your motivation and whether you are ready to do the extra things you need to do for the pleasure and the notoriety and the satisfaction of riding an old Brit regularly ....
We're approaching the tipping point ... where those who vote for a living will outnumber those who work for a living .....
I'm at school 6 hours away from the bike right now, so I haven't been able to examine it thoroughly, but from what I know, it was restored by his brother who owned a motorcycle shop. The brother would pick it up every so often and do all the necessary maintenance to keep it running well. The neighbor still rides it on and off and has told me it'll start right up on the 3rd kick. From what he has told me, and I do trust him, it has been well restored and is ready to ride. He has stressed to me that I will need to be able to preform routine maintenance, so it sounds like he's being up front with me.
I'm in no rush with this so I think I'll first learn as much as I can about what owning a bike like this will entail and schedule a MSF course sometime this Spring..
Again, thanks for the responses, I hope this all works out!
As Lannis has provided, the BSA will require more attention than late model motorcycles. Vintage British bikes are not the "just get on 'em and go" type of machine, especially if they are ridden on a regular basis. If you are willing to work on it a lot, then you will have tons enjoyment with that BSA. Part of the mystique (if there is any) of vintage bikes is working on them as well as the rides.
1967 BSA Wasp 1967 BSA Hornet (West Coast Model) 1967 BSA Hornet (East Coast Model) 1968 BSA Firebird Scrambler 1968 BSA Spitfire Mark IV
Jordan, On many modern bikes, you change the oil and that's about it until you gat some serious miles on it. On a BSA you must be committed to routine maintenance. Changing engine oil, primary oil and gearbox oil, timing the engine, disassembling carb(s), checking electrical connections, changing points, putting oil in forks, lubing the chain, adjusting the chain(s), adjusting brakes. If you are committed to doing this go for it. Get a shop manual and parts manual. All these skills will be necessary to have anything reliable and even then the BSA will not approach the reliability of a modern Japanese bike. If you learn these basics and enjoy it, then you are ready to learn how to rebuild one when the time comes. Most of the guys on this site can do all the above and much more. It is a hobby and for some a passion. If you get stuck, all the answers are on this site.
Its hard to say how reliable the bike is going to be without doing a complete inspection so I wont speak as to how reliable that particular bike will be but I can speak to how a good a well sorted one will be to use as a daily driver.
Ive owned alot of old cars and have some experience on how well suited they are to daily use. Some old cars are great for everyday use, I used to have 67 Cadillac that was a great daily driver(except for fuel consumption), it would keep up with modern traffic no problem, was super reliable and easily comfortable enough for daily use. I also had a 63 VW beetle that while it was also super reliable, it was strained doing 55 mph and was by no means relaxing to drive at a modern pace and so was a poor choice for daily use.
Anyway,I recently bought a low mile, unmolested 70 lightning and since have formed a opinion on how "daily driver" friendly a late 60s lightning is.
All in all, its not too bad. Mine is plenty reliable (so far) and really the only thing that I ever find my self doing is messing with the carbs from time to time. About every 500 miles I find it to be necessary to re-set the idle mixture and idle speed as it will begin to stall at stops from time to time. I change the oil every 750 miles or so simply because of the lack of a oil filter and lube the grease zerks every once in a while but other than that its pretty care free.
Driveabilty wise, its no goldwing but its alot better than a street legal dirt bike. It will keep up w/ freeway traffic(stick to the 2 slower lanes) and is fairly high speed stable. Mine has the TLS front brake and after dialing it in actually work pretty decently(leave a good following distance and be aware of other drivers). One annoying thing is that it has no fast idle system so takes some babysitting when cold and all the controls feel a a bit "muted" compared to a modern bike.
I think assuming it a good bike youll enjoy using it for daily use and as long as its not your sole form of transportation owning it will be a pleasant experience. As other have said, get the factory literature and as long as your expectations are reasonable you wont be disappointed.
1970 BSA A65L 1974 Yamaha RD350 2008 Yamaha WR250R 1967 HD Sprint 250 SS