Buying a Used Motorcycle: Part 1

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Buying a Used Motorcycle: Part 1

By Patrick Duff

Whether you're a new rider looking for your first bike or an old hand searching for that certain bike to add to your growing stable of machines, buying a reliable used motorcycle can be as daunting an exercise as it is exciting. To keep your buying experience in the latter category and to help you steer yourself away from a bad decision, we've put together a few simple steps you can take before you commit your money, pride and body to a used bike.

One of the first things you need to consider is whether or not you will buy from a dealer or a private party. Both have their ups and their downs. While most of what follows can be applied to either buying situation, the focus is on purchasing from a private party, although you would be wise to do the research, inspection and make the same type of judgment calls when purchasing from a dealer.


If you're looking to add to your stable, you probably know exactly what type of motorcycle you want, but if you're new to riding, all the different styles of bikes may have your head spinning. The first step to buying a used bike is to decide what type of motorcycle is right for you.

During this "research" stage it is a good idea to not only decide on type of bike but also size and features. This is where talking to friends, looking at photos on the internet, and reading old magazine reviews can come in handy. Even if you plan on buying from a private party, go to as many dealers as you can and sit on their bikes. If the bike seems huge and unmanageable or if it is simply uncomfortable, it probably isn't the correct bike for you. The dealers won't mind, and you'll find most good sales people will answer your questions even if they know you don't plan on buying now – you just might in the future.

At some point your taste will drift toward a particular style and model, look at as many similar models as you can. Giving yourself options is a good way to keep yourself from jumping at the first bike you see.

Once you have a particular bike in mind, do some quick internet research. Having some concept of market value as well as common maintenance issues for the model and year before you see the motorcycle will give you a good idea of what things to look for and what questions to ask. Then, gather up a flashlight, tire pressure gauge, and a friend – it is helpful if this friend is motorcycle savvy, but just having someone who will keep you from jumping on the first bike you see is helpful. I bring my girlfriend.

First Impressions:

Never judge a book by its cover, right? Maybe. While appearances can be deceiving, the external condition of the bike should give you a general impression of the internal condition.

Is the paint, plastic or chrome scratched, dented or rusty? Does it look like the owner has ever washed or waxed the motorcycle? If the owner hasn't taken care of the outside, it's a good bet he hasn't taken very good care of the inside.

Hopefully the owner will be honest with you about accidents, but seeing parallel scratches in the paint or plastic, on the backs of mirrors, on engine covers, or on brake or clutch levers is a good, clear sign the bike has seen the pavement. If you think the bike has been down, make sure you check that the front forks and frame are straight by standing back and looking down the centerline of the bike. If you see cracks and welds in engine cases, walk away.

Then, look for missing parts such as side covers or tire valve stem caps. In addition, looking at the fasteners on the bike will give you a good idea of the mechanical skills and know how of the owner. Look specifically for rounded off or, even worse, missing fasteners such as cotter pins. If there are modifications, are they professional looking or are you seeing duct tape and zip ties all over the place?

Finally, the overall appearance of the owner is as important as the appearance of the bike. If the owner has a sloppy attitude or seems to lack knowledge of his bike, this should be a warning sign. I usually ask to see the place the bike is stored looking for obvious signs of fluid leaks and other potential issues. Seeing a clean, dry, safe place and a bike cover are signs that the owner has taken care of his motorcycle.

The main thing to remember is that you have the power. If things don't seem right, or the seller is pushy or otherwise off-putting, walk away. If after you've gotten a first impression and you decide the bike is worth looking at further, it is time to give the prospective bike a thorough inspection.

...continue to Part 2

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