Top 3 Tips for Buying a Used Motorcycle

Buying a used motorcycle can be a gas (literally and figuratively), but it can also turn into a nightmare of epic proportions.

While it’s possible to save a mountain of cash – and you can surely get more bike than you could if you were shopping for new bikes through a dealer – you can also find yourself astride a monster trying to kick it over until your eyes pop out of your head and your ears produce jets of creamy, puréed brain matter.

When you’re finally ready to take the plunge and buy a bike, keep in mind these tips as you’re going to need something you can ride, not just a trailer queen that looks good with the garage door open.

Here are a few tips to consider before you dump hard earned money into someone else’s pocket:


1. Check the cosmetics.

Now’s the time to bring out the toothbrush and the flashlight.

Before you buy any used motorcycle, start by looking for any cosmetic damage. You’ll want to look for more than just big dings and dents, though those problems can lead you to find more serious issues if you follow them to their consequences.

Look at the handlebars. Are the handlebars scraped or scuffed up? How do the ends of the handlebars look? Dinged up bars are a clear indicator that the motorcycle has been laid down, and while that’s not the end of the world, it means you should keep digging. Is the frame tweaked? Cases damaged? All things you should check.

A few more key indicators of additional problems might be broken signal indicator posts, scrapes on exhaust pipes, and scuffs on the springs or shocks. Any signs of this sort should lead to a discussion of what happened with you and the owner. If the story is too good to be true, it most likely is.

While you’re looking for dings and dents, keeping digging through the mechanicals as well. Check the tires for tread thickness. Examine the brakes and break pads. Does the engine have an over abundance of grime, grease, or oil? Does the bike look like it was loved, or was it used, abused, and trouble waiting to happen? You don’t want to spend your hard-earned lucre on motorcycle insurance for a machine destined to drive you crazy with constant breakdowns and repair bills.

2. Do the start and stop game.

Start it.  Does the bike start cleanly and easily? With older machines there might be a bit more work to getting them started. The key factor here is that the bike starts and idles with little or no input from the throttle. A good bike is a bike that starts and idles without  manual intervention.

Start and stop the bike a few times. This not only helps you judge whether or not the battery is in good condition, it can also help you determine that the bike wasn’t just slap-tuned  for a quick sale.

Let the prospective purchase heat up fully at idle. This might let you discover problems with carburetion (in older bikes),  injectors  (in newer bikes) or cooling system failures.

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Give the bike a few blips on the throttle, and while you’re sitting on it, take time to bounce the shocks up and down a couple of times. Does the motor sound smooth, or is it choking on years of abuse? A good clean sound is what you want to hear. Move the bars back and forth vigorously. This might help you detect electrical system problems as well as any suspension issues.

If the bike coughs and rattles like a patient in a nursing home, you might want to consider moving on down your list of prospects…

3. Take a Lengthy Ride – And This Is Not An Option

You must take the bike for a ride. Around the block to begin with until you get  a feel for the overall condition of the machine, and don’t forget to make sure part of your ride includes a stretch of  highway or freeway. Not only will this give you a nice taste of how the bike rides, it will also reveal any suspension or handling problems. A longer ride has the added benefit of cluing you in as to whether  if your body position will be comfortable on the particular bike you’re dealing with. Comfort and handling are much more important than the amount of style points you’ll pick up on the road. You might like the way a particular machine looks, but if it rides poorly or proves to be uncomfortable, you won’t put in many miles.

Buying a used motorcycle can be much more fun than buying a new one. You dodge the guilt associated with blowing a huge wad of cash on something the kids can’t use, you get to shop without high-pressure sales pitch action, and during the process, you’ll learn something about a wide variety of different machines.

You may also find yourself meeting some very cool people.

Buying a used motorcycle is a common-sense process, and if you feel uncomfortable with how it’s going, ask a pal to come along for moral and technical support. An extra pair of eyes never hurts, and your buddy might spot something you missed that could come back to haunt you down the road.

A bonus tip?

Do a little research on the make and model you’re considering. Does it have a history of mechanical failure? Very high insurance cost? Shortage of available parts? All these are red flags and things you should consider before you hand over a sack of  Benjamins…

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