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How to Buy a Used Motorcycle

There are many considerations in the process of purchasing a used motorcycle. What type of used motorcycle do I want? Where should I look? What should I check or test on a used motorcycle? Here are several to aid you.


  1. Image titled What type of riding Step 1
    Decide what type of riding you will be doing most often: commuting, sports, touring, or a combination. This is the most important criterion you need to consider. Be honest with yourself on this one. A 1000 cc super bike might make your heart skip a beat, but there is a very good chance that you will hate it on the commute, and that your pillion will be uncomfortable on it. Track-days on a cruiser may also be disappointing.
  2. Image titled Reputable dealership Step 2
    Buy from a reputable dealership if possible. Private sales may be lower priced, but you will not have any comeback if the bike breaks down or blows up. Most dealerships offer some type of warranty, or at the very least, will work with you should anything go wrong in the first few months of buying. If you must buy from a private party, insist that you be able to take the bike to a reputable dealership to be assessed and inspected. A few dollars spent now could save you heaps of money and trouble in the future. In addition, dealerships can do an ownership history search for you to make sure the bike in question wasn't stolen and hasn't been listed as "written off" by an insurance company.
  3. Image titled Chack the bike Step 3
    Check the bike out for yourself. Take some simple hand tools with you, including a flashlight and, if possible, a multimeter.
    • Check the condition of the drive chain and sprocket. The chain should have around ¾" of play (up and down) and the teeth of the sprocket should not show obvious damage or wear. Try to wiggle the chain side to side on the sprocket. There shouldn't be much movement on a good set. Have someone sit down on the motorcycle and check to make sure the chain is somewhat snug, with very little movement up and down. Chains wear out over time, but sprockets should last much longer. A severely worn sprocket indicates either an old sprocket or a poor maintenance schedule.
    • The tires should have good tread all the way across the surface with no signs of uneven wear or damage. Daily drivers' tires will often have more wear in the middle on the tread (more highway driving). Others who've raced their motorcycle on the track, will have tires that show more wear at the edge of the tread.
    • Sit on the bike. Look at the condition of the brake and clutch levers, bar-end weights, straightness of the bars and instrument cluster. These could be signs of an accident or drop. Others could be scratched engine cases, foot pegs or exhaust pipes. Hold the handbrake and bounce the front suspension. It should feel even and firm. Get off the bike and check the fork tubes for signs of rust, pitting and oil. These are signs of worn fork seals, or possible future expensive problems.
    • While checking the forks, run a fingernail across the brake rotors, feeling for uneven wear or grooving. Look into the brake caliper to see how much of the pads are left. If the bike has spokes, check the overall condition of the individual spokes. For all types, look for dents or damage to the rim
    • Put the bike on its center stand if so equipped; turn the bars side to side. Feel for any 'notchy-ness' or roughness in the steering head.
    • If possible, check the visible frame; remove the seat to see underneath it also. There should be no dents, kinks or visible damage to the frame. If there is, walk away.
    • While the seat is off and you can access the battery, clip the multi-meter across the battery terminals and check the voltage. It should read no less than 12 volts. Start the engine. The meter should read no more than 14 volts or so while running. If it does, that may be a sign of a 'dodgy' voltage regulator and it may overcharge a battery and cause it to fail. Check the lights and indicators at this stage also. Pull a fuse or two out and check for corrosion. Do this with the engine off of course. Also, check the battery terminals and overall appearance of the battery. Replace the seat.
    • Open the fuel tank and check for obvious signs of rust or corrosion using your flashlight (not a match or lighter).
    • Inspect under fairings (if the motorcycle has fairings). Remove the same fairing the owner removes to change spark plugs and do routine maintenance. Check the frame for fatigue at the weld points. Inspect the overall condition of the engine block, plugs, and radiator. Check for leaks around the oil filter and oil pan bolt.
    • Look at the brake fluid level. This is usually on top of handlebars, in an enclosure with a clear window. With the engine running, pull hard on the front brakes level and release while watching the fluid level. It should fall and rise. It should rise quickly once the brake is released.
  4. Image titled Motorcycle Ben
    Take a test drive.
    • Pick a nice day with dry roads and good visibility if possible. Bring your bike license and proper gear if you have it. Most dealers will have loaner gear available for you to use. If at a dealer, be prepared to sign an insurance waiver; if privately, be ready to leave your license with the seller as security.
    • Pick a route that you are familiar with that has light traffic and good road conditions if possible. Start slowly and get used to the way the bike feels and responds.
    • Test the brakes. They should not 'pulse'. That is a sign of warped disks. They should engage smoothly and evenly and not grab violently or feel spongy.
    • Accelerate through the gears. The transmission should feel firm and not slip out of gear under acceleration or feel 'clunky'.
    • While on a straight, clean patch of road, weave left and right slightly to see how the bike responds. It should feel stable and easy to correct.
    • Listen for any unusual engine noises, suspension creaking or rattling and any undue vibrations. Ask questions about anything you have doubts about.
  5. Image titled Inspect Step 5 1
    Inspect the bike again after the ride, looking for any leaks or drips. Check the oil, through either the sight glass or; when the engine cools, the dipstick if so equipped. Most semi or full synthetic oils will darken after only a few miles. That is completely normal.
  6. Image titled Service history Step 6
    Request a service history. It is always a good thing to have, but for several reasons, they may not be available. Ask for an owner's manual and factory toolkit if available.
  7. Image titled Be realistic Step 7
    Be realistic when negotiating on the final price of the bike. For a private seller, this may be his baby and insulting him now will ensure that you will not get a fair price. If at a dealership, realize that the salesperson may have targets to meet and a boss looking over his shoulder. Do some research online; use the retail pricing guides if available, or read the bike classifieds to get a fair market value of the bike. Then, set your buy price accordingly.


  • If you're planning on trading in your bike to lower costs:

    • Clean it! Wash it, wax it, clean the wheels. Every hour the dealer has to spend tidying it up will cost you a bunch on trade in price.
    • Have a verifiable service history. Have receipts or dealer history.
    • Know how much your bike is worth. Don't just say "as much as I can get".
    • Tighten and lube your chain. Basic maintenance is critical to the trade-in price. A loose, dirty chain is a sure sign of lack of maintenance and will make the dealer wary.
    • Get an ownership history.
    • A fresh Warrant of Fitness will give the dealer confidence about your bike.
    • Never take the first offer. A dealership will offer below what he is willing to pay. Be prepared to barter with price, discounted service or free or discounted accessories.
  • Insurance is never optional. You will need it eventually.


  • Motorcycling involves risk. Be prepared. Do NOT buy the cheapest safety gear.
  • Most importantly, take a class on motorcycle riding. This will help make you a defensive driver and will lower your insurance rates.Even if you have driven a motorcycle for years, an advance rider class is a way to tweak your riding skills and make you an even better rider.
  • Do not buy more motorcycle than you can ride. Ride within your limits and experience. If you have any reservations about the road - worthiness of a particular machine .. do NOT ride it.

Things You'll Need

  • Flashlight
  • Multimeter
  • Helmet and riding gear

Article Info

Categories: Motorcycles