The Dennis Kirk Blog
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Buying a used motorcycle can be intimidating. It can feel like gambling- you never really know exactly what you are going to get. This element of the unknown is sure to cause some stress for the vast majority of buyers, but, buying used is still an incredibly popular way to get a bike. It’s cheaper than buying new, there are plenty of unique options, and there are some really good deals to be had. The key to finding those good deals is to know what you are looking for, and to know what you are looking at when you show up to look at the bike. Use the list below to maximize your chances of making a great purchase on your next bike.
Before you ever see the bike in person, you should have done your research. You should know what the bike typically sells for and if that price falls in the range of what you are willing to pay. You can find tons of information all over the internet, in the same way that you found us. The research you do might show you weird defects or quirks for a make and model, if it’s been recalled, and more. At the very least, you’ll sound like a motorcycle encyclopedia when talking to the seller, which can help you get a better price.
Looking at the footpegs, handlebars, and brake and clutch levers can tell you valuable information about how the bike was ridden. And also if it has taken a fall. If the handlebars and brake levers are scratched or damaged on the end, it’s a sign that this bike has taken at least one fall. If the footpegs are worn down or scratched, the bike has either been ridden so aggressively that they were dragging their pegs, or it’s from a fall. Knowing these things can clue you into how the bike was ridden and cared for. If you see any of these signs, it’s worth asking the owner about them.
In the same way that a person’s hands can tell you about themselves, tires can tell you a lot about a motorcycle. What you are looking for are the wear patterns. If the center of the tire is worn, then this bike has spent most of its time riding upright; maybe on the freeway, in a daily commute. If the sides of the tire are more worn than the center, then this bike has spent considerable time riding at some serious angles, and has possibly seen some time at the track. Not all miles are equal, and knowing how those miles were clocked can help you make a better guess at the bike’s overall well being.
When you are a seriously looking to buy a motorcycle, it is perfectly reasonable and extremely important that you hear it run! After all, It doesn’t matter if it looks pretty; if it doesn’t run, the only place you can show it off is in your garage. When they first start it up for you, make sure that they are starting it cold. If it sat there running for 20 minutes before you got there, it can mask any performance issues the bike might have. Ask them to leave it cold when you schedule your showing, and touch the pipes before they start it to make sure it hasn’t been running.
Assuming that you are given permission, take that bike for a test ride! They’ll want to know that you are licensed, and they might want cash in hand. We don’t blame them, so come prepared. Even then, they might not let you ride it, and that’s their right. If you do go for a test ride, use that time well. Listen to the bike, feel how it handles, and pay special attention to how it shifts. Listen for clunks and rattles that might suggest mechanical issues, and make sure that all lights, blinkers and gauges work.
Aftermarket goodies like exhausts, floorboards, and handlebars are great, but they don’t actually add too much to the bike’s resale price. If you wanted a bike with the add-ons anyways, then that’s a lucky bonus, but don’t let the seller overvalue these pieces! Don’t get us wrong, they do add value. But, a $600 exhaust system should not translate to $600 on the asking price, not even close.
Check brake fluid levels (especially if taking a test ride), as it can be another way to estimate the amount of care that this bike has seen. Check for signs of oil or coolant leaks as well. These kinds of issues aren’t necessarily a deal breaker, but they can prove a challenge for the less mechanically inclined and at the very least they will cost you money and time to fix.
You might not be all that concerned with the quality of the chain and sprockets, as they are expected to wear and can be easily replaced. But, this replacement costs money, and that makes it worth considering while you formulate your offer. The chain and sprocket can also show you how well the bike has been cared for. If they have run their sprocket into nubs, this does not bode well for how the bike was maintained. Obviously, this will only be a factor if the chain and sprocket are in truly bad condition- don’t expect a discount for a slightly worn sprocket.
The forks are worth looking at, and it’s easy to do! Look at the front forks and look for any signs of a leak. You should also look for scratches or nicks in the chrome. The forks should be smooth. The smoother the better.
While you are looking over the bike, make sure to check the VIN. A little bit of research can tell you if the bike was stolen, trashed, and how many owners it has had. You’ll also want to know what kind of work it has had done in the past, and who did the work. You should expect to hear about the usual; new chains, new brake pads, maybe a new rotor too. Hearing that these things were done is a sign that the bike was cared for well, and you should be happy to hear it. But other projects, like, say, a new transmission or piston, might scare you, and rightly so. Ideally, the work would be done by a professional mechanic. If it was handled by the owner as a weekend project, well, you’ll need to decide how much you trust their handiwork.
Looking over the paint and chrome on a motorcycle is about the easiest thing you can do. You want to look at the cleanliness not because you couldn’t easily clean it yourself, but because it can be a sign of how well the bike has been maintained. You want to see if it’s been ridden hard and put away wet, or if it’s been pampered like an only child. The trick is to check the cracks and crevices. Everyone cleans the tank before selling; but not everyone digs into the hard to reach places. By checking those places, like at seams on the exhaust or the underside of the headlight, you can see an indication of how this bike has been cared for in the past. Is this a foolproof way to draw judgement on a bike? Of course not. You’re not Sherlock Holmes and this isn’t a murder mystery. But, it can help you decide just how well this bike has been cared for throughout its life.
Now that you’ve done your homework, you’re hopefully feeling a little bit more prepared for your next motorcycle showing. You know what to ask, and what to look for. With a little bit of luck, you’ll come away with a great bike and maybe some tips of your own! If you have any tips for your fellow riders, leave them in the comments below, along with any questions you might have.
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