Buying a motorcycle can be a pretty wild ride. You don’t know who the seller is, you don’t know what the bike’s been through – it can feel like you’re going in blind. And whether it’s your first motorcycle purchase or your tenth, there are a lot of things to consider before spending your hard-earned money on an unfamiliar bike.
Buying a brand-new motorcycle isn’t nearly as risky, just make sure you choose the right one the first time. Nobody wants to get bored with a $10,000 bike in a month. And trust me, there’s no reason your first ever motorcycle should be a showroom-new model. It’s a bad idea all around.
When it comes to buying a used motorcycle, you can’t know everything about it before you buy it. But after reading this article you’ll feel confident ticking all the major boxes before plopping down a wad of cash. Following these steps might even save yourself serious trouble down the road.
Get to Know the Bike
The first step of buying a motorcycle should always be to gather information about that specific model. You can do most of your homework on this before even seeing the bike in person, provided the seller posted photos or can send you some.
You can vet most efforts to “put lipstick on a pig” without ever leaving your sofa. Are those fairings a stock color? What about the wheels? Any zip tie action or missing bolts anywhere? Any visible damage? None of these are deal-breakers, but they could all steer negotiations in your favor.
Check the Title Status
A motorcycle that doesn’t have a clean title might look like a great deal, but it could easily be a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.
Assess the Damage
Let’s say you run a VIN check on a bike. It comes back clean, but when you show up to buy it you discover the bike has damage. A bike with a clean title can still carry battle scars; people rarely call their insurance company over a minor incident.
Though damaged bikes are often much cheaper, it’s usually in your best interest to avoid buying a damaged motorcycle for several reasons:
- Your future insurance claims could be affected
- The damage could extend beyond the surface
- The conditions it happened in are unknown
Be sure to take note of all damaged areas, using a flashlight to check behind plastics and around seams. Listen for any rattles or ticks when the engine is running and see what happens to them when you rev it up. Strange sounds could be a sign of internal damage.
Get a Second Opinion
Most mechanics charge less than $100 for a motorcycle pre-purchase inspection That’s a small price to pay to protect a substantial investment. If you’re ever in doubt about any aspect of a bike you’re buying, or if you just want an added vote of confidence, a mechanic will give you the straight facts.
Trust the Facts
We all wish the world was full of rainbows and unicorns and mutual goodwill. But no matter how well you and the seller get along, always rely on the facts at your disposal – especially if they contradict what the seller is saying.
Feel the seller out. Before the meet, ask the following questions: why they’re selling, how long they’ve had the bike, how many miles they’ve put on it, and what their past and future riding hobby looks like. Find out if this was this their first bike, their last bike, or somewhere in between. If anything about their story doesn’t add up, take note.
Use your best judgement. Something we've all seen is the claim that “I laid it over in my driveway at 0 mph.” In no world does dropping a bike in your driveway result in long deep scrapes down the side, a bent subframe, or a cracked engine case. Those are clear indicators that something more serious happened and you should definitely address that with the seller.
Beware of tunnel vision. If you ever get a bad feeling about buying a motorcycle, even if you drove an hour to get there and the cash is in your hand, walk away. The world is full of sexy bikes calling your name – don’t get stuck with a crazy one.
Play the Game
The process of selling a motorcycle in the United States is a funny thing. Doing it well requires knowing the ol’ song-and-dance called negotiation.
As a seller, we all like to set a high price and follow it up with "or best offer," in hopes that the right person will be willing to drop tons of cash. Then as a buyer, we want a deal we can brag about to our friends for weeks on end.
As a buyer, there’s a lot you can do to steer a sale in your direction.
You’re not there to worship the seller’s bike like it’s some one-off masterpiece, even if it is. Be frank with the seller about any problems you spot and don't be afraid to fight for a good deal.
Make a fair offer
Try to avoid making cash offers over the phone. It comes off as insincere, but moreover it makes it really easy for the seller to say "no." Instead, fish for the general idea of whether the seller will take less than the advertised price, then make a fair offer in person.
Carry the cash you’re willing to spend and not a dollar more. If you discover new issues in person, it follows that you shouldn’t feel compelled to spend all you brought. Change your offer accordingly.
Meet in the middle
It’s a bad idea to drive a long way to buy a motorcycle. It’s an even worse idea to deliver a bike to a buyer. In both cases someone’s getting put over a barrel.
I once drove 3 hours only to discover the bike was a total pile of junk. The pressure of being physically committed to the deal pushed me toward buying a bike I didn't even want at that point. If it's across town that’s one thing. But when the seller is across the state and they won’t meet you in the middle, walk away.
Make the Call
Many things factor into the final decision of whether or not to buy a motorcycle.
It’s always cheaper to let someone else buy the mods. Don’t panic if the receipts are long gone; as long as you’re familiar with installing aftermarket parts correctly, you'll know if any corners were cut by someone else.
Check the entire bike for any signs of oil, fork oil, brake fluid, coolant, and wipe marks. Look for wear marks, paint overspray, and any signs of repairs. Sellers will sometimes wipe the leaks off the cases or throw touch-up paint over scratches.
If the sale happens at the seller’s house, look for drips where the bike has been parked. If you’re in public, get underneath and check out the bottom of the engine.
Take a Test Ride
Some noises and vibrations won't become apparent if you go easy on the bike. Ride it hard enough to prove that it can perform how it should.
If the seller declines a test ride, I personally wouldn’t buy the bike. Especially if the answer’s still “no” even with cash in hand, something is probably very wrong with it.
Don’t Look Back
Just like deleting Tinder, once you’ve bought a motorcycle you should quit looking at Craigslist and Marketplace for a while! Get out and enjoy your new bike!
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