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Evaluating a Potential Used Motorcycle

Once you have made the decision of what kind of motorcycle you want and the budget you will be working with, it’s time to begin your search. If you are working with a smaller budget, or are simply trying to get more bang for your buck, consider investing in a used motorcycle. Just like buying a new car, motorcycles also lose a significant amount of their value the instant they leave the lot. By carefully selecting an used bike, you can end up saving a lot of money.

Do your homework.

Before doing anything else, do some price research to determine the fair market value of the bike you’re after. You can find this information on the NADA’s website, or by searching websites like eBay Motors, CycleTrader, and Craigslist to find out how much the bike of your dreams will cost you.

Next, determine if you want to buy from a dealer or private seller. There are pros and cons for either of those options. Buying from a dealer usually offers the peace of mind that the bike has been inspected before going on the lot, and will also give you better leverage should anything go wrong with the bike immediately after purchase. Dealers can also help you get financing in most cases. But buying from a private seller usually means you can get more information about that specific bike from the owner, and it can offer a little more room for price negotiation.

Ask plenty of questions.

Once you have narrowed down your choices to a handful of bikes, it’s time to find out as much information as possible. Ask plenty of questions, even before you go to see the bike, by calling and chatting with the seller first, whether it’s a dealership or private individual. The following are a list of sample questions that you can ask.

  • Was the bike bought new or used? If used, how many owners has the bike had?
  • Is the bike being financed, or do you have the title in hand? (If buying from a private seller)
  • Has the bike been in an accident or dropped before?
  • Where was the bike maintained, and do you have any maintenance records?
  • Where and how was the bike stored?
  • How often do you ride, and what kind of riding do you do?
  • Why do you want to sell the bike?
  • Are there any cosmetic or mechanical problems with the bike?

Inspect the bike.

After getting a bit of background information about the bike, it’s time to go check it out in person. It’s easy to fall in love with a bike the first time you lay eyes on it, but before pulling the trigger, make sure to go over the machine with a fine-tooth comb, inspecting everything from cosmetics to mechanics. Here are some simple tips to help you know where and how to look.

  • Check the body work, frame, pegs, and handlebars for scrapes, scratches, or damage. Excessive scrapes on the foot pegs and handlebars are a sign the bike has been dropped before. Worse yet, scrapes on the frame, engine crankcase, clutch covers, and fairings probably means the bike has been crashed.
  • Inspect all lights, indicators, and gauges and make sure they are working properly. Also, take a quick glance at the battery leads and cables to make sure there is no corrosion.
  • Inspect the tread depth of the tires and make sure there is plenty of tread depth and no cracking or uneven wear. Low tread depth means you might be buying a new set of tires sooner than you’d like, while cracking along the sidewall of the tires is a good indicator that the bike has been sitting for a while. Old and cracking tires will need to be replaced as well. Uneven wear can be a good indicator that the wheels may be misaligned due to fork, frame, or swing arm damage. While checking the tires, also take a look at the condition of the brakes to ensure the pads still have plenty of life.
  • Check the chain and sprocket or belt drive. The chain should be clean, tight, and well lubricated. If the chain is rusted, has too much slack, or shows visible signs of wear, it needs to be replaced. On a belt-driven bike, you will want to make sure there isn’t excessive slack or cracking. Next, check the sprocket for signs of wear. The teeth should be smooth and even.
  • If you can, check the overall condition of the engine. Inspect the spark plug wires and check for oil leaks around the valve covers and oil pan. Also, pull the dipstick and evaluate the condition of the oil. If it is dark in color, or if the dipstick or oil-fill area smells burnt, chances are the oil has not been changed regularly.
  • Make sure the forks, steering head, and rear shocks are in good condition. There should be no corrosion present, and they should provide firm, progressive resistance when you push down on them. Then, turn the handle bars from side to side. They should move smoothly and without any resistance.
  • Make sure when you are inspecting the bike that you start it cold. A seller can mask potential engine problems by letting it run, or warm up, before your arrival. On start up, listen for any metallic clatter or noise, and look for blue smoke from the exhaust. Both are usually signs of internal engine damage. You can also wipe the inside of the exhaust with your finger. If it is covered in black soot afterwards, it probably means the engine is burning oil. This usually means you’ll have to do costly repairs, or it could indicate a serious internal problem.

Take a test ride.

If everything checks out on your visual inspection, your final step is to go on a test ride. Make sure you wear the proper safety equipment, and start out slowly in an area with little to no traffic to adjust to how the bike responds. Before doing any serious riding, check the brakes and make sure they are smooth, strong, and progressive when applied. If they pulsate, it means the rotors are warped. Next accelerate smoothly and safely, shifting through the gears. If the bike pops out of gear or feels choppy under acceleration, you’ve got a problem.

On a clear patch of road, or in a clear parking lot, make a few slight, side-to-side turns with the bike to get a feel for how it handles. When you are comfortable, make a few tight turns to make sure the bike behaves correctly and that you are comfortable with how it feels. If not, go ahead and end your test drive there. Lastly, listen for any unusual noises from the engine, transmission, drivetrain, or suspension, and make sure there is no excessive vibration from the suspension or engine. If you happen to notice an unusual noise that isnít affecting performance or handling, ask the seller about it. Some bikes make their own unique noises. For example, most Ducati bikes use a dry clutch system that makes a distinctive, and loud, clattering noise that is completely normal for the bike.