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113 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Intro: Hey guys, I've only been an active member here for a little while but one of the most recurring questions I've seen are "What do I look for?" or along those lines on used motorcycles. I've always been an informed buyer, more so as I get older. When I was in the bike market, my father (a rider for 45+ years) and I actually made a list of things to go over and brought it with me so nothing slipped my mind. I edited that list and added a few things as well as short descriptions for the new buyer. I'm a detail oriented person, I don't believe I missed many things. If I did, feel free to chime in. I didn't see any stickys or Forum Sub Categories that lined up with this, other than a few threads here and there when I searched for a "Guide for buying". I see the "So you want a Supersport as your 1st bike?", maybe this could accompany it? And yes, I was bored. But I also realize not everyone has a friend/relative well versed in motorcycles to guide them properly. Without further ado:

A Guide To Buying A Used Motorcycle - Applies for private/dealer sales

Required items:

Cash in hand (Most of time required for test riding on private sales)
Friend - Basically someone to play the devil's advocate and c0ckblock you from getting obsessed/googly eyed. Don't bring that friend that loves spending everyone else's money.
A little research! It takes 10 minutes to do some proper reading

Before the meet:

1) When you are setting up a time to look at the bike, request that it has not been warmed up first. You want to see the bike's ability to start cold. Some are hard to start, but much easier when warm.
2) Also while setting up the meet, ask if you will be allowed to test ride? Most sellers (private) are willing with cash in hand. I have been at a few dealers that flat out refuse sport bike test riding. If you potentially could, bring proper gear to ride in.
3) Save your time. Ask about the title beforehand. See #1 below.

Questions to ask to start things off:

1) First and foremost: Does it have a title/What type of title? Is it clean? Is it in the name of the seller?
2) Does it have a lien? (See note about liens in Final Thoughts)
3) Does the VIN # on the bike match the title?
4) Any issues with the odometer and the title mileage or is the mileage consistent with the title? If not, why? Some bikes have had gauges replaced.
5) Create small talk. It may help bring up a topic that you forgot to ask or they forgot to mention.

  • Why are you selling the bike?
  • Is there anything wrong with this bike?
  • Is there anything wrong with it that you haven't pointed out?
  • Are there any maintenance/safety issues that I should be aware of if I buy this bike?
  • What work would you do on the bike if you were going to keep it for another year or two?
  • Is there any reason I shouldn't buy this bike?
  • What kind of weather has this been ridden in? Up north, we use a lot of salt on the roads. Salt corrodes. Out of season riding might show with mild/severe corrosion.
I saw this on a site while I was researching for my purchase. "If the seller's main selling point is that it is "really fast", that's a better than average indicator that it could have been abused. Beware." Good red flag alert.

6) If known, how many owners before the current seller? What types of riders are/were they? This might help you gauge if it had been abused.
Any accidents/Warranty work?
7) Ever been dropped? Ever been laid down? If yes, what was the extent of the damage and what was replaced, if anything? Receipts to prove work?
8) What has the maintenance schedule been like? Any records/receipts?
9) What mods have been done? Receipts to prove on anything internal that can not be viewed with the naked eye?

  • Mods are custom, mostly to the current owner and him/her alone. Don't overpay for a mod that you do not find value in. If you have parts/accessories that you are going to replace, no sense in paying extra for them right off the bat. If it is something you like or would have done, do you find extra value in that? Know your mods or go do research after finding out what has been done. What would they cost to do new? Factor into or out of price accordingly. Exhaust mod, is it sip on or full? etc...
  • Another thing I read while researching my purchase: "Modifications: generally, you'd be very wise to stay away from heavily-modified bikes. Even when done by a competent professional, high-compression pistons, overbore, high-performance cams, porting, etc. all lead to reduced engine longevity (or increased maintenance, or both) in the name of increased performance. When done by amateurs, these mods are instant engine killers."
10) When was the last time the bike was on the road and legal? Have registration to prove?

  • This will help you to know if it could have sat around, etc.
11) What does it come with? Owner's manual, shop manual, tool kit, extras (original parts if modded), stand, key, spare key, gear?

  • Do you care about these accessories? If not, then they do not have value to you. Is the gear a proper fit if you have none? Don't pay extra for things you do not want. Factor into or out of price accordingly.
12) Has the bike been raced/seen track days? Not necessarily a bad thing, but track bikes are ridden harder.
13) OEM fairings? If not, why? Some people do have clean bikes and just changed these out to personalize.

Enough small talk, physical inspection time, front to rear and in between:

1) Tires - How old? Remaining tread? Signs of dry rot? Any bulges? Profile (round or squared off)? Tires are an instant few hundred dollars, shave $$ off the price if you need new ones.
2) Wheels - Any cracks, chips, dents?
3) Brake pads - Are they worn to the nitty gritty or do they have life?
4) Fork seals - Low mileage and busted seals could point to wheelies/abuse.
5) Gas tank - Is the gas clean? Dark gas indicates it's old and been sitting. Any rust on the inside of the tank? Has the tank been coated? (Milky paint like coating)
5) Brake Fluid - If clear reservoir, are levels proper?
6) Brakes - Do they have pressure and work?
7) Chain - Does it have proper tension, is it too loose, too tight? Has it been lubed or is it rusty?
8) Sprockets - Any missing or hooked teeth?
9) Oil/Coolant - View the sight glass with the flashlight, is it proper level? Overfilled/Under filled?

  • This would help you determine the level of care and maintenance the bike received. Some bikes have dipsticks to check this, so check it! That's what the rag is for. Always do this with the bike straight up. That's what the friend/seller are for.
10) Check the frame for cracks. Especially the welded spots. Use the flashlight, hairline fractures are much easier to see with light. Check the steering head, engine mounts, sub frame, front fairing bracket.
11) Line the bike up straight. Sight down the center line and down the forks. Any twists, etc?
12) Another good things I read off another site - Look under the rear fender (Again with the flashlight). Any rubber residue/thick streak of balled up and flung off rubber? If so that's a good sign the seller or previous rider has done some burnouts. Burnouts damage tires, but another indicator of possible abuse.
13) Electrical - High/Low Beams. Directionals. Tail lights (Running). Brake lights (Front and rear brake). Once you ask to start it, starter work? How about the kill switch? All instruments on gauge cluster working?
14) Visual of the body - Seat, rips or tears? Any damage, scratches, scrapes to fairings, engine casing?

  • Tip over - Short/shallow/non-parallel scratches/chips
  • Crash - Long/deep/parallel scratches and cracks
  • Even if the fairings are clean other places to look for visual evidence:
    • Bar ends. Mirrors. Frame sliders. Pegs. Exhaust.
  • If dropped, are all the marks consistent with what the accident is claimed to be? Dropped standing up should not have 5'' scrapes on the stator and fairings.
Now ask to get that baby started:

1) Ask to hear it start up and run for a few minutes:
2) Does it start easy?

  • If it's cold or carbed, it may need a choke to start. Choke work?
3) Listen: Any ticking/sputtering noises?
4) Gauges working?
5) Give it a little throttle, does it have good response? Does it return properly or stick?
6) Does it rev smoothly or sputter? If carbed, is jetting proper?
7) Multi-exhaust - Exhaust pressure equal on both sides? May indicate not firing on all cylinders if it is not.
8) After it has been running and is warm - Any leaks?

The fun stuff, If you get to test ride:

1) How's the clutch? Does it slip? It may just need to be adjusted, some people like their clutch set differently.
2) Transmission - Is it shifting properly and smooth? Upshift/downshift? Go into neutral alright?
3) Again, throttle response? Does it rev smoothly, good acceleration?
4) Any shake in the handle bars at a little bit of speed? (Not telling you to do 100mph)
5) During this short test ride, are you comfortable on the bike? Do you fit properly?
6) Again, when you return, any leaks?

113 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
A Guide To Buying a Used Motorcycle - Applies for Private/Dealer Sales (Part 2)

Final thoughts:

1) Be objective. Bring someone with you, especially someone with bike knowledge. Avoid impulse buying because you need to have one NOW and TODAY.
2) Know what you want and what you can HANDLE. This is a guide for checking a potential buy out, not figuring out what you want/need. Everything is made for a specific purpose, know what YOUR purpose is.
3) Be an informed buyer!!

  • Check manufacturer for recalls on the specific bike that you are looking at. Have they been done? Again, paperwork to prove so?
  • Check out the local market. Prices do vary based on your geography. See what similar bikes are going for on,,, even On eBay, login and search completed auctions/listings. What did the bike SELL for, not what people are ASKING for them.
  • Check blue book value - Kelley Blue Book, or NADA Blue Book. Although I judge by local market more than these. Just gives you an idea of where the seller/dealer is pricing the bike at.
4) Do you like the bike? Do you like the mods? Don't tip your hand too quickly. Most things in life are not set in stone and can be negotiated.
5) Do your research, ask questions. Googling most things, you can get five different answers or viewpoints in 10 minutes. Take the time to care.
6) Read the seller.

  • Is he/she knowledgeable about all your questions (Definitely not always the case - so be aware some of their answers)?
  • Are you receiving backlash on the things you are asking?
  • Are they willing to show you what you want?
  • Or are they acting shady like they are hoping you don't notice something?
7) If the bike has a lien, conduct the sale at said lien holder. Don't assume the seller is reputable (I've seen friends screw over other friends), be smart the first time.
Use legally binding documents. Keep copies for yourself.

  • (Check your state's RMV/DMV laws on requirements for bills of sale. Usually VIN#, Mileage, Make, Model, Year, Color, Price, Date, Signature. Witness signature helps too).
  • If you leave a deposit, get that in writing with all the same requirements of a bill of sale. Especially for cash. Use a check, at least you can prove it was cashed.
9) Be polite and respectful. Smile. I sell and trade for a living. Better deals are constructed all the time with nicer clients. The person that comes in and makes demands, acts as an ass in general, does not get the deal of a century. People do not sell their stuff just to GIVE it away, keep that in mind when you offer $2000 for a bike someone is asking $6000 for. Be reasonable, not a d!ck.

Post purchase:

1) Bring it to a mechanic you trust or a gear head you are friends with. Go over the bike and make sure it is safe to ride. Bring a mechanic with you or ask to bring it to one before sale is final, if possible. (Not always)
2) Get it insured, inspected, and registered.
3) Get proper gear.

ENJOY!!! Rubber side down, shiny side up! :cruising:

2,012 Posts
Great list, good info.

On final thought 1 I think the word should be "objective" not "subjective". You want to be open to what's presented and not be set on THAT bike from the beginning. You need someone there to talk sense into you and show you things your live might blind you to. Subjective would mean open to interpretation, different work should be there I think.

Final thought 5 is another one that needs to be paid special attention to in modern times. Google the make and model you are looking at BEFORE you go look at one, lots of bikes have weird issues you can know about and ask about while there. Say I wasn't aware that Honda VFR's all had charging system issues and I looked at a bike with 10k on the clock and a new RR, stator and battery I might be nervous when that is a very common thing. Same thing with the first gen 1000rr's and stators, there is an additional warranty on those parts. Be aware of safety recalls, GSXR's of recent times gphad quite a few.

I'd also add to anyone buying used to research and know general wear item retail costs and knock +/- 50% of them off the asking price of the bike. I look at a used bike with tires that need replacement I drop $200 off my willing to spend price, $100 for chain and sprockets, etc. Accessories the same: as mentioned above they have zero value to me if I don't want them and I have to screw around selling them so it's not a deal to me. If you know what things cost, what things sell for and what "value" things have you'll get a better deal.

Last point I'd add is BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY. If you can't you WILL overpay and miss big things. If someone wants to play the "I have someone coming in an hour game" fine, let 'em and walk, it wasn't meant to be. I've played it and have had it played on me in the past, I don't fall for it anymore but it works almost every time.

Glad to see this made, hope it gets into a sticky.


113 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
Miweber929 - You are correct, fixed accordingly. Thank you. Objective would mean you are leaving feelings out of it.

Also, you made a good point. All things mentioned above should be factored into the price, either adding or subtracting from the value of the bike. I meant to put a blurb in there that all items and flaws/maintenance should be factored into price as well. Nothing worse than dropping $5000 on a bike just to follow that up with $1000 in maintenance, etc.

862 Posts
Good info Deck. Hopefully this does get stickied and your timing is spot on with the riding season just opening up for the rest of the country.

Maybe it's a tick I have but the first time I go look at a bike I prefer to NOT take any cash. That saves me from having the itch to buy it on the spot and if I really do like the bike and have to have it YESTERDAY, banks are usually around the corner and if it gets sold in that time, well, there are others. I found that when people say test rides/drives with cash in hand only usually do it to filter the tire kickers out of the way. The seller will know if you're properly interested or just looking for a joy ride and will usually let you at least to take it around a block.

101 Posts
Nice write up, I follow most of these guidelines, but it's nice them actually have them written down to make a checklist of sorts.
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