Don’t get burned: Tips for buying a used motorcycle

I have owned many bikes. I’m over the triple-digit mark by a long shot. I’ve been able to do that by buying really nice bikes for fair prices. Then I am able to resell them without taking a loss.

I recognize not everyone wants to be a used-bike mogul, so knowing how to avoid a bike that’s a turd can be a bit more difficult for people who actually spend rational amounts of income on motorcycles. That’s where this guide comes in. It’s not comprehensive, but some of the items in here might save you from ending up with a junker.

Some people are baffled by how to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to used bikes. If you are really green, remember that there’s no shame in picking up a bike from a dealer. They have a vested interest in making sure the bike is in good shape! If you’re hellbent on buying private party, if you’re new to the game), generally newer is better. Maybe you’re running out to look at a bike in 20 minutes, so let’s start with the CliffsNotes. If the following three conditions are met, you’re probably looking at a bike that’s at least halfway decent. All these points are covered more thoroughly later, but here are your takeaways:

  • The bike does not appear to have crash damage
  • The bike does not appear to be leaking any fluids
  • The bike generally looks like it was cared for

Now, let’s go deeper, eh?

Check the VIN

This is the starting point. The rest of this guide is useless if you’re looking over a hot bike. (Stolen, not souped-up!) Physically check the numbers and make sure numbers are not re-stamped. If you’re looking at bikes that have a high theft rate, like Harley-Davidsons, you might even want to bring pictures of factory-stamped numbers along for comparison if you don’t know what “knocked-over” numbers look like. Once you’ve eyeballed that, check that the title numbers match the headstock. I have had my share of titling errors and fixes. If you can navigate the local motor vehicles bureaucracy, you can make some money on titling errors, but for most people who ain’t in the flippin’ game, title inconsistencies are a headache. Run.

Examine the bike cold

I have mentioned this tip before, and so have many of our readers, and I am fanatical about it. Especially on an older bike, I tell the seller to leave the bike cold before I get there, and I stick to it. It’s unbelievably easy to hide starting and running problems on a hot bike. Feel those jugs and the pipes to make sure that bike is ice cold! If the seller can’t get the bike started, or it sounds like a blender full of rocks for the first minute of run time, you might have some problems on your hands.

Examine the bar ends, levers, and footpegs

These are the first things I look at. Their age should be commensurate with the bike. If they are damaged, the bike has been down. I look for rash, obviously, but levers can give away a few clues. Levers often “curl” when they hit the pavement. They might not be broken, and the seller might have buffed out the rash, but a curved appearance usually indicates damage. The same usually goes for “shorty” levers that a seller has cut and re-shaped. Most people don’t do this unless they need to replace a banged-up lever. Aftermarket lever and pegs are also a bit of a tip-off that a crash has occurred. If the seller cops to it, he may be an honest fellow who had a tipover and did his best to fix the bike. If it goes unmentioned, though, it could mean the seller is dishonest, or perhaps the bike suffered at the hands of a previous owner.

Regardless of what equipment you find, check for additional damage. Cracked oil pans, busted fins, and tweaked handlebars all add to the cost of making a bike “right” again.

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