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  • Writer's picturePorsche Taylor

Buying Used: Tips for Buying a Pre-Owned Motorcycle

Most of us didn't grow up with oil in our veins.  We all learn from mistakes we make along the way.  One of my biggest moto mistakes was my very first used bike purchase.  Back in 2003, I bought My first motorcycle, a 1997 Kawasaki Ninja ZX6R for $4000.  At the time, I was a brand new rider.  I didn't even have a license or know the first thing about buying a motorcycle.  All I knew was, I had just watched Biker Boyz and I wanted to ride!  So, when I got my annual bonus check, I headed straight to Craigslist, to see what I could get.  I called my cousin, who had taught me to ride.  I asked him to go with me to check out a bike I had found online, and to ride it home for me.  I had bought every vehicle I'd ever owned from him, so I trusted him to know mechanics.  We went to go take a look at the bike and, it was love at first sight!  The bike was visibly in great condition.  There were no scratches or dings.  From what I could tell, the engine sounded good.  My cousin gave the bike a once over, took it for a quick test ride, and gave me the thumbs up.  I got the bike home and proceeded to learn to ride.

About a month later, I rode to a bike night at TGI Fridays with a friend of mine.  A guy named Mad, who happened to be an excellent mechanic and would one day become my club brother, came over to me.  He said, "Your bike looks great, but it's not running right."  I talked with him for a bit, and he offered to take a look at my bike the following day.  I brought it to his garage, and he explained what could have been an expensive problem.  Turns out, the bike had only been running on 2 cylinders and had a major engine issue.  He fixed it free of charge and sent me out to test ride it.  From the moment I hit the throttle, it felt like a brand new bike!  I was extremely blessed to have met Mad, because this story could have had a terrible ending.

The engine issue wasn't something I could see, just from taking a look at it on the street.  If I had known a bit more about bikes, I would have known to listen to the engine for signs of problems.  Mad explained that the bike was having trouble breathing.  I would come to learn a lot from him and my Steel Horses MC family.  But, most times, folks who are beginners aren't met with that type of luck.  With that in mind, we've put together a list of tips to help you purchase a used bike. Our goal is to help you make an informed decision, and avoid the pitfalls of not knowing what to look for.  When it comes to buying a used bike, there's a huge difference from buying a used car.  You need to make sure the bike is safe to ride.  Let's get started:

Go Window Shopping: Know what you want before you buy.

Often, we're so excited to buy a bike, we haven't really considered what would be the best fit.

  • Think about weight, height, and your riding style.  Is the bike for a commute in traffic, or is the bike for a long distance trip?  While a sport bike is lots of fun on the city streets and highways, if you plan to travel hours at a time, you may want to consider comfort.

  • Take some time to research bikes you like online, and check them out at dealerships, where you can sit on the bike and ask questions.  This is a great opportunity to ask about bike maintenance and upkeep for your preferred make and model.  Aside from the initial purchase price, ask about oil changes, 5000 mile services, and extended warranty options.  Ask tons of questions.

  • Research the value via Kelley Blue Book, so you know how much bargaining room you have.

  • Check for factory recalls.  Does the bike you're considering have any known recall issues?

Who's Selling?  Private Owners Vs. Dealers

Buying private is the way most of us start out.  It's cheaper, because there's less overhead, and private owners usually have bikes priced to sell.  As you might have noticed in my first experience, I bought my bike from a private party via Craigslist.  I wouldn't personally suggest this route for a new rider, unless they had a mechanic or expert with them.  And even then, it's sketchy.  There are quite a few things to consider when buying from a private party that I didn't really give much thought to.

  • Was the bike stolen?  Check to make sure the VIN Numbers match the paperwork.  You can even go a step further and make sure the VIN Numbers haven't been re-stamped.

  • How many owners has the bike had? Has it been passed around and abused or well maintained?  Ask for maintenance records to see how the bike has been kept.

  • Are there any signs of road rash or bent brake levers?  This is a sure sign that the bike has been dropped or crashed.  While that might not be a deal breaker, it's definitely cause for concern.

Buying from a dealer will be a bit pricier, but the benefit is the bikes are usually (not always) in better condition.  They may also offer extended warranty packages that can cover you in case of issues.  When buying from a dealer, be as knowledgeable as possible on the bike you're looking to buy, but don't be afraid to ask questions.  Beware of dealers who are just trying to "get you into a bike".  They care more about sales than about your needs or safety.

Insist on a test ride & inspection

I can't stress enough how important it is to have a knowledgeable mechanic come along if possible.  If you don't know one, you'll have to inspect the bike yourself.

  • Never buy a bike you haven't ridden.  A private party will usually allow you to test ride, if you have cash in hand.  A dealership will usually allow you to test ride, provided you have insurance that will cover you, in case of an accident.

  • Start the bike cold.  If there are any mechanical issues, they will usually happen when trying to start the bike for the first time.  Does it crank up easily, or is it struggling?

  • Look for leaks while the bike is running.  Check out the bike's parking area and look for oil stains or fluid stains.  Look at the engine block for any fluid residue.

  • Look at the tire tread.  If the tires look like they're balding, this may be a bargaining opportunity.  Never buy a bike that has tires with threads showing.

  • Ride the bike at slower speeds.  Notice how the handling feels.  Does it feel balanced and safe?  Check the fork seals for fluids.

  • If the bike has a chain, is the chain clean or grimy?  Is it loose and slipping during the test ride?  Listen for clanking to see if it's hitting the swing arm.

Make an offer to buy

Here's where researching your bike comes in handy.  By now, you should have a great understanding of what you're looking for and how much it should cost.  Make an offer that works best for your budget.  When buying from a private party:

  • Consider any issues you may have noticed during your inspection, like worn tires, or lack of maintenance.  These may help you negotiate in your favor.

  • Don't be dazzled by chrome or "upgrades".

  • Don't let what someone has spent on a bike affect what you know the bike to be worth.

  • Don't consider used gear a part of the value of the bike.

When buying from a dealer:

  • Cash is King.  You'll have more leverage if you pay in cash vs. financing.

  • Check online for any dealer special pricing and/or promotional deals.

  • Don't let FOMO (fear of missing out) cause you to make a purchase.

  • If the deal doesn't feel right, walk away.


Here's a list of resources to help make your buying process smoother.

If you're buying private, check out the used-bike buying check list

Used Bike Checklist from

This is a good start, but there's definitely more to add.  What did we miss?  Drop us a comment!


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