Questions To Ask When Buying A Used Motorcycle

Buying a used motorcycle can be a challenge, even for an experienced rider. And if you’re inexperienced, choosing the right bike can feel downright impossible.

Oftentimes, this is made even worse by the lack of resources for inexperienced riders. A quick internet source reveals dozens of reliable sources for buying automobiles. For motorcycles, more often than not, you’re left to fend for yourself.

With that in mind, here are several questions you should ask before you buy a used motorcycle.

Ask For Maintenance Records

Asking the owner for maintenance records can prove vital in determining the value of a motorcycle. A responsible owner should have their maintenance records available, and if they can produce them, it’s an excellent sign. It likely means that the bike has been cared for properly, and just as importantly, indicates that the owner has taken the trouble to document everything correctly. This usually suggests they’re the type of person who never skips required maintenance.

If the owner doesn’t have their records, that doesn’t necessarily exclude them from keeping their bike properly maintained. But you should be more cautious. With no maintenance records, there are a few basic things you can check. Look at the chain to see if it’s rust-free and well-lubed. Look through the oil window, and see if the oil is amber or black. These are basic maintenance tasks, and dirty oil or a rusty chain is often indicative of an owner who hasn’t been taking care of their bike.

Investigate Similar Bikes

If you’re buying a used motorcycle, we can assume you already know what kind of bike you want. At the very least, you know you’re looking for a mid-90s sportbike or a 1980s Japanese street bike. Maybe you’re not locked into one specific make or model, but you’ve almost certainly got an idea.

When you first see a listing, compare it to other listings for the type of bike you’re looking for. Then, ask yourself, “Is this a reasonable price?”

For example, suppose you see a lot of listings in the $2,000 to $2,500 range. If you see a bike listed for $3,500, either something is exceptional about it - or you’re not getting a good deal. Conversely, if you see a similar bike listed for $1,000, there’s something wrong with it, or it’s somehow the bargain of the century.

If you’re shopping for an uncommon model, it can be tough to determine a fair asking price. In this case, motorcycle forums can be an excellent resource. Where else will you find dozens (if not hundreds) of people who are obsessed with a particular type of motorcycle?

Forums aren’t just a good source for pricing information. They’re a treasure trove of veteran riders who are ready and willing to share their knowledge with you. Consider joining one and getting advice on repairs and maintenance down the line.

Ask To See The Bike Cold

When arranging to look at a motorcycle, ask the owner if you can see the bike with the engine cold. If this seems like an odd question, it’s actually not.

The reason behind it is that engine problems usually manifest first when the bike is cold. Often, a bad carburetor or leaky gasket will make it challenging to start a cold engine. But once you’ve struggled to bring the beast to life, the motor often runs just fine.

Unscrupulous sellers can take advantage of this fact. They’ll go through the headache of starting a cold engine and warm the bike up prior to your arrival. Before you start a “cold” bike, check the tailpipes to make sure it’s as cold as the seller claims.

Look For Signs Of Abuse

When you buy a motorcycle, one of the most important things you want to ask is if it’s ever been in an accident. Also, you should ask whether it was used on the track. Though neither of these things is disqualifying in and of itself, they are reasons to be even more detailed in evaluating the bike’s condition. 

Depending on the nature of the accident and repairs, a previous crash may not be a concern. However, what’s more of a concern is whether or not the owner is being honest with you.

To verify what they’re telling you, look at parts that are likely to wear down the fastest. First and foremost, check the brake and clutch levers. These often bend into a J-shape when the bike has been crashed or dropped. They may not break, but they’re virtually impossible to bend back into shape. Similarly, aftermarket brake levers are a near-certain sign that a bike has been dropped or wrecked at some point in time.

The same often holds true for footpegs. Most modern footpegs are an oblong metal shape at the bottom of the tip, designed to touch the ground first when the bike is leaned too far. The idea is simple; they’ll scrape and spark, so the rider doesn’t lean any further and potentially crash. If the pegs are badly worn, the bike has probably been ridden very aggressively, which should be considered prior to any potential negotiations.

Finally, look at the tires. If there are flat, longitudinal grooves on the tread, that’s a sign that the tires have been burnt out. Don’t forget to look at the edges, too. If they’re feathered, or if there are chunks of rubber beginning to seemingly fray as it forms along the edges, the tires have almost certainly seen track use.

Ask If The Bike Has Any Quirks

Finally, keep in mind that just because a bike is different doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad. A good example is a kick-starter. If you’re buying a bike with a kick start, you should ask the owner how it works, and you’ll get a good explanation.

Some quirks can look like serious flaws but are nothing more than that - a quirk. A great example is Harley-Davidson, which uses dry-sump oil systems. This allows for the classic undersquare engines Harley fans know and love - but it is an old-fashioned system with some serious oddities.

When Harley’s sit in storage, oil can slip past a check valve and into the crankcase, where it begins to pool. When the bike is finally started up, guess what happens? A bunch of oil gushes out of the breather hose or the air cleaner. If that happened on a Honda, you’d have cause for concern. But on a Harley-Davidson, it’s completely normal.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, there are plenty of shady sellers and plenty of legitimate questions you should ask. But just because something is odd doesn’t always mean someone is trying to take advantage of you. When in doubt, simply ask the seller directly. If something they tell you sounds suspicious, follow up with another source before making any purchasing decisions.