So you want to buy a motorcycle?

How to buy a used motorcycle without getting burned

Everyone has a story about buying their first used motorcycle. As a biker buddy once
said to me, “Finding a used bike is like finding a good woman." He went on to explain
that not only does one have to find that initial attraction, but they must also consider
overall appearance, previous damage, and repairs needed. 

There always seems to be a good story behind acquiring a used motorcycle though.
Perhaps you bought yours at a local dealership, or from a guy down the street named
Big Rick, or maybe it was in pieces and you fixed it up yourself. Or, you might still be in
the initial buying stage, which explains why you are reading this article! 

Either way, we’ve all been there or will be there at some point. It’s like shopping for a
pair of shoes and all you can find is the wrong size. Finding the bike that is perfect for
you isn’t always easy, so I’m here to help make it easier for you. 

The day I brought my new used motorcycle home

Four years ago, I decided to drive sixteen hours round trip and in one day to purchase
my first used motorcycle, a 2008 Suzuki SV650. I bought it from a fellow lady-rider who
decided to sell it after having her first child. The bike had been sitting in a garage for
over a year, and while it was pretty much brand new with extremely low kilometers, it
had a dead battery, old gas in it, and was covered in cobwebs. Oh, and it still had a lien
on the bike. Risky purchase? You bet! If I had known then what I knew now, then I
would have been a bit more prepared. Regardless, it was a great purchase and I still
have the bike today.

I’ve heard some horror stories though, so I thought I would share my top 5 tips for
buying a used motorcycle to avoid getting burned. 

-Google is your friend! Get on that computer and research reviews, common
issues, and general comments about the motorcycle you are looking to buy.
Motorcycle forums are a great resource, and will give you an idea of what issues
to look out for with the particular make and model you are looking to buy.

-It’s a good idea to research price points in different geographical areas. It may
be worth your while to travel outside of your region to save some money, and it
also gives you an idea on the true asking price of the motorcycle.

-Wear the actual detective hat if you want. Heck, you can even give yourself a
cool name like Detective Smiley; whatever gets you in the mood to ask some of
these tough questions:

  • How long did you have the bike for? 
  • Why are you selling the bike?
  • How did you like this bike compared to others?
  • Was the bike ever dropped or in an accident? 
  • What maintenance or repairs did you do? 
  • How long has the bike been sitting or in storage?

-Let’s take the detective role a bit further and get into the nitty gritty details of bike
mechanics and maintenance. In addition to asking the key questions, you should
also know what issues to look for when checking out a used motorcycle:

  • Crash Damage: 
    • Are grips or levers scratched on the ends? 
    • Is there damage to the exhaust pipe (you may want to lie on the ground to check this out)
  • Frame Repair:
    • Check to see if the frame has been spray painted (look for uneven painting or runs, colour inconsistencies)
  • Fork Seals:
    • Check the front fork seals for any leakage 
  • Tires:
    • Look for uneven wear or low tread
    • Check the date code on tires (as they age, rubber breaks down and can make the tires hard and unsafe). Most suggest replacing tires 6-10 years after the manufacture date.
    • Check for cracks (also an indicator of rubber breakdown). 

  • Battery:
    • Take a look at the battery for signs of corrosion
    • Is the battery lithium or lead acid? Lithium batteries are higher quality and last much longer.
  • Fluids:
    • Check the engine oil, brake fluid, coolant (if liquid cooled) and ask when the fluids were last changed.

-Anyone selling a used motorcycle privately in Ontario must buy the UVIP. This
package contains a description of the motorcycle, its registration and lien history,
the average wholesale and retail values for its model and year. The seller should
have it available and ready to show you – if they don’t, there might be a reason

These tips should help you avoid getting burned when buying your first (or next) used
motorcycle. Simply do your research, ask the right questions, and look for common
issues. Also, if you want a deal, ask for it! Most sellers price their bike a bit higher with
the expectation that someone is going to ask them for a bit of a break on the price. Be
fair in what you ask, and don’t lowball as you might offend the seller. Dealerships can
often work out a small deal, or add in some gear as an incentive for buying from them.
Make sure you read the fine print on paperwork, watch out for hidden fees, and keep an
eye out for a seller who is overly eager to sell their bike at an unbelievably low price – it
probably is too good to be true!


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