The 10 Best Tips For Buying a Used Motorcycle

Feeling overwhelmed about where to start with buying a used motorcycle? It’s common to worry about overpaying or purchasing a vehicle with hidden mechanical issues

Below, we’ll walk you through key steps to take when buying a used motorcycle–like checking for engine wear or spotting hidden frame damage–ensuring you make a well-informed decision. 

That way, you can buy with confidence, knowing you’ve found a motorcycle that’s not just a good deal but the right fit for you.

Buying a Used Motorcycle Checklist

The right bike for you depends on how you plan to ride, your budget, and your level of experience. For beginners, options like the Harley-Davidson Sportster Super Low or Honda Rebel 300, known for their manageability, are often ideal due to their manageability and smaller engines. But are they right for you?

Step #1: Assess Your Riding Style

Choosing the right motorcycle starts with understanding your riding style. Your choice should align with how you plan to ride and where you plan to ride most often. 

Here’s a glimpse into the different types of motorcycles on the market: 

  • Standard bikes are good for everyday use, offering a balanced ride in terms of comfort and handling. They’re ideal for city commuting and occasional long rides.
  • Cruisers: Designed for relaxed, long-distance riding with a comfortable, laid-back seating position; perfect for leisurely weekend rides.
  • Sport bikes: Built for speed and agility, with a forward-leaning position, they’re great for those who enjoy a more dynamic, adrenaline-fueled riding experience.
  • Touring bikes: Equipped for long-distance travel, with features like a large fuel tank, ample storage, and wind protection, making them suitable for cross-country trips.

When you’re browsing used motorcycles, look out for the following models:

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Step #2: Set Your Budget

Budgeting for a used motorcycle goes beyond the sticker price. On average, expect to spend about $2,500, but be prepared for a possible $500 bump in either direction. Additionally, account for extra costs, which include:

  • Taxes & tags: These fees can range from $20 to $100 depending on what state you live in.
  • Insurance: Expect to spend an average of $519 annually in the U.S., which will vary with factors like your age, driving record, and bike type.
  • Dealer’s setup or service fees (if you choose to buy from a dealership).
  • Ongoing maintenance: Ongoing maintenance for a used motorcycle typically costs between $100 to $300 annually. These costs will cover basic upkeep like oil changes and air filters, in addition to expenses like tire replacements. When major services are required every few years, expect to pay several hundred dollars more a year. 

Step #3: Evaluate Your Skill Level

Choosing the right motorcycle requires an honest assessment of your skill level

Your skill level influences the type and size of bike suitable for your abilities. It’s important to be realistic about your riding skill level, as different bikes have different handling characteristics and power levels.

For example, larger and heavier motorcycles may demand more strength and control, while more powerful bikes may require greater experience and skill for safe handling.

Step #4: Research and Compare Used Motorcycles

Before making a decision, it’s essential to research and compare options thoroughly. Here’s where you might go to start or deepen your knowledge about what bikes are out there: 

Search online platforms 

When searching for a used motorcycle, online platforms like eBay Motors, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and Cycle Trader are valuable resources. They offer:

  • Wide selection: A diverse range of motorcycles, from vintage models to recent ones.
  • Search filters: Options to filter your search by year, make, model, and location.

However, these platforms have drawbacks. For example, It’s hard to verify the bike’s condition online, and you run the risk of encountering fraudulent listings or dishonest sellers. That’s why asking questions is key. 

To mitigate these issues:

  • Bring a knowledgeable friend or a professional mechanic to inspect the motorcycle in person.
  • Engage in detailed conversations with the seller about the motorcycle’s history and current condition.
  • Familiarize yourself with the bike’s model, common issues, and fair market value to make an informed decision.

Visit dealerships

Dealerships are another excellent source for finding used motorcycles, although you can expect higher prices. Their advantages include: 

  • Quality assurance: Many dealerships provide certified pre-owned bikes that have been inspected and come with a warranty.
  • Professional advice: Dealers can offer expert guidance on the suitability of different models for your needs.
  • Financing options: If you’re considering financing, dealerships often have options available, sometimes with competitive rates.

To navigate dealership purchases:

  • Research prices online beforehand to ensure you’re getting a fair deal.
  • Be clear about your needs and budget when interacting with sellers. (Note: Keeping your wishlist and non-negotiables top-of-mind will reduce your risk of being swayed by sales pitches). 
  • Ask about any additional fees that may not be immediately apparent.

Utilize Motorcycle Forums

Forums offer a wealth of information from a community of enthusiasts and experts. You’ll gain insights from other riders’ experiences with different models, get answers to specific technical questions or issues, and benefit from the shared experiences and tips of members. Popular forums include Motorcycle Forum, Motorcycle Community Forum, Team BHP Forum, and Bike Talk.

Step #5: Inspect the Used Motorcycle

Before taking a test ride, ask about the motorcycle’s history to understand its background, previous use, and details of any major repairs. A detailed visual inspection is also crucial, especially on an older bike. So check the following key areas:

  • Engine: Check for oil leaks and any smoke on startup. These can indicate engine wear or damage.
  • Mileage: The motorcycle’s mileage can tell you how much life it has left. For sport bikes, mileage is considered high at around 25,000 miles. For cruisers and touring bikes, high mileage starts in the 40,000- to 50,000-mile range.
  • Frame and suspension: Look for any signs of damage or previous accidents. This includes checking for cracks, bends, or rust.
  • Tires, chain, and sprocket: Ensure the motorcycle tires have even wear and sufficient tread. Inspect the chain and sprocket for rust, binding links, or uneven wear.
  • Brakes and fluids: Check the brake pads for wear and the brake fluid for clarity and level. Check the brake lever for smooth operation and responsiveness. Discoloration or low levels can signal maintenance issues.
  • Checking for matching Vehicle Identification Numbers: To avoid legal issues, Ensure the bike’s VIN matches the one on the title.
  • Looking for signs of a tip-over or crash: This includes scratches or bent handlebars.
  • Electrical system check: Test all lights, signals, and the dashboard for functionality.
  • Coolant system: For liquid-cooled bikes, check the coolant level and look for leaks.
  • Service records: Ask for the bike’s service history to gauge how well it’s been maintained.
  • Cold start: Observe how the bike starts when the engine is cold, as difficulties can indicate issues.

After your initial inspection, be sure to ask about the bike’s maintenance history and whether it had another previous owner. In the motorcycle world, experienced riders selling their vehicle won’t mind having their bike inspected by a potential buyer. You can even ask them for a vehicle history report.

Here’s a handy video showing you what to look for.

Step #6: Take a Test Ride

A test ride can reveal much about the motorcycle’s condition. Here’s what you’ll want to try and determine to see if the bike is in good shape: 

  • Engine operation: Feel for smooth clutch and throttle action. Roughness or hesitation can indicate problems.
  • Handling and suspension: Pay attention to how the bike handles bumps and corners. Difficulty in handling or excessive bouncing suggests suspension issues.
  • Brake performance: Test the responsiveness of the brakes. Ineffective braking or strange noises are red flags.
  • Overall comfort: Ensure the bike feels comfortable and stable, as this impacts your riding experience.

Step #7: Know the Motorcycle’s Value

A crucial first step in negotiation is understanding the motorcycle’s worth. You can determine the motorcycle’s fair market value by consulting resources like the Kelley Blue Book or the NADA Motorcycle Value Guide.

When assessing the value of a used motorcycle, it’s important to consider factors such as its condition, mileage, and maintenance history. Most riders find that taking it for a test ride is one of the best ways to evaluate a used bike. That way, you can get a feel for its performance and handling. 

Understanding Payment Options

Once the price has been successfully negotiated, you can move on to discussing payment methods. Personal loans and motorcycle loans are two options you can consider. 

  • Personal loans are unsecured and may not necessitate a down payment, but they typically come with higher interest rates since the motorcycle does not serve as collateral. 
  • Motorcycle loans are secured, with the bike serving as collateral.
  • Dealer financing is another option, where your loan application is submitted to multiple lenders to find the best rate and terms.

Step #8: Prepare to Transfer of Title and Registration

Once you’ve bought your used motorcycle, the next step is to transfer the title and registration at the DMV. Registering a used motorcycle involves visiting your local DMV or, in some states, your county tax office. You will need the Certificate of Title for the bike or the lienholder’s name and address if the motorcycle is financed.

Step #9: Remember Insurance and Safety Gear

After the title and registration are transferred to your name, the next step is to secure motorcycle insurance. Motorcycle liability coverage, which covers damages caused to others, is essential for motorcycles.

Equally important is investing in safety gear, including riding gear. This consists of:

  • Helmet
  • Riding jacket
  • Gloves
  • Earplugs
  • High-visibility vest
  • Eye protection
  • Knee and elbow guards
  • Chest armor
  • Face shield

Step #10: Invest in Maintenance and Upkeep

Routine maintenance is key to the longevity of a used motorcycle. The typical maintenance schedule for a bike includes:

  • Checking the battery.
  • Changing the brake oil (approximately every two years or around 20,000 kilometers).
  • Checking tire pressure.
  • Maintaining the engine oil level.
  • Adjusting chain slack if applicable.
  • Inspecting brake pads.
  • Cleaning or replacing the air and oil filters.

Final Thoughts

Remember, the right motorcycle is out there for you. Once you’ve found the perfect bike and are ready to make it yours, consider your storage options. A motorcycle, especially a used one, requires proper storage to maintain its condition. 

If you’re short on space, Neighbor offers a variety of safe, nearby, and budget-friendly storage solutions. From 5’x10’ units to traditional garages, we have options to protect your motorcycle against rust, mold, and other elements. Check out Self-Storage Near Me and Garages Near Me to find the perfect spot for your new ride.

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