Buying a new bike is always exciting, whether it’s brand new out of the dealer or just new to you. Buying a used motorcycle might seem riskier, but by checking the bike carefully, you could pick up an excellent bike for much less money.
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Benefits of buying a used motorbike
The number one benefit of buying a second-hand motorbike is simple – the price. The original owner takes all the depreciation costs while you pick up a fantastic low mileage bargain.
For a new rider, a cheaper motorbike will also cost less to insure.
Of course, you won’t get any warranty or guarantee when buying a used motorcycle, so doing your homework is essential.
By following this guide, you will be armed with all the information you need to avoid that lemon and find a bargain.
Before Viewing The Motorcycle
Do Your Research!
That might sound like someone insulting you on social media when they disagree with your point of view, but it is an essential step in buying a used bike.
Apart from viewing a bike and knowing what you are looking at, you can also find great forums for specific brands and models. The forums will tell you about particular faults to look out for or recalls that should have been carried out.
The other point here is that manufacturers have a habit of updating their bikes without relaunching them. This means that a specific feature you want, such as ABS, might be available on a 2011 version of the bike but not on the 2010 version.
As the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed.
Check Current Prices
As part of your research, you must check out the current prices for the bike that interests you. Look through classified ads on motorcycle websites, use a price guide like The Bike Market and check out any motorcycle magazines that offer used bike buying guides.
Knowing the value of the bike you’re interested in will help you make a sensible offer and haggle.
If you’re thinking of buying a used motorbike (or any vehicle), whether privately or from a dealer, get its history checked out first – Get your HPI motorcycle Check.
They will email you a comprehensive motorcycle history check.
- Checks on stolen/police interest
- Stolen log book check
- Write off/accident damage – see motorcycle write-off categories
- Mileage discrepancies – see how many miles is a lot for a motorcycle
- Outstanding finance
- Scrapped by the DVLA
- Plate transfers
- Former keepers
- Full VIN/chassis check
- Make and model
- Engine number and size
- Colour changes
- Imported or export
Ask The Owner Some Questions Before Viewing
Either call or message the owner and ask some questions.
- Does the owner have all the paperwork?
- Is there any damage or faults?
- Why are they selling the bike?
- How long have they owned the bike?
- Is there anything you need to know before viewing the bike?
Ask the owner for the registration and check the MoT history on the UK government website. The MoT website gives you mileage information recorded at each MoT, recall information and whether the MoT has expired.
Mention to the owner that you’d prefer to see the bike when the engine is cold. A pre-warmed engine may disguise some problems, such as smoking on startup or a loud rattle.
A few questions could save you a wasted trip if you’re unhappy with the owner’s answers.
Viewing The Motorcycle
If possible, meet the owner at their home. Some owners may not be keen to do this as thieves can pretend to be interested in a bike, but come back to steal it later, so don’t be surprised if they want to meet somewhere else.
Take a torch.
Take your time, and don’t let the seller rush you. If you are spending several thousand pounds or more, you want to make sure you spend it wisely.
Chat with the owner and get a feel for their type of person. If your gut feeling tells you not to buy from them, there is probably a reason! Does the bike have a service history? If the owner has serviced it, does he have receipts for any spares bought?
Examine the motorbike: Points to check
- General Condition: Does the bike look like it is well maintained? This initial look will tell you if the owner cares for his motorcycles. Particularly important if they do the servicing themselves.
- Ask the seller to start the bike for you. (If he doesn’t know how, be VERY suspicious): This is best when the bike is cold. Look for any smoke from the exhaust, and listen for rattles and knocks. Some bikes do rattle and knock, which is where your earlier research is invaluable.
- Electrical checks: Check all the lights and indicators work. Blip the horn. No warning lights on the dash?
- Engine: Look for fluid leaks and check the condition of the finish on the casings.
- Radiators: There may be both an oil and coolant radiator. Check both for signs of stone damage and leaks.
- Oil: Check the oil level. Remove the dipstick or oil filler plug and look at the colour of the oil. Ask why if it’s brand new, but the owner hadn’t mentioned it. Oil that is white or milky in colour is a sure sign that water is getting in somewhere, which could be expensive to repair.
- Tyres: Check the tread depth and overall condition, mainly looking for cracks on the sidewall or between the tread blocks. There will be a four-figure code stamped on the side. The first two digits are the week of the year, and the second two are the year. For example, 20/20 is week 20 of the year 2020. Anything over five years old is getting near the end of its life.
- Chain and sprocket: The drive chain has a tough life on any bike and can be expensive to replace. Check how much adjustment is left and try to pull the chain away from the sprocket. Look at the sprocket teeth checking for wear. The checks are similar for a belt drive.
- Shaft Drive: Put the bike on the centre stand, if it has one and spin the rear wheel to check for play. Make sure there are no oil leaks.
- Check any panels for looseness: Loose or badly fitting panels could be signs of neglect or crash damage.
- Look at the paintwork: Check for scratches and rust spots and that panels of the same colour match.
- Wheels: You can repair minor paint damage, but dents in the rim may mean a new wheel.
- Steering: Sit on the bike and move the steering slowly from lock to lock. Make sure the movement is smooth and not restricted by control cables.
- Brake discs and pads: Check the brake pad wear using a torch. If possible, ensure the wear is even, but it may be difficult to see. Look for score marks on the discs.
- Front forks: Check the plating on the forks, looking for rust posts or pitting. Is there a visible oil line on the forks, indicating the fork seals have blown? Bounce the bike on the forks a couple of times before checking.
- Rear Shock: A little more difficult to check, but ensure there are no oil leaks or scoring to the shock. Sit on the bike and bounce it a few times to ensure a smooth operation.
- Exhaust: Is the exhaust original, and if not, does the owner have the original? Noisy exhausts are an MoT failure, so it is helpful to get the original if possible.
- Bearings: Check the wheel, swingarm and headstock bearings for wear and play.
- Keys: Many keys have built-in immobiliser chips, and keyless ignition is becoming more popular. Ensure all the keys or fobs are there and they all work.
- Paperwork – MOT and V5: Compare the frame and engine numbers on the paperwork to the ones stamped on the bike. There should be no discrepancies.
Look For Signs Of Crash Damage
General scuffs and scrapes could be accidental damage while putting the bike into a storage shed, but multiple scratches on one side in different directions may have been caused by sliding down the road.
- Engine Cases: Scuffs on the engine cases will be noticeable, but the owner may have replaced them. New cases may be a different colour from the old parts.
- Foot Pegs: The hero blobs may be missing or damaged.
- Exhaust: The exhaust is one of the first parts to hit the ground when you crash, so check for damage and any attempt to hide it.
- Bar Ends: If the original bar ends have been replaced, ask why, particularly if there are few other modifications.
- Paintwork: Is the bike in its original colour? Does the colour match what the V5 says? Are the correct decals on the bodywork?
- Bodywork: Check the panels all fit correctly, with even gaps. Is the bodywork original or aftermarket? Replica bodywork may not be the same colour on the inside of the panels.
- Bottom of the fork legs: The base of the fork legs can touch down in a crash, and there will be a chamfered edge.
- Swingarm: as with the forks, the swingarm can touch down, so look for chamfered edges or damage where the exhaust has touched.
- Handlebars: Are they straight? Have they been replaced? Why?
- Lock Stops: Depending on how severe the crash was, the lock stops may be damaged or snapped off.
- General: Overall, does everything look straight on the bike and in line?
Signs Of A Stolen Bike
Buying a stolen bike could land you in a whole world of pain. The actual owner will be contacted when you attempt to register the bike in your name, as it would have been reported as stolen.
They will reclaim the bike, and you’ll lose your money unless you can trace the person you bought the bike from and claim it back. But let’s be honest, the chances of getting your money back are pretty slim.
In addition to checking for crash damage as above, also look at the following;
- The steering lock works
- Damage to the ignition barrel
- Engine and frame numbers have not been tampered with
If you have any suspicions, walk away.
Has The Bike Been Raced?
It can be more challenging to check if the bike has been raced, but there are some telltale signs;
- Drilled sump plug, oil filler cap and brake calliper mounting bolts. It is a requirement of a race bike to lock-wire these items.
- Aftermarket bodywork. In most cases, they would have replaced the original bodywork with cheap fibreglass panels, refitting the original expensive panels when they’ve finished racing the bike. If the bodywork looks much better than the rest of the bike, ask why.
- Is the mileage consistent with the bike’s age?
Once you’re happy that the bike looks legitimate and you are still interested, then ask about a test ride. Hopefully, you’ve built a rapport with the owner, and they’ll be more willing to let you ride the bike. You may still have to leave money in the owner’s hand before they agree.
There is a lot to take in above, which is why we asked if you are confident to check a motorcycle at the very beginning. Take a friend if you can. Even if they are not knowledgeable about bikes, they may temper your enthusiasm to buy the bike there and then!
Most people are honest, and you’d be unlucky to buy a complete wreck, but making the checks listed above will certainly help your confidence.