How To Buy A Used Motorcycle? (9 Useful Tips)

Used Motorcycle

A first-time buyer might find the process of purchasing a used bike to be overwhelming. What must I check for or what questions must I pose? How can I be sure that the item I’m buying is not a lemon? Since we deal with buyers and sellers on a daily basis at Motorcycle Shippers, we are more knowledgeable than most when it comes to finding a good deal on a used motorcycle. The following will touch on some of the fundamental features new riders (and even seasoned riders) should keep an eye out for when purchasing a used motorcycle.

Start off with nothing. This is the first time you’ve approached the bike. What comes to mind right away? Man, look at how shiny that bike is! You want to see precisely this. An owner’s sense of pride is evident in the appearance. Most riders take excellent care of the exterior of their bikes. Of course, you want to look good. Let’s take a closer look.

Ten Things To Do Before Buying A Used Motorcycle

1: Know the bike. One of the most crucial things to do before going to look at any used bikes is to thoroughly research the model. By knowing what components should come standard and how they should appear, you’ll be able to quickly identify anything out of the ordinary.

It’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t buy the first used bike (or car) that you find; however, this is true because you can only find the best models by looking at the most. Although the first one may not always be the best, try to see a variety. One strategy is to specifically go and look at variations of the model you really don’t want. Have visions of a red Ducati 916? Simply so you can examine the mechanicals on a few without letting your emotions control you, go look at some yellow ones.

2: Check the MoTs. The mileage of a vehicle can also be checked when you check the MoT history of the vehicle online at Make a note of the expected mileage on the clocks, but keep in mind that the fuel system may be clogged if the bike has been idle for a while.

3: Call ahead. Call the seller before making a wasted trip to find out if they have all the paperwork, how long they’ve owned the bike, why they’re selling it, and if there are any problems like damage or faults they think you should be aware of. If you still want to examine it, ask them to make sure it hasn’t been running for at least a few hours before you leave so you can start it cold. Be suspicious if you arrive and the engine is already warm.

4: Take a torch. When possible, you should always view a used bike (or car) in the daytime, but if you can’t, make sure the seller lets you see the vehicle in a well-lit area; if they won’t, that should raise red flags. Take a small torch anyway so you can check the engine and frame numbers more easily and look inside the crevices and cracks.

5: Examine the paperwork at all times. Verify that the engine number and frame number (VIN) match those on the V5. Additionally, make sure the address listed on the V5 corresponds to the address where you are viewing the bike. Although off-road bikes currently lack V5s unless they have been voluntarily registered with the DVLA, it is best to walk away if there is no paperwork.

As for service records, make sure the service book corresponds to the bike and that the stamps are authentic (many manufacturers can now verify service records by checking an electronic database).

Full dealer service records are preferable, but independent mechanic servicing is acceptable as long as it was completed to a high standard. Making a decision based on the age, value, and condition of the bike can help you decide whether home servicing is always a bad idea for out-of-warranty bikes. If the seller has kept track of every part they’ve purchased, and you’ve had a chance to see their toolbox and workspace, for example.

6: Give yourself time. Allow no seller—including a dealer—to rush you. For each bike I’ve purchased, I’ve typically invested at least an hour, partly because I wanted to thoroughly inspect everything and also because I’ve developed a rapport with the seller. Consider your options carefully if the seller informs you that a competing offer is imminent. When in doubt, turn around and leave the situation alone. There will be another.

7: Learn about the seller. Be approachable and talkative; if you start a conversation, you’ll discover more about their personalities and bike maintenance habits.

8: Have a wee. If you’re buying from a private seller, you should be at their house. Even though you may have met them somewhere else, wait to give them any cash until you get to the address listed on the V5. Ask to use the restroom while you’re there so you can peek inside to see if they really do live there (for example, if there are pictures on the walls) and to see how much they ride. Bike gear takes up a lot of space, so it’s likely you’ll spot a lid or even a picture of their bike.

9: Be safe. Wait until you’ve checked everything else before asking the seller for a test drive, which can be an important step in the purchasing process. They will now trust you much more and understand your sincerity, but they might still wait until they have the cash in their hand before giving you the key. To ride another motorcycle with the owner’s consent, you MUST verify that you are insured.

10: Take our checklist. Download our FREE bike-buying checklist after watching the videos below to get a better idea of what to look for before purchasing any used motorcycles. It’s a simple PDF that you can print out; click here to get yours.

Used Motorcycle

Nine Tips For Buying A Used Motorcycle

Understand What You Are Looking At

It’s acceptable to tell a seller that you don’t comprehend a piece of machinery or a process. (Even knowledgeable bike buyers inquire about fairly private tasks like kicking a bike to start it or retarding a magneto.) I’ll give you a few instances. If you’re going to examine a first-generation Kawasaki Concours, you should be aware that the cam-chain tensioners frequently allow the chain to become quite loose because of how coarse the adjusting teeth are. This shows up as a Connie that is obnoxiously noisy at startup, just clanging and clacking away like an old diesel. Once the bikes warm up, the noise usually decreases. It’s totally normal, too, as you might have guessed.

Here’s another illustration. Due to the dry-sump design of Harley-Davidsons, oil can enter the crankcase past a sealing check-ball, especially after extended periods of inactivity. They frequently leak a lot of oil upon startup, either from the air cleaner on a newer model or the breather hose on an older model. Although it can be very unsettling for a buyer to witness a “Harley in great shape” barfing up what appears to be a full quart of oil from the engine, that is also completely normal.

This is important to know because not all strange appearances indicate that a seller is trying to take advantage of you. If you don’t do your homework, you may pass up a chance to put a wonderful bike in your garage. Learning rarely causes harm.

Check The Vin

Starting here is the goal. If you’re examining a hot bike, the remainder of this guide is useless. (stolen as opposed to boosted!) Verify the numbers physically to ensure that they have not been re-stamped. If you don’t know what “knocked-over” numbers look like and you’re looking at bikes like Harley-Davidsons, which have a high rate of theft, you may even want to bring pictures of factory-stamped numbers for comparison. Check that the title numbers correspond to the headstock after you’ve estimated that. I’ve dealt with my fair share of titling issues. If you know your way around the local motor vehicle bureaucracy, you could make some money on titling mistakes, but for most people who aren’t in the flippin’ game, title inconsistencies are a pain. Run.

Examine The Bike Cold

This advice has been previously mentioned by me and many of our readers, and I am a zealot for it. I tell the seller to leave the bike cold before I get there, especially if it’s an older bike, and I follow through on that. On a hot bike, starting and running issues can be concealed incredibly easily. Verify that the pipes and jugs are cold by feeling them. You might be in for some difficulties if the seller can’t start the bike or if the first minute of operation sounds like a blender full of rocks.

Examine The Bar Ends, Levers, And Footpegs

I start by looking at these things. According to the bike, their age should be reasonable. The bike has been down if they are damaged. Levers can provide a few hints, but my primary focus is on rashness. Levers frequently “curl” when they contact the ground. Even though they might not be broken and the rash might have been polished out by the seller, a curved appearance typically denotes damage. It usually holds true for “shorty” levers that a seller has reshaped and cut. Except when they need to replace a damaged lever, most people don’t do this. Aftermarket levers and pegs can also serve as a small crash indicator. If the seller admits wrongdoing, he might be a decent man who had a tip-over and tried his best to fix the bike. However, if it is not disclosed, it might indicate that the seller is dishonest or that the bike was mistreated by a prior owner.

Whatever equipment you find, look for more damage. Making a bike “right” again can be expensive due to cracked oil pans, busted fins, and adjusted handlebars.

See If This Hooptie’s Ever Been Ripped Off

Check the ignition and fork locks. There’s a very good chance someone went joyriding if one or both of them is broken or if the keys don’t match. If you have already read the title, you must have noticed the word “Salvage.” Vehicles used for theft recovery can and frequently do so. Even though the bike may not necessarily be junk, you should be aware that these have low resale value and adjust your offer accordingly.

See How Hard The Bike Was Ridden

Note that I don’t believe that hard riding or redlining is bad for a bike, but some people really abuse their equipment. The tires are examined, and I notice that burnouts are indicated by flat, longitudinally grooved tires. Examine the tire edges on sporting equipment. It’s a pretty good sign that the bike was used on the track if you can see “pilling” (small rubber blobs) or “feathering” (noticeable tiny surface ripples) of the tires all the way to the edges.

Likewise, look at the hero blobs. These tiny indicators on the footpegs alert the rider when they are leaning deeply that they are on the verge of damaging more expensive components. Again, if those are destroyed or missing, the bike may have rolled onto the track. While I don’t believe that alone disqualifies a bike from consideration, a seller who withholds that information might not be honest about other drawbacks of the bike.

Assess The Bike’s General Condition

The mileage of a motorcycle usually doesn’t matter to me. The bike’s story can be inferred from more than just the odometer. It is a Very Good Thing if an owner hands you a file of receipts. The general condition of the bike—such as the matching tires, the shiny, waxed paint, and the owner’s obvious replacement of worn items like grips and seat covers—is a good indication of the type of bike you are looking at. Rarely do people take a bicycle part that they take very seriously and take very lightly. Usually, they either take great care of the bike or don’t. If you notice signs of a problem that hasn’t been fixed in a while, the bike may also be hiding other issues. Similarly, a bike that has received meticulous care will typically have a spotless owner’s manual, all the original keys, paperwork for aftermarket equipment, and a box of OEM replacement parts.

“Disrepair through disuse” is the opposite of this.” Verify the brake fluid’s color and level, as well as the oil level. (Instead of dark brown or black, it ought to be pale yellow.) Check for rusty chains, pitted fork tubes, dry cables, and leaky fork seals. Any kind of leak is generally undesirable. Inoperative electrical components, spongy brakes, and rusty fuel tanks (yes, look inside with a flashlight) will indicate that you either have work to do or that you should keep looking for a better bike.

Pop The Seat

You’re going inside specifically to inspect the wiring, especially what’s connected to the battery. If you see factory connectors, that’s great if nothing seems off. Prior to entering the interior, however, your spidey sense should begin to perk up if you can see a GPS, two power leads, and fog lights hanging off the bike. Once you’re inside, search for electrical tape, vampire connectors, or a large quantity of one-color wire. (The owner was typically too cheap to purchase multiple spools of wire in various colors, which is why this occurs!) Recognize that the ensuing electrical disaster might be expensive and challenging to repair.

Ride It — After A Pre-ride Check

This recommendation has two goals. First off, there is really no excuse for why a test ride cannot take place. The seller has nothing to lose but a sale if you’re willing to give him the full cost of the bike in cash. I added my driver’s license to the pile of cash when dealing with people who were extremely hesitant (while riding a bike I really wanted). The second piece of advice is to perform a safety inspection on the bike, especially if it hasn’t been used for a while. It’s annoying to learn that the brakes need to be bled while you’re in the top of third gear. (Young and stupid, but I made it through to tell the tale. Take heed.)

Additional Tips

Transporting The Motorcycle

The final concern is how to take ownership of the motorcycle once you’ve made the purchase. Can someone deliver it to you, or do you have to ride it home on a trailer? Most dealerships will deliver it to your house for you. It should be discussed during the purchase process because there might or might not be an additional fee.  

Even though a private seller might not have a trailer, you can inquire about delivery options. If your license is in your pocket and you have motorcycle insurance, at the very least, both should let you ride away after purchasing. You must determine what is best for your circumstances.

Don’t Rush The Process

It can take a while to buy a motorcycle, and it’s typically a big financial commitment for your riding career.

  • Take your time when looking for a motorcycle. Make sure you are familiar with the various motorcycle types and how they stack up against one another.
  • Before choosing one, look over a few.
  • If the motorcycle didn’t live up to your expectations or the deal didn’t feel right, make a thoughtful decision rather than feeling pressured to buy it right away.
  • It may seem intimidating to purchase your first motorcycle, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • When you are shopping, whether you are shopping online or visiting a dealership to make your first purchase, do your research beforehand.
  • If there is a question that interests you, you can approach the seller in advance and ask it. 


Take note of all the information we’ve provided and be ready to ask lots of questions when it comes time to examine the motorcycle in person. A fair offer should be made when the time is right, so take pleasure in your test drive and be aware of anything you discover. Enjoy your new purchase, and make sure to transport it safely home so you can prepare for your first trip. Keep that in mind, and drive safely!

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