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Tips on Buying Used Bikes

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Paul Olesen

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TIPS ON BUYING THE PERFECT USED BIKE

How many of you have bought your fair share of used bikes only to discover the moment you get it home that something is wrong with it?

I have bought and sold a hefty amount of different types of vehicles over the years and recently started reflecting on some of my experiences. I have bought bikes that have run well, did not run at all, were partly assembled, or were complete basket cases. Sometimes there have been great deals and sometimes there have been total lemons. Occasionally I have even purchased bikes sight unseen and put my good faith in others to collect them for me. Has some of my behavior been risky when buying a used bike? Absolutely, but because of those experiences a lot of hard earned knowledge has come my way.

With all the variables that get thrown into purchasing a used bike wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to increase your chances of avoiding a lemon? Over a month ago I started compiling all my used motorcycle buying advice to share with you. Now I know most of you are experts at buying used bikes, but these guides are great because it puts everything conveniently in one place, not to mention a printable checklist you can take with in your back pocket to reference in case you forget a few things.

I began by writing down everything I considered vital when purchasing a used bike. Beginning with the research phase, I gave pointers on what to look into - prior to even browsing through any ads. Next I organized all the different things that are worthwhile to look over on the bike itself. In conjunction with that, I wrote down all the questions I think are important to ask the seller. Being allowed to test ride the bike is a huge thing for me also, so I went over all the different test procedures I use when test riding a potential bike. Last, but certainly not least, I included my tactics and tips when negotiating with the seller. These tips aim at the end result of hopefully heading home with a fantastic used bike in tow. After all this writing I ended up with two 30+ page buyer’s guides - one for dirt bikes and one for street motorcycles. These guides are the most thorough and detailed when it comes to purchasing a used bike I have found. I want to share eight of what I consider the top tips with all of you in my blog and ask that you download whichever free guide you need to learn the rest as there is just way too much information to post here.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT - RESEARCH MAKES & MODELS

Thoroughly researching different makes and models will go a long way to ensure you get the bike you want. Familiarize yourself with the bikes you are interested in by researching and reading reviews on the particular makes and models you're interested in. By reading the reviews you will be able to gain a better understanding of what sort of performance you can

expect from particular models, their shortcomings, and some things you can do to improve these bikes.

CHECK THE VIN NUMBER

Look on the frame of the bike for the VIN number to ensure that the bike is not stolen. If the VIN number is scratched off or the sticker has been removed, this is an indication that somewhere within the history of the bike it may have been stolen. If you have

any suspicion that the bike is not clean, contact your local authorities and have them run a VIN number check. Refrain from exchanging any money until the the history of the bike is cleared.

FEEL THE MOTOR

Carefully feel near the engine for heat radiating off the engine to determine if the engine has been started prior to your visit. If the motor is warm it could indicate that the bike does not start easily when it is cold and the seller is trying to mask an issue with the carburetor or fuel injection system. If it is an older bike, a potential fix would be to clean and inspect the carburetor. If it is a fuel injected bike, there could be issues with the injectors, the fuel pump, the ECU, or the ignition system.

CHECK HOW CLEAN THE MOTORCYCLE AND THE ENGINE ARE

Often times if there is a problem or the motor is leaking, the seller will power wash the motor to hide the leak. If the motor or bike is suspiciously clean, when the seller runs the motor for you, double check around the engine for leaks that may appear.

ASK THE SELLER WHY THEY ARE SELLING?

This is a great ice breaker. This questions gives perspective into the seller’s motivation and reasons for selling. It also may give a glimpse into potential issues the bike may be having.

HOW MANY MILES ARE ON THE BIKE AND WHAT HAS BEEN SERVICED?

The mileage on a bike can be used as a very rough gauge to determine where it is at in its life however nowadays motorcycles are designed to perform well and not require a great deal of service work even with high mileage. How well the owner has taken care of the bike, the type of riding they did, and the conditions in which it was stored are all better factors for assessing where it is at in its life cycle. Street bikes typically require service after predetermined mileage intervals established by the motorcycle manufacturer. These services may include valve clearance checks, oil and filter changes, and clutch maintenance. This question will help you gauge when and how much upcoming service work may be required. In most cases street bike engines will last a long time and not require much internal engine work if the engine is routinely serviced and basic maintenance is performed. By familiarizing yourself with some of the routine maintenance tasks for the make and model you are interested in you can gauge the frequency and scope of work which is considered routine maintenance and compare this to what the seller tells you. Keep in mind if you are looking at bikes that have been raced or are of the single cylinder variety more maintenance may be required to keep them in top shape.

LET THE ENGINE WARM UP & LISTEN TO IT IDLE

Allow the engine to come up to operating temperature, this usually takes a few minutes of idling. Most bike are equipped with a coolant temperature gauge which you can reference to see how warm the engine is. Listen as the engine runs for how well the bike idles. The bike should have a nice consistent idle and the motor shouldn’t be hunting or surging. Assuming the bike is carbureted and does not idle, it is likely that the carburetor needs servicing or something is out of adjustment. If the bike is fuel injected and does not idle, there could be an issue with the fuel map, pump, or injector.

SHIFT THROUGH ALL THE GEARS

Feel with your foot how easily the bike shifts into the next gear. You should be able to feel if the gears kick back out or do not engage easily. If the bike jumps out of gear or does not shift well, there could be problems with the gearbox. Pay special attention to the shift from 1st to 2nd gear since this is the shift that requires the biggest stroke to engage (since neutral is between them) and usually wears out first. Typical problems may include rounded gear dogs, bent shift forks, or worn shift forks. Remember if any of these problems exist you will have to split the crankcases to remedy the problem (unless the engine utilizes a cassette style gearbox or has a separate transmission). Be sure to shift through all the gears at least a few times to make sure any problems that arise are repeatable and predictable. This will help rule out any user error where the rider did not shift fully.

If you like the tips shared thus far and want to learn more about navigating the slippery slopes of buying a used bike, I would encourage you to download the free guide you need, whether it is dirt or pavement. The guides come in the form of a downloadable PDF, ready to be printed and kept forever. The Buyer’s Guides also include a checklist that you can bring along and reference as you proceed through all the steps of buying a used bike. The checklist is incredibly useful when it comes to looking over the bike and inspecting individual components. I know my adrenaline goes wild when picking up a new bike and I run the risk of skipping over one or two important things, so the checklist will ensure you do a thorough job. Just click the link below to go to the downloads!

Grab Your Free Used Dirt Bike or Motorcycle Buying Guide

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Do you have any tips that I left out of the guides? If so, post them in the comments section so everyone can benefit from your experiences!

Moto Mind - Empowering and Educating Riders from Garage to Trail

P.S. If you haven't subscribed to my blog yet be sure to click the "Follow this Blog" button at the right of the page!

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What about suspension components and looking at the air filter to see if it has been neglected.

Wheels bearings are worth checking also, especially on an offroad bike.  Tires are important also.

You should look at the engine oil and see if it is clean and you can smell it to check for an abused clutch. It will smell burned if it has been abused.  Checking the frame for cracks is important as well as looking for dented frame underside if it is an offroad bike.

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What about suspension components and looking at the air filter to see if it has been neglected.

Wheels bearings are worth checking also, especially on an offroad bike.  Tires are important also.

You should look at the engine oil and see if it is clean and you can smell it to check for an abused clutch. It will smell burned if it has been abused.  Checking the frame for cracks is important as well as looking for dented frame underside if it is an offroad bike.

Thanks for bring all these points up and I fully agree with you. Unless I uploaded the wrong file all that is covered in the full guide you can download for free. I simply didn't have enough room to sprawl 30+ pages of info into one post. The eight tips I've listed in my blog post I feel are some of the more important ones.

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The first thing - are you meeting the seller on a parking lot or at his house? If it is a parking lot-this is a MAJOR FLAG. If it is a house-look at the house, look at the rest of the vehicles.This will give you an idea what kind of person is the seller.

Is the bike in his name? If it is not in his or his wife's name - another flag.

Check the milage- if on the title is higher than on the odometer tampered or replaced speedo- CHEATER.

Ask a question, that you know the answer, or you see the answer and see what will be the sellers answer. If it differs-CHEATER.

FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT!!!

If something doesn't feel wright, just walk away.

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The first thing - are you meeting the seller on a parking lot or at his house? If it is a parking lot-this is a MAJOR FLAG. If it is a house-look at the house, look at the rest of the vehicles.This will give you an idea what kind of person is the seller. Is the bike in his name? If it is not in his or his wife's name - another flag. Check the milage- if on the title is higher than on the odometer tampered or replaced speedo- CHEATER. Ask a question, that you know the answer, or you see the answer and see what will be the sellers answer. If it differs-CHEATER. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT!!! If something doesn't feel wright, just walk away.

I agree with all your later points, but I almost always meet potentials buyers(of something I'm selling) at a parking lot near my house, ideally near a bank. I worry that giving my house address to the wrong 'buyer' could end up with my garage being robbed. Test rides are always cash in hand, in the case they crash or ride off with the bike. You can still get an idea of the kind of person on their attire, truck/suv, etc.

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"You can still get an idea of the kind of person on their attire, truck/suv, etc."

Really? One would get a much better impression of the type of person someone is by a statement like that...

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Look at the sellers garage. How clean is it, how well kept? Very important IMO. If it's a well kept, clean, organized garage that is a great sign. Do they have extra oil, extra filters, extra parts that would indicate they keep up on the maint? 

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The price itself can be handy. If the asking price is low, be very suspicious of why it's low.

 

A lot of people ask a low price for something that has a serious problem but they won't ever tell you that anything is wrong with it. Instead they just pretend it's fine (as far as they know...), and they just want a quick sale, getting married, kid on the way, kids growing up, or some other B.S. that has nothing to do with the condition of the vehicle. 

 

I don't trust the way someone is presented. Con artists are always well presented - because it works. Pretty sure we've all met some poorly-dressed people who take excellent care of their vehicles and are very knowledgeable and conscientious. Then we've all met plenty of well-presented people who have a massive sense of entitlement, treating their stuff (and people!) like crap until they are done with it and are then happy to make it someone else's problem.

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I pay a dollar a cc.

 

You can knock about a $1000 at a minimum off every bike that is for sale as it will need a full chassis and engine service, new chain, cables. tires, air filter ect.

 

Do not believe a word the seller is telling you.

 

Offer the a buck a cc take it or leave it, For a currently registered bike in the sellers name. 

 

I have spent over a thousand dollars getting a RUNNING bike that I got for FREE ready to ride.

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"Offer the a buck a cc take it or leave it,"

 

Seriously?  How do you offer a guy $250 for a 2011 KTM 250?  I can't imagine the bikes people are willing to sell you for a buck a cc are worth much.

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The first thing - are you meeting the seller on a parking lot or at his house? If it is a parking lot-this is a MAJOR FLAG. If it is a house-look at the house, look at the rest of the vehicles.This will give you an idea what kind of person is the seller. Is the bike in his name? If it is not in his or his wife's name - another flag. Check the milage- if on the title is higher than on the odometer tampered or replaced speedo- CHEATER. Ask a question, that you know the answer, or you see the answer and see what will be the sellers answer. If it differs-CHEATER. FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT!!! If something doesn't feel wright, just walk away.

I NEVER meet someone at my house, unless he is a friend. I am selling a bike, not introducing the buyer to my family, showing him my possessions, or how to burglarize my house. The seller also needs to be carefull.  After meeting them at a nuetral location, and getting to know them, some of the people I have sold bikes to have become very good friends/riding buddies.

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