What to look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle

When buying a used vehicle no matter if it is a car or motorcycle there are always risk involved. A good shopper though can reduce these risk by knowing what to look for when buying. In this article, we are going to help you become an informed buyer of motorcycles. We will cover what to look for when buying a used motorcycle. This way you will be able to get the best motorcycle possible as well as a good deal. Read on to learn everything you need to know to become an expert used bike shopper. That way when you are ready to buy your next used bike you will be able to get one that is reliable and doesn’t lead to a lot of headaches having to fix things. Instead, you will just be able to enjoy riding your new to your motorcycle.

What to look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle

What to look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle

First Impressions

One of the key things when it comes to buying a used motorcycle is the first impressions of the bike. Just like with people first impressions can say a lot. What are we meaning exactly by first impressions though when it comes to a motorcycle? Well, the first impression we are referring to how the bike looks with a fast glance over. Does the bike look well taken care of when you walk up to it or is it covered in dirt and mud? Hopefully, the motorcycle looks good to the naked eye because if it does then that is a good sign that the owner had pride of ownership or at least has done some work to the bike to clean it up to sell.

The key is when looking the motorcycle over to see how well it has been cared for is to check the hard to clean spots. Sellers that are just cleaning the bike to try to make it look good to sell will often miss the tight and hard to get to spots. A garage kept well cared for bike, on the other hand, will have everything looking good. Cosmetic condition isn’t everything though, but normally a clean bike is a happy bike. Only you can know how much weight to put on cosmetic damages such as scuffs to the paint or a little rust here and there. If you want a project bike or a better deal, then a few flaws cosmetically might be beneficial to you.


After looking at the bike for first impressions, the next thing to check is the exhaust. You want the bike cold for this. It is actually key for a lot of different reasons to have the bike cold when checking it out. You want to be able to see how it cold starts later. That means before meeting the seller to make sure if you aren’t meeting at their house to let them know that you want the bike cold for looking at it. This means that they need to bring it in a truck and not ride it to where you are meeting. Moving back to checking the exhaust you are going to want to touch and feel it for rough spots. Some owners might paint over rust or damages to try to hide it, but by feeling the exhaust you will be able to notice this. You want to find a motorcycle with a solid exhaust pipe or at least be aware of any damage to the exhaust before buying it. If you notice any issues to the exhaust, then be sure to listen for blow by when you start it.


Moving on from the exhaust the next are of importance to look at is the frame. For the frame, you want to make sure it is solid. You also want to look for any dents, bumps, or scrapes. Anything that might indicate that the bike has bottomed out or been in an accident. Touching the frame and running your hands over it is a good idea because this will again allow you to notice things that you might not see. You also want to make sure the frame of the motorcycle is straight and not bent.


Now that you have looked over the exhaust and frame you can move on to check the clutch. Some slack in the clutch cable is okay, and if it is too much, then you can adjust it after buying the bike, so that shouldn’t be a worry to you. The key to checking the clutch is to squeeze it and see how it feels. It should be smooth and easy to squeeze the clutch. Then when you release it make sure to do it slowly. This should also be smoothed. There should not be any snags or pops when pressing or releasing the clutch. After checking it the first time sit on the bike and squeeze it again. With the motorcycle in first gear and the clutch engaged, it should roll easily with little resistance.


Now that you are sitting on the bike and have it in gear it is time to check the brakes. Once you get the motorcycle rolling forward a little you can gently apply the front brakes. Engaging the brakes should be smooth and you should come to a stop gently with little to no sound from the brakes. Once stopped you can release the brake lever gently and you should start rolling again. If you do not roll freely or there is dragging, then the brake calipers need work. Also, if the brake handle doesn’t return to the original position, then adjustments need to be made.


Another thing to check while on the bike is the suspension. Push down on the front. The front should come back up immediately and silently. If there is any sound, then work needs to be done. Check the fork seals and make sure they are clean. There should not be any oil on them. If there is a little oil, then that is a sign that the motorcycle needs new fork seals.

However, if there are nicks or rust on the fork tubes, then more serious work will need to be done. The forks should be clean, shine, and smooth. Also, bounce up and down on the seat to check the conditions of the rear shocks. The bike should have some resistance and return to the normal position without springing up and down.

Chain and Sprocket

Chain and sprocket
The next thing on the list to check is the chain and sprocket. The inner part of the sprocket should be clean and shiny. To check the chain pull it gently at the three o’clock position. It should not come more than halfway off the sprocket teeth. If it comes off more than this, then it is time for it to be replaced because it isn’t tight enough.


Now to check the tires. They should have even wear. This is normal and doesn’t expect to find a used bike with new tires. The thing to look out for are motorcycles with the rear tire having severe wear on the center third of it. This is a sign burnout might have been done which is bad for the tire, but also hard on the engine. You don’t want to buy a used bike that has had excessive engine wear.


After checking the tires you want to check the various fluids. First, check the gas tank. You will probably want a flashlight to be able to look inside the tank to check for rust and sediment. Also, to check the condition of the gas. The gas should be a clear amber color and allow you to see all the way thru to the bottom. If it is dark, then it is old. Also, there should not be sediment or debris in the tank. If you can’t tell, rock the bike a little to make a wave in the gas and the sediment will shift.

Oil is the next fluid to check. It should not be dark and burnt, but instead, be a normal brown or black color. To check the best motorcycle oil get a little out with a towel, cloth, or rage thru the filler cap. Rub it between your fingers. A little grit is okay unless it is brand new syrup oil. The key thing to focus on is if you see shiny metal flacks in the oil. This means the engine is eating itself from the inside out. You do not want a motorcycle that is doing this. Also, you want to make sure there is no water in the oil. You can notice this easily because water and oil don’t mix. Also, when checking the fluids is a great time to ask the owner if they have maintenance history about the bike. If they do, that is a great sign that the motorcycle was taken good care of.

The last fluid to check is the coolant. The coolant should be neon green and smell sweet. Since the engine is cold you can remove the cap and look at it. Green is good, brown is not. Brown means oil is most likely getting into the coolant or the engine is rusting. Both are bad things and generally not worth your time to deal with, so that motorcycle should be avoided.

Cold Start

So, now we have made it to the part that you have been waiting for. Starting the motorcycle and hearing how it runs. It is key to listen to the bike as you start it because this can tell you a lot about the engine condition. First, it should not take that long or much effort to start. The motorcycle should run smooth and there should not be odd sounds or chugging sounds. A good tip is to bring a wooden rod with you and place one end on the engine and the other to your ear. Internal sounds from the engine will transfer thru the rod so you can hear them. You should do this on multiple spots. This will really clue you in on what the engine is doing on the inside. Also, look at the exhaust and make sure the smoke is not black. You really shouldn’t see any exhaust at all unless it is cool out and water condensate inside the exhaust and if you are checking out a motorcycle to buy it probably isn’t cool. Once you have it started and have heard it run to check all the lights, and turn arrows.

Test Ride

Now, if you are really serious you can take the motorcycle for a test ride if it is safe to do so and with the owner’s permission. This will give you a real idea of how the bike feels and how it runs.


Now, it is time for the paperwork. If you are going to buy the motorcycle make sure the VIN number on the bike matches the document. Also, make sure the person selling the bike is the name on the paperwork. Lastly, make sure the title is clear and there are no leans.


So, now you know everything you need to know when buying a used motorcycle. You know what to look for when buying a used bike. You know to check all the different parts of the bike and then cold start the motorcycle you hear how it runs. Now you are prepared to buy your next new to your motorcycle.

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