Best Tips for buying a used motorbike

Motorcycles tend to drop in price very quickly the first couple of years out of the showroom, then the decrease gradually levels out. So if you find something from a few model years ago, you can invest your money in tires and trips rather than finance plans.

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In Canada, most machines don’t get a lot of use; few collect more than 5,000 km a season, and any modern bike will easily go 80,000 km or more with little more than oil and tire changes.

Start by looking for ads for the models you’re interested in. Owners’ groups websites are often worthwhile places as well; many have buy and sell forums, and are also a fast and easy way to find out about potential problems.

Given the insurance situation in this province, I wouldn’t even bother asking for a test ride of any prospective purchase.

That said, there are three key things to remember about buying a used bike: don’t buy the first bike you look at; take a trusted friend along with you and listen to them, and do not look at the bike at night (take a flashlight to peer into nooks and crannies).

  • Make sure it’s really clean. If the owner couldn’t be bothered to get the bike looking perfect before you got there, walk away. Chances are maintenance was treated the same.
  • Do a quick walk-around, looking for obvious crash damage like bent levers, damaged paint, marks on the bottom outside edges of the engine cases, or scratched handlebar ends. Get the bars straight and look at it from front and rear for any sign of wheel misalignment.
  • Check for little holes ( 1/16th of an inch) drilled in fasteners and fluid drain bolts. It’s a dead giveaway that the bike has been raced or at least used hard on track days.
  • Check the rubber with the flashlight. Inspect the manifolds between the carb (or EFI system) and the engine in particular. Any age cracks there could mean endless grief over a performance problem.
  • Check tire tread depth, profile (if the rear in particular looks a bit “squared off” rather than round, it’s overdue for replacement), and sidewall cracks.
  • Check the brakes and clutch levers for smooth operation and push the bike around. Do the brakes work? Does the clutch release?
  • Check the lights and signals.
  • Before you start the motor, put a hand on it to be sure it’s cold – sellers have been known to get a poor-starting engine hot before a buyer arrives to make it more likely to fire quickly when tried.
  • Check suspension for leaks (oil residue on the fork legs or near the shocks), and push down both ends to be sure the compression and rebound are smooth. Get the front wheel off the ground and turn the bars from lock to lock; clicking noises or looseness are bad signs.
  • A used motorcycle requires a Used Vehicle Information Package, which the seller should provide. You’ll also need a safety certificate – I’d hold out for one from a reputable bike shop. In Ontario, any licensed car mechanic can certify a motorcycle, whether he knows what he’s looking at or not.

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