So you're after a used bike? Whether you are upgrading to the latest crotch rocket, looking for your first big bike or searching for a reliable commuter, there's a million options out there - but which ones to choose?
Know what you are looking for
Do your research first! Try to narrow down your search to a few different bikes and do your homework on what to look out for on these. Use the web and the various bike publications to read reviews on the bike. You may find out little nuggets like warped front disks are common on a certain model and year. You now know when viewing these bikes to give that disk a good check over for an issue you may have otherwise missed.
Also check out insurance, running costs and servicing costs/intervals. Its no good finding and buying a shiny new sports machine only to discover its going to cost you 2 grand to insure. Likewise, its not good buying a machine only to find its mileage is approaching one of the major service intervals - means you'll have a hefty garage bill next service.
Finding the right used motorcycle
Local dealers are a good place to start, even if you do not want to buy from a dealer it will give you the opportunity to properly see and have a sit on selected models to see what suits you. Dont jump at the first shiny thing you see that takes your fancy! The used bike market is huge and you are guaranteed to find something better if you hang-fire and shop around a bit.
Check out the various online classifieds such as Ride Trader and print publications and if decided on a certain model eg a GSX-R then find out where the Gixxer riders hang out online. Most popular models have a forum dedicated to them and these are a great source for research and most will have a classifieds board for members to advertise their bikes.
Contacting the seller
Discussion forums may only allow you to email the seller but ideally you want a phone number where you can talk to the seller direct. If emailing the seller, ask if they have a phone number you can contact them on.
Being able to speak to the seller is a big bonus as it may give you clues as to what sort of person they are. During the initial phone call, try to find out as much about the bike as possible. As a bare minimum you want to know:
- No of previous owners
- Is it a UK bike or an import
- How much tax & MOT remaining
- Last service date and work done
- Any modifications done to bike (exhausts, Power Commander etc) and if modified, are original parts included
- Any past problems or fixes Why the owner is selling
- Has it been kept under cover
- Ever been on trackdays or raced
- All paperwork/keys/alarm fobs included
- Do they know of any outstanding finance issues with the bike
If the seller is reluctant to answer any of the above or you get the impression they are not being honest then move on to the next bike. There's plenty more fish in the sea. Dont make any promises you aren't going to keep such as saying you'll come and see the bike when actually you have doubts and probably wont go.
Viewing the bike
If you are happy with what you have heard over the phone then its time to arrange a visit to view the bike. Even if you think you know your bikes its always a good idea to take a friend with you as a 2nd pair of eyes can be useful to spot anything you may miss.
Ideally the viewing will be at the sellers home. If the seller suggests meeting at a car park or similar then try to ascertain the reason for this. The reason may be genuine and it could be simply that they do not want strangers on their home but it could also suggest a small time dealer who wants to look like a private seller, or, worst case, a stolen bike.
Try to arrange the viewing for daylight hours as artificial light can hide flaws. Ask the seller up front whether he is happy with a test ride and what sort of deposit they require to allow you to take the bike out. Also, if possible, ask the seller not to start the bike prior to the viewing as you want to hear the engine from a cold start.
Once at the viewing, get the bike into a position where it is in good light. If it is in the garage/showroom, ask if you can wheel it outside. Visually inspect the bike, does it match the description you were given? If the mint, as-new, bike you had described to you over the phone looks like a bit of a dog then politely walk away! Dont waste any more of yours or the sellers time.
If the bike initially looks good then go over every part with a fine tooth comb paying attention to the following (this list contains suggestions of what to look at - as stated at the start of this article, do your research to find any particular weaknesses associated with that model):
- General condition & cleanliness. Is this a caring owner? Someone who takes pride in their bike is more likely to keep it well maintained and serviced.
- Condition vs mileage. Does the condition suggest the mileage is correct. A low mile bike that has worn sprockets, worn footpegs, worn paint on tank from leathers, tired suspension etc suggests that the mileage may not be correct.
- Crash damage - check all bodywork and plastics for any repairs or ill-fitting replacement panels. A minor spill that required a new fairing panel may well have damaged other areas of the bike that are not visible.
- Are those stickers hiding anything?
- Check for play in the steering head bearings - has this been a wheelie machine?
- Check suspension for firmness and check for any leaking fluids.
- Check movement on clutch & gearbox, flick up and down the box.
- Switch on ignition and check instrumentation functions.
- Ask to see any original parts if mods are fitted. If the owner does not have the originals then why not?
- Check mods such as heated grips actually work
Fire it up mister!
Once you are happy the bike is visually sound try starting the engine. As mentioned above, the bike should ideally be cold as a warm engine can mask problems.
The bike should fire easily first time and run fine on tickover. Any strange noises can result in a costly repair bill so listen carefully for anything that does not sound right. Some smoke after a cold start is normally fine but once warmed up, the engine should not smoke and should rev freely and easily.
As discussed earlier, try to agree terms of a test ride beforehand. If the seller requires a full cash deposit then be sure to bring it. If you take a test ride then work through each area of the bike in turn. Accelerate hard in each gear - does it jump out of a certain gear under acceleration? Does the suspension show wear by diving too much under braking? Are any warning lights visible? Does the bike run hot when sat in traffic?
Prior to completing the deal, and especially for mid to high value bikes, it is a good idea to run a check against the bikes registration using one of the many checking services available (RAC or similar). This can reveal any past history such as the bike being written off or stolen and can reveal any outstanding finance. Also, check the bikes VIN number matches that stated in the registration document. Check all paperwork is present and that the seller or dealer is the registered owner.
If the paperwork is not in order or the check returns any issues then walk away. Dont risk buying a stolen bike or becoming liable for finance.
If you have decided this is the bike for you then its time to negotiate and pay up. Don't just immediately offer the asking price, think of the condition of the bike and work out a fair discount based on any negatives you've seen. Try offering the asking price minus 15-20% as a start point. Point out any negatives to the seller - "I do like the bike but it really needs a new set of tyres and its due a service so would you take .....?". Expect to be
The best way of actually making the payment depends on the type of seller. A dealer may offer the facility to accept cards, this is good as it doesn't involve carrying around large amounts of cash and means a proper record of the transaction is retained. Check what payment means the seller is willing to accept. A good idea is to supply a small cash deposit to secure the bike and then pay the balance once you have sorted out your insurance and are in a position to collect the bike. This also gives you the option to back out of the deal if you change your mind. This way you lose a small deposit rather than be stuck with a bike you no longer want.
As mentioned above, you need insurance to ride the bike away. Riding the bike home with a view to sorting out the insurance and paperwork later is against the law. Most insurers will be able to provide you instant cover over the phone.