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How to inspect a used motorcycle when making a purchase

Bryan Bosch

TT'ers, this isn't a post. It's a wiki. If you're not sure what that means, it means it's an article that can be written by many. What I'm looking for is to create a great article on how to buy a used motorcycle. Essentially, things to lookout for, how to get a fair price, etc... If you've bought a used motorcycle successfully, you're qualified to contribute to this wiki article. You don't have to be some expert as the contributions of many will yeild the best results.

With a wiki, you can give your input, edit what's already been added, etc... All changes are tracked and contributors are logged. So, you really can't break anything. That said, give it a shot. Once there is some meat on the article's bones, this opening text and be removed. I'm just trying to get the ball rolling. Who's in? I'll start.


Where to find used motorcycles?

How to spot the typical classified ad scams?

  • If it's too good to be true, it's probably a scam. You're not getting a 2013 KTM 450 for $1,800 unless it comes in pieces.
  • If you pay before you see the bike, it's probably a scam.
  • If it's a "long distance" buy, it's probably a scam,
  • If the pic of the vehicle has a background that looks nothing like the topography, housing & vegetation in your local area, not that it IS a scam, but something that should peak your interest. Scammers often use pictures of someone else's vehicle.
  • If the only way to contact someone is via email and it's a freebie email account such as,, @gmailed, etc... this should also factor in to the total picture.
  • If the whole ad is essentially a picture, the user is doing this so that they can place the ad 5 bajillion times and is likely a scam. Normal ads are created where use's type the text and upload actual picture of the vehicle.
  • If you email and the reply back is some long story about military deployment and they can't show you the bike, but will happily ship it, scam. If you can't see before you buy, run.

How to prepare before you even go look?

  • Determine how much you're willing to spend or the condition and year of the bike you want to buy.
  • Determine the reasonable price and condition range by creating a list or spreadsheet of used motorcycles in your area.
  • Try looking at a few motorcycles that are close in proximity to you to get a feel for what you should be looking for.

Do some research. Look at local listings for the types of bikes you're interested in. If you're not sure about what motorcycle you want, try a friend's bike, read reviews, and hit the forums here on TT. The more time you have before you must purchase the better. When starting the research process, take mental notes of the years, condition, and prices of motorcycles. Compile a list or a spreadsheet that notes the location, price, advertised condition, year, and anything else that you think is relevant. After a set amount of time, a few weeks is best, you should be able to make a good guess for how much the bike you want should cost, what condition is typical for the price you're willing to pay, and how far you're willing to travel to get the bike you want.

How to evaluate a used motorcycle?

  • Look the bike over for wear
    • Check the controls for loose or sloppy movement
    • Check the frame, engine, tank, etc. for wear from Sun, crashes and riding. Chromalloy frames will become polished from boots, aluminum frames will also show wear, as will magnesium engine covers
    • Put the bike on a stand and spin the tires. Check to make sure rims are true. Also see if the wheels move up/down or side to side. Do the same with the swing arm.
    • If the air cleaner is readily accessible, check to see that it's clean. If it's dirty, how dirty is it? If it's really dirty, it probably wasn't cleaned or changed often.
    • If possible, pull of the header (2-stroke) and take a peak inside the cylinder to make sure everything looks good.
    • Check the chain and sprockets for wear
    • Check forks for oil leakage / blown seals
    • If there is a kick starter, check for compression. If the kick start pushes through the stroke easily with your hand, the motor is worn out.

    [*]Run the motor, rev the bike and listen for any strange sounds

    [*]Test ride if you can, test acceleration, shifting, steering, and brakes, and suspension if able to

    [*]Ask about how the motorcycle was ridden, where it was ridden, and what kind of typical maintenance / work was performed on the bike.

    [*]Ask why the bike is being sold if it's a private party. If you're clever, ask at the beggining and check for consistency later in the conversation to determine trustworthiness of the seller.

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Before travelling to see the bike, ask for the VIN number to verify that you are in fact driving 4 hours to see a 2009 model, and not a 2005...don't ask...

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  • With the bike on a stand, grab the frame and front wheel, check for steering head freeplay
  • check the hubs for cracks/damage, primarily around the sprocket bolts
  • check the air filter - is it oiled and maintained, or is it crusty and letting dirt into the engine
  • While the seat is off, check the subframe for damage/welds
  • Check radiator fluid, does it have oil in it? take the cap off while the bike is running (before it heats up!). is there good flow?
  • take the oil cap off, smell the oil. Is it milky (waterpump seal bad)? smells like it wasn't changed in 2 years?

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Before you travel to see the bike agree on the maximum price and when you get there find all the bad things about the bike and say you need to replace them.

That's how the price goes down.

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As a seller, I'd say know your competition. e.g. I have a 2007 that I rebuilt from the ground up, everything new.....So my competition is a new bike/ value of new technology, versus the value of a worn out 2007.

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Have you noticed that the definition of the word "mint" is changing? I've seen this claim of "mint condition" in ads where the picture shows a bike with shredded fork boots, discolored plastic, etc.

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Ask about the service history, and see if the bike is in a condition that reflects that. If it is private party, ask if they have it written down in a log book. If it is a Dealership, ask them what they inspected/changed before putting it up for sale when they received it. SERVICE HISTORY IS HUGE.

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 Click "edit" to add your additional points into the wiki. Jamracing's punch list would work great in the original authors subset under "check the bike over for wear". Then after "With the bike on a stand, grab the frame and front wheel, check for steering head freeplay" I might add: "...and for smooth motion side to side (usually the wheel should fall freely to the steering stops each way once it is tilted slightly off center)". Now we're building a good wiki.

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Check the photo to see if the season is current. If it's winter and you see green foliage in the background, ask for a recent photo. Too often sellers post images when the bike was newer and when you see it in person it looks ragged out.

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I talk to seller, phone, email with questions, just to see if they are good & honest people, if rude, short answers just not communicating, stay away, someone selling will answer all & any questions if they don't know they will you, 90% of the time can tell if the are honest or not, before the drive. No one want to work with a jerk. If you decide to go take a look, táke someone who has knowledge of what you are looking to buy, take advise from what you see here, these TT members got lots of good advise.goodluck,

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I agree with DRZ. Talk to the seller a bit. Judge their character. If possible, check out their garage and other vehicles. If they have a meticulously mowed lawn and shiny waxed cars, that's a good start. If their yard is trashed, cars are dirty, garage is a mess, not a good sign.


Add to a nice clean garage excellent maintenance records and them looking you in the eye and volunteering to answer all your questions and your chances of getting a nice bike improve dramatically.

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