Looking to buy a used dirt bike? If so, read on because we’re going to give you some solid advice on how not to get burned in the process. Years of experience coupled with some expert advice from our industry sources provide a step-by-step guide to buying that pre-owned bike of your dreams.
Buying used recreational toys like dirt bikes are among the best values in motorcycling today. Historically, off-road motorcycles endure huge monetary depreciation and other factors such as rider attrition and economic hardship helping expanding that vast pool of used machines available… when people need to pay the bills, motorcycles are among the first items to go.
With that in mind, not all the deals out there are good ones. Many unscrupulous sellers are just waiting to steal your hard earned cash in trade for a good looking piece of junk. Let’s look at how to avoid many of those pitfalls that await you as a prospective buyer.
KNOW YOUR BUDGET
Cash is king and going to see bikes that you expect to low-ball the sellers by vast margins is unrealistic and a waste of time for everyone involved. Know what you have to spend, have it ready in cash when you leave the house.
Determine what kind of bike you want. This choice should be based solely on the kind of riding you actually do, not what you see Ryan Villopoto and Kailub Russell do because you aren’t that good (yet). So if you ride motocross, get a moto specific ride, if you ride enduro/woods, look for a good woods mount. They’re worlds apart and you’ll need the right tool for the job.
Next is the 2-stroke versus 4-stroke question, one of the most hotly debated subjects in our sport today. Let’s try to objectively examine a few pros and cons of each when buying a used machine. It’s my personal opinion that to be competitive in the two larger MX and SX classes, a 4-stroke is required to be part of the mix, so with that said;
- Low cost of entry
- Easy and inexpensive to rebuild
- Less manufacturers support
- Rebuild more often
- Easier to ride fast
- More usable torque at all RPM’s
- More expensive to rebuild
RECRUIT A FRIEND
Bring a friend who rides regularly, knows off road bikes backwards and forwards and bring them with you. Discuss what you’re looking for and have them look at the prospective purchases, whether on eBay, CraigsList, ThumperTalk Classifieds, or whatever. Always demand recent photos of the bike and don’t accept dark, cloudy photos as a reason to drive 40 miles to see an old junker - gas is expensive these days last time we looked.
DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ
Just because the bike looks good (new plastic is cheap) or is amazingly cheap, don’t believe a bit of what you read. Talk (and words) are cheap so make sure you go into every deal as a skeptic and remember that emotion plays a huge role in impulse buying. Don’t be a sucker and jump at the first thing you see. In our experience, this is a rookie mistake and can have big consequences.
BE PROMPT, BE POLITE, DON’T BE A JERK
When making a time to see your prospective purchase, make sure you stick to what you say and if you’re going to be late or not show, call the seller and tell them! Being late, being rude and making disparaging remarks about the bike to the seller almost always results in a less than friendly dialogue and usually results in you paying a higher price…being polite costs you nothing and could result in a better result at the end of the deal.
We like to meet buyers at their home garage or workshop to see the general state of their mechanical abilities. Does the seller have other machines and are they in good working order? Is the garage/work area clean and free of old broken parts and such? Are there maintenance items like oils, lubes, and sparkplugs in sight? Just remember, this is where your prospective purchase was maintained…is it up to your standards?
It doesn’t cost anything to ask the hard questions that can help determine the true condition of the bike and things you may need to pay attention to right away. Here are some sample questions to ask:
- Any problems at all?
- How often is it ridden?
- Has it been raced?
- How often do you change the oil and air filter?
- Has it sustained any major damage or repairs?
- Are there any aftermarket parts and are the stock parts still with the bike?
- Does the seller have the title and bill of sale ready for transfer?
Regarding race bikes versus all others, our friends at Cycle Trader said “The old myth that buying a race bike is just a myth…would you prefer the practice bike that never had the oil changed, or the farmers kids bike that was left out in the rain, your choice!” “If you find a true race bike, it will have been maintained better than any other, as it is important that it finished the race. But still the question needs to be asked, why are they getting rid of it?”
Make sure you and your moto-buddy test as many things on the bike as possible such as engine, suspension, bearings, fork seals, etc. Many of these tests can be performed in a stationary situation, but being able to start and actually test ride the bike makes a world of difference.
On motorcycles, cylinder compression is king. If the bike won’t start due to low compression then you’ll most likely need to rebuild the engine before actually having fun with it. If it doesn’t pass either one of these standards, you’ll probably want to walk away as running bikes in decent shape aren’t that hard to find, so why settle for junk?
On 2-strokes this is easy to test and experienced riders can tell with a few kicks whether the bike will reliably start and has decent compression.
On 4-strokes it’s a whole different ball game as many factors effect the compression cycle, not just the rings. Factor in valves, cam, cam chain, etc. and it can be a lot of expense and labor…so how can you avoid this?
Bring a compression leakdown tester, that’s a good start, and you can buy one from MotionPro for around $150. All engines have different cylinder pressure figures, but most engines fall in the 110 to 190 PSI range. Components that wear over time like rings, valve seals, and cylinders can cause huge problems and engines that exhibit low compression should be left for some other unlucky buyer.
Here are some key items to inspect when looking at a used bike:
Suspension: Inspect fork seals for leaks, check rear shock for same. Inspect steering bearings and swingarm bearings by putting the bike up on a stand to test that the suspension moves thorough its travel with almost no clunking or squeaking noises noise(s).
Frame: Visually inspect the frame for any cracks, welds, or bent areas. Look carefully at frame cradle area for deformation.
Brakes: Inspect discs for gouging and cracking and check for correct fluid level at master and slave cylinders on bikes equipped as such. Check for proper pressure at lever and let off, then check if the brakes drag or make any bad noises due to warped disc, worn pads, etc.
Clutch: Pulling the clutch cover and inspecting the basket for chopped sides, and the plates for their thickness, is another common thing to check as a clutch setup can easily cost you $400.
Spokes: Most people over tighten spokes, and this causes them to stretch and become weak. Unscrew a spoke and see how far the threads go through the rim, at some point they will start poking through the rim strap, and you will see a lot of flat tires. It’s also a safety concern. Replacing spokes is not difficult, you can do it yourself one at a time once the tire is off.
General Maintenance: Check for a clean air filter, fresh gear oil and decent tires. Check both sprockets and the chain for excessive wear, pull the spark plug and see what it looks like. Refer to our previous spark plug chart to see what’s been going on in the cylinder while the bike was running. Is the bike straight? Are the bars/levers bent? Inspect the heads of the screws and bolts…are they in good shape?
Our experience has been that lazy riders don’t maintain their bikes and if it looks bad on the outside, just imagine the work the seller may have messed up on the inside?
Some other tools to bring include a small, bright flashlight, spark plug wrench, some rubber gloves and a bike stand so you can inspect items like fork seals and bearing play. And don’t forget a truck/van/trailer in case you actually do buy the bike right then and there.
Every seller expects you to negotiate the price, unless it says “firm”, but don’t go into any deal thinking you’ll get something for half of what someone is asking. Normally, sellers who discount at this level are selling junk and it’s worthless to begin with. It’s normal to try to get up to 30% off the asking price when it comes to recreational toys like motorcycles.
DOCUMENTS AND STOLEN BIKES
Now is the right time to sit with the owner and ask for the title and bill of sale. In our experience, buying bikes without titles is a sure way to get some stolen product. Make sure to ask for the driver’s license of the seller and take down that information, checking that it matches the title and VIN number on the frame.
If you purchase a stolen bike without doing due diligence, you will have to give it back to the rightful owner and you will lose your money…and you may be charged with receiving stolen goods too!
After the deal is done, don’t forget to ask for and collect any parts or accessories/riding gear you may have purchased with the bike.