Bike Buying Tips: How to Find a Second-hand Bargain

Author: Scott Redmond Posted: 17 Feb 2016

All that glitters isn't old

Buying a used bike should be fun right? Despite prices for good used machines showing signs of rising there's still bargains to be found. Here's a few pointers from professional bike buyer and seller Scott Redmond to ensure your next purchase is a sound one.

Bargains, we all love them, everyone's got a tale or two to share about the bike they bought on the cheap. You might think the bargain bike is a thing of the past, but thankfully that isn't the case. There's always bargains out there, you just have to know where to look.

From eBay to auctions, your next bike bargain could be ready and waiting for you

Video may have killed the radio star, but eBay hasn't killed off other ways of advertising. Ebay itself can throw us the odd bargain. The online auction site rarely does this when bikes are listed on the auction format. More than one interested buyer ensures the price goes skywards, as it takes two people to make an auction. Many people advertise their bikes with a buy it now price. It's similar to an old fashioned classified advert where the seller wants to sell quickly usually, hence avoiding the drawn out process of the auction process. Bikes advertised by private sellers with a buy it now price on its head are often priced fairly. The seller’s logic needs to be applied by you the buyer. There's no point in finding the bike of your dreams within your budget to then realise that it's the other end of the country. What the eye doesn't see the heart doesn't miss, so set your search criteria before you go trawling the infested waters of eBay.

Use the ‘Ask a seller a question’ option. Fire off some questions that the advert doesn't cover. Often a seller will forget to list the most obvious things about their outgoing bike, and if you were a cynic you'd think they'd done this on purpose. Other than their reply you'll create an interaction, so keep it light hearted, and remember people buy people first. I've got away with cheeky offers in the past after building up a rapport with the vendor, and I've also accepted offers from people who I feel I like when other people may have offered more but in a blunt manner.

Top Tip: Build up a rapport with the seller, you might get away with a cheeky offer!

You'd be amazed how many dealers use eBay to source their stock. Bikes are often plucked by them one week then reappear at an inflated price the next, but sometimes the dealers are where your next bike might be waiting. The trade, it's a complicated place to operate sometimes. Lots of bikes get sold within the trade. Certain buyers only want particular makes or even models. They'll trade on their unwanted stock, often within the network of other dealers. The one man bands, the chancers and the man in street can access these bikes, they'll be sent to auction. Not online, these bikes will end up by the van load at specialist bike auctions.

The big boys don't like selling older bikes. They have to get involved with them though when a punter wants to part exchange their old bike for something new or newer. Prices given for these trade ins are dictated by the Glasses Guide or CAP books. These guides offer those who subscribe to them an instant rough price guide on used bikes. From my experiences the prices aren't that realistic, it's more like a theatrical prop to start negotiations. We've all experienced a dealer who's quoted us next to nothing because the book says so, but then digs in on the price of the bike they're selling us because the book says so.

I've been to plenty of bike auctions over the years, I really like them, there's usually plenty of choice available, but it's very much a case of buyer beware. There's often more pups there than at Battersea Dogs Home. Unlike eBay you can actually inspect the bike, give it a good prod and study its appearance. Some auctions will even start the bikes up, but that's about it, it's no wonder that some bikes will end up under the hammer that are hiding gremlins that would only show up when being ridden. This could range from a dodgy gearbox to a bent chassis, not trying to put a dampener on bike auctions, just speaking from experience.

Part of the attraction of looking for a motorcycle is exactly that, looking, be that online or in the real world. You're never too far away from an auto jumble, they are an excellent place to crack a deal and bag a bargain. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If you're serious about buying a bike at a jumble you need to put your money where your mouth is, money talks, people mumble, it's an old auto jumblers saying, it's also very true.

There's zero point in haggling on a bike if you haven't got the cash in your pocket to back it up. Worse though is not being able to transport it. When I do auto jumbles I have occasionally been persuaded to hang on to a bike as a deposit but other times I've let a bike go for less money to a buyer who can do an instant transaction. My biggest tip for finding an auto jumble deal is to get there early. Most jumbles have a setting up period of time for the traders to arrive and get their turds polished. You'd be amazed at how many bikes and parts change hands before the public get in. Those blokes on the gate in their high viz jackets will prevent you from getting in early. Some events cash in and let you in early on an early bird ticket, often at an inflated price, but pay it, it's worth it. It's not an admission price, it's an investment in finding a bargain.

Not everyone is computer savvy, so not every bike for sale ends up on the world wide web. The small ads are a favourite stomping ground for those of us who love a bargain bike. Remember my advice about shop local? The local paper is still worth a look. Even more fun is scouring the post card adverts in the sweet shop, or your local supermarket. I have bought bikes from both over the years, often at basement prices. It's not just where you look, it's also what you're looking for.


Ebay, love it or hate it, we're all stuck with it. It's showing no signs of popping its bubble despite attempts by other websites to muscle in on its popularity.

Unless you've lived in a cave you're already aware of Ebay. The online auction site that delivers whatever you search for straight to your computer, iPad or mobile phone. It's never been so easy to buy a bike, or has it?

Remember the golden rules of dos and don'ts on eBay

Before you get too carried away there's a few golden dos and don'ts to obey on the bay. Those lovely photographs, digital photographs and rose tinted specs can result in an almost 3D feast for your eye balls. Most sellers will bung a selection of photos on their listing, but if they've been taken from 10 feet away they aren't going to show you much. Pop the seller a question and request close up shots if there's none already posted. Spotting mismatched paint is nigh on impossible, restamped frame and engine numbers aren't going to show up on an iPhone piccy. I'm not suggesting the vendor is a crook, but some of these bikes are getting on. That immaculate 350LC hasn't always looked that good, remember that.

Stick to shopping local, unless you are really confident that the bike is a pearler. I'd always take nearest and dearest over a punt on a bike in the wrong postcode. Avoid alcohol and motorcycles, not just when riding but also when surfing eBay. This is so obvious I know but it does happen, old bikes and beer goggles are like old birds and booze, the more you've sunk the better they become, that’s all I'm going to say on that subject.

Top Tip: Stick to shopping local, unless you are really confident that the bike is a pearler.

If you know you fancy buying a particular model start window shopping online upfront. Get a feel for prices, do your homework, you'll soon become addicted to the search bar and will have a better idea of availability on your intended purchase.

Models like GSX-Rs are often worth searching for in certain formats. For years I always just banged in GSXR, it was someone else that pointed out that there's a hyphen between the X-R. It's little things like this that can be the difference in getting or missing your dream bike, computers are stupid really!

Never bid more than you wanted to pay. The fever of bidding on a listing that you've drooled over for a week is often tempting, though rarely results in a good start to the biking relationship. Set a budget and stick to it well-ish.

Classy with the classifieds

Have you spied the classifieds lately? You never know what gems are lurking at the end of that phone number on the advert. I've bought 1,000s of bikes from the small ads over the decades, and I actually prefer the experience over the sterile process of eBay, here's why:

People buy people first. If you call up a classified and the seller isn't that engaging in conversation about his machine, chances are you aren't going to feel motivated to make an arrangement to see it, wrong! Just like people might have several screens open when dealing with your email reply, answering a phone can be just another multitasking task for the bod on the end. Get your questions in and focus on the answers to the crucial questions you need to ask. Initially you need to avoid the seller’s life story, it's a picture of the bike you are after, not their life! You can obtain a pretty decent picture by asking these simple questions:

  • Why are you selling it?
  • How long have you owned it?
  • What's its best and worst feature?
  • Are there any spares with it?

Questions you don't want to ask at this stage is 'what's the best price’? It is so rude to talk money, besides people usually respond better to that in person when you're standing there holding the folding. Everything is negotiable, the asking price is just a starting point.

Grab the reg number. It's always worth running an HPI check. If it shows up being previously damaged it's not the end of the world, lots of bikes pick up this flag on the system over the years. If it comes back all squeaky clean still be wary, imported bikes that might have seen a tree or lamp post in an accident won't be recorded on the UK HPI system, it's always buyer beware out there.

Do your research on your chosen bike. Check things out like what graphics go with what year of production, any recalls, things like Kawasaki carb icing woes, through to subframe changes on the emerging classic like Hayabusa's suffered. Search online, join a forum even, everyone is an expert on those!

Top Tip: when you arrive to view the bike go prepared

When you arrive to view the bike go prepared. Take a van and remember the straps! Get cash, avoid 50 pound notes, even now people act odd when presented with a fifty quid note, get 20s, besides they look more!

Arrange a time you know you can make. Avoid becoming a tyre kicker before you've arrived, all the contact pre deal day helps to build a relationship with the vendor. Treat it like a first date in a way, it'll help the atmosphere when you get there, just avoid snogging him/her.

Take your time to look at the bike. First off check the frame and engine numbers out. Once you've discovered them really look at them, do they look legit? Were they stamped in Japan, Italy, Germany or restamped in the bikes past in a lock up in Canning Town??

Again, get familiar with how they should look before you go shopping. If there is a genuine reason for re applying frame or engine digits I've yet to hear it.

Check the V5 too. Don't be too alarmed if no engine number is listed on the document. Many imported bikes will only show a frame number, it's all you had to provide when registering a used bike from overseas, bike traders are lazy, so rarely bothered adding engine numbers to the forms.  Check to see how long it’s been owned.  Does it tally with his/her story?  Are they an enthusiastic classic bike buyer or a part time trader? It's tougher than you might think to separate the two.

If the seller boasts about work done ask for receipts. If he hasn't got them assume it's not been done.

Keep chit chat flowing, avoid being outright rude or negative. If the bike is warm, ask why? Insist on starting the bike yourself, especially kick start machines.

Have a really good prod around, under the seat and tank too if possible. Is it clean under there, too clean? Or dirty, cobwebs are a great indicator of how often the tanks been on and off.

Have a really good prod around. Is it clean, solid, loved?

Inspect the wiring. The tank might be polished, but is it solid?

I tend to know within seconds if the bike is for me or not. If it's not right for you avoid wasting each others time. If the bike is a bit of you enter the next phase, negotiate. He'll/She’ll have a bottom line; you just need to find it! Go in low, the only way is up after that. Holding the bucks helps to focus the sellers mind. Once you've reached what you feel is the bottom line, it's always worth chipping another bulls eye off, you'll be amazed how many times this works. Before committing to this, be sure to have had any spares etc. that have been mentioned in the transaction at your feet first, nobody likes putting bits back, trust me.

Bike auction

Not the most common way to buy your bike but well worth considering. Get familiar with the mechanics of an auction, pop along, observe, you only get a few minutes to bid for the bike you fancy. You do though get time pre sale to inspect the bike. Sadly, there's only the auctioneer’s info on the headlamp, so the luxury of questioning the owner is lacking. For people who rarely buy bikes the auction might be a bad idea. Always be aware of the buyer’s commission. Auction houses take a cut from both the buyer and the seller. The percentage can be the difference between you thinking you've had a result to paying over the odds. Lots of these fees are also subject to VAT also. This can be a bit much to compute in those dying seconds of bidding, so if you're not great at maths take someone that is!

Have you bought any bargain bikes or absolute duffers? Tell us about it!  or !

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