Top tips for buying your first bike

Posted: 27 Oct 2011

Buying a bike, whether a Harley or a scooter is one of the most exciting times ever. Take our advice and it should be smoother
Buying a motorcycle is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. For some people, it’s simply a mode of transport – a means of getting to work and back – but for most of us, it’s more than just a way of getting from A to B. This bike is going to take pride of place in your garage and may even overtake the dog (or kids) as the most important member of the family. We're warning you that is very likely to happen!

There’s a lot to consider when buying a bike – a lot more than just what you fancy riding. What are you going to be using the bike for? Can you afford the finance? Have you considered the cost of ongoing maintenance? Have you remembered tax, MOT and servicing? What about clothing? Can you get insured…? Some of these questions, if not previously considered, can make buying your pride and joy a stressful rather than exciting experience.    

So where do you start? What kind of licence do you have?

CBT: Are you 16 and keen to get your wheels? Then you can ride a bike of up to 50cc (restricted to 33 mph) as soon as you have passed your Compulsory Basic Training (CBT). After you pass you can ride on the road (with ‘L’ plates) for up to two years before having to retake your test.

Category A2: If you are 17 years old, you can ride bikes of up to 125cc with ‘L’ plates – providing you have already passed your CBT. You can also take the Category A2 test, which allows you to ride a bigger 33bhp bike for a probationary two-year period.

Category A: Once you’ve done your two-year probation time on a Category A2 licence, it becomes a Category A full bike licence and you can ride whatever motorcycle you like!

Direct Access: If you are over 21, you can book straight onto a direct access course. You still have to pass the CBT and theory tests, but once passed, you’ll have a full Category A licence as above. 

What kind of rider are you?  

At some point in our lives, we all fancy ourselves as the next Valentino Rossi. But, navigating the busy streets of London during rush hour on a Yamaha R1 doesn’t seem like much fun. So, you need to decide why you want a motorcycle.

Commuter: If you’re primarily looking for something to get you to work and back, you may consider a naked or street bike as a commuter bike. These are stripped down to the bare minimum, often without fairings or the luxury of panniers. Although this lack of luggage space may be a problem to some riders, bikers looking to commute won’t really mind. In return, you get a comfortable, lightweight and economical machine that’s perfect for your daily ride to the office. 

Inner city rider: Scooters can also be popular with commuters – particularly those living in built-up areas or busy cities. They’re also the easiest way to get onto two wheels if you’re a complete biking newbie as they have a twist and go throttle and automatic gearbox. Scooters have also become more fashionable in recent years – with classic Lambrettas and Vespas making a come-back (think Pete Townshend rather than Jamie Oliver).

Speed demon: For riders with a penchant for speed who like to take part in track days at the weekend, sports and performance bikes such as the Honda Fireblade, Kawasaki ZX-6R and the Suzuki GSX-R1000 (to name just a few) are obvious choices. They may be uncomfortable to ride after long periods of time, but it’s a trade-off for phenomenal acceleration, braking and handling.

Long distance rider: For those who prefer long distance riding, tourers with comfortable seats, large-capacity fuel tanks and plenty of room for luggage are a must. Popular models including the Harley-Davidson Road King and Honda Goldwing, or sports tourers such as the Triumph ST don’t come cheap, but it’s the comfort factor you’re paying for. Some of the big models come already equipped with satnav and heated seats for the ultimate in two-wheel travel. 

Off-road adventurer: Unleash your sense of adventure! Riders who can’t make up their minds whether they’d rather be on or off-road can turn to trail bikes for the perfect compromise. They’re lightweight and have high ground clearance and long travel suspension, which makes navigating the beaten track a doddle after a hard day at the office. Bikes like the BMW F800GS or Triumph Tiger 800XC can handle pretty much any terrain, but they’re not the most comfortable of rides.

Be realistic…

So you know what kind of rider you are, but you’ll also need to be realistic about your riding ability. If you only passed your test last week, don’t expect to be riding a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic until you’re a more confident (and experienced) rider. 

The weight, speed and power of a motorcycle are usually good factors to base your bike-buying decision on. The bigger and heavier the motorcycle, the harder it will be to control – and pick up if it’s dropped. Likewise, a motorcycle with 100bhp or more that can easily zip through a quarter-mile is not an ideal first motorcycle.  

Where do you start looking?

So you know what you want a motorcycle for, but now what? One word: research.

Check out as many magazines and websites as possible for ideas on the most suitable makes and models for you. Ask around – your mate, next door neighbour or the security guard from the local Tesco who you’ve seen riding to work on a Gixer. They may not be the most reliable sources of information, but it can’t hurt to get a first hand opinion on the bikes they ride.

If you already know the manufacturer and model you’re looking to buy, check out as many tests and reviews as you can in two-wheel publications such as MCN and RiDE, and on websites like this one.

What next?

When you’ve done your research, you’re ready to take the next step. Start looking in the obvious places like bike dealers and the classifieds sections of the local and national newspapers, but cast your net a bit wider and you might catch yourself a bargain. Police motorcycle auctions and eBay are also worth a punt. Just be aware of the pros and cons of each. Don't forget to have a read of our Top Buying Tips on Bennetts Bike Classifieds.

Always check, check then check again…

You’ve found a couple of bikes in your budget and examined them using our handy bike buying checklist. Everything looks good, but don’t make a hasty decision!

Don’t be railroaded by your dealer into buying a motorcycle because if you “don’t buy it now it’s bound to be snapped up quickly”, or hand over any money to a private seller because you don’t want to miss the bargain of the century. Sleep on it. Take your time to assess the situation – can you afford it, is the motorcycle really as good as it looks?   

For used bikes, check the price on or If you can, get a mechanic to inspect it, particularly if you’re buying from a private seller.

View James Toseland's Top Tip Video for Buying a Bike

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