Buying a second-hand motorcycle can be a daunting prospect, especially if it’s your first time, and you’re looking at the bike of your dreams while the owner’s stood beside you. But even when you’re buying from a dealer, knowing exactly what to look for not only means you’ll be as sure as you can that the motorcycle is in good, honest condition, but you could barter the price down for things you can repair yourself, or aren’t too worried about. BikeSocial’s used bike buying checklist will ensure you get the very best deal…
1: Know the bike. One of the most important things to do before you go to look at any used bike is to know everything you can about the model first; with a thorough knowledge of what parts it should have as standard – and what they should look like – you’ll soon spot anything out of place.
Many people will tell you that you should never buy the first used bike (or car) that you go to see… it’s a good point, as only by looking at as many as possible will you know the best ones. Of course, sometimes the best one IS the first one, but do try to see a variety. One way is to make a point of going to look at variations of the model you really don’t want. Dreaming of a red Ducati 916? Go and have a look at some yellow ones, just to give you the chance to check out the mechanicals on a few, without your heart ruling your head.
2: Check the MoTs. You can check a vehicle’s MoT history online at www.gov.uk/check-mot-history – this will also give you a chance to check the mileage. If the bike’s done nothing for a long time, the fuel system could be gummed up, but equally, make a note of what you’d expect the mileage to be on the clocks.
3: Call ahead. Save a wasted trip by calling the seller and asking them if they have all the paperwork, how long they’ve had the bike, why they’re selling it and if there are any issues like damage or faults that they think you should know about. If you still want to look at it, ask them to ensure it’s not run for at least a couple of hours before you go, so you can start it from cold. If you get there and the engine’s warm, be suspicious.
4: Take a torch. You should always view a second-hand bike (or a car) in daylight wherever possible, but if you can’t, make sure the seller lets you view the vehicle somewhere with plenty of light; if they won’t, that should set alarm bells ringing. Take a small torch anyway, so you can look inside the nooks and crannies, not to mention more easily check the frame and engine numbers.
5: Always check the paperwork. Check the frame number (VIN) matches the one on the V5, and check the engine number too. Also check that the address on the V5 matches the address you’re viewing the bike at. If there is no paperwork, walk away (though off-road bikes don’t currently have V5s, unless they’ve been voluntarily registered with the DVLA).
As for service records, check that the service book matches the bike, and check the stamps are genuine (many manufacturers can now confirm service records by checking an electronic database).
Full dealer service history is good, but don’t dismiss servicing from an independent mechanic, as long as work’s been done to a good standard. For out-of-warranty bikes, home servicing isn’t always a bad thing – if the seller has kept records of every part bought, and you’ve had the chance to see they have a well-stocked tool chest and working area, make a decision based on the age, value and condition of the bike.
6: Give yourself time. Don’t let a seller rush you (and that includes a dealer). Of the bikes I’ve bought, I’ve usually spent a good hour or two at least – partly because I wanted to check everything, but also because I’ve ended up building a rapport with the seller. If the seller is telling you another buyer is on their way, don’t rush your decision. If in doubt, walk away, and then forget about it. There will be another one.
7: Get to know the seller. Be friendly and chatty – you’ll learn more about the kind of person they are, and how they look after their bikes, if you get talking.
8: Have a wee. If you’re buying from a private seller you should be at their home. You might have met them somewhere else, but don’t hand any money over until you’re at the address on the V5. And while you’re there, ask to use the toilet – it’s a chance to have a little peak indoors to see that they really do live there (pictures on walls for instance), and also see how much they ride… bike kit takes up a lot of room, so chances are you’ll see a lid somewhere, or even a photo of their bike.
9: Be safe. A test ride can be a key part of the buying process, but wait until you’ve checked everything else before asking the seller. By this point, they’ll trust you a lot more, and know you’re serious, but they may well still expect to have the money in their hand before giving you the key. And you MUST make sure you’re insured to ride other motorcycles with the owner’s permission.
10: Take our checklist. Watch the videos below to give you a great idea of what you need to check before buying any used motorcycle, and download our FREE bike-buying checklist. It’s a simple PDF that you can print out; click here to get yours.
Be methodical when checking a bike over – I start at the bottom and work my way up – you might spot one little thing that makes you look again elsewhere, so do take your time. If there are scuffs or scrapes, they could have happened while putting the bike away, but a scrape that runs in more than one direction almost certainly happened as the machine slid down the road, turning as it went.
• Fork legs: Check the bottoms of the fork legs for chamfering, and that they match on both sides.
• Engine cases: Are the engine cases scuffed, and are they the right colour? Look for deep scrapes in particular, or signs that the cases have been replaced – are they newer-looking than the rest of the engine?
• Pegs: Look for worn or missing hero blobs, and wear on the ends of the foot-pegs and pedals.
• Exhaust: Check the exhaust end-can and heat shields for damage. Check the rear of the can for damage too, where it could have hit the swing-arm.
• Swing-arm: Look for any chamfering on the edges of the swing-arm. Also check where the exhaust could have pressed into it.
• Radiator: Make sure the radiator isn’t twisted or in any way out of shape. Also check the coolant pipes aren’t freshly replaced.
• Bodywork: Check the fairings are the correct colour, fit properly, and are the same colour inside.
• Frame: Look for signs of frame repair, or if anything’s hidden beneath aftermarket covers.
• Pillion pegs: Looks for scrapes on the pegs and the carriers
• Lock stops: Check the steering stops are in place, and not damaged.
• Clocks: Besides checking they show the correct mileage (and the numbers line up on old analogue clocks), make sure they sit straight.
• Bar ends, levers and mirrors: Check for scuffs or replacement.
• Bars: Check they’re straight.
• Tank: Check for overspray inside the filler cap and on the edges. Also check the graphics are correctly lined up.
• Sub-frame: Check for twisting, and scrapes on any parts that stick out, especially grab rails.
Generally, you’ll be looking for similar signs of damage as above, but also check that the steering lock works correctly, and that the ignition barrel is undamaged.
Frame and engine numbers should be a consistent style and depth, and as explained above, carefully check all the paperwork, and if something doesn’t feel right, walk away.
Again, look carefully for any signs of damage, but also check if the oil filler cap, the sump bolt and the caliper mounting bolts have small holes in them that have been drilled for lock-wiring. Also make sure that the mileage looks consistent with the age of the bike.
You can get a good idea how well a bike’s been looked after by talking to the seller, but you do still need to check it carefully.
To make sure you’re not going to face a bill for engine work, worn bearings or any other mechanical or electrical problems, we asked the experts at WeWantYourMotorbike.com to tell us how they inspect motorcycles they’re looking to buy…
• Start the bike: Make sure the engine’s cold – as you asked of the seller – then make sure it fires up okay, while looking for any dark/blue smoke from the exhaust.
• Electrics: While the engine’s running, check all the electrics work correctly.
• Battery: Use a voltmeter to check the battery’s at about 14V at idle. Alternatively, use the excellent Optimate battery tester.
• Tyres: Make sure they’re evenly worn with no damage or repairs, and beat the price down if they need replacing. Check the valve stems aren’t cracked.
• Wheels: Spin the wheels and look carefully for any dents in the rim.
• Forks: Check the dust seals are fine, and that there’s no oil on the legs (bounce the bike a few times first). Also look for pitting on the sliders, and any signs of bends or creases.
• Brakes: Check there’s plenty of meat on the pads, and that the discs aren’t ridged, cracked or pitted. Also check the hoses.
• Engine: Look for any signs of oil leaks, as well as for pitted or flaking paint.
• Exhaust: Check it from front to back for any signs of severe corrosion that could lead to a leak.
• Fluids: Make sure the brake fluid, oil and coolant is all topped up and is the correct colour.
• Bearings: Rock the wheels and the swing-arm to check for play in the wheel, swing-arm and head bearings.
• Final drive: Check the chains and sprockets (or belt) aren’t overly worn. If it’s a shaft-drive, check for leaks and play in the drive.
• Start the bike again: Listen for any unusual rattles or knocks. Also check the brakes bite properly.
• Keys: Make sure all the keys are present (many should have two main keys, and a red one), and that they all fit the ignition, seat, luggage etc.
• Test ride: If ABS is fitted, make sure the light goes out after you start riding, then go through the gears while you make sure the bike runs straight and true. You don’t need to go right through the revs in all the gears, and do ride carefully.