New rider skills: The bike buying checklist


Buying any used vehicle is a risk. Bikes, with all their complexities and differences, can be an even trickier purchase than say a car or a van. Add to that the fact that bikes are generally a passion purchase, meaning it can be all too easy to let your heart to rule your head.

If you are new to the world of buying a used bike, take a read of this checklist, print it out and take it with you.

It might just save you from buying the wrong bike and whole heap of problems.





1. Paperwork

There is no point going any further if the paperwork isn’t in order.

  • Does the seller’s address match the log book?
  • Do the engine and frame numbers match the log book?
  • Does the colour and model name match the log book?
  • Is there a service history? Does it make sense, do the names on the invoices back up the two careful owners story?
  • Is it MoT’d? Why not? SORN can often means un-roadworthy, an MoT should be part of the deal.




2. The quick look round

Are all the panels there and in good condition? Are all the fasteners correct, do the panels fit properly?

How are the tyres? Plenty of tread, no damage?

Are the chain and sprockets properly adjusted with plenty of life left (chain doesn’t come away from the back of the rear sprocket when you pull it)

If the bike springs up too quickly when you push down hard on the seat, the shock absorber could be knackered.  Does the suspension work smoothly? Hold the front brake on and bounce the forks up and down. Look under the dust covers where the sliders meet the stanchions for oil leaks.

How many keys are there, do the locks look butchered?

Is the original seat cover still in good nick (torn or worn covers are an indication of a high-mileage bike?

Are the exhaust downpipes in good nick, collars and studs not rusted and seized? How rusty is the collector box? Is it an original or aftermarket end can? Is the original available?

Wiring. Under the seat, behind the panels, behind the headlamp. Does it look bodged or modified?, is there an alarm fitted (aftermarket alarms can be very unreliable)?

Check the oil level while cold.



A wisp of smoke at start up isn't a bad thing, as long as it stops when the engine is warm


3. The start-up

Does it start easily from cold?

Let the owner warm it up - do they thrash the motor when still cold?

Exhaust blowing at the manifold? - you’ll see the smoke better when cold.

Does that rumbling noise go away when you pull the clutch in? If so, it’s nothing to worry about.

Why hasn’t the temperature gauge moved after 15 minutes?

Is that rattle and misfire really unbalanced carbs and if they know they need balancing why hasn’t it been done?

Is it idling at the right speed?


KTM Duke 125 Test Ride


4. The test ride

You are not evaluating the performance for Super-dooper-fast-cycle magazine, you are checking the condition of the bike.

Does it go into gear easily and does the clutch release smoothly?

How does the engine make power - smoothly or jerkily. Are there any flat spots in the lower gears.

How slick is the gear change?

Does it idle smoothly as soon as you stop?

Does it accelerate cleanly away from a stop and through the gears?

How does the steering feel - smooth or notchy?

Are there any clunks from the front when you brake? (worn head bearings) Or a pulsing through the lever? (warped brake disc)

Is it overheating, do all the instruments and lights work?

What happens if you carefully take your hands off the bars for a second? Bar wobbles indicate worn head bearings, steering to the left/right is a bent frame.

How does the engine sound now it’s warm?



5. The cross examination

Ask all your questions again. Inconsistent or exaggerated answers could also be lies. Query the contradictions, be certain you trust them because this isn’t just about right-bike-right-price, it’s also about right-bike-full-stop.

Make your offer based on what you’ve found, not just 'will you take £1600 for it?’ and stick to your guns. If they won’t accept or even get close, leave your number and go. There’s another CB650F in Bury St Edmunds with your name all over it.