What To Look For When Buying a Used Motorcycle?

What to look for when buying a used motorcycle

Buying a used motorcycle is an easy way to own and ride a bike without breaking the bank.

But it can also turn out to be a tricky affair, especially if you don’t know much about motorcycles.

Below, we have outlined for you 7 CRITICAL steps for buying a used motorcycle.

1. Decide on what type of motorcycle to buy

The first step in getting a used bike involves deciding on the type or model of motorcycle to buy.

The type of bike to get will heavily depend on the kind of riding you wish to undertake. In most cases, motorbike riders use their bikes for recreational riding, motorsports, touring, or a combination of these.

As you get excited about owning a motorcycle, chances are high you visualize yourself doing some kind of riding—either cruising around the streets, taking on long distances, and so on.

This can give you an idea of what type of motorcycle will best suit your specific needs and expectations.

Picking a specific type of motorcycle will help you narrow down your options!

2. Decide where you to buy a used bike

Once you have decided on the type of motorcycle you want, you’re already one step ahead in your purchase process.

The next thing you want to do is make yet another crucial decision—where to buy the motorcycle.

For starters, there are many avenues for getting a used motorcycle… the two most common options include dealerships and private sellers.

Which way to go?

Most people who have bought from dealerships would recommend you to get your bike from the same for a few reasons:

  • Firstly, dealers only accept motorbikes that are in good shape. This means they only stock good-quality, well-maintained bikes—which is precisely what you’re looking for.
  • Secondly, a dealer can make the whole buying process a lot easier by assisting you with the financing, registration, and even facilitate the remaining manufacturer warranty on the bike you wish to buy.
  • Dealerships want to avoid problems as much as you do when purchasing a used motorcycle. They’ll perform a check on ownership history to ensure the bike they’re selling to you isn’t stolen or hasn’t been listed as non-resalable by any insurance company.
  • Most dealerships also go a step further and offer you some warranty. This is sure to give you some peace of mind when buying the bike

The ONLY downside of the dealership is that you’re likely to pay more than when purchasing from a private seller.

Private sellers have lower prices given the fact that they don’t have any overhead—e.g., a showroom—which means they have low expenses.

3. Research on the motorcycle you want to buy

This is yet another critical step in your buying process for a used motorcycle!

After going through bike listings on the dealerships, several bike models might already have caught your eyes.

But don’t go straight into buying them!

Research on the bike you want to buy (keep in mind its model, specific make, year of make, etc.).

This will help you become familiar with the bike—its cost, common problems—and this will give you a huge plus when buying the bike. You’ll know what questions to ask, what issues to be on the lookout for, and more.

Note the used bike’s listed price and compare it with the fair market price. This way, you’ll get an idea on whether the pricing is reasonable based on the bike’s current condition, mileage, and any aftermarket upgrades it has undergone.

You might also what to check the bike’s spare parts such as tires, clutch cables, brake pads, etc. Knowing how much they cost will shed light on the rug maintenance cost of your “new” motorcycle.

Also, check for the availability of these parts. If they’re hard to find, you’d be better off looking for another motorcycle with readily available aftermarket parts.

Quick TIP: Bike forums will be your best buddy when you want to unearth genuine, firsthand info about the bike model you plan to buy.

4. Inspect the bike you plan to buy

Now that you know a bunch of details about that motorcycle model you want to buy, it’s time to physically view it and see if it’s in good condition.

Use this checklist to determine if the bike is in good shape:

  • Body: ensure the bike frame’s chrome paint looks shiny and rust-free. Be on the lookout for any signs of damages, dents, and, scratches. If the paintwork has been redone, it could mean the bike has been in an accident.
  • Fuel and oil tanks: the fuel tank walls should be rust and dent-free, and nothing should be floating on the fuel surface. The oil should be clean and at the recommended level. Unclean (extremely dark), low-level oil means it hasn’t been changed for a while.
  • Tires: look if the tires are showing any signs of damages or uneven wear. Ideally, you want tires with plenty of treads left, with no signs of cuts, dry rot, or patchwork.
  • Sprocket: ensure the sprocket teeth are properly formed and straight. If they look hooked, bent, or missing, that’s a red flag. If you can easily move the drive chain and sprocket, it means the sprocket isn’t in good working condition.
  • Battery voltage: use a multi-meter to check the battery’s voltage. It should display 12V when the bike engine is off and around 10.5V when it’s running. If you get different anything lower than these values in each situation, that signals a poor battery.
  • Bike wiring: pop up the bike’s seat to inspect the wiring. You expect all the wires to feature the original factory connectors or the right aftermarket replacement if they’ve been worked on.

Other things to look out for include pitted fork tubes, dry cables, rust chains, spongy brakes, leaky fork seals, and inoperable electric components

Quick Tip: Bring a professional motorcycle mechanic or a friend who knows about motorcycles. They’ll help easily point out any issues the bike might have and ask the seller questions accordingly.

If the seller seems hesitant to let the mechanic perform an inspection on the bike, this could be a sign that the bike is a dud and they don’t want you to discover it! Take this as a red flag!

5. Do a test ride

It doesn’t make sense if you buy a used motorbike without first testing it.

A genuine seller, whether private or dealership, should also let you take the bike out on a test drive.

On starting the bike, pay close attention to the kind of sounds the engine makes. We assume you already know the sound of a healthy engine. You don’t want to hear any strange squeaking, grinding, and rattling.

If the engine sounds good, it’s time to hit the road. We suggest that you ride it on a well-maintained road stretch with safe conditions.

While on that bike, take note of how it handles acceleration, braking, shifting, and turning—everything should feel highly responsive, smooth, and stable.

After you’re back from the test ride, we suggest you do one final inspection—focusing on any signs of leaks and drips or cracking.

6. Remember to check the VIN carefully

Now that you’ve finally decided this is the perfect bike to complete the purchase for full ownership of the machine.


Before you can do that, you need to do some bike identification process for legal reasons.

Check the bike’s VIN (vehicle identification number)—a unique serial number that legally identifies the motorbike in the US.

You’ll find this number stamped onto the bike frame’s steering neck section in most cases.

The VIN on the frame (and generally any other part of the bike) should MATCH the number on the official title (provided by the seller of the motorcycle).

WARNING! Cases of VINs being forged or modified for criminal purposes have happened in the past. If you suspect something isn’t right about the bike’s VIN, we strongly urge you to involve qualified professional at a nearby to check it for you. Just DON’T take the risk!

7. The final step— completing the purchase

Finally, it’s time to decide on how much to pay for the bike.

And when doing so, keep in mind that a used motorcycle doesn’t always sell at the initial price, so you should try to negotiate the cost.

Assuming you did your research well at step 3, then you should already have a clue about the current market value of the motorcycle you wish to buy.

Compare this info with your approximate budget to help you arrive on an amount that’s reasonable for both you and the seller.

After completing the transactions, the seller should present you with a bill of sale which allows the title of the motorcycle to be legally transferred to you.

Dealers usually present you with a formal bill of sale indicating the bike’s cost, any taxes paid, and the holder of the bike title.

The bill of sale also indicates how the money was paid, so you should be clear about the transaction terms.

If you buy the motorcycle from a private seller, they might not give you a bill of sale. In this case, you should look for a bill of sale template online or get it from your local DMV.

You MUST get a bill of sale when you buy a used motorbike!

PRO TIP: Ask for the motorcycle’s maintenance records!

If you’re buying from a responsible owner, they should be able to provide you with a complete record of documents/receipts showing how much work they’ve put in the bike for the period they have used it. You want to ensure the bike has been well -maintained as it deserves.

Final Thoughts

That’s all you need to know about buying a used motorcycle. If you follow all the critical steps we have outlined in the above guide, you’ll end up with a good-quality, well-maintained bike that’s worth every cent.

Avoid taking shortcuts when it comes to buying a used motorcycle. Double-check the bike’s VIN and ensure you get a bill of sale to ensure you don’t get yourself on the wrong side of the law.

Avatar for Joshua D. Mattie

    Joshua D. Mattie

    My motorbike addiction began with 50cc at 5 years old. I rode motocross as a teenager & into my 20's when I worked as a mechanic. This helped me to see the light—sportbikes & cruisers became a passion. Now I'm building BikersRights to be the #1 resource for everything on 2 wheels!

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