If you are reading this, then I bet you must be a motorcycle enthusiast who is looking to get into the world of two wheels or just want to try out a new style of riding. Whichever it is, you always want to get the best without it burning a hole in your pocket.
To do that, there are multiple considerations one must take into account if you want a satisfactory ride. Of course, you cannot expect it to be as good as brand new, but then there are quite a lot of passionate bikers out there who have taken care of their ride and not ridden it like a hooligan from Mad Max.
And if you are not already a used-bike mogul, you might end up spending way too much for way too less of a motorcycle that someone wants just to get rid of. Being smart in such situations saves you, and one way to be smart is to be informed of what checks you need to tick before zeroing on one bike.
Though not comprehensive, this guide should get you through buying yourself a satisfactorily good two wheeler for your usage:
1. Decide on why you want a motorcycle.
There is a reason why all manufacturers make different kinds of bikes in their portfolio. They range from scooters, commuters, cruisers, tourers, sports bike and more. If travelling every day to work is your thing, a sportsbike or a tourer wouldn’t do any good to you. Likewise, if you have wanderlust and want to explore the countryside and the outback on two wheels, buying a scooter will be a curse.
But then again, the motorcycle is a sense of freedom. A sense of character you wish to show out to the world through self-expression. Your motorcycle is your identity; it is who you are. That way, choosing the right motorcycle could be an extension of your personality. Different kinds of motorcycles and functions will allow you to express your desires differently.
Either way, choosing the right breed of motorcycle should take you a long way into owner satisfaction as well as entertainment. That is the beauty of it, or rather, even a curse because there are so many categories to get into and you want to have it all.
2. Fix up a budget and expectations.
Let us not kid ourselves. One of the main reasons we decide to go in for a used motorcycle is our dilemma of the budget. Yes, owning a litre class superbike running a four pot under the hood can make you skip a beat, but buying and maintaining one is no child’s play.
Once you decide on the segment of a motorcycle, be it a commuter or a midweight sports tourer, make up your mind on the amount you are ready to spend. Spending more will always get you a better bike but then there is no end to it.
And before you regret on emptying much of your bank account, it is safer to keep your expectations as low as possible to get the maximum satisfaction. But if you have no clue whatsoever how much your bike or the segment you are looking at would cost, you can always tag it along with the next step.
3. Do your research – thoroughly.
According to me, this is the most important step of the whole “I need to buy a motorcycle now” equation. This is where you can either make or break your whole ideology of owning something worthwhile.
Spend the maximum time on this part. Talk to people around, use the internet, watch few videos, read a couple of forums, even better – talk to someone who already owns that particular bike you are interested in. They will be in the best position to advise you on any abnormalities of owning such a bike or may also be the point of conviction where you decide to go for it.
If you find anything too good to be true, just move on. They are usually the ones that people need to get rid of as soon as possible because of a major issue. Be smart and choose more than a few options for you to go and check them. Rarely they will be showroom spec perfect and sometimes will have minor issues that can be rectified easily.
At this point I would usually advice you to go through a trusted source, but having a few experiences of my own, you sometimes tend to find better ones otherwise. Don’t be afraid to look around elsewhere too. You might just turn out to be lucky.
Brush up on your mechanical skills and knowledge to a level at least where you can differentiate between a worn-out sprocket and a healthy one.
4. Visit your ‘going-to-be motorcycle’ with AMPLE time and respect it.
Anything done or decided in haste always backfires. Never make the mistake of taking things for granted. Things may look perfect on the outside but a whole lot of hell might creep out of it without you knowing.
First, respect the ride you are checking out. Most often than not, it would have been the owner’s pride and passion, and you don’t want to hurt that in any way. Yes, it is your right to do all the checks necessary but take the consent of the guy who is ready to sell it to you before doing anything with the bike.
If nothing, he might just subconsciously think about reducing the price if negotiations occur at a later stage since he would identify you as a motorcyclist who might take care of the ride as he did.
5. Visual checks to do when you get to the motorcycle.
|Check for the condition of the chain an dsprockets|
If you did your research right, you would have by now known the level of damage or repair that is acceptable to you since used motorcycle will have regular wear and tear that is unavoidable.
Request the owner to have the motorcycle washed and cleaned before you could check the bike. If possible, carry with you some simple hand tools, including a flashlight and a multimeter if you happen to know how to use one.
|Disc and the brake pads should have even wear and tear|
Make sure you have this visual check out on a sunny bright day and not in a parking lot or a basement. The bright daylight will help you identify tiny details which you will otherwise miss.
• First visual check should of course be of any marks or damage done to the paintjob or the surface. Small imperfections would stay if there was any tinkering done onto it and you should not miss these things. If the bike has indeed met with a major accident, it should be a red flag for you.
• So is the condition of the bar ends, levers, and footpegs. If they seemed scrapped or damaged, know that the bike has had a fall and the owner did not think of getting them replaced.
|Check for all battery and lights|
• Check the condition of the drive chain and sprocket and make sure the chain has a three-fourths play (1-inch movement up and down). If regular maintenance is done on the bike, then there should not be any discrepancies here. The teeth of the sprocket should not show obvious damage or wear.
• The tyres are a huge giveaway to harsh riding of the motorcycle. If you find any uneven wear or damage, then it is a sign of heavy acceleration and braking conditions. Moreover, if the owner uses this bike for rough motorsport use, you will find more wear at the edge of the tread.
|Bounce the front suspension and check for smooth operation|
• Sitting on the bike, feel the clutch and brake lever actions. They ought to be invariably smooth and free from any jerks. While you at it, check for the straightness of the handlebar, which would have bent a little in case of accidents and falls. Also turn the key on to verify the working condition of the instrument cluster, indicators, headlights and brake lights. Make sure the throttle moves freely all the way and does not get stuck in between or have any jerks.
• Hold the front brake and bounce the front suspension. It should feel even and firm. Do the same with the rear unit. Any jerky movements should mean built up of rust on the fork tubes and springs. A big sign to walk away from the bike.
|Verify the working of instrumetns and gauges|
• Check for the brake fluid levels (found atop the handlebar). Start the ignition and pull hard on the front brakes and release while watching the fluid level. It should fall and rise quickly once the brake is released.
• Open the fuel cap and use the torch to check for any kinds of rust within the internals of the tank. Make sure not to use matchstick or fire of any sorts to do this.
• Get off the bike and put it on center stand if it has one. Move the handlebar from left to right and it should do so freely without any ‘notchy-ness’. Get down and run your hands across the fork tubes to find for any imperfections.
|Check for any uneven wear of the tyres|
• The brake rotors should have even pad marks on them and also check for the thickness of the brake pad left on the calliper. If the wheels have spokes, check for the condition of the spokes individually. For all types, look for dents or damage to the rim and alloy.
• Remove the seat to have access to the battery and a better look of the frame and wiring harness. Check for any rust build-up, dents, kinks or visible damage to the frame including fatigue at the weld points. If the bike is modified or accessorised, check for the wiring conditions.
|Make sure there is no rust buildup around the suspension units|
• If needed, use the multimeter to verify the battery voltage. It should read 12 volts with no ignition and 14 volts with the ignition on. Again check the battery terminals and the fuses for corrosion, of course with the ignition off.
• If the motorcycle has fairings, remove them to access the engine block, plugs, and radiator. Check for leaks around the oil filter and oil pan bolt. Do this once with the ignition off and once with the engine running.
6. Take a test ride of the motorcycle in an open and free space.
Once you have completed your visual checks and satisfied with the way the bike looks, take the bike out for a brief ride on a sunny dry day. Always wear a helmet if not a proper riding gear. You might have to sign a waiver with the party or leave your license with him as security.
Request the owner to have the vehicle under cold start conditions. If the vehicle has just made a run and the engine is warm, you might miss out on certain starting conditions of the bike that will be found only during cold starts viz starting troubles, smoke, idling situations etc.
• Once you switch the motorcycle and kick the ignition on, notice for any idling issues. The idling rpm should be around 1500 rpm to 1800 rpm if it is a cold start, and gradually the engine should settle at a constant 800 rpm to 1500 rpm.
• At idle, the engine should be running smoothly without any spits and sputters and so it should when you increase the throttle. If not, there is a problem with the carburettor or fuel pump.
• Any smoke emitting from the exhaust should vanish after a minute of cold start. Any thick blue or black smoke even after a minute of ignition should be reasons for concern.
|Make sure the frame doesn not have any dents, kinks or visible damage|
• Concentrate on hearing any unusual knocks, rattles and rumbles. Usually they will be because of the engine’s vibrations causing any small parts of the bike to rattle if they are loose. Identify such parts and verify it with the owner and make sure they can be tightened/fixed. If still you fail to identify it and sounds really wrong, it probably is.
• Hop onto the bike and take it out for a ride. Start slowly and get accustomed to the weight and feel of the bike. Make sure you do not rev the engine hard, at least not in front of the owner. But do rev the engine up to its red line to identify any major vibrations and rattles.
|The wheels or spokes should be clean of any dents or damage done|
• See to that the clutch works smoothly and the gears get engaged without much jerkiness. Shift through the gears while smoothly accelerating and make sure they don’t skip or feel ‘clunky’.
• Slam hard on the brakes once or twice to gauge their bite force. Alternate it between the front and the rear brake setups. Also use the brake gradually to a complete play and notice for any ‘pulse’ feels or jerkiness. That is a sign of warped disks. They should engage smoothly and evenly and not grab violently or feel spongy.
|The bodywork should have no many scratches or dents visible|
• Use a straight and clean patch of road so that you can weave left and right slightly to see how the bike responds. It should feel stable and easy to manoeuvre. Make sure the handlebar moves freely, and the steering doesn’t have any interruptions.
• Stop the motorcycle and engage it to neutral. Put it on the centre stand and look out for any unusual noised, vibration and leaks. Check the oil, through either the sight glass or; when the engine cools, the dipstick if so equipped.
7. Check service history, manuals, documents and toolkit.
|Verify if the vehicle has been a part of any major accident. If it has, walk away.|
Request the owner to provide you with a service history if available. Else, you can also look into the motorcycle’s manual that will have the service records in it. In case he does not have one, enquire about it from the service centre where the bike usually goes to.
Having legitimate documents of the bike is a legal proof of its authenticity. Documents should include the bike’s invoice, registration certificate, valid insurance, fitness certificate and emission papers. All of which should have a good period of validity. If the owner fails to provide you these, just walk away from the bike. Else, you will have to face all legal issues later on concerning the motorcycle.
|Verify the vehicle's documents|
Every manufacturer provides the basic toolkit one can do regular maintenance of the bike. It is also your right to have it as much as the documents. If he doesn’t provide you one, you can, without hesitant, reduce the asking price of the motorcycle.
8. Negotiate and fix up the price.
If you have done all the above checks thoroughly and satisfied with the bike’s condition and the way it rides, you have come through all the aspects of buying a used bike. All that is left is to fix up the price and take delivery of the vehicle.
Be realistic when negotiating on the final price of the bike. Don’t take up half the day of the owner to finally ask him to give you the bike for half the price he is quoting. That is just bad etiquette. If you cannot afford that much, you shouldn’t have come to have a check of the bike in the first place.
If both the parties come to a final price consent, talk about the charges that will take up to transfer the ownership of the vehicle from the previous owner to you.
Sometimes, you want to take a couple of days and check out other bikes that you wish to test ride before making a final decision. In such cases, you can request the owner to block the two days for you to make a decision. And in case you go ahead with another bike, make sure you let this owner know about it and not let him hanging dry.
You won’t want that if you are the one selling the motorcycle.