Buying a second hand bike

Testing the bike

To make sure you’ve got the right bike you need to road test it. Most owners will let you take the bike out provided you’ve got valid insurance cover (both you and the seller will be held liable if you haven’t).

If you’re on your own and you have any doubts about the seller’s honesty, ask to see some ID and get a photo before you hand over any money. It’s a good idea to take someone with you.

Once you’ve got the key don’t be tempted just to go for a nice ride. Here’s how to make your test ride count.

Before Seeing the Motorcycle:

  1. Ring the owner and ask for the engine and frame number. You can then ring and find out from the company which makes the motorcycle whether it is a HD, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Triumph, etc if the motor usually has a matching frame number.
  2. Ask if it’s registered and roadworthy. Re-check the frame and engine number against the registration documents.
  3. Ask if a motorcycle mechanic can check it over. The reply will give some indication on how good it is, but not always.
  4. Make sure it is owned in full by the owner and not being paid off on finance.
  5. Ask the owner where the vehicle is usually housed – in a garage or shed – as this will give good indication on how they care for the motorcycle.
  6. Ask them who does the service. If it is the owner then it may need to be looked at. If it is at a Motorcycle Shop, ask which one and ring them to inquire about the motorbike, and ask their opinion.
  7. Ask the owner if it’s insured; if so who with and for how much.
  8. Ask if it’s all original, if not find out what has been changed. Is it just cosmetic or hard parts like gearbox, shocks, motor etc. as these may alter the handling. Also ask who did the modifications.

Before Riding The Motorcycle:

  1. Make sure when you arrive that the motorcycle is cold to ensure it has not been running as vehicles seem to run better when warm and this can hide numerous faults.
  2. Do a thorough physical check, especially underneath for oil leaks, tyres, chains/belts, lighting, nuts and bolts, oil level, (check it’s on the right level and clean, no sludge) brakes (discs) etc. Also check for rust and remove and inspect anything that can be taken off easily, like side covers
  3. Check the key(s) are original.
  4. Ask if the owner has the original service manual and who does the main services.
  5. Ask if it’s ever been dropped or in an accident. If you suspect it has, a quick check by running a string line from the bottom of the rear wheel around the tyre to and around the front tyre to the rear again will show you if the wheels are out of alignment. This will not work on some H-Ds as they were made to run out of alignment.
  6. Check that the dial needles work. Clock damage indicates a big crash.
  7. Put it on the centre stand, if it has one, and spin first the front wheel then the back wheel to make sure they are running true and this will determine that the bearings are okay.
  8. Check if it has an original and complete toolkit.

About to Ride the Motorcycle:

  1. Start the motorcycle and let it idle for sometime before you ride it, (around ten minutes) check it turns over properly and idles at a fair not high rate. Check for oil leaks. You can even listen to the motor by putting a screw driver end to the engine and the other to your ear and you should not hear any clunking.
  2. Check that no smoke is coming out of the exhaust.
  3. Pull the clutch in and check it does not have a rattle.

Riding the motorcycle

  • Make sure you know where you’re going.
  • Check the action of the clutch. Is it near the end of its adjustment? Is it more like a switch than a clutch?
  • Change up and down the gears several times. Does each gear slot home?
  • Accelerate fairly hard in each gear. Does it jump out of gear? Are there any flat spots in the delivery?
  • Make sure you can find neutral.
  • Try the brakes, from low and high speed, to check for warped discs and knocking or licking from worn head races.
  • Lighten your grip to see if the bars wobble or if the bike pulls to one side.
  • See if it will pull from low speed in top cleanly. This will expose any bottom end problems or a worn or slipping clutch.
  • Accelerate in a high gear to see if the clutch slips
  • Listen to the engine again before switching it off.

After the Test Ride:

  1. After the ride, leave it stand for some time and check for oil on the ground.
  2. Re-check the oil to make sure it is still clean.