Advice From The Voice of Experience
I rode my Venture on four of the five workdays this past week. It felt great! Goodness, what a great runner that 21-year-old motorcycle, (which I’ve named “Moby Dick” after the great white whale), has turned out to be. Smooth, fast, comfortable, powerful, reliable, and beautiful – what a bike!
If you’ve been following my biweekly columns on www.thetentacle.com about motorcycling and two-wheeled motorized adventuring, you may remember how I bought this two-toned white Yamaha Venture last summer. The story of my Amtrak trip to Maine to pick up this motorcycle, sight unseen, and then riding it back to Maryland was the subject of one of my columns.
Yet another piece was about the act of buying a used motorcycle; how exciting it is to unravel a “new” friend piece by piece, and become acquainted with him (yes, Moby Dick is a “he”) and his quirks. “Christmas in the Summertime” was much fun for me; almost as much fun was relating these experiences to Tentacle readers.
Now it’s spring, and it’s time to ride, and ride a lot. I hold contempt for people who underuse their motorcycles in this throw-away society. So many people buy motorcycles in the spring, ride them around, and after a couple of years, even a couple of months, get tired of them.
Instead of exploring our wonderful “invisible roads” in our four-state region, they leave their bikes in the garage or, worse yet, on the driveway, collecting dust and rust. It’s not uncommon to see a 10-year-old street motorcycle with less than 5,000 miles on its odometer. Golf and chores – lifelong enemies of motorcycle adventuring.
Many reasons for this, into which I won’t go this time; let’s just say I’ve met plenty of people who’ve said things to me like: “Man, I used to ride motorcycles years ago, but…” What follows the “but” is usually a bunch of boring old excuses.
Fortunately for cheap SOB’s like me, I’ve found and bought plenty of motorcycles whose first or previous owner have come up with rationalizations for having thrown away their money on a hobby they no longer wanted. The last motorcycle I bought new was a two-stroke TS250 Suzuki single, back in 1971. Every motorcycle I’ve bought since has been pre-owned. I enjoy taking advantage of others’ neglect or boredom and have found some excellent deals in two-wheeled travel.
I’ve been lucky indeed to have found such great deals in used bikes over the years. My last one, the 1100-cc Suzuki sports-touring motorcycle I rode for nine riding seasons and 127,000 miles, I bought for $900 from a woman who found out it was too big and tall a bike for her. What a deal! Fixed it up with another $900, and presto, I had a great road bike for less than two grand. It takes luck, definitely, to find good deals; however, it’s been said that people make their own luck, with knowledge, understanding, and wisdom about buying motorcycles.
Whether you’re a new rider looking for your first bike, or an old hand searching for that certain bike to add to your growing stable of machines, buying a reliable used motorcycle can be as daunting an exercise as it is exciting. To keep your buying experience in the latter category and to help you steer yourself away from a bad decision, I’ve put together a few simple steps you can take before you commit your money, pride, body, and soul to a used bike.
One of the first things you need to consider is whether or not you will buy from a dealer or a private party. Both have their ups and their downs. While most of what follows can be applied to either buying situation, the focus is on purchasing from a private party; you would be wise, however, to do the research, inspection and make the same type of judgment calls when purchasing from a dealer.
I’ve done it both ways, having bought an 850-cc Moto Guzzi spaghetti grinder from Richard Riley, owner of Fredericktown Yamaha, back in 1979. Richard would be glad to show you his fine stable of used motorcycles, as would any of his local competitors.
If you’re looking to add to your stable, you probably know exactly what type of motorcycle you want; on the other hand, if you’re new to riding, all the different styles of bikes may have your head spinning. The first step to buying a used bike is to decide what type of motorcycle is right for you.
During this "research" stage, it’s a good idea to not only decide on type of bike, but also size and features. This is where talking to friends, looking at photos on the Internet, and reading old magazine reviews can come in handy.
Even if you plan on buying from a private party, go to as many dealers as you can and sit on their bikes. If the bike seems huge and unmanageable or if it is simply uncomfortable, it probably isn’t the correct bike for you. The dealers won’t mind, and you’ll find most good sales people will answer your questions even if they know you don’t plan on buying now – you just might in the future.
At some point your taste will drift toward a particular style and model; look at as many similar models as you can. Giving yourself options is a good way to keep yourself from jumping at the first bike you see. Avoid the urge to be like everyone else and get “the Harley you always wanted.”
Once you have a particular bike in mind, do some quick Internet research. Having some concept of market value as well as common maintenance issues for the model and year – before you see the motorcycle – will give you a good idea of what things to look for and what questions to ask. Then, gather up a flashlight, tire pressure gauge, and a friend. It is helpful if this friend is motorcycle savvy, but just having someone who will keep you from jumping on the first bike you see is helpful. Do not bring the “individualistic” Harley guy you know; otherwise, you’ll end up being like everyone else. Leave your brand-committed “friends” at home. Keep your mind open.
More on buying a used motorcycle in my next installment. Should you get the urge to kick tires at a local dealer, or seek my advice on a private deal, contact me at email@example.com.