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April 14, 2009

Advice from The Voice of Experience Part 2

Nick Diaz

In my last installment on, I started giving readers, potential motorcyclists all, some advice on buying good, used, cheap motorcycles. I stressed the importance of doing one’s “homework,” which means thinking things over as one finds out about the various types, models, and brands of motorcycles available.


First impressions are critical.


Never judge a book by its cover, right? Maybe! While appearances can be deceiving, the external condition of the bike should give you a general impression of the internal condition.


Is the paint, plastic or chrome scratched, dented or rusty? Does it look like the owner has never washed or waxed the motorcycle? If the owner hasn’t taken minimal care of the outside, it’s a good bet he hasn’t taken very good care of the inside.


Hopefully the owner will be honest with you about accidents; nevertheless, seeing parallel scratches in the paint or plastic, on the backs of mirrors, on engine covers, or on brake or clutch levers, is a good, clear sign the unit has seen and kissed the pavement.


If you think the bike has been down, make sure you check that the front forks and frame are straight by standing back and looking down the centerline of the bike. If you see cracks and welds in engine cases, walk away.


Then, look for missing parts such as side covers or tire valve stem caps. In addition, looking at the fasteners on the bike will give you a good idea of the mechanical skills and know how of the owner. Look specifically for rounded off or, even worse, missing fasteners such as cotter pins. If there are modifications, are they professional looking, or are you seeing duct tape and zip ties all over the place?


Finally, the overall appearance of the owner is as important as the appearance of the bike. If the owner has a sloppy attitude or seems to lack knowledge of his bike, this should be a warning sign. Ask to see the place the bike is stored looking for obvious signs of fluid leaks and other potential issues. Seeing a clean, dry, safe place, and/or a bike cover, are signs that the owner has probably taken care of his motorcycle.


The main thing to remember is that you have the power. If things don’t seem right, or the seller is pushy or otherwise off-putting, walk away. If after you’ve gotten a first impression and you decide the bike is worth looking at further, it is time to give the prospective bike a thorough inspection.


You’ve done the research and you’ve gotten a first impression of both the bike and the seller. Now it’s time to get your hands dirty and really get to know this bike; but before you do, a quick tip: When you arrange to see the bike, ask the owner to leave the engine cold. This will aid in getting your hands into tight places with that flashlight without the worry of burning your fingers; it will also let you check for hard-starting issues.


On a different matter, (still related to motorcycling): There seems to be two differing views of motorcycle safety, given that post-winter riding is now back in vogue, and that the usual number of motorcycle accidents continue to make headlines in the local and regional media.


On the one hand, here’s the “motorcyclist-as-victim” mentality, as evidenced by the following comment by a two-wheel aficionado:


“It's the people driving and talking on cell phones that make motorcycling so hazardous these days. I can't take a ride without someone changing lanes into me, or pulling out in front of me at a stop sign. The only way to ride safe is to assume that every other vehicle on the road is going to attempt to kill you.”


On the other hand, here’s the typical response to the above comment, from a skeptical non-motorcyclist (in my view, not entirely unjustified):


“To me it sounds like motorcycling is not a relaxing and enjoyable way to spend your time. What's up with that?”


Or, yet another similarly minded comment, this a bit harsher in tone:


Sound the alarm! Here comes that protected species called motorcycle operators. You know...The ones that claim that other commuters never see. And that the other commuters are pinned with the blame whenever there is an "accident" involving a motorcycle...even the incidents where the motorcycles just run off of the roads without ANY contact whatsoever with another vehicle. We have to remember to watch out for them...for they cannot help themselves.”


A few comments of my own about these, from someone with 39 years and a half million miles on motorcycles:


n       While I’ve certainly met my share of rude and bullying car and truck drivers out there, it actually happens very, very seldom, and, usually, such behavior is predictable.

n       I’m tired of the “biker-as-victim” mentality. I will not subscribe to it. The last comment, as much as I hate to admit it, is correct – motorcyclists, like human beings in general, love to make up excuses for bad behavior, ignorance, and stupidity in making decisions.

n       Motorcyclists will continue to elicit responses like these from the non-motorcycling public, as long as we, as a group, continue to make excuses and come across as victims of those mean old car drivers.


More on buying a used motorcycle in my next installment, in which we’ll do a spot inspection of the motorcycle, and go on a test ride! Should you get the urge to kick tires at a local dealer, or seek my advice on a private deal, contact me at


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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