Advice from The Voice of Experience – Part 4
This is the conclusion of my series on buying a used motorcycle. In my 39 years in the sport of motorcycling, I’ve bought only two new motorcycles, and that was back in the early 70’s. Buying a used motorcycle is one of the most challenging, yet satisfying activities a person can engage in.
In the past three installments, I detailed about doing one’s homework ahead of time, and performing a personal, audio-visual inspection. Now for the test ride.
The Test Ride:
Don’t be surprised if the owner doesn’t allow you to take the bike for a ride. If he won’t, ask to ride on the back, or at least have him ride it up and down the street so you can hear it and see how it moves. Cash in hand, however, tends to greatly increase your chances of a ride.
If he allows the test ride, give the bike one last “look over” to make sure it is safe to ride, and that you have your riding gear in order. On the ride, you will be listening for how the engine sounds as it revs. You will want to shift through as many of the gears as possible to ensure the clutch is functioning properly, including downshifting. You will also want to see how well the bike shifts in and out of neutral. Carefully test the brakes; squeezing the brakes lightly will help you feel for warps or bumps in the rotors.
The throttle should roll on and off easily, and the bike should respond smoothly with even power.
You also want to be feeling for odd wiggles or shimmies. Is the bike pulling in one direction or the other? If so, the frame could be bent, or there could be other serious structural issues. If you can, find some twisty roads and feel how the bike handles.
While you’re on the bike, make sure it fits you properly. Some items like mirrors and levers can easily be adjusted, while others are not so easy. Equally important is whether or not you like the bike. If you don’t, then don’t buy it. Temper your rationality with a bit of emotion.
Making the deal:
Being prepared, knowing the market value, and having done a thorough inspection and test ride will give you some concept of the actual value of the motorcycle. From there you can start a fair and reasonable negotiation. If the seller is asking close to book value and the bike is in good condition, pay the price. Acting like a cheap chiseler shows no class. Most reputable owners would prefer to sell their motorcycles to good people who know a good value when they see it.
On the other hand, start lowering the price for every defect or issue you found in the inspection. It is a good idea to have some concept of how much common repairs or replacement of items such as tires and brake pads cost. Take these, in whole or in part, off the stated price.
It is also a good idea to ask to see any service records and receipts for modifications and repairs. Don’t trust that the owner has always brought the bike in for regular service intervals, or that the extra accessories he claims to have are actually installed.
If the owner has "lost" the service records or, worse yet, the title, this is a good time to walk away. If you really must have this bike, the price should reflect the inconvenience of having it retitled. Temper your emotion with a bit of rationality.
Don’t forget to ask questions:
* Ask if the bike has ever been down or if the owner has ever raced or stunted the bike.
* Ask if there is anything wrong with it. Ask this one at least twice.
You’d be surprised by what a person will tell you if you just ask him – especially if you keep asking. Most people are honest, but you never know. Listen to how the seller responds to your questions. If he seems to be changing his story as you point out the obvious problems, use your legs and run away. My years of middle-school teaching have been helpful in spotting a prevaricator.
In the end, use your common sense and be fair. You shouldn’t be expected to pay out the nose just because the owner thinks his bike is special; the owner, meanwhile, should not be expected to give you a deal just because you want one.
Most importantly, if you do decide to buy the motorcycle, have it inspected by a professional, before plunking down the full price. You did a great job inspecting the bike, but you may have missed something important.
One last thing:
It’s taken me a long time to come to the realization that for every great bike out there, there is another one just as nice. If the price is too high, or you don’t like something about the bike or the seller, don’t compromise. Walk away.
In fact, some buyers don’t even bring money with them the first time they go to inspect a bike. Sometimes this means no test ride, but it also guarantees that they won’t just jump at something shiny.
Take your time and be patient. When you find the right bike, and you have taken the time to inspect it thoroughly, you will know your money has been well spent, and your pride and body will be safe.
It’s been almost a year since I bought my last used motorcycle, my “new” 1988 Yamaha Venture. I’m enjoying riding it and yes, looking at it and admiring it as it sits in my garage. It will be a number of years before I go “hunting” again, and I certainly look forward to that time as well.