12 tips for buying a used bike

2013-07-15 10:51

Earlier in 2013, I ran a column about the pitfalls and what you really ought to look out for when contemplating buying a second-hand car.

In July, I turn my focus to purchasing a motorcycle. The caveats remain, but the end result should ensure legal, reliable and safe ownership.

I recently came across a tatty little notebook of mine found in an old motorcycle jacket. Inside were guidelines about how to buy a good used bike, albeit some time ago when my garage was full of them, from a classic Velocette Venom to a Suzuki water buffalo and many others.


Each and every bike had been through that checklist before ending up at my place. I’d like to share some of the pointers with you to ensure a sound deal takes place.

Firstly, and this may not seem obvious, heading towards spring as we are now is actually the perfect time to buy – once the warm weather arrives prices definitely seem to go up.

Bike-buying checklist:

1 Paintwork - Check all painted parts carefully. Look for rust on metal parts and for cracks on plastic items. Side panels often have missing mounting-lugs.

2 Chromed bits - Again look for rust. Chromed mudguards are particularly troublesome as they rot from the inside.

3 Wheels and tyres – Check for loose spokes, buckled/damaged wheels and the rims should be free from corrosion. Check tyres for remaining tread life, always a good bargaining tool if they’ve seen better days.

4 Wheel bearings - Grasp the tyre and try to rock the wheel on its spindle. If there’s excessive “play” this could be a sign of a bike that’s been neglected.

5 Brakes - Discs can score badly and are expensive to replace, but more importantly check for cracks and determine existing brake-pad life.

6 Forks - These should move freely without leaking. Check for straightness, if they’re slightly bent it could be a sign of repair damage. Look for pitted stanchions, split boots and gaiters.


7 Rear suspension – Inspect the suspension in a similar fashion to the forks. You should make sure there’s plenty of damping. The condition of these components will reveal how well the bike has been looked after.

8 Chains and sprockets - Unless it’s one of the bigger BMWs with shaft drive, check these parts carefully. Never confuse a loose chain with a worn one. If the chain lifts off the rear sprocket and exposes the teeth you are going to need a new rear chain and sprockets. Sadly these are never a cheap purchase.

9 Exhaust - These items are costly and will always show signs of a road tumble, no matter how slight. Beware of after-market silencers unless top quality (Yoshimura, etc).

10 Seat - Seat pans rot especially around the hinges. Check that the base and covers are sound and there’s no sign of tears.

11 Electronics - Check that everything works; indicators should flash even at low revs if the battery is in good condition. Has the wiring harness been tampered with or showing cracks in the headstock area? Good auto electricians are hard to come by.

12 Modifications - Many bikes have modifications, consider if they suit you and always check how well they’ve been done, especially regarding handlebar/fairing replacements.


Last but not least, be sure to ask for verification that the bike has been paid for and all the licence and ownership papers are up to date. At the same time check that engine and frame numbers match the paperwork. If they don’t, walk away.

This shouldn’t present a problem to a genuine seller. You don’t want a stolen bike that’s going to be repossessed, do you?

  • Deon K. Alexander - 2013-07-16 09:11

    Afttter reaading this I am armed with piece-of-mind...

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