Used Motorcycle Inspections

January 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Buying Advice

Especially for new riders, inspecting used motorcycles can be daunting. The following is excerpted from my book, The Perfect Motorcycle: How to Choose, Find and Buy the Perfect New or Used Bike. I hope the information provided here will give you a framework to guide your inspections. Space limitations preclude an in-depth discussion of the subject. To learn more about the book, go to The book is available in the Publications and Marketplace sections of this website.

One of the keys to finding the perfect used motorcycle is evaluating whether or not the bike you are looking at has been well-treated and is mechanically sound. The best way to determine the fitness of the one bike you want to buy is a three-pronged approach. You will 1) interview the owner, 2) inspect the machine, and then 3) go home and review what you have learned. Do all of this before you make an offer.

You can save time and money by interviewing the seller by phone or email before you look at the bike in person. You will learn which bikes are worth scheduling and taking a trip to go see, and which ones you can take off your list of possibilities. And afterward, it’s important to objectively assess the facts about your inspection away from the motorcycle with a post-inspection review.

There are forms available for download at that you can use for phone or email interviews, in-person inspections, and a post-inspection review. When you arrange for face-to-face appointments, remember to bring along the completed interview form to verify the previous answers to the questions.

Take special note: The inspecting stage and negotiating stage are separate. By separating the stages, you will be in a much better position to get a great bike at a lower price. Do not negotiate with the seller in this inspection stage of the process! If you can separate the looking and the negotiating into two discrete activities, you are also less likely to shade your purchase by the infatuation factor (falling in love with the motorcycle you’re currently looking at). If you need to get a bike quickly, separate the inspection from the negotiating with at least a coffee break to review your findings, away from the seller.

It is also important to mention that during the motorcycle evaluation, the data transfer needs to be one-way only from the seller to you—not the other way. Don’t share what you are looking for or what you find with the seller. You are simply gathering information objectively about the seller and the bike, and recording your reactions to them. You’ll see later how this one-way communication strengthens your negotiating position.

The Golden Rule of inspections is document everything! Write down the answers to the questions the seller is giving you, and everything you notice about the bike, the seller, and your reactions. Not only are you gathering valuable data for review later, you are much more likely to receive truthful answers if the seller sees that you are documenting their answers.

Performing inspections will serve multiple purposes.

  1. The information you collect will give you a good reference point to compare different bikes for the rest of your riding career.
  2. You will strengthen your negotiating position with the seller by demonstrating your expertise.
  3. An inspection will also predict work and parts required to bring the bike to safe riding condition and highlight the costs to doing so, in the negotiations.
  4. As important as the inspection is to determine the condition of the bike, you’ ll be face-to-face with the seller to evaluate their motives and trustworthiness as well.

Following are the steps involved for a meaningful assessment of the bikes you selected. Each of the steps is discussed in detail in the book.

1. Telephone or e-mail interview

a. Ask the seller questions about the mechanical condition, a history of use and maintenance of the bike, and any transferable warranty

b. Ask the Power Question – “Is there is anything at all wrong with this bike?’

2. Inspection

a. Check the VIN and validate the title

b. Inspect the tires

c. Check and study the fluids

d. Evaluate the motor

e. Assess the electrical system

f. Examine the general overall condition

g. Go for a test ride, if you are an experienced rider and have the seller’s expressed permission

3. Post-inspection review

a. Away from the seller, review your findings against other bikes you have inspected.