Buying a secondhand motorcycle may sound like a good idea, but the problem is that you will be buying a used machine, and you will never know the true condition of it. The best you can do is go through a checklist of things to inspect and have a good estimation of the condition of the bike. Consider this basic checklist an extremely important prerequisite to purchasing a used motorcycle and before you go through the list, remember that it is important to NOT start the bike before you finish inspecting it. You want to do a full all round cold inspection before turning the engine on, so be sure to call the seller and make an appointment, and tell him that you want the engine completely cold.
Before you proceed to inspect anything else, check the identity of the motorcycle. Check the VIN number, the license plate number, and the information on the title. Make sure they match. You don’t want to end up buying a “tweaked” total loss machine, or even worse, a stolen one. Also check with the bank if the information provided by the seller is legit.
The second thing you want to do before starting your physical inspection of the motorcycle is to ask the seller for any documentation of the motorcycle’s service history and prior repairs. If the seller is true to his vehicle, he would have all or at least most of the receipts kept away safely. You can quickly run through the receipts and make sure that the bike was well maintained. You don’t want a poorly maintained motorcycle.
A walk-around check is basically walking around the bike to check for any physical damage. You should be able to tell whether the bike has been in a bad accident, or whether it has been recently cleaned only to look great for pictures. What you want is a bike that is well maintained overall. True riders will keep their machines clean true and true, and you should be able to see that by checking the crevices in which dirt or sludge could possibly accumulate. Check for damaged paint, dented areas, and broken parts as well.
While you’re doing the walk-around check, pay extra attention to the frame of the motorcycle. Check underneath for dents, scrapes, or any kind of damage. Don’t be afraid to use your fingers to feel for any damage and for safety reasons, you may use a pair of gloves. If you do find anything, it could be an indication of an accident, or a result of probably riding too fast over a hump. Either way, it’s something to take note of.
After checking the fork for visible damage, you should take note of any leakage around the area. For the handlebars, check every component for damage. Check the bar ends, the throttle grip, and the levers for any sign of abnormality. If you see that the lever is curved but does not look damaged, it might be due to a tip-over.
After you check the body and tank for physical damage, check the fuel tank cap inside and out, and then use a torchlight to inspect the inside of the tank. Depending on whether the fuel tank is lined with protective material or not, you should be able to see either a shiny silver surface or a murkier surface through the fuel in the tank. The fuel itself should be clear. If the colour of the fuel is anything besides its supposed colour, it could mean that the fuel is old and the bike has not been ridden in a long time, or that there is rust or unwanted sediments present in the tank. If necessary, shake the bike a little to see the flow of the fuel.
Climb on the bike, give it a test bounce. See if everything returns to its original position effectively. As mentioned earlier, check for leaks as well. Check the oil seals, and see if there is any oil residue present on the forks. If it’s a matter of oil seals, they’re pretty cheap and can be replaced. Test the rear suspension and make sure there is resistance when you try to give it a hard push. If the bike is too bouncy in a static position, it’s going to be a lot worse when riding.
Similar to the handlebars, check the levers for bends and any kind of damage. You should be able to easily spot a lever that has been repaired after damage, or one that is bent from scraping the ground. Also check the cables that are involved with both the clutch and brakes. Push the bike forward and try to apply both front and rear brakes, the levers should operate smoothly, and the brakes should be effective. If there is noise, it could be caused by a variety of reasons which will need checking, and once you release the brakes, the cables and levers should return to their original position effortlessly.
Use the good old pull and check technique. Pull the drive chain away from the sprocket to see if it can be pulled. You shouldn’t be able to pull it off the sprocket tooth. In fact, anything more than halfway off the tooth calls for a replacement of the drive chain. The inner part of the chain should not be dirty with sludge or grimes.
This is a pretty straightforward check. Run your fingers through the piping and muffler to feel for rough spots or rust. What you want to be wary of is holes and bad rust spots that might have rusted through. The muffler should look either a shiny stock silver colour, or whatever colour its modification is supposed to look like, if any.
First and foremost, check the wear of the tire. If there is more wear in the middle, that means the rider either did a lot of burnouts, or often uses the bike for long distance riding. Long distance riding is not a problem, but burnouts could contribute to engine problems. If there is more wear on either side of the tire, it could be an alignment problem. Secondly, if the bike you are looking at is a sports bike, you can check to see if there are blobs of rubber on the tires. The blobs would indicate that the machine has been used on the track.
Coolant is typically either green or red. Remove the cap of the coolant tank to check the condition of the coolant. If it is murky and looks “muddy”, it’s definitely time for a change. If the coolant looks rusty, you might want to do a thorough check of the engine as well. As for the engine oil, you should be able to see the condition of the oil from the sight glass. If there is no sight glass, use a stick or any absorbent item to check the colour of the oil. As usual, murky is bad, dirty is bad. Contaminated oil equals contaminated engine, and if you are going to buy a secondhand motorcycle, the last thing you want is to spend a tonne of money on the engine. If the bike runs on any other oil, use the same principle. Don’t forget to also check the oil pan and oil seals for leaks.
Now, for the final part. You’ve done a thorough cold check, so it’s time to start it up. If you have experience with motorcycles, you will know that each bike behaves differently on a cold start. Some will immediately start up on the first try, while others may require one or two tries with added throttle. It really depends on the motorcycle. If there is an electric starter, you’ll want to use it to see if it works. If the bike uses a manual cable type choke, ask the seller to set it to his usual setting for an easy start. The seller will very likely guide you through the start up, informing you whether a bit of throttle is needed, and whether the kick starter is functioning properly, etc. Once you have started the bike, try to pay attention to abnormal sounds from the engine and muffler, and do a visual check of the smoke from the exhaust - it should hardly be visible, but the smoke may be a little thick in the beginning because of the cold start. It should however ease off over a couple of minutes as the engine warms up. If you notice that the smoke remains thick or there is a strong smell of engine oil or fuel, that may not be the best buy of a bike for you. Next, check all the lights on the bike including the hazard lights, and finally take it for a quick short ride if the seller permits. Normally they would, because they are trying to sell it to you after all. Test the brakes, the maneuverability, and the suspension. If everything feels great, you may have found your new best friend.
The list that you have just read through is the most basic checklist to get through when choosing your bike, especially if you are a newbie. If you are experienced or have a mechanic with you, you should be able to do a more thorough checking. Either way, once you have purchased the motorcycle, take it to your favorite mechanic for a full, proper check up.