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How to Buy a Used Motorcycle & Used Motorcycle FAQs

June 07, 2023

When you’re out on the open road, you’re likely not thinking about where you—or your bike, for that matter—came from. You’re just focused on whatever’s ahead.

That's why, for many riders, the practicality and variety offered by the used motorcycle market is extremely appealing.  Still, for those looking to buy, the ins and outs of how to buy a used motorcycle, and do so for a good value, can seem a bit daunting.

In this guide to buying a used bike, we’ll guide you through the essential steps, so you can enter the marketplace well-prepared to find the right ride for you.

Why Buy a Used Motorcycle?

A used motorcycle can be a great entry point for new motorcycle riders. While some of the reasons can be obvious, others may not.  For one, used motorcycle buyers can rely on a huge range of reviews to hear others’ (including experts’) opinions on bikes of interest.  If you’re looking into something from even just a year or two back, you’ll be able to gain a huge amount of insights from others’ experiences.

Of course, you may not be interested in or need to rely on popular opinion on recent models. You might have something particular in mind already. Luckily, another advantage of buying a used motorcycle is that you may be able to find a rare or vintage model that is no longer being produced. This can be a great opportunity for collectors or enthusiasts looking for a unique addition to their collection.

Similarly, buying a used motorcycle can also be a great way to get a bike that has already been customized or modified. Many riders enjoy customizing their motorcycles to suit their individual style and needs, and buying a used bike that has already been modified can save you time and money.

And finally, another reason to go for used for your first (or next) motorcycle is the price. Pre-owned motorcycles can be a less expensive option for most buyers.

How to Buy a Used Motorcycle

If any of the options above sounds right for you, you’re in the right place. Follow these steps to narrow your search for the right used bike.

Setting a Budget

The first step in buying a used motorcycle is to determine your budget. Perhaps you’ve gone the route of used motorcycles in the first place because the budget you have in mind is best spent on a pre-owned bike. Others should consider how much they want to spend and how much they can realistically afford.

When deciding on your budget, it's important to keep in mind that the cost of a used motorcycle can vary greatly depending on its age, condition, and mileage. It’s also important to consider factors such as monthly payment, payment terms and available financing options. Plus, in addition to the cost of the motorcycle itself, you'll also need to factor in additional costs such as insurance, registration, and maintenance. These costs can add up quickly, so it's important to budget for them accordingly.

Estimate Monthly Payments

Research Styles and Models

Once you have an idea of your budget in mind, consider the kind of riding you hope to do and the style of bike best suited for your needs:

  • Cruiser: Designed for a relaxing upright ride both around town or on the open road, cruisers are typically comfortable for tall riders. Their heavier weight, however, can make them difficult to handle for smaller and less experienced riders.
  • Touring: Built to make long trips as enjoyable as possible, touring motorcycles come with features to help you go further in style and comfort. Adventure touring bikes can help riders take those long trips to even more places. Though each option is versatile, neither makes the greatest option for short trips and quick commutes.
  • Sport: Moving riders into a more forward-leaning riding position, sport or street bikes are all about speed and performance. However, these speedsters do come with a cost: usually higher insurance costs and a higher degree of riding experience is required.
  • Trike: Add a wheel and you get not only improved balance but unbeatable comfort. Because trike motorcycles are heavier, it makes them not ideal for short rides and commutes, but they offer newer and experienced riders alike more confident handling and maximum storage for long rides.

With these styles and your own habits in mind, you can get started with the hunt for the right motorcycle model. By searching for reviews, you can get a feel for available models that match the kind of motorcycle you’re after.

After you have zeroed in on one—or even a few—models whose style and design you enjoy, survey some sale listings across various years to get a sense of which options might match your budget.

Where Can You Buy a Used Motorcycle?

With today’s diverse used motorcycle market, interested buyers have plenty of places they can apply the knowledge we shared above to find the bike that’s right for them. Available venues for buying a used bike include:


How to Browse for Your Bike on the H-D1 Marketplace

The fast-expanding H-D1™ Marketplace makes it easy for you to get on the road with an extensive inventory of pre-owned bikes both in your area and across the country. But it’s not just quantity and quality that makes it easy, it’s all the ways you can search and discover your dream ride:


What to Look for Before You Buy a Used Motorcycle

Next, whether it’s at a dealer or with a private seller, you’ll already be moving on from researching bikes more generally to focusing on specific bikes that are listed for sale. To make sure you choose the right motorcycle, get a good value, and avoid foul play, use these tips to learn as much about the bike as possible and make an informed decision.

Consider the Age and Mileage

The age and mileage of a motorcycle can impact its overall condition and performance. A bike with low mileage may seem like a good deal, but it's important to remember that regular maintenance and upkeep are still necessary. When viewing a bike in person, be sure to check the odometer and see if it matches with the number given by the seller. If you see all zeroes on the meter or a different number, the actual mile count may be unknown - indicating either a change in value or a potentially untrustworthy seller.

Check the Motorcycle History

Requesting a motorcycle history report using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) can give you important information about the bike's past, including any accidents or repairs it has undergone. Of course, this history is not always available, particularly with private sellers. Nevertheless, with the VIN, you will be able to see the title history, including whether or not there is a lien on the bike.

You may also check for Safety Recall Information on the website using VIN. 

Inspecting the Bike

Just about every purchase of a bike—especially a used one—should include a thorough in-person inspection. You need to know that the bike is everything the seller says it is. And you need to confirm whether it’s a good fit for you. Here’s how.

Appearance and Condition

Any used motorcycle you buy is first of all going to need to pass the eye test. But don’t just glance over the bike. By carefully examining the bike, you can actually get a sense of how well cared for it is: Has its owner meticulously cleaned every nook and cranny? Have they bothered to keep up with details like the seat’s leather? Or has dust, dirt, and grime been allowed to accumulate outside of the easy-to-reach areas?

How clean is clean enough will be your judgment call, but one thing is certain: everyone should use a visual inspection to thoroughly get to know a bike. Want to know what to keep an eye out for? Examine the following areas and aspects of the motorcycle.


Get down and check the exhaust for any dents or corrosion that can cause leaks and performance issues. Confirm that the exhaust is still well-mounted, even if it’s taken a beating from engine vibrations.


Take a good look at the bike’s frame and run your hands along the surface. If the motorcycle has been in an accident, bottomed out, or just handled with less than enough care, you’ll probably be able to find an indication of that here in the form of scrapes, dents, or even cracks.


Give the clutch a few squeezes. Try to get a sense of  how much freeplay is in the lever and how smooth it is as you slowly release it. An overly tight clutch lever can be a sign of a worn-down clutch. Otherwise, you should be feeling for any hitches in the engagement or release. When checking the clutch, it’s important that the bike’s engine is cold, or you won’t be able to get a true read on the play in the clutch.


Gently roll the bike forward and test out the brakes. Once again, pay attention to how smoothly the lever operates: it should both engage and release with ease. Watch out for a “spongy” feel that most likely indicates air in the brake line. When you apply the brakes, they should be silent—or at least very quiet. Lastly, for another indicator of how well-maintained the bike is, check the brake fluid to see how fresh it is and that it’s properly filled. It should be clear and light in color.


To test the responsiveness and condition of the suspension, press down firmly on the front end of the bike. The bike’s forks should return to their neutral position without any obvious noise or interruption. The same should happen with the shocks in the rear of the bike if you bounce up and down on the seat a bit. Before moving on, take a close look at the forks to ensure they’re in tip-top shape. Examine them for any rust or damage. If they’re not looking up to snuff, this might indicate a need for a more serious repair. Likewise, creases and other obvious damage to one or both of the forks can indicate a previous accident.


Tires can be a bit tricky to evaluate, largely because any bike that’s actually been in use and not just on display is going to have wear on its tires. Still, checking the tires to be sure that that wear is smooth and even—and that it hasn’t been caused by hard riding or skidding—can help you infer how the bike has been treated. Likewise, checking the DOT code, or tire date code, on the tires can help you assess whether or not the tires will need to be replaced. This fact can figure into any upcoming price negotiations.


While you’re down there, check the wheels for any dents or warping. If your inspection venue allows for it, to make inspection easier, put the bike up on a stand and spin the wheels with the bike in neutral.


Use a stick or cloth to check the motorcycle oil. Here, you’re hoping for brown or black oil. White-ish streaks or bright flakes in the oil are potentially (but likely) caused by serious engine problems. The former is usually a sign of water in the engine, which can require heavy-duty repairs. The latter is even worse, pointing to an engine that’s corroding.


As with brake fluid and oil, a used motorcycle’s coolant can serve as a bit of a bellwether for the bike’s overall condition. If coolant isn’t its typical neon green, then something’s up. Brown coloring in the coolant usually has one of two culprits: rust or oil in the engine. The former can itself be a sign of a need for costly repairs—though whether that’s now or in the future requires further inspection. Oil leakage also has a range of possibilities: it could just require a simple fix like a new O-ring, but it could also require much more serious repairs to the head gasket.


At last, the electric functions—the horn, headlights, blinkers, brake lights, and hazards. Be sure they all continue functioning properly when idling. Next, pop the seat and check the bike’s wiring. Ideally, you’ll find clean, factory wiring. Excessive taping or modified wiring should lead to some questions for the seller.

Taking It for a Test Ride

So, the bike has passed the initial inspection. Now it’s time for the ultimate test—the test ride. Before you take the bike out for your inaugural (and hopefully not your last) ride, though, you should let it run and give it a listen while it warms up. Make sure it sounds clean—no knocking, no rattling, nothing untoward. As you listen, check the exhaust: blue and white smoke can indicate issues from burning oil or leaking coolant, both of which can necessitate costly repairs.

If it’s all good, then it’s time to hit the road and see how it feels. The bike shouldn’t just fit well and ride comfortably. You should also be able to easily handle and maneuver it over the course of a ride. Also, you should (safely, of course) get a feel for the performance of the bike—does it deliver the power or agility you’re after?

Although you may know from the first acceleration that this is the bike for you, feel free to take your time with the bike to feel confident in a potential purchase. And if you’re buying a motorcycle from a private seller, and something’s either not sitting right or you’re feeling unsure, don’t hesitate to request that the bike is inspected by an outside mechanic before you buy. 

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