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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.