While the riding season is nearly upon us, wheeling and dealing for used motorcycles is never out of season. When shopping for a used motorcycle, general appearance and how many bells and whistles come with the bike are usually what catch your eye. Looking good is definitely a benefit, but if the bike you buy doesn’t run, or doesn’t run well beyond the simple paces you put it through, it won’t do you much good.

Having been a line mechanic for a Harley-Davidson dealership, one of my roles was to assess the condition and value of all the bikes that were being traded in. In today’s post, Part 1 of What to Look for When Buying a Used Motorcycle, I’d like to share some of the general guidelines I used during inspection:

  • Assess the general condition of the bike, look for any oil leaks. If none are visible, check the oil itself. Look specifically for the condition and amount of oil in the bike. Dirty oil, or a low oil level, indicates poor maintenance habits by the motorcycle’s previous owner.

Tip: Visually inspect the underside of the bike. If it is squeaky clean, it may have just been washed, potentially to mask a possible leak.

  • Next, raise the seat and look at the condition of the motorcycle battery, which is often a good indicator as to how well a bike has been maintained. What you are looking for is a full battery with clean, tight terminals. If the battery does not pass inspection, there is a good chance you may find other problems.
  • This one may seem obvious, but take a good look all areas of the motorcycle for any signs of damage from the bike being dropped or crashed.
  • Check for operation of all the lights. Turn on signals, test brake lights (both front and back), and any check all other electrical accessories while you’re at it.
  • Inspect the tires for any unusual wear patterns. A cupped (i.e., scallops along the edges) front tire indicates problems inside the front fork. Look for weather checking (little cracks) on the sidewalls and measure depth of the threads, which must be 1/16th or better to be safe. If the tires aren’t in good shape, add the cost of a new set of tires to the purchase price of the bike.

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3, when I’ll cover what to look for and be aware of when it comes to the feel and sound of the used motorcycle you’re thinking about buying.