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Motorcycle Buying Guide

In the market for a motorcycle? Read our motorcycle-buying guide first.

FH12JUN_MOTORC_01-2 motorcycle buying guideFamily Handyman
Don't get stuck with a lemon. Our used motorcycle-buying guide shows you the most common problems in older bikes, and what it costs to fix them.

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Buying a used motorcycle

New chain and sprockets: $400 to $500

Press up on the chain to check tension. It shouldn’t move more than an inch. Then examine the sprocket teeth. The wear on the leading and trailing edges of each tooth should be the same. If one side is worn more than the other, both sprockets and the chain must be replaced as a set.

Brake job: $125

Shine a flashlight through the spokes to light up the inboard brake pad. If the pad is worn to within 1/8 in. of the steel backing plate, it’s time to replace the set.

New tires: $300 to $500

Compare the tread depth with the height of the wear bar. If the wear bar is close to or even with the tread, the tire is worn out and must be replaced. Also, check for cracks in the rubber. That’s a sign of tire aging, requiring immediate replacement.

Fork seal replacement: $300

Pry off the fork seal protective covers. Then run your fingers along the fork to detect any fluid leakage. If your fingers come up wet, the seals and the fluid must be replaced.

The price of used motorcycles has gone through the roof as more people buy them to save on gas. But without a good motorcycle buying guide it’s easy to get burned with a lemon needing hundreds in repairs. Ryan Scott, owner of Blue Cat Motors, has been in the motorcycle repair business for 10 years. He shared with us the most commonly overlooked problems a used bike may have.

The good news is that you can spot them yourself and avoid a costly mistake with just a 15-minute look-see. Then, just as you would for any used vehicle, have it inspected by a certified mechanic (motorcycle mechanic, in this case) before you commit to buy.

First, check for engine/transmission leaks. An oil leak can easily cost several hundred dollars to repair and usually requires immediate attention. Valve and side cover leaks are the most common, so start your inspection with those two components. But don’t confuse an oil weep with a leak. A weep looks like a darkened grease spot and is usually covered with dust or road grit, and it isn’t a deal breaker. An oil leak, on the other hand, looks and feels wet.

If the engine is spotless, it could mean the owner keeps his bike clean. If so, the rest of the bike should be just as spotless. But if it’s not, be suspicious. The owner may have degreased the engine to mask an expensive-to-repair oil leak.

The Test Ride

Check out the engine and fuel delivery systems with a “cold-start” test drive. When cold, the engine should start right up and idle smoothly. As it warms up, it should accelerate with power and without hesitation. The same goes for clutch lever operation and gear shifting—smooth, with positive engagement. And you shouldn’t hear any knocking or metallic sounds coming from the engine or transmission. After the test drive, let the engine idle. It should be smooth with no coughing, idle speed variation or misfires.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Flashlight
  • Rags