It’d be nice if we could all afford brand new bikes, all of the time, wouldn’t it? But the fact of the matter is this; you can get a whole lot more for your money when you start to peruse the used bike market. Be it a six-month old superbike, still with its showroom smell and a big fat warrantee to boot. Be it a motor that’s as old as you with tyres that look even older; there are some absolute belters. But there are certain things that only a fool would overlook when checking out the next addition to their garage. So if you’re thinking about buying a used bike, make sure you take note of these five things, if nothing else…
Sometimes this is blindingly obvious to spot, other times it takes a keener eye. A little spill doesn’t mean a bikes worthless. If the seller says it’s never been down the road though, don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes. Non-matching pairs of mirrors, indicators, levers and foot-pegs should all set the alarm bells ringing. As should any scrapes on any of the aforementioned – so check them all. Damaged fairings are reasonably easy to replace or repair, but occasionally you’ll be able to spot it if the painter’s crap at colour matching. If the bike’s obviously been crashed and the seller is denying it, your best bet is to tell them to fuck off. And then think about buying a used bike from someone else.
But if they’re happy to be open and honest with you, there is no reason the sale shouldn’t go ahead. But only if you still think you are getting a good deal and you’re happy to be the owner of a previously crashed bike (knowing that it can dramatically affect the value of it). If that’s the case, try and get as much information about the crash, and the damage caused, as possible. Because that damage might come back to bite you on the arse one day.
Just because a bike has been on the track, it doesn’t mean it’s a complete shitter. Some of the most well maintained bikes are the ones that regularly spend time on a track. But again, if the bloke trying to sell you a something says it’s only ever been used on the road, he may well be full of shit. If the tyres are all snotted up on the edges, they’ve been riding it quite hard, very possibly on track. Is the rear is all snotty in the middle? It could well be from a burnout in the pub carpark (not that that’s a bad thing). If burnouts bother you, check under the seat and in the rear hugger; blobs of rubber stuck to the plastic are indicative of a burnout-happy owner.
Scraped foot-pegs, blobs of paint on the silencer and stickers on the front of the fairing are also dead giveaways of track action. If the bike has been on track, and the owner makes no bones about it, find out where he’s ridden it. Ask if it’s ever been crashed (and what was damaged), and very importantly, how often it’s been serviced (oil and filters, etc). And how recently it’s been serviced.
In the UK, any ride through winter that’s not followed by an hour’s worth of scrubbing, cleaning and rinsing is going to make a right mess of your bike. And anything on the lower parts of the bike are going to take the biggest hit. Check exhaust downpipes and any exposed nuts and bolts as best you can. If the corrosion is bad on the areas that you can see, it’s likely to be a lot worse on the places that you can’t.
So unless you’re fairly handy with the spanners and you intend to give the thing a full once over when you get it home (and I’m talking break calliper strippage and service, suspension linkage check, possibly new wheel bearings), you’ll need to think long and hard about whether it’s worth the asking price. And a bit of corrosion is a hard one to use to haggle the price down; the seller will likely just tell you it’s fair wear and tear… which takes us onto our next point.
Fair Wear and Tear
How much wear and tear is actually ‘fair’ varies a great deal from one person to the next. And you’ll usually find yourself at the polar opposite end of the spectrum depending whether you’re buying a used bike or selling a one. Whatever you want to call it though, it’s up to you to decide what sort of nick you think’s acceptable. But remember that if something is broken or doesn’t work, it’s not just ‘fair wear and tear’.
Consumables like discs and pads, chains and sprockets, oil and filters and tyres don’t necessarily need to be brand new. But, if any of them things are passed the point of ‘fucked’, you don’t just need to be asking the seller for money off. You need to be asking yourself what kind of bike owner this person is. Do they ride till their brake pads are down to metal, there are teeth missing of the sprockets or the oil filter’s got an inch of road grime on it and obviously hasn’t been changed in a decade? If so, they obviously don’t know how to look after a bike properly. In which case, you’re likely to inherit a shedload of problems after buying a used bike from them.
There are a few legitimate reasons for a bike not to have a V5. Not all bikes get road registered, if they are going to be used as race bikes, for example. But if it’s sold to you as a road bike, you need to see the V5. Don’t fall for the “I’m waiting for the DVLA to send me one” or the “it’s definitely legit, so you can send off for a V5 if you want, I’ve just never got round to it” excuses. It’s not worth the risk.
Check the MOT certificate for any advisories that look as though they might come back and haunt you. Check that the name and address of the current owner, and that the frame number is accurate. And that it matches on all documents. And I know it’s an obvious one, but make sure the bikes colour on the V5 matches what is in front of you. If it doesn’t, and there isn’t a reasonable explanation as to why, it’s probably because it’s been crashed. Don’t let anything stop you buying a used bike, just make sure you buy the right one.’