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· Premium Member
11,210 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Adam and the rest of you. Here is the article that I promised for used bike shopping. I just did it in raw text so feel free to load it into whatever you want and doctor it up as required.

And let me know if I've missed anything. Heaven know's it's not long enough :rolleyes but I don't know how I could make it any shorter without leaving something out.


So you're new to this motorcycle experience and you want to buy your first bike. The easy way is to buy new and then you know there won't be any problems, well, at least none that the warranty can't handle. But for many reasons a used bike for your first is often the best. First off it's less money which is certainly a factor when you still need to buy riding gear. And secondly it's a lot less nerve racking to drop an older used bike than that bright shiny bike of your dreams. And make no mistake about it. The odds are against you on this one. There are lots of stories around to show that the majority of first year riders drop their bike at least once thanks to little "oopsies" in parking lots or at stops.

By far the best option is to find someone that knows bikes and has no intrest in the bike in question other than being a good buddy and keeping you from making a mistake. When your heart is tied up in bike lust it's very hard to be objective. But for those that can't find a buddy that is mechanically inclined or for the buddies that are no better off than you here are a few tips about what to look for and what's repairable and what's bad enough to make you just walk away.


First off do an overall walk around and look at the condition of the bike. This is subjective I know but try to separate fair wear and tear from neglect. A clean well adjusted bike means the owner probably did the rest of the work to keep it in nice shape. A dirty bike with maladjusted chain and sloppy controls probably means poor regular maintainence. And at the very least it shows a disregard for you, the customer.

Now do a second walk around and look for obvious signs of a fall. Anything other than standard factory colors will often mean the bike has been down quite hard. Unless it's a very nice job that indicates that the owner just didn't like the old colors (remember the time when pink was in style?... *shudder*). In any event check over the ends of the control levers, foot controls, foot pegs and engine side covers for any scratches or signs of repairs or repairs in the metal to cover up the scratches. Light scratches may just indicate that the bike had an oopsie, no big deal. But serious gouging means some speed when it went down. And the final spot to look for crash damage. Look down at the base of the steering head and find the steering stops. Bent, bashed or missing stops show it was in a bad crash. Possibly one bad enough to bend the frame or forks. Walk away from any of these.


Now let's get down and start at the front of the bike. Check the tire for signs of wear. Cupping is the effect where the tire on either side of the sipping (the grooves are called sipes or sipping pronounced "sy-ping") is at different levels. This is the most common wear pattern for sport bikes and indicates a new tire is needed soon so factor that cost in. If the bike was in storage for a couple of years look for signs of age cracks on the side walls and at the base of the tread sipes . If you see this condition don't plan on riding very far or hard before getting new tires because the cracks indicate the rubber has age hardened. These tires will not grip as well as they used to. While you're down there look down the gap between the rotor and the brake pads in the caliper. You should be able to see the pad and backing plate. Any less than about 1/16 inch of pad left means new brake pads. About $50 per caliper. And check the rotor faces (all 4) for abnormal grooving by dragging your fingernails lightly over the faces. Some roughness is normal but any deeper grooves that hang up your fingernail are possible replacement issues. Lot's of dollars for new rotors. Now look at the fork tubes for signs of leaking seals (oil stains or runs) or rough pits or scratches on the swept slider tube surfaces. Leaking seals with smooth forks means the seal is blown for some reason and needs replacing, another $100. Rock pits or deep scratches on the swept area of the sliders means even good seals will be ripped quickly, walk away from any of these. New fork sliders are too much money unless the price comes way down. Only the swept area is of concern. Any damage more than about 3 to 4 inches away from the end of fork leg doesn't matter. And run your fingers lightly around both sides of the lip of the wheel rim. Small dings can be missed by the eye but the fingers can find surprisingly small irregularities. Small barely seeable dings aren't a big deal but anything you both see and feel are probably reason enough to walk away. Bent rims will never balance, may not hold air for very long and are certainly not as strong as before the ding.


Now throw a leg over for some more tests. Try the front brake controls. The lever should feel quite firm but don't be surprised on an older bike if you can pull the lever all the way to the grip with a very firm squeeze, this is actually normal and is just the expansion in the rubber lines of that time. Any lighter sponginess indicates air in the system, sacked brake lines or some other problem. Test the forks by pushing the bike forward a foot or so and grabbing the front brake while pushing down hard on the bars. The forks should compress a couple of inches smoothly with no clicking, sticking or harshness and bounce back to within 1/2 inch or so of their original setting. Any other behaviour indicates some serious front end work needed and big $. If the forks make a sound like squishing Jello between your teeth then this indicates the fluid level is low and the forks probably need routine servicing to change the fluid, not a biggie. Now turn the bars from side to side and try to feel for any notchiness around center and any loosness or roughness when moving. Anything other than buttery smooth means new steering bearings. Bad steering head bearings are a major cause of tankslappers or speed wobbles so be particular here. I used to think that you could just push the bike forward and grab the brakes and try to feel for any clicking in the steering head area but with the wieght of the bike it's just not possible to push it up to enough speed with a simple two feet straddle attitude so just try to feel for any really bad problems with some turning from side to side. Carefully balance on the left foot and push the bike backwards and hit the rear brake to be sure it works. And any sign of dragging other than a very light scuffing sound means the brake systems need to be rebuilt. A flush of new fluid MAY save a system that is just on the verge but don't count on it.

Try the clutch lever while you're sitting there. It should be smooth and move in response to slight changes in pressure both when pulling and realeasing. If it's smooth but feels like peanut butter in there it probably just needs a good clean but if it has a lot of initial stickyness before moving in either or both directions there's a good chance of a bad kink, badly worn outer jacket or broken strands in there. Figure $40 for a new cable assembly.

Bounce up and down on the seat to check the rear suspension for the same sort of possible problems in the rear suspension.


Get down at the back end and check out the tire. Pretty much the same as at the front but instead of cupping your looking for a flatter spot in the center of the tire. Unless the last owner was crazy or did some track days street tires wear in the center long before the edges.

Then check the chain and rear sprocket. The teeth should look impecably symetrical to your eye. Any visible hooking AT ALL means they are shot and the chain and sprockets will need replacing. Bring along some disposable rubber gloves and check the chain for tight links, there shouldn't be any of course. Tight links due to rust in the rollers will make short work of the chain and sprockets. A little rust on the outer plates is just cosmetic as long as the links move smoothly.

Then have the owner or your buddy hold the handlebars firmly to prevent the bike tipping over during the next test. Grab the swingarm up near the engine and push-pull it side to side. Listen and feel for any clicks or play. This is a pretty gross test and won't find any small amount of slop but at least you'll know there are needles in the bearings and they haven't dissoved into a rusty sludge. Any noticable play here is a walk away or reason for serious price reduction. Then grab the rear wheel at the top of the tire and push- pull again to get an idea of the rear wheel bearings. Once again there should be NO movement or clicking.

Check the rear brake rotor, caliper and pad thickness similarly to the front.

On older bikes check the underside of the exhaust can at the lowest point for rust holes or blisters. Ordinary steel was used for exhausts and is prone to this sort of thing. Run your hand carefully forward under the headers too.

And check the rim of the back wheel the same as for the front for dings.


Time to start 'er up. Even if it's a non runner at least check to be sure the engine is not frozen. Either be sure the starter can spin the engine a couple of turns or notch it up to about 4th or 5th for the mechanical advantage and have your buddy or the owner push you forward while you keep most of your weight on the saddle. Let them get you up to a jog and then let out the clutch. You should hear the engine spin over with a "lumpa-lumpa-lumpa" sound. If the rear tire just locks and skids the engine is seized from corrosion locking the rings to the bore walls. Walk away..... or better yet run. That engine probably needs new rings and a hone job.

OK, assuming the engine started and is running. Listen for any strange noises coming from the engine other than normal running sounds. A bit of clicking coming from the head is fine, it just means you need a valve clearance adjustment. But any strange whirring, clicking or rough sounds are cause for concern. Hopefully you know what a decent running bike sounds like. If not hang around a dealer's service center for a while and listen carefully. Needless to say anything that sounds like a bucket full of stones is a walk away......

As long as the clutch lever and cable is properley adjusted with about 1/2 inch of free play at the lever tip the bike should not try to creep ahead while in gear and with the lever pulled. At least not much. Some bikes might do this very slightly thanks to the cold oil. But if it tries to drag your shoes off the clutch has a problem. $300 or so thank you very much.

Test ride the bike. If it doesn't have plates or a permit at least go up and down the alley or front street when it's clear. And hit all the gears. You'll be going slowly because of the situation but be sure to shift into all the gears even though you'll be lugging it big time. You want to be sure they are all there and that the shifter is willing to let you get into them. Shift back down through the pattern until you're back in first and that's it. Assuming all the gears selected smoothly you're in business. If they didn't try to analyse whether it was you or the bike. And don't let anyone tell you that the tranny won't accept 5th or 6th at less than a certain speed. As long as the engine is above idle speed while in the gear it should go in just fine.


There will always be something wrong with a used bike unless you get VERY lucky. How many things can you tolerate before it's a bad deal is the question that needs an answer. Tires is the most common. If the bike has usable tires this is a BIG bonus. The next most common thing is the chain and sprockets. A new set will run anywhere from $150 to $350 depending on the bike. The rest of the items I've tried to give price guidelines or warnings as we went along. So add 'em up and decide before you commit yourself. If the bike was really bad don't be afraid to point these things out to the owner and knock the price down. If he won't play ball then walk otherwise the bike will cost you more in the end than another higher priced but pristine example. This is especially true if you have to pay for your servicing.

Broken plastic or other parts is a big question. Yes you can find bikes with bad or missing plastic but often the owners seem to think you can replace the panels for peanuts. No way........ If you can get a deal like this for the right price and you don't mind looking for salvaged or aftermarket parts then fine. Just be aware that you'll have a harder time selling it yourself later unless you spring the big dollars for OEM stuff. And for some reason motorcycle wreckers seem to think their parts are all family heirlooms by the prices they charge.


A reminder that if you find any of these situations then the bike is not a good buy unless the price comes a LONG way down.

1) Pitted or scored up fork sliders. Remember it's only the first 3 or 4 inches near the seals that are important.

2) Badly scored front brake rotors. There is NO tolerance for front rotors to be turned. This is a replacement item and they are not cheap. Figure about $400 for salvage items and up to $700 for aftermarket like EBC.

3) Unusual sounds from the engine or clutch. Ticking usually just means the valves are out of adjustment. Any problems with shifting or noises related to the tranny are also killers. But be sure it's not you just not being in synch with the bike.

4) Obvious smoke coming from the end of the pipes AFTER the engine has warmed. A black fog indicates an overly rich mix and possibly sticking carbs. A whitish smoke that lingers and bites at your breathing is oil and that's not good. Although it's common in bikes that have been stored for a long time and just means you need to run it for a while to get things loosened up again. But for bikes with less than a few months sitting this means bad rings or valves and is a killer.

5) Badly bent or broken steering head stops = bent frame. 'Nuff said.


When you ride a bike you're putting yourself into a very precarious position where you want to KNOW you can trust your bike. For this reason I very strongly recommend that you do the following work either yourself if you have the skills or get it done prior to any amount of riding.

1) Brake systems to be flushed and bled for bikes newer than 5 years. For older bikes I really recomend the systems be totaly rebuilt with new seals and, if needed, new pistons. You'd be amazed at the jelly and rusty crud in an older and ignored brake system. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water from the air, and after 3 or 4 years inside a system it's not uncommon to find rusty fluid in a jelly like state. This can lead to vapour locks when the moisture boils into steam during a hard brake usage and also dragging or locked discs due to the bad fluid not being enough of a lubricant for the pistons and seals. If you don't do ANY of the other things I'm suggesting at least do this one. It's your life we're discussing here.

2) Change the fork oil for older bikes. It just gets tired and broken down and then there is also some moisture that gets in past the seals over time. It'll probably even make the damping more effective too.

3)Check the steering head bearings and adjust the preload or replace if needed. Remember the speed wobbles or tankslappers?

4)Clean and lube the clutch cable. They have little clampy doohickies that let you use a pressure can to force clean oil down the inner core to flush and lube all at once. Nothing is worse than a grubby feeling clutch control. Replace if is feels rough.

5)Check and adjust the valve clearances. Never trust the last owner unless he was your best man or your brother..... and maybe not even then. Your engine will thank you.

6)Clean and lube the chain and sprockets. Adjust for proper tension. This means there SHOULD BE SOME PLAY. Don't laugh, there have been a few people that thought it was supposed to be TIGHT. Their counter shaft where the front sprocket mounts finally fatigued and snapped off........

7)On bikes older than 6 to 7 years you should pull the whole rear suspension apart. Inspect the grease seals on all the joints and flush and regrease all the needle or ball bearings inside these joints. My F2 from 92 or 93 had two very dry needle bearings with only a trace of grease and a little water inside. Another year or so and they would have been either seized or a rusty sludge. Replace the grease seals if torn, folded over wrong, or obviously worn. If you don't want to do this right away leave it until the end of the season and then have the shop do it over the winter. If you ask them to do it as a fill in job you might even get a break on the price. But don't neglect it if you plan on owning the bike for long.

8) Once again for older bikes check the rubber blocks in the drive hub of the rear wheel. These get worn or torn up with time and hard use and a fresh set can often eliminate a lot of chain snatch.


Well, that's about it. Now you know everything that I do. It's a lot but most of it is just details and common sense. I'd suggest that you go though the whole article and make up a point form check list to carry with you. And to get some practice before you have an anxious owner breathing down your neck go around to a dealer and do a visual check over on a couple of their used bikes. Just don't pull one over from doing the rear swingarm check and domino the whole row over........

· Premium Member
11,210 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Jeez...... no comments yet? Or are you waiting for some down time to curl up by the fire.

It seems awfully long even to me... I might have a look at it over the next day or two and see if I can cut it down a bit.........

· Premium Member
8,246 Posts
Looks great Bruce. I haven't read ALL of it.. but will when I post it in the Articles section (which I will be fixing up Sunday night I hope). I like thorough, and if your anything like me, you'll read as much as you can to get the information. I have fluff, I hate tangents when I'm trying read things.. they annoy me. And you don't have that - it's just long because there's a lot of stuff to cover...

If you'd like to write some more articles, let me know, they'd all be greatly appreciated and of course would be credited to you.

Which means you can receive all the mail about 'I read your guide and bought my bike and now it's apiece of crap, you bastard!' :evil

· Premium Member
11,210 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
absolutdm said:
........Which means you can receive all the mail about 'I read your guide and bought my bike and now it's apiece of crap, you bastard!' :evil
Oh shit............... I never thought about that :eek

Maybe there should be some legal boilerplate appended onto the end............ about 100 lines with a 0.75 font size should cover it......... :laughing

OK, if you don't think it's too long then I'll leave well enough alone. There IS a lot of info in there and I agree that if I prune it too much it won't read smoothly. I even learned a few things myself just from organizing my thoughts. If I ever buy a used bike again I'l be all set........... as long as it isn't another Duc in which case I'll just get all giggly like a schoolgirl and buy it regardless :D

· Premium Member
11,210 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
At last my dream of being "pulished" will become a reality. Ah the fame, the recognition, the welcome accolades of my peers, the 5 cents a word......... Uh that's what was in the contract wasn't it?

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