Jump to content
  • entry
  • comments
  • views

So You Wanna Buy A Bike? What To Do When You Show Up At Joe Schmoe's House With Some Cash In Your Pocket...



So you wanna buy a used bike huh? How many bikes have you checked out/bought in the past? The following is just MY initial list for things to check when looking at a used bike...at a dealer or private individual. This list is NOT exhaustive--it was initially stream of conciousness, so the order is not necessarily optimal either. There is a wealth of knowledge on how to buy a new bike. Usually a Google search on "how to buy a used motorcycle" is a pretty good place to start...that said, it won't get you here!

Basically, the strategy I take is that you put a not to exceed price on a bike you are going to RIDE (collecting bikes is a different story and these "rules" don't necessarily apply when you're insane about collecting) and don't EVER buy one for more than that...the reason is that another one will always show up somewhere--oh and it will probably be in better shape than the one you're currently inspecting. NEVER be desperate! YOU are the buyer and YOU have cash...cash is king! So operate from a position of abundance, you are in control. Be fair, be kind, don't be a dick...but be in control. I used to be an Air Force Officer and this approach works well for buying cars and getting groups of people to do what you want as well...if you are needy, desperate and a dick...you will be hard pressed to get what you must. Above all, be honest--that includes not leaving out key information (especially if you're selling).

It's amazing how keeping your side of the street clean ends up in positive motorcycle karma! Beware, honest, straightforward thoughtful, smart buyers tend to scare about 30% of the people...you don't reallly want a bike from those people...So here's my "how to list to buy a used motorcycle". This is aimed toward the VFR rider, but you can use 90% of it for any modern Japanese bike, maybe 85% for standard or cruisers.


Just for precaution's sake, always leave a trip plan with a friend or family member...whether you're riding, looking at a bike, hiking or on business.  That way, if something should go wrong on the way there or back someone knows your plan--heck you may just run out of gas in an area with no cell coverage...or your cell battery died along with your charger.  

Taking a buddy is a good way to split up tasks so you can be objective AND observant.  What is the owner nervous about when you ask questions or poke around on the bike?  People will give you clues.  Also, a friend can keep you from being too "rosy" or too down on one thing and help you evaluate the overall value of the bike that you're inspecting.

Before you go--let the owner know you want the bike cold--so you can see how it starts and runs when cold.  Get permission beforehand to take a test ride.  Get the background from the owner before you get there and ask him again when you arrive--note any differences, if any, in the stories--significant ones can be a clue to whether you're getting the whole story or not.

1. Ask for the service history...if the guy doesn't take it to the dealer for this...ask for his log. If he doesn't keep one, that is one nock against the bike...no records means no proof of maintenance...not always bad, but not a positive. Check the VIN and see if this is a California model or not (will have evap canister on the bike as well...important iif you live in Cali I imagine. Write down the VIN and I think you can ask your insurance company or the dealer to see the history of the bike (if it has been crashed--reported--or not).

2. Bike should be COLD when you walk up...if not, then he either jumped it or got it started and warmed up so it would start easier (the first time)...this isn't normally a problem with an FI bike, more often with bikes that have carbs...but still...it is a potential sign.

3. Check the color of the oil level and color of the oil through side viewing window (rt side engine case ahead of the clutch housing) with bike on center stand...oil level should be between two lines--if too low, take a note...will probably be darker as well. If too high--above the second line -- that's definitely not good either.

4. Bring some hex wrenches and peel off the left side fairing (ask first) and look at the coolant level, cold. It should have coolant in between the two lines. After you start it up and get it to temp it should rise somewhat.

5. if you have a Volt Meter, take the seat off. Check to see if the factory tools are all there...and check the cold voltage on the battery. >12.2V but that's not enough. After you start the bike the voltage (DC) should be >13.5 at 2500 rpm and less than 14.8V at 5000 rpm. Here's the fault finding guide link from electro-sport...https://www.google.c...102537793,d.dmo

6. Let the bike warm up at idle for at least 5 minutes...the temperature should be >175F...if its a hot day let it idle for 20-25 minutes and the temp should go up to 220...the fan should kick on...if temp goes above 225 and no fan you have an issue (the displayed temp is wrong or the fan switch is not working or there is an open circuit in the fan circuit...)..either way you need to get the bike to temp and make sure the fan comes on...you can rev the bike safely after 5 minutes and it is up to temp to get the temps up...

7. if it is at temp, check the weep hole under the water pump to see if any coolant is coming out...use a flashlight, see if the weep hole is not gunked up first...if it is, un-plug it with something small...if there is fluid coming out the shaft seal on the water pump is shot...this is not good but repairable.

8. You should also ask for a test ride--if possible. Be prepared to leave your car keys or, something to secure the fact that you might ride off with the bike. Don't push it--you don't know IF there's something wrong or not. Start slowly and act like it is an MSF course...go through the gears, do some braking to a stop, go down through the gears...work up to Emergency stop conditions. Eventually get up to full throttle upshifts, but don't push top speed (it's not your bike--you're just making sure it isn't a pile of broken bolts). Wear your gear--ATGATT! Make sure your insurance will cover this (call before you test ride!) if something goes wrong.

9. Look for crash damage to the fairings...cracks or obvious repairs...better if you can pull off the side fairings and check them and the seat off to see if the rear has been repaired. all the fairings should line up easily...all the fasteners should be there...and should be factory...even behind the front wheel in front of the front cylinders...these little clips are a pain, sometimes we replace them with similar types...not too concerning, but they should all be there.

10. Look at the engine cases to see if they have been ground down. Look for oil leaks/fluid leaks under the bike. Look at the oil plug and oil filter see if there's any leaking oil.

11. look at the bar ends...are they stock or aftermarket?...if aftermarket, ask to see the factory ones...they should not be ground down...a scuff is OK, ground down means laid down...not just a tip over. Look for dents in the tank...Look at the front turn signals...cracks around them means they were either crashed and broken or tipped over. If they are replaced with aftermarket, ask to see the stock ones ("in case you want to put them back on") if they are scuffed or not there they were probably broken in a crash.

12. with bike on center stand and facing a garage door, check out the headlight pattern...I've seen it where one was higher than the other...menaing the front fairing stays were bent ...you should be able to see this also if the front windscreen and fairing are closer to one handlebar or the other...as you sit on the bike with the front wheel straight ahead.

13. Bring a string...and do the alignment method on the front and rear wheels...with an SSA (single sided swingarm) if these are not aligned, the frame is bent (http://www.motorcycl...wheel-alignment).

14. Look at the chain and rear sprocket...if the teeth are worn, ask when it was replaced...if no records assume you need to replace front, rear and chain....this is at least $200 negotiating point. Same with tires, used tires are OK, new better, if they are at the wear bars, it is a negotiating point worth at least $300 to $400.

15. Look for rust at any of the subframe welds...to me, this indicates it was bent, cracked the paint and is now weakened.

16. Look under the seat and see if he has any switched relays for accessories...is there a fuse for the relay? How are the electrical connections, are they professionally done or look like an amateur slice and dice job?

17. Look at the brake fluid color and the clutch fluid color...take the tops off and see if there's gunk in the resevoir...should be light or color of honey at most...brown is bad, gray or black is horrible. front and rear rotors should show some wear but not big ridges or gouges...a little rust is OK if it sits outside, but should wipe off ...lots of pitting is bad. The pads front and rear should be able to be inspected with a flashlight...should have more than a 16th and near an 8th at least...if it looks like its almost flat means they are way gone...need not only replaced, but you need to check the caliper bores as well and maybe refresh. Have someone push down on the rear of the bike and get the front wheel off the ground...spin it. it should spin freely, you should hear the brake pads lightly sing on the rotors, but it should be fairly even and very light...wheel should spin a few rotations...not stop quickly or hear the singing pulse. if it sings, means the rotor carriers are bent most likely, an indication of a crash or someone was hamfisted changing the front tire...not a good sign. same with the rear wheel and bike in neutral, cept it won't spin as much because of the chain drag...so listen to the rear brake for dragging caliper...should not drag too much...and have some meat on the pads.

There's plenty more you could check, but that's some of what I try to go over...if you can get a test ride there's more to do/feel...but I would ride it without earplugs...you should hear the Pair system flapper opening and closing when you start out and come to a stop...the chain should sound smooth when idling and clutch in...taking off shouldn't be snatchy. It should snick into second gear, third etc...easily. braking should be straight.

So the best tool and tip I have here is tip numero cero #0: Be prepared--do your homework on the bike and it's foibles and idiosyncrasies--plusses & minuses AND make a checklist of things to BRING and DO when you get there! Have a plan for how much you will knock off the price or three prices for Excellent, OK and bad bikes! Don't vary...be prepared to walk away and have no regrets when you do...there's always a bike in a shed somewhere else that's better cared for than this one and it probably cost less!

Have Fun and be safe and do good, that's what its all about!

Sept 28, 2015

  • Like 8


Recommended Comments

You know I've done probably close to 100, maybe even 125 craigslist deals. Never once felt threatened or that I needed to be armed. Not sure why there seems to be a string of paranoid members of the motorcycle community especially. I see all over various forums and facebook pages about folks wanting to or actually carrying firearms on the bike or in their gear. Not sure where folks are riding that they have so much to fear. I think with a good sense of judgement and some common sense you can safely navigate "Joe Schmoe's" or any other encounter or time in the presence of/with strangers. 

Just my .02$. YMMV.



  • Like 1
Link to comment
  • Member Contributer

I too have never had "security" issues.  Motorcycle people are mostly normal in my experience.

To me, one of the most important indicators of the condition of the bike is the owner.  I spend good amount of time just having a conversation with the dude (sorry ladies - it's mostly dudes selling bikes out there) and get a feel of the knowledge and the type of person the seller is.  If I like him, chances are, that I will also like the bike and I will not beat him up for the money.  Too much :).

  • Like 1
Link to comment

There was this one time when I went to look at a 99 VFR. Kind of crapy pictures in the ad and it was way out in the boonies.

Once I found the property in question I was instructed to pull up behind and old bard out in the middle of a field several hundred yards from the dirt road :-0

I was a little nervous, but all fear departed when i spotted the VFR behind that said barn.

All good and that bike has been my brothers 5th gen for about a decade. 



Link to comment
  • Member Contributer
On 10/28/2015 at 10:07 PM, Kenn said:

Along with cash ,be armed and have an armed buddy for bACK UP>

You should also take along an armoured vehicle, oh and don't forget that all important close air support.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
  • Member Contributer

Just for precaution's sake, always leave a trip plan with a friend or family member...whether you're riding, looking at a bike, hiking or on business.  That way, if something should go wrong someone knows your plan--heck you may just run out of gas in an area with no cell coverage...or your cell battery died along with your charger.  

Taking a buddy is a good way to split up tasks so you can be objective AND observant.  What is the owner nervous about when you ask questions or poke around on the bike?  People will give you clues.  Also, a friend can keep you from being too "rosy" or too down on one thing and help you evaluate the overall value for the bike at which you're inspecting.

Lastly, if you choose to exercise your second amendment rights, responsible people practice, carry concealed and, generally, don't make a big deal about it.  It's like breathing, you don't notice it nor do your friends...but when you need it it's there.  IF you decide NOT to exercise those rights, that's OK too.  Personally, I've ridden with a friend who carries 24/7 (He's a cop) and you don't even notice it.  BTW it is useful riding around with a friend who is a LEO...just saying.  

Personally I grew up around hunting, practicing shooting at a young age--shotguns, rifles and handguns and I've served in the military so I don't get freaked out by the mere presence of a firearm, ammunition or the like.  I take people on how they behave.  My father and grandfather instilled respect for tools--he had no tip of his index finger from mis-using a table saw as an example and instilled a respect for the proper care and use of firearms as well as many other tools.  NO one here really bashed anybody about carrying, that's good, just expressing and questioning. No one should bash people who choose not to either--should flow both ways.

I'll amend my blog to add in the precautions above.


  • Like 1
Link to comment
  • Member Contributer

Times are changing and unscrupulous people use Craigslist and other sights looking for victims. 

Link to comment

Great tips above.


I would add that in doing research on any particular bike and its potential issues/what to watch out for, you should make a list of bikes of similar vintage, condition, and mileage for sale (or recently sold) - ideally in your area or region - and the final sale price if you have a good idea what is was.  You'll likely know when someone is obviously asking for an incredibly high or low price, so approach the offer or sale accordingly.  Cycle Trader, Craigslist, and eBay are decent tools, as are model-specific internet forums (like VFRD) that have classified sections with bikes for sale by owners (like VFRD).  Like Zupatun said though, don't be a dick about haggling.  If someone wants an insane amount for their used bike, you might say you've done some research and $x,xxx is more realistic, and you're willing to offer $x,xxx.  It's good to have too much information than too little to make sure you don't get ripped off.


Also, sellers should be aware most minor mods are not going to net big increases in resale value.  A full set of after-market pipes might increase the bike's value, but a set of chrome-plated car ends, not so much.  You can take these things into account as a buyer, but again you should be educated enough to know when you should consider a higher offer or sale price according to the whole bike, not some individual farkle.  BTW, I'd also watch out for unwanted mods that might say more about the owner and how the bike was ridden or even abused.


Asking why the seller is selling the bike can be a good idea.  It might help clue you in a bit about how motivated the seller is, and could influence your offer and the final sale price.  (But again, don't be a dork!)


One more thing:  When I bought my VFR (which was listed in Cycle Trader), I met the seller at his home.  The bike was pristine with low miles.   And the seller's other vehicles were a great indication the bike had been treated properly.  His car, IIRC, was a spotless VW GTI and his wife's was a new or newer Honda Accord, also in excellent condition.  The more you can tell about a seller, the more confidence you'll have about the item for sale.

Link to comment
  • Member Contributer

I had posted these tips for inspecting a new VFR purchase previously but they might give you some ideas of what to look when buying a new motorcycle  and all these can be done as part of a walk around with no tools except a volt meter and a flashlight.


1) I would check the charging voltage at idle and 5K RPM with the high beams on. It should be at least 13.8V or you have some charging issues. It is easy to do with a voltmeter, just remove the seat. Check the forum there are plenty of threads on charging issues on the VFR.

2) Obviously check tires, brakes, chain, brake and clutch fluid color. The fluids should be clear. If they look like tea or coffee they need to be replaced. Wear or replacements items are good negotiating points.

3) With the bike on the center stand, have someone push down on the rear and lift the front wheel off the ground. Turn the wheel left and right and feel for binding or a notch at dead center. This is a sign that the bike needs new head bearings. I have had to replace bearings at 20K miles on some VFRs. Check the fork seals – look for oil on the fork tubes.

4) Obviously, check the overall condition of the finish and look for missing or non OEM fasteners or new panels or missing decals. Look for scrapes on the end of the clutch and brake levers, bent shifter and brake foot levers, bar end weights, and on 5th gens look for a black block off plate on the underside of the fairing between the headlights. A missing plate or scrapes indicated a fall or accident.

5) Arrive when the bike is “cold”. It should start easily, idle well and be ridable without requiring any warm up.

6) Finally look in the tank for signs of rust – use a flashlight

7) Not to go to CSI on you – but bring a flash light when you inspect the bike. A good light will help with the inspection.

8) Make sure you get the factory tool kit. Most of the wrenches and screwdrivers are poor quality but you will need the chain adjusting tool and the shock adjusting tool. Ask for the owner’s manual. It doesn’t hurt to ask if the PO has a shop manual. He might throw that in as part of the deal. Oh, and get both keys.

9)  Ask to see the title.  

I bring my gear and money.  In my experience the only way to get a test ride is to show up with the purchase price in cash.  You break it - you own it.  I won't purchase a motorcycle without riding it first.  As far as being concerned for my safety or the safety of my money, I arrange to meet at the seller's residence and not someplace shady like a gas station or parking lot.  I don't go alone.  You will need someone to drive the car back if you buy the motorcycle -right?  Finally, go during daylight hours.  Its easier to see what you are buying in daylight.  Low light or interior lighting  hide a lot of imperfection that show up when you get it home and see for the first time in the daylight.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Add a comment...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy.