The Joys of Learning to Ride - Buying a Motorcycle Used
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Joys of Learning to Ride - Buying a Motorcycle Used

Waltzing into a dealership and riding out of it on a shiny new bike seems like a dream come true. But in fact, after doing a little research and finding out about the reality of it, buying a motorcycle for the first time brand spanking new just doesn't seem to add up. So, after vetoing the whole buying-new concept, I dove into what it would take to buy a used motorcycle. Turns out, it's not really as complicated as I had originally thought.

The biggest difference in how to make buying used easy rather than painful is simply knowing what you want. Unfortunately, for a first time buyer, this can be a bit difficult. Especially when what you think you want is way out of your price range regardless of whether you're buying it new or used. In The Joys of Learning to Ride � Buying a Motorcycle New post I mentioned my instant love of the Harley-Davidson XR1200. It's no surprise that this bike's price tag is way larger than the balance in my savings account. I won't be walking into a dealership and plopping down a stack of cash for one of those puppies anytime soon. So do I finance? It's an option. But for a first time bike? I think I'll pass. Financing is a great option for people who really know what they're doing when it comes to purchasing a bike. I, however, am still a novice.

So of course the first thing I do is try to research what it would cost to try and buy one of these bad boys used. Problem number one: where the heck do I even start looking? Google "used motorcycles" and the amount of sites the pop up is not only immense, it's so scattered in reliability that suddenly the image of me handing over my hard earned cash only to ride off into the sunset on a bike that instantly falls apart pops into my head. So, after some serious digging, I found a handful of sites that might be both helpful and reliable in buying a used motorcycle. Of course, each does have its pro's and con's.

But when it came to buying the XR1200 even used, it became blatantly obvious that the bike was still way out of my price range. After all, one of the great things about Harley's is how they don't seem to depreciate in value as much as other bikes do. Good for someone who spends the money to snag one new and wants to sell it later without losing a bunch of money; bad for the person like me who's still trying to find something affordable. So scratch that bike off the options list. Probably a good thing too since it would be way too much bike for me to handle as a beginner.

So my search for a used bike was suddenly starting from scratch. Welcome to painful used motorcycle buying. For a beginner who doesn't know everything about every motorcycle model and make, just looking through the used motorcycle sites is horrid. In order to make the search feasible, I needed to narrow it back down. This led me to motorcycle reviews. Sure, these puppies are completely subjective to the person who wrote it but it did point me in the right direction: the Honda Rebel (my Dad just gave a sigh of relief).

Much lighter, less powerful and a heck of a lot cheaper, the Honda Rebel is known for being a great beginner bike. Plus there's a plethora of them being sold used no matter where you are because people are constantly using them as starter bikes and then trading up for something a little more advanced. Perfect. Now where to look?


I've used Craigslist to search for apartments. I swear by it. This site is the newspaper classifieds for the internet age. But I had never used the site for much else. So when someone told me to check out the motorcycle section, I admit, I was skeptical. At first, I thought there was no way I would find anything on the site. If you don't know what you're looking for, all you get is a cryptic list of parts, pieces and miscellaneous rides. I spent hours clicking through ads and never found a single bike that I wanted to buy.

The second that I narrowed down what I was searching for to the Honda Rebel, the whole Craigslist game changed. Entering the bike make and model into the search bar turned the list from an illegible mess to a nice and neat assortment of bikes that I could totally see myself buying. In about five minutes, I had a list of phone numbers for affordable rides that were all located within my area. Within ten minutes, I was talking with one of the owners trying to sell their Rebel and setting up a date to look at it within hours. Know what you're looking for? Craigslist is the perfect place to find it.

The last thing standing in my way was simply finding someone with extensive motorcycle mechanics knowledge to go with me to check to make sure I wasn't being sold something that was going to blow up in a week. Having a friend who knows their engines is a huge perk when buying used if it's your first motorcycle. If you go by yourself and only have the seller's word to go off of, it is possible that you could be lied to. Plus knowing what is wrong with the bike gives you a great advantage for negotiation the price.

Another huge perk of buying from Craigslist is that you're typically buying straight from the rider. While some dealerships do advertise on craigslist, buying straight from the individual gives you a chance to negotiate the price. Even if the seller is offering a fair price, there's always a chance that you can get them to accept a lower offer. Heck, it couldn't hurt, especially if you can spot a few things that are wrong with the bike to use them as leverage.


Yeah, you read that correctly. You really can buy anything on eBay, including motorcycles. And it's not a bad option either. eBay is a great place to look especially if you're wanting something a little less common than a Honda Rebel and there aren't any available in your area. There are tons of unique, custom and different bikes listed for decent prices on eBay. It's easy just to search the bikes in your area or nationwide and sift through the pictures. With eBay, it's not as essential to know exactly what make and model bike you want specifically.

Plus the pricing can be fantastic. If you happen to find a bike that you want, getting it at a good price can be easy if you're given the option to bid on it. Just make sure that you set a limit for yourself before you start bidding. It can be easy to get caught up in the competition of it if someone else decides that they want to bid on the same bike. And, often enough, someone who knows nothing about motorcycles and what they're worth will get their mouse on the bid button and drive the price up way more than it is actually worth.

If you're buying a bike that's not located in your area, you should also check whether or not the seller ships and how much the shipping will cost. I found a great bike at an amazing price without realizing that it was located on the other side of the country. If I had bought it, shipping charges would have been almost the same amount as I bought the bike for.

The other hard thing about buying a motorcycle from eBay is the inability to actually see the bike prior to buying it. Some motorcycles are posted as just "classified ads," which allow you to contact the owner to negotiate the sale and a possible look at it before hand, but bidding on an item means that you're purchasing that ride purely based on the pictures. Pay attention to the seller's ratings on previous sales to try and gauge how reliable they are. If they've got an extensive and positive history with sales, buying blind might not be as dangerous as buying from someone with no history or a mediocre history.


Ah, back to the option of buying at the dealership. A lot of dealerships, both online and at the actual location, sell used motorcycles. Buying from these have their pro's and con's like anything else. They're great for buying without having to worry about quality. Dealerships are less likely to sell you something that's going to fall apart instantly and often offer warrantee plans just in case they do fall apart. Plus, dealerships still offer financing for used bikes if you still need a little help buying. Of course, financing comes with its own negatives, which were mentioned in The Joys of Learning to Ride � Buying a Motorcycle New post.

Whenever buying from a dealership, it's important to know the value of the bike that you're trying to buy. Often times, dealerships get motorcycles for a super low price, polish them up and then price them at a much higher price. If you know how much that bike is actually worth, there's a good chance that you can negotiate with the dealer to drop it down a little. Don't be afraid to heckle.


No matter where you decide to look for a motorcycle, there is one final thing worth mentioning that can be the difference between you getting a deal and you getting ripped off. Patience. After watching the ads for a few weeks, one thing has become blatantly obvious. One day there can be a plethora of beautiful bikes for unbelievably low prices and then the next there's only the bottom of the barrel priced way higher than they're worth. Take you're time when you're shopping and don't jump on the first ride you see. Motorcycles are always being sold and you don't want to let impatience get the better of you. I haven't had the pleasure of shopping for a bike all year round, but I do hear that prices drop dramatically in the winter. If you can wait that long, you might be able to find a better deal as the clouds come out. Happy hunting!

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      Monday, July 25, 2011 11:11:19 AM
      James Ellsworth said:

I see you neglected 1 huge bit of information when buying a used motorcycle, and that's looking into registration and salvage title, and I'll throw in the only have bill of sale sell. 1) In California, while looking for my most recent purchase, I found over 70%% of bikes listed for sale, and this included craigslist, ALL had salvaged title, and more so the asking price was consistent with Kelly Blue Book high retail value, so be 100% clear in the price and condition you are looking for before dropping cash. 2) In any state you live in, NOT having valid title in your name can be considered an illegal transaction, costing you your money. Consider, you make that purchase being told, "I only have bill of sale from the guy I purchased from last year" to going to DMV and finding that bike has either 2-4 years unpaid registration attached, or even worse, flagged as 'stolen' or 'SALVAGED' not having a clean pink slip in hand with current registered owner name, don't walk away but RUN. Just wanted to add my 2 cents worth of knowledge.


      Monday, July 25, 2011 11:43:17 AM
      BikeBandit said:

You are very right James! Thanks for your input. It is extremely important to only buy a motorcycle if the seller has a clean title in hand. I don't know how I forgot to mention that.


      Monday, July 25, 2011 11:09:56 AM
      Joe H said:

As a previous owner of a Honda Rebel, I really hope you rethink your decision. It's like the Ford Into, unsafe at any speed. Seriously, it's a horrible bike and you will outgrow it in a couple of months.


      Monday, July 25, 2011 9:14:42 PM
      Don said:

i've had a couple of 1982 yamaha 650 maxims. great bike to start with, or something similar. gave to my son. he loves it, i got a 1982 goldwing.



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