Used street bikes and what to look for

By: On: January 30th, 20110 Comments »Updated: October 14, 2012

used street bike for saleLow prices for used street bikes can tempt new riders into getting their first motorcycle.  But when looking at a used street bike, how do you evaluate it to be sure it is worth buying?

One cost most new riders overlook is the cost of motorcycle insurance rates for the specific model they want.  Sporty model names like Hayabusa or GSXR can result in higher insurance rates, especially for beginning riders.

Assuming you’ve already checked into motorcycle insurance costs ahead of time, you can proceed to the next step.  Here we provide motorcycle information tips for how to evaluate the condition of a used street bike.

Most of what to look for is mechanical.  It’s no secret that some riders really beat the heck out of their street bikes, especially from doing wheelies, burnouts, and all sorts of motorcycle stunts that most street bikes were not originally designed to do, at least not on a repetitive basis.

Typical wear items include the tires, brakes, chain and sprockets, and suspension.  We’ll go over each of these, but first, it is always a good idea to check the engine oil, the transmission oil and if liquid-cooled, don’t forget to look at the coolant and for signs of coolant leaks.

Check all the fluids:

motorcycle engine gasket leaking oil

When checking engine oil, see if it is really dirty and black (indicating it is probably over-due for an oil change and possibly indicating overall poor maintenance practices).  Also look at the oil and underneath the oil filler cap to see if there are any signs of a milky-looking froth or sludge.  On a liquid-cooled motorcycle, a milky brownish froth would indicate coolant is getting into the crankcase oil – probably a blown head gasket or maybe even a cracked head or cylinder.

Take a look at the coolant in the radiator to see if it is really dirty looking and also to see if any milky sludge if forming underneath the cap.  motorcycle coolant leakOil can sometimes leak into the coolant in the case of a bad gasket or crack somewhere in the engine.

Usually there is not an easy way to check the condition of the transmission oil, and usually nothing goes wrong with it except for metallic debris and degradation of the oil due to too many miles between changes.

If you have the opportunity to drain the transmission oil before buying the bike, it would be nice to see how many metallic particles are on the drain plug if it happens to have a magnet built into the plug.  An excessive amount of metal particles in the transmission oil could indicate a lot of wear, although a very small amount may be considered normal wear.

dirty motorcycle oilCheck the tires and brakes:

Tires do not last long on motorcycles. Some may be only good for 3000 miles and others maybe up to 10000 miles.  A lot has to do with how the motorcycle is ridden and what the tread compound is.  Some sporty tread compounds are very soft and wear fairly quickly.  Another thing about motorcycles tires is that they are generally as expensive as, and often more expensive than car tires.  Having new tires mounted and balanced is not cheap either, so keep that in mind as you negotiate the price of a used motorcycle.

motorcycle rear disc brakeLook for signs of strange or uneven wear patterns.  Often the exact middle of the tire is not what wears out, but instead just slightly to the left of the center as you are sitting on the bike.  This has to do with the shape of the crown of roads and is fairly normal to see.

Brakes are a normal wear item.  Expect them to be worn, but you should not see big concentric grooves worn in the discs.  If you see some grooves that are concentric with the axle, that could be wear resulting from using pads that are worn down to the rivets.  You’ll probably not have much stopping power and they probably will be very squeaky or make a slight grinding noise when you test-ride the bike.

Check the chain and sprockets:

The chain and sprockets on motorcycles are normal wear items. The chain will actually stretch over the years as more and more miles are put on it. The teeth on the sprockets will become wave-shaped as they wear.  The tips of the teeth will also get sharper and narrower with wear.  If you see this type of wear, you know they must be replaced.  The chain should be lubricated, but not dripping with oil, and not packed with dirty grease.  It should be clean looking, but also have some lubrication on it.  Rust is never a good sign when it comes to chain and sprockets, but is is the sloppiness of the chain and the worn sprocket teeth that you are looking for

There are many other things to look for when evaluating a used street bike for potential purchase.  If you have friends that know a lot about motorcycles, bring them with you.  If you have the chance to bring it to a motorcycle mechanic before committing to buy it, then do so.  A few bucks invested up front might save you thousands later, and might also give you some negotiating power too.

About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotorcycleInfo.Org. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding his Moto Guzzi in charity rides and serves as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for an annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

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