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Guide To Buying A Used Motorbike


Buying any vehicle is not a process to be taken lightly as there are many different things to consider. If you are thinking of buying a motorbike either privately or from a dealer take the time to read our guide and follow our step by step advice so that you get the best bike possible without being left with a disappointing dud.


NEVER buy the first motorbike you see. It is likely that you have heard this many times but it is sound advice. It is always better to see a selection of bikes so that you can compare one against another and find the best deal.


Once you have decided which motorbike you want to buy you need to allocate a fair amount of time to researching that particular make and model. Look online, read magazines and look at the classified ads to see what price your target bike is likely to sell for. This will give you a good indication as to what you might expect to pay for it.


If you are not an expert on motorcycles or very mechanically minded then take along someone who is when you go to see the bike(s) you are interested in buying. Not only can they advise you in terms of the condition of the bike but they can also help you to be objective about whether the bike is suitable for you. If you do not know anyone experienced in motorbikes, you can pay for the bike to be inspected by a professional. This service is provided by both the RAC and the AA and if you are not an experienced rider it is a great way of knowing if you are looking at a mechanically sound vehicle.


It is very important when buying a motorbike to make sure that it has the appropriate legal documentation to go with it. Make sure that the seller has the following to hand when you go and see the bike and be wary of buying it if the seller has not got the following documentation:

  • Log book (V5)
  • MOT certificate – a motorbike must pass an annual MOT test after reaching three years of age
  • Service booklet
  • Log book – Make sure the log book is genuine by holding it up to the light to see the watermark; check that the frame and engine numbers match; check to see if the colour of the bike and the one stated in the log book match; and check that the name and address on the log book is correct.

Of course there may be a genuine reason for any of the above documents to be missing when you go and see the bike. If you feel uncomfortable about any of these then do not buy the bike. Additionally, if you discover that any work has been done on the bike (e.g. re-spray, replacement parts), ask to see the relevant records.


Earlier in the guide we recommended that if you are looking to buy a motorbike and you are not mechanically minded, take along someone who is. The main reason for this is so that you can assess the mechanical state of the vehicle and this may be difficult to the untrained eye. Here are some key areas to consider:


  • Look for deep scratches on engine cases and all over the vehicle.
  • Check for different shades of paint or paint that doesn’t quite match (the bike may have been repainted to hide damage).
  • Look for metal damage or deep scratches on the handlebars or clutch and brake levers.
  • Look for dents on the fuel tank and dents or scratches on the exhaust pipe.
  • Check for twisted or bent front forks.


  • Place the bike in neutral and roll the bike forward slowly and engage the front brake.The brake should smoothly engage. Release the brake and roll the bike gently. Has the brake disengaged? Are the brakes sticking? If so,there may be a problem.
  • Engage the brake and try to roll the bike forwards. The brakes should prevent the front wheel from moving.
  • If you pull the front brake lever all the way back with little resistance, something is usually very wrong.
  • Check the thickness of the brake pads – there should be at least one-eigth of an inch (3mm) left on each brake pad.
  • If you have any doubts, get a professional mechanic to inspect the brakes before taking a test ride.
  • To test the rear brakes, roll the bike forwards and engage the rear brake. It should engage smoothly.
  • Check the colour of the brake fluid. It should be a light amber colour. A darker colour means the brake fluid needs replacing.


  • Ask the seller when the clutch was last changed. If the seller does not know this could be a worrying sign.
  • When you pull the clutch, look for a smooth engagement. Abrupt or staggered engagements are usually signs of a worn clutch cable.
  • If the clutch is a hydraulic system, check the fluid colour. It should be a bright amber colour.


  • Ask the seller how long the current tyres have been on the bike or how long it will be before they will need changing. If the owner knows this is often a good sign that the bike has been looked after and well maintained.
  • Inspect the tread. Are the tyres worn? Can you see any fine cracks? Are there bald sections?
  • Remember that tyres are one of the most important parts on your bike – they keep you and the bike connected to the road. You cannot carry a spare. Good quality tyres are not cheap; always get the best that you can afford and change them every year or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. They can be a life saver.


  • Ask the owner when the fork seals were last changed.
  • A good way to test the state of the suspension is to get on the bike, hold the front brake and push down hard on the front forks. They should go down and come back up with some resistance. Repeat this a few times.
  • You can do the same check on the rear suspension. Remember that the suspension should come back up with some resistance. If you cannot feel any resistance then it is likely that the rear shock absorbers are worn and need replacing.


  • It is a common problem that bikes have their chain set too tightly and this can make the chain deteriorate faster. Get a friend to sit on the bike and check the slack on the chain. It should have an inch (25mm) or more “play” in the middle part of the chain.
  • Sprocket teeth should be straight and symmetrical. It is a sign of wear on the sprocket teeth is if they are hooked rather than straight.
  • If the bike has a centre stand, put the bike in neutral and slowly spin the rear wheel (by hand) and inspect the condition of the chain.


  • Look and listen for holes in the exhaust.
  • A little bit of rust on the exhaust pipe is usually nothing to worry too much about (apart from aesthetically) but for older bikes and bikes with more rust, this could lead to holes in the exhaust.


  • Once the bike is yours get a professional to have a look over it and perform a full service. A professional mechanic can then give you advice as to whether anything needs replacing and if the bike is safe to ride. Get the bike insured. Never ride a motorbike without motorcycle insurance.
  • Ride carefully and take the time to learn about your new motorbike and respect the bike’s power no matter how experienced a rider you are.
  • Enjoy your riding!

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