Motor Cycle Monthly – the UK’s biggest bike monthly, and FREE In dealers, clubs and biker cafes – asked its Reader Panel for their best bike buying advice. Here’s what they had to say, but why not add your opinions at the bottom of the page too?! The May 2014 issue of MCM will have a great feature helping you to get the best deal, whether you’re buying a bike on eBay, from a dealer, through an auction or even a damaged-repairable.
Be prepared to walk away. You have made up your mind which bike you want, you have spent ages trawling the classified ads and searching the internet and you have finally found one that appears to be the one for you. However, when you see the bike and meet the seller something doesn’t seem to be quite right. If you are not 100% satisfied then be prepared to walk away and keep looking. Buying a dodgy bike can end up costing you a lot of grief, and money.
Martin Vick, Luton
Take a friend along to stop you from making an on-the-spot decision you might later regret.
Duncan Moore, Sevenoaks
Only one rule, take a mate who knows about bikes, even if you know as much as each other, it helps to prevent an impulse buy, and he might remember to look at something you had forgotten.
Look for any scratches and scrapes on the levers, foot rests,silencers,mirrors,indicators this is usually is a fair indication of how the bikes been treated
Mel Stirk, New forest
After all the obvious checks, on a used bike, ask if you can wash and polish. Any objection from the seller suggests something to hide. If you get to clean the bike as your own you will spot even the tiniest of scratches, all those stone chips, rust spots on the chrome that will not shift, rounded bolt heads, you know the rest. Close inspection of fork stanchions, checking for stone chips, even a scratch can damage a seal and of course check for leaks. After a test ride let the bike stand while you have a cup of tea, then inspect the ground under the bike and bike for any fluid leaks. Look and finish are everything.
Terry Peterson, Birkenhead
Research goes a long way. There are many online forums and owner’s groups, all full of questions about every kind of niggle people have had with their bike. Google the seller and bike, to see what they’ve posted in the past, find out what problems they’ve had, if they’re hiding anything and whether issues were resolved properly or just bodged prior to sale. Many use the same username and will post the same advert on different sites, making your search dead easy. Also look up a bike’s MOT history on the Gov.uk website, you only need bike reg, a past MOT test number or V5C ref. You’ll see if it sailed through past MOT’s or failed every year. You’ll also see how mileage increased over past years, giving you a clue if it’s genuine or if the bike has been sat unused for ages.
Arthur Yarwood, London
First impressions count. Does the seller seem honest, or is he selling it on behalf of his retired vicar father in law? Hmmmm, take any too-good-to-be-true stories with a pinch of salt.
Martin Jones, Stourbridge
Don’t rush into buying the “bargain” you’ve found. Take your time and if in doubt, walk away. It is invariably better to pay a little more for a minter.
Stan Tollerton, Stourbridge
For me, Buying from a good main dealer with a full MOT, Warranty & Services they offer saves you 75% of the hassle. However it’s nice to have not been too greedy and sold your old bike for a sensible price quickly, so you get to go to a dealer with cash & no part X. Worked out £400 better off for me last year.”
Mark Salt, North Wales
Decide which bike YOU want (not what your mates think you should have). Do your homework (read ALL about it). Go and look at one and test ride it/one if you can. If it’s what you want then and only then haggle and deal for all your worth and don’t be afraid to walk away.
Tim Peacock, Pickering
Always take a mate with you! If you’re viewing a bike you’ve lusted after for some time you might be blinded by your desire. A mate can look at the bits you’re not paying attention to, and bring you back down to earth. Good advice can save you from yourself.
Shane O’Hara, Wolverhampton
If it’s your first choice of bike, if it’s local, if the colour’s your favourite, if the price is right then you better buy it quick before someone else does. You should believe in omens and grasp your destiny, I did and have had the same Triumph Sprint for 16 years.
Chris Pryke, Southminster
Always try and take a friend with you. They can check things that you might miss. Also have a check list and work through it i.e. do the frame and engine numbers tally.
Michael Harris, Driffield
Research the bike you are looking for to find out about known problems; how long do tyres last; mpg; insurance etc. Then search for that bike & try & get it as cheap as possible.
Peter Laing, Stockton-on-Tees
Unless the used bike you are buying is a low-mileage, one-owner machine, parked in a pristine, centrally-heated garage with all its paperwork intact and correct, accept that you are almost certainly going to have some “issues”, and budget accordingly. Spending two weeks combing through on-line owners’ forums and blogs is the best homework you will ever do.
Tony Griffiths, Buxton
Take the time to check the bike’s history from available documentation – has it been serviced regularly? I am always keen to know if oil changes have been performed, whether at a dealership or at home. Most owners that look after their bikes themselves tend to keep receipts for service items & consumables. Even if you only have access to previous MOT certificates you can form a picture of the life the bike has lead. Also, if possible, take it for a quick ride – down the end of the road & back is normally sufficient, if it feels good it probably is.
Nigel McMahon, Isle of Wight
Don’t just look at the bike, but also look at the owner and the surroundings that the bike is kept in. Also don’t be afraid to ask searching questions, as you are buying a bike and not making a friend.
Peter Dulson, Exmouth
The reason for selling is always helpful – the guy I bought mine from was selling as he’d bought another Ducati so it was nice to know I’d bought from a private individual who actually did cherish his bike – he provided all the service history and was always responsive to any questions prior to the collection – I personally wouldn’t buy from anyone that buys and sells bikes as a side line – private individual selling for good reason or an authorised dealer would be my advice.
Julie Duke, Doncaster
If you are not sure of what you are doing or not mechanically minded, then always take a friend along who is. You can then spend your time asking lots of searching questions of the seller whilst your friend gets left alone to give the bike a thorough check over!
Paul Collyer, Telford
If it’s been cared for on the outside, there’s a good chance it’s been looked after on the inside.
Nigel Johnson, Cannock
Before I went to view the bike I would ring and ask what he would want from me (docs, licence, insurance, ID etc), for me to be able to have a short test ride if I like the bike. I’d also ask for the reg number so I could do an HPI check before I go. I don’t just look at one thing when buying a bike. If it’s a private sale I’ll have done a bit of research about which bike I’m looking for. I start by looking at the person and where they live. Are they tidy, is their house/garage tidy/organised. On the bike, is it clean, tidy, no gasket goo all over, wiring untidy/loose, scratches/touched up paint. Are the tyres ok, any rust? Then I’ll ask for the V5, glance over it, am I happy with it, how many owners did he say it had had, is it confirmed on the document. Look at the frame number and VIN plate, are they original and good, are they exactly the same as the V5 and the HPI doc? Any service history, who carried out the work, MOT docs to confirm mileage? Then I would ask to hear it running. Start ok, no rattles. Sit on the bike, does it feel ok for me. Back to the test ride. If I’m happy with all that and the price is good, I wouldn’t bother to haggle. If there are issues with the bike but it’s basically ok, then I would haggle. Yes its a lot, but then I’ve never bought a pup, or a bike that’s been stolen or written off etc.
Stef Akam, Beverley
Look over the bike for faults or damage, then offer the seller less money, explaining the defects and how much the faults will cost to fix. This works well for me – never pay the asking price unless it’s perfect!
Richard Powell, Tring
First impressions. A dirty place with old bikes and bits about means trouble. Do your research, learn what the bike looked like from new, missing decals and odd mirrors. After market indicators. WHY?! Has it travelled more on its side than on its wheels?
Tony Izatt, Dagenham
Have a good idea what type and make you’re looking for and set a budget that allows for any work to get it how you want it. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so do not let your heart rule your head. Do your research so you do not end up buying a bike you regret owning.
Christine Colley, Wolverhampton
Don’t hurry, take your time to check the bike and the paper work, ask lot’s of questions, and when you don’t get an answer, ask again in an other way. When the hair on your neck stands up its time to go with your money in your pocket.
Jan Oudman, Formby
Take someone with you who can make an unbiased decision on the bike and check its history while you barter with the seller.
Colin Chatt, Bootle
Take your time, look at lots of bikes. You won’t miss a once in a lifetime bargain as there will be another one along in a weeks time.
Marcus Webb, Bedford
One of the things I look for is where the bike is kept. A nice tidy garage, cleaning materials, top-up oil & chain lube are all good evidence that the bike has been cared for. Checking to see if the bike is bent without riding it is difficult, however checking the frame number on the head stock is the first place I would look. Any signs of damaged paint on the welds in this area could be a twisted/bent frame.
Graham Holt, Glastonbury
Stay calm and never buy on the spot, give yourself overnight to think about it. If you miss a bike because of that, well there are lots out there and another will be along soon – probably the one that was meant for you.
Simon Francis, Ipswich
I once bought a bike without a test ride. Never again. Within the first 50 yards I hated it! As soon as I got the bike home it was for sale on the internet. I even made a loss when I sold it. You must get a test ride.
David Lloyd, Dolgellau
Make a list of things to check and go through each one in turn, suspension, steering, wheel bearings etc. If you find anything during checking it can be used to decline the sale or as haggling points. When replying to adverts just ask for some “info about the bike for sale”, don’t mention what bike. This will rule out potential part time dealers. Check carefully frame and engine numbers, preferably against recently seen models from the same manufacturer. If the seller is unhappy with this, point out they have been misled when they bought it.
Ron Still, Hornchurch
Make sure all the retainers are in place, missing retainers means either a lack of care or they have been used often. Check the service history.
Doug Lord, Stevenage
Always take a big mate with you to keep things in check, Always meet at seller’s address and check it matches documents, always look at more than one, assume seller is hiding something, never buy unseen, have cash and start offers low… you never know… Be realistic in your expectations… If price is too good to be true then it usually is… Buy unlisted low speed damaged bikes and spend hours of endless fun searching for parts on auction sites… it’s not always cheapest option but it is satisfying when it passes the MOT and you’ve rescued something…
Stephen Hill, Welwyn Garden City
Lift the seat and check the frame for rust, overspray etc – often a forgotten area. Also you can see whether the electrics are in a good state.
Neville Agnew, Beckenham
Make sure the V5 is present and check details against bike. Look at the service and MOT history. No details available then walk away. Start it from cold – if it’s already warmed up, worry! Check levels and state of oil for mayonnaise due to cooling/head gasket problems. Do a full run through of gears, equipment etc. Don’t expect a test ride without handing over the full value and proving you are insured to cover his/her bike if you bin it. Look at lock stops for damage. Chat to the owner and make sure your impressions are considered – is the person likely to be dishonest? Be realistic and do an HPI check or equivalent if it’s appropriate. If its newish then overspray really matters. If its 15+ years old, like my last purchase, then be realistic – it will be likely to have age appropriate wear. If you are not competent, take someone that is. If you are not sure, walk away – there are usually plenty of other choices. If you want it, know a sensible price and offer it. Don’t offer more than it’s worth. If the starting price is daft, don’t expect to do a deal – find out if the owner will listen to sensible offers first.
Always let the bike warm up to running temperature, I once bought a Suzuki that developed a cam follower knock when it warmed up, when it was cold it sounded fine.
John Dewsbury, Dukinfield
Check out the person as much as the bike. First contact by phone, do they withhold their number?
Wynn Morris, Knighton
Look for touched-up paint work on engine and frame. Is it smooth or is there underlying corrosion?
Roger Nicholls, Bury
Check for corrosion, specifically within the engine surrounds. It will tell you loads about how the bike has or has not been cared for.
Simon Ripley, Sidcup
I normally look at the general appearance, state of tyre’s/wear pattern, state of chain/sprockets, state and smell of oil, are the wheels inline?, what the engine sounds like on a cold start up. A short ride will establish gearbox faults etc. I do not trust service records or smart owner’s comments. I normally ask what is their bottom line as a starting point for haggling.
Roger Heywood, Barnstaple
Assess the seller as much as the bike. If the seller is hiding info in answers to questions the bike will also be hiding things.
Dave Francis, Wolverhampton
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