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ADV Bikes8 Tips To Consider Before Buying a Used Adventure Motorcycle

8 Tips To Consider Before Buying a Used Adventure Motorcycle

Make sure she's really your dream bike and not somebody else's problems.

Published on 04.22.2016
buying a used motorcycle
A dependable used motorcycle is even more critical if you plan on traveling to the middle of nowhere.

Better weather is here and you are ready to find that bike that will take you on your dream adventure. Unfortunately, if that bike is new, its price tag may make the prospect of reaching your dream about as easy as bowling under water. So that shiny new adventure bike may have to wait.

But don’t worry! There are plenty of other options out there. Used motorcycles are a plenty in the spring months. So if you’re smart (and patient), you can still find that bike of your dreams at a good price that can reach the “back and beyond”, and maybe even beyond that.

Adventure Motorcycles Are Unique

Of course, you know this. The unique capabilities of adventure class motorcycles are what drew many of us to travel this way. The collected memories of lonely gravel roads, mountain passes, sand dunes, mud bogs, and others fill our heads, along with visions of future arbitrations we will have with Mother Earth. This can make buying a used adventure motorcycle a bit different than shopping for other types of motorcycles. ADV Bikes are used differently, so they need to be assessed differently.

buying a used motorcycle - Dual Sport
Motorcycles that travel off-road require more stringent maintenance and care than your typical street motorcycle.

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This article is intended to give you some insight into the process of buying a used motorcycle that will travel with you as long as you are willing to have it as a companion. It is not so much about getting the price you want, but knowing whether the specific motorcycle you are considering is a smart purchase. At last count, I have 30 motorcycle purchases in my history. Only 4 were new. So I’ve had the opportunity to see many types of used bikes, in varying levels of plight. From my experience, the following is a list of things to consider when buying a used motorcycle.

1. Mileage

Naturally, when buying a used motorcycle, mileage is going to be important. However, you should not look at mileage in a vacuum. There are many external factors that affect the meaning of “mileage” on a motorcycle. So this should be looked at more holistically.

For instance, the significance of mileage can be dictated by engine displacement and brand. A 250cc dual sport with 50,000 miles may not be in the prime of its life, while a 1200cc adventure class motorcycle may just be settling into its own at that mileage. Personally speaking, I had a small displacement thumper that was considered to be geriatric at 45,000 miles. But my BMW R1150GS was powering on like a Heisman Trophy winning half back at 225,000 miles. It is about the bike and the maintenance.

buying a used motorcycle mileage.
What is considered high mileage really depends on the model of the motorcycle.

The lesson? Know the bike you are looking at. Know its average longevity and evaluate accordingly. A good way to determine the expected longevity of a motorcycle is to look at its service intervals and what is included at those intervals. If you see components that need to be replaced at lower mileage service intervals, then you may want to be more sensitive to the mileage of a used motorcycle. Additionally, it is important that the previous owner adhered to those service intervals in a somewhat disciplined way. Buying a motorcycle from someone who thinks they know more than the manufacturer can be dangerous. They might actually know more. But when its my money on the table, I’m not going to take that bet.

2. Rubber Components and Bolts

Sellers can use all types of tricks to make their motorcycle look as good as new…almost. They can wash, polish, and wax their heart out, but there are still signs of potential neglect that would be very difficult to hide. The rubber components and bolts on a motorcycle are somewhat good indicators of whether the bike was truly garage-kept, the elements to which it may have been subjected, and the general way in which the bike was cared for by its owner. Look for mud and dirt in areas where it would be difficult to clean. Check for any splitting or flaking on hoses. And evaluate fading on areas like the instrument cluster, control switch housings, and foot pegs. This can be hidden with some Armor All, but not completely. So look closely.

3. Wheel and Tires

Wheels are another area where it is difficult to hide neglect. As wheels age, they become a great looking glass into the motorcycle’s history. Did the bike spend a lot of time outside? Was it in a corrosive environment? Was it kept clean? Is the owner(s) a “do-it-yourselfer”, working on the bike with whatever tools can do the job? Or is he/she more gentle and considerate when it comes to the maintenance of their motorcycle? These questions can often be answered by the wheels.

Many riders in the adventure motorcycling community are “function over form” people. So a scratch here and there is not an issue. But you are trying to push through the veneer of a seemingly great used motorcycle to see what is truly underneath. Wheels typically have a coating on them when new that is meant to protect them from the elements. Bikes that sit outside in extreme weather, or that are used in corrosive environments (such as coastal areas and other salty environments), can lose that coating. This will make the wheels dull and potentially discolored, or, if the wheels are chrome, tarnished. And it is difficult to fix. So beware of motorcycles that have lost this wheel coating, or motorcycles that have had the coating purposefully removed through buffing or polishing.

big ding in rim buying a used motorcycle
The condition of the wheels can tell you a lot about a used motorcycle. Check for dings in the wheel that may indicate the bike has been ridden hard off-road.

Tires can also reveal a good bit about an adventure motorcycle’s history. Their condition can give you some insight into how the motorcycle was used and how often it was ridden. Tires that are older can develop sidewall cracks and/or show signs of rot. If you see this, it may be important to find out how the motorcycle was stored. Was it winterized? Was the battery placed on a tender or removed? How old are the fluids? Motorcycles that are not stored properly can develop a plethora of mechanical and electrical issues; issues that may not show themselves right away.

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Author: Jim Vota
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Shad Morris
Shad Morris
November 29, 2016 6:15 am

I have always thought that it would be fun to get a motorcycle, and was curious about how you would go about buying one. It’s interesting that you should look at the rubber components and bolts to see the wear and tear of the vehicle. I would have never known that something like that can show how the vehicle was treated. http://kurtzkawasaki.com/category/motorcycles/

Tyler Meredith
Tyler Meredith
December 21, 2016 3:51 pm

I like what this article mentions about the tires on a motorcycle. It makes sense that you’d want to check the tires to make sure there is a lot of tread and that they are a good brand. It’s something I’ll have to remember because If I’m going to buy a motorcycle, I want to make sure I stay safe and good tires are essential for that.

Bernard Clyde
Bernard Clyde
March 27, 2017 10:59 am

I agree that mileage is an important thing to check when you are buying a new motorcycle. It’s important that you have a good idea of how much a bike has been used before you commit to buying it. You should have a good idea of how long you would like your motorcycle to last you depending on your needs. That way you can buy something that will meet your expectations.

activechamp06
activechamp06
May 26, 2017 12:26 am

This is exactly why I’m afraid to buy a used motorcycle.
Brand new is the only way to go for me.

Bar
Bar
June 28, 2017 7:53 am

I thought this was a really helpful article because I never knew what questions to ask when buying a motorcycle. Well I did know to ask what color I wanted. The best question it advised to ask was “How much time did the bike spend outside?”. I say this because when buying new or used it is a very useful question that opens the gate to most of the other questions. Now I feel confident in what kind of bike I want to buy.

Finley Moreira
Finley Moreira
June 28, 2017 9:09 am

I think you make a good point how it is important to use the wheels as a gauge as to the overall quality of a motorcycle. Like you said, it can provide good insight as to what type of care the bike has received in the past. I’ll be sure to utilize this tip in the future when I look for a motorcycle for myself.

Jim V.
Jim V.
September 17, 2017 5:55 am
Reply to  Finley Moreira

If a motorcycle was not cared for, it is fairly difficult for the owner to hide it. It’s important to get to know the model of motorcycle that you searching for. Get to know the details of it. That way, you will be able to see any irregularities that may exist.

lucygibson4113
lucygibson4113
September 16, 2017 11:12 am

I like your tip about how their’s no such thing as a dumb question. Asking why the motorcycle is being sold seems like a great question to ask. My husband is hoping to buy a bike at some point. I think he might feel more comfortable buying a used motorcycle from a trusted dealership. http://www.dallashd.com/used-harley-davidson-motorcycles-for-sale-texas–xPreOwnedInventory#page=xPreOwnedInventory

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