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Motorcycle Buying TIP's

If you're buying new motorcycles or even if you've owned a few, you might find this information helpful.

Buying pre-owned or salvage rebuilt? (nothing wrong with buying a salvage rebuilt, just be cautious and expect to pay less!) There are some key things you want to inspect before you decide to buy any motorcycle and most of these are easily over looked.

1. Look for ANY Scratches

There are normal wear and tear scratches and there are scratches that tell a story. If the ends of the handle bars are scratched, 9 times out of 10 the bike has seen the pavement. Look for anything on the side case covers, ends of foot pegs, mirrors, turn signals, etc. If you found foot pegs and/or handle bars scratched, and the bike has fairings, if it’s not obvious on the fairing, look behind it. Engine side case covers are often easily cracked just from dropping a motorcycle. I've seen where some guys have tried to throw a quick patch on one to get ride of it. Not a big deal, but they can be expensive so make sure the sale price is adjusted accordingly.

What’s a normal scratch? Maybe on the fuel tank where a belt buckle would be…etc.

What if the bike has damage from being on its side? Well, then you've got a big bargaining chip if you still want it!

2. Check the Bike’s Alignment

Turn the handle bars and align the front wheel to what appears to be perfectly straight and inline with the rear wheel. Observe the bike from both front and rear standing about 20-30 feet back. Look at the bike from the ground up and take interest on anything that isn't perfectly linear and/or symmetrical. Draw an imaginary vertical line down the center of the bike and take notice if anything is not in-line. Does the center of the wheels align with the center of the body work? Look down the bike's chain or belt and take note of any misalignment from the rear sprocket to the front sprocket. Also check the teeth or edge of the belt for excessive wear (rounding of the sprocket teeth or edge of belt damaged from rubbing). If you find that the bike wheels don't align perfectly with the bars in the straight forward position, this could mean a lot of things. Here are some examples:
Frame is bent
Forks are bent
Forks are twisted in the triple clamps
Wheel is bent
Axle is bent
Handle bars are bent
Rear wheel isn’t aligned properly in the swing arm

What if the bike doesn't appear to be straight? Well – just how bent is it? Is it obvious? If a bike doesn't track straight it makes a huge difference on handling. If you really like the bike, tell the owner to get it checked out and fixed before you buy it.

3. Check the suspension

Sit on the bike stand it upright on just the 2 wheels off of the kick stand, hold the front brake on and bounce on the seat a few times. Listen for any squeaking (squeaks usually indicate worn out bushings in the suspension linkage or possibly a bad shock). Also take notice if the bike is bouncing or if it's just absorbing the force you are putting into it. If it bounces, a shock may be damaged and/or out of oil. Next, holding the front brake on still, press on the handle bars to make the front suspension move up and down and observe all of the same points noted previously. If the front suspension doesn't move freely, there might something wrong with it. For example: bent fork, damaged internal components, etc.

What if the suspension has issues? This is a good bargaining chip but can also be costly to fix. Most suspension parts are cheap unless you are replacing an entire shock. The cost is all in labor. Lots of work to change bad swing arm bushings.

4. How does it run?

Before you hit that starter, check the oil. Make sure it has oil, it's at the right level, and take notice on how clean it looks. New oil has a distinctive look to it; check if the oil has any particles in it or is black. Question when it was last changed. Next – if accessible and if the bike is water cooled, check the coolant level. Unscrew the radiator cap and make sure the radiator is full with clean looking radiator fluid.
OK – now you can start the bike. Put the kick stand up. If the bike is carbureted and the engine is cold, flip the choke on all the way, don't touch the throttle and hit the starter. If the bike doesn't start right away or the owner cautions you on not using the choke and using the throttle instead, then its likely that the carburetor has got some issues (needs cleaned, needs adjusted, etc.) If the bike is fuel injected, all you should have to do is push the starter button and it should start right up (don’t touch the throttle).

Once the bike starts, and the choke is on or the bike is cold, the engine should go to a high idle around 1500-2000 RPM. When the engine is warm after about 2 minutes, shut the choke off and it should go immediately to idle (usually around 800-1000RPM). If RPM sky rockets to high RPM's and wants to stay, there’s likely an issue with the carburetor. From the time the engine starts till it reaches normal operating temperature, listen for any clicking, chattering or knocking. All of which usually indicates internal problems with the engine. If the engine appears to be making odd noises, roll the throttle open and closed to confirm the noise increases with the RPM's of the engine (if it doesn't is might just be something on the bike loose).

Transmission. With the motorcycle running, pull in the clutch, hold the front brake on and drop the bike into first gear. Does it go into gear easy, hard, or is it noisy. Did the bike stall? – if it stalled, then either the clutch is out of adjustment or is worn out). Slowly let the clutch out a little to observe if the clutch wants to move the bike. Holding the front brake with no addition of throttle; let the clutch out all the way and pay attention to the engine. If working right, it should stall immediately. If it doesn’t stall but just slows the engine; the clutch is possibly out of adjustment, but likely worn out. Re-start the bike and click the shifter back into neutral and notice if it goes easily or at all. Next, go for a test ride and be sure to shift through all gears. Make sure the transmission goes into all of the gears with ease.

What if the bike doesn't run right? We'll if it just appears to be the carburetor, then it might not be a real big deal, but carb cleaning and tuning is all labor, so it can add up quick. If the bike has any other issues with running, then its internal engine/transmission issues and lots of labor as well. You might want to pass on the buy.

5. Check functionality

With the motorcycle started, check to see if all turn signals work, brake light works, head light works, and gauges work. Also, with the motorcycle running, check to see if the kick stand safety shut off switch works (start the bike, with kick stand out, pull the clutch in, drop into gear, and let the clutch out as if you’re going to ride off – should stall immediately).

Issues with functionality? Most electrically functional things on motorcycles are pretty easy to fix, so these are really good bargaining chips. But be careful, they can still add up to a lot of labor if you get the wrong place working on it.

Other things to look at:

  • Chain and sprocket wear. A chain will usually need replaced after about 10-15,000 miles of normal use and maintenance (keeping it lubricated). You'll know it's worn if the chain adjuster on the rear wheel has no further adjustment and the chain is still loose. When the chain stretches it wears the sprockets out with it. It is standard to replace both chain and sprockets at the same time.
  • Suspension oils usually need replacing at about 10,000 miles of normal use. Biggest factor here is not so much that the oil actually breaks down on a molecular level but just gets dirty from picking up dirt that makes it past the seals on the tubes. The dirt in the oil will cause poor performance of the oil in the shock and will damage the seals causing them to leak.
  • Check that all header pipes coming out of the engine are in fact getting hot and at the same temperature. Quick indication that something is wrong (fouled plug, clogged carburetor or injector, etc.)
  • Does the exhaust pop and let out big bangs when letting off the throttle from high RPM's? This is usually caused when the engine gets too much gas. The carbs aren't jetted right (jets are too big) or the fuel map is set too rich.
  • If the header pipes get red hot, the engine is running too lean. The jet size needs bumped up or the fuel map needs tweaked.
  • Transmission falls out of gear or doesn't want to go into gear. This is often a bent shift fork or damaged fork shift barrel. This is major surgery usually, very labor intensive, parts are cheap.
  • Check the bike's dimensions. If the wheel base is supposed to be 55.5 inches, make sure it is. Look for tell tale signs of things like the front wheel being excessively close to the lower fairing. Frame could be bent, forks could be bent, etc.
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