When you’re looking for a used motorcycle, do some research and have a few bikes in mind that you’re interested in buying. So you don’t get stuck with a lemon, go through this short checklist and ask the owner questions when checking out the bike:
Does the bike have a title? Also make sure the Vehicle Identification Number on the bike matches the VIN on the title. On most bikes, the engine and frame numbers should match. If they don’t, have the owner explain why not. It could be that the original motor blew up and the motor was changed. (Or all the parts are stolen except the frame!)
Elevate the bike with a centerstand if the bike has one and check a few parts. For instance, tug on the front forks, and try moving the wheels from side to side. This allows you to check for bearings that are worn out. Do the same for the rear wheel to see if there’s any play in the swingarm or wheel, which also would indicate worn-out bearings.
Ask how often maintenance work was done and when. To verify, ask to see service records.
Check the brake fluid, air filter, and oil to see if they’re clean. If not, the bike hasn’t been routinely maintained.
Look for oil leaks. If the head gasket is leaking, it could be an expensive fix.
Make sure the lights, turn signals, and horn work. If they don’t, there could be a short in the system that could be time consuming to trace and fix.
Check the throttle and clutch cables for binding. Binding can be dangerous but is usually fixable by rerouting the cables or replacing them.
If the bike has been repainted, ask whether it was in a crash. Look for gouges, dents, or cracks in the frame and swingarm. A bent frame will cause handling problems. A cracked frame could break.
Ask if the bike was raced. A race bike can suffer abuse. If raced, ask when the motor was last rebuilt and what was done to it.
Start the bike. Watch for smoke from the exhaust and listen for unusual sounds from the motor.
When you find something wrong with the bike, you should be able to offer less than the asking price. And don’t pay a lot of money for a bike that has been raced unless you want to race, and it has top-shelf parts.