Different approaches to buying a used bike are required depending on the age of the bike. INFO MOTO’s tame mechanic, Spannerman, has been there, seen that…

The age and distance travelled by a used bike make a big difference in how you check out its suitability. The edges of these categories below are, of course, very blurry and prone to overlapping but what follows will set you on the right track.

Spannerman four ages of used bikes

New Age

Web motorcycle sales sites like Bikesales are peppered with second-hand bikes less than four years old that have travelled less than 15,000km. Reasons for selling include problems with finance (the owner either can’t or is sick of keeping up the repayments), lack of use (the bike’s a tourer and it finally dawns on the owner that he only gets three weeks holiday each year), lack of suitability (the ‘Wing really is as heavy as it looks) and change of lifestyle (the new girlfriend hates it and the owner needs the money to buy water-skis and a speedboat).

A New Age bike should have a complete and detailed service history. You should, if you want to, be able to check the history and condition of the bike with the service outlet named on the service booklet. Just give them a call – they’ll confirm the service record and most will be happy to tell you if the owner has looked after the bike.

New Age bikes are less likely to have been seriously crashed (less time on the road) but it’s the one major thing you need to check. Insurance companies will contemplate $14,000 of repairs on a bike that it would otherwise have to fork out 25 grand on but major crash repairs send up all sorts of red flags.

Spannerman four ages of used bike

Most of the normal wear items will still be in good shape (brake rotors, drive sprockets and the like) and the bike will probably have plenty of tread left on what will be its second or possibly third set of tyres.

You would expect a bike in this category to have a showroom shine, no dints or major scratches and it should present pretty-much as new.

Most of the work you’ll have to do won’t be mechanical checks – it will be legal checks to establish ownership and whether the bike is still on finance.

One little tip: the sales docket may tell you the bike was sold in May, 2019. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a 2019 year-model bike. Check the manufacture date on the compliance plate itself. It makes no difference to the mechanical condition of the bike but if it was manufactured in 2018, you’ll get less for it when you resell it.

Spannerman four ages of used bike

Mature Age

In all likelihood, bikes from five to 15 years old with less than 50,000km on them will still be in very good condition. Modern engine design allows for very good service life if the owner(s) adhere to the service schedule. Again, for the price you’ll be expected to pay, it isn’t unreasonable to ask to see at least some of this in writing. There’s great comfort to be had in seeing a stamped service book with all the boxes ticked.

Assuming the engine oil is clean, there aren’t any abnormal oil leaks and the engine/transmission isn’t making any unusual noises, your focus should shift to the consumables: tyres, brakes and drivetrain. A bike can still look very presentable but have myriad hidden costs, most of which will be roadworthy-related.

Spannerman four ages of used bike

As an example, a clean, 2006 Suzuki GSX750F might seem like good value at $4000 but if you want to keep it original and it needs new disc rotors and pads front and back ($1240), a new chain and sprockets ($730) and new tyres ($500), you’re suddenly adding around $2500 to the price before you can get it on the road.

Also worth checking are the front fork seals and rear damper seals. As with all second-hand bikes, check for signs of crash damage.

Spannerman used bike collection

Feral Age

Bikes aged from 15 to 25 years offer the most challenges for second-hand buyers. Their mileage will be hard to determine (speedo has been replaced/disconnected/broken) and they are likely to have had half-a-dozen owners, meaning any written service records will have long disappeared along with the owners manual and the original tool kit. Many bikes reach the end of their road during this age.

A 20 year-old bike will have, on average, travelled around 100,000km and possibly more. This means wear in the engine needs to be checked. If it’s possible, a compression test will give you the most useful information. If it’s not possible, put your hands on the exhaust headers from a cold start and see if they heat up at the same rate. Be careful here as headers can go from warm to burning hot in very short order. Check for oil leaks from major engine seals and around the cam cover, head gasket and cylinder base gasket. Oil leaks are best checked for after the test ride when the engine is at its normal operating temperature.

used bike

Oh, the oil should be clean as well. Although it’s easy to disguise this by changing the oil just before the bike goes on the market, a surprising number of owners don’t do it. Black, tacky, thick oil in the engine is an indication that the previous owner gave up caring long ago.

Are the spark plugs new? New plugs can disguise engine faults for a short period.

Also check all the things mentioned in the “Mature Age” section.

One more tip: complete bodywork is a real plus. Tanks, guards, fairing panels, sidecovers and ducktails can be a nightmare to locate for some older models. Complete bodywork also hints at less crashes and some care from the previous owners.

Spannerman used bike

Stone Age

Surprisingly, many bikes that survive the Feral Age are re-born in the Stone Age (25 years-plus). They’ve survived and have often received enough love to ensure a longer-term future. You might buy a Stone Age bike because you’re a nostalgic enthusiast. It could be to restore it yourself or to do some leisure riding on a bike you’ve always admired that someone else has fixed up. We’re not talking show bikes here but “practical restorations” where the bike looks good and is operationally functional.

You need to talk extensively to the owner and the more information he has on the bike, the better. Presuming the parts are available, an engine rebore and head recondition on a straight, clean, older bike could make economic sense. With luck, the existing owner did it 12 months ago.

Take note that it is almost always cheaper (and usually much cheaper) to buy a functional, running, complete bike that just needs some TLC (for example, a single-cam Honda 750/4) than it is to buy a wreck and get it to that condition yourself.

Let the hunt begin…

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Amanda Carter
Amanda Carter
3 years ago

Good advice Geoff

Amanda Carter
Amanda Carter
3 years ago