Riding a two-wheeler has always been synonymous with the outlaw spirit and the freedom to skip town, enjoy the open road, and escape the shackles of a boring desk job. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all bikers are gang members and uneducated rednecks with long beards.
Today’s riders consist of a diverse pool of personalities that encompasses everyone from brand loyalists to couples of retirement age. And then there are the newbies. If you’re buying a motorcycle for the first time, things can get a little confusing, and you’re going to need help picking the right leather, rubber, and metal.
The following guide tells you everything you need to know to choose the right motorcycle that fits your style.
How to Buy a Motorcycle — The Essentials
Experienced bikers will tell you that buying a two-wheeler is nothing like buying a car, for example. The millions of Americans who buy cars every year aren’t thinking about the same things as someone who is buying a bike, and they generally don’t have to look far for a good deal. Here are a few basic things you need to consider when buying your first motorcycle.
Choosing the Right Type
It goes without saying that you need to learn how to be constantly vigilant about road conditions and other drivers before you can choose the right bike. When making your pick, you should find a motorcycle that’s affordable, easy to ride, and has a suitable design.
It’s also important to consider what you plan to use the bike for and your level of experience with riding.
Here’s a general breakdown of the different bikes available:
These general-purpose bikes combine an upright seating position with a handlebar that’s placed at a comfortable distance from the rider. As a first–time motorcycle buyer, you should know that these are probably the best option for beginners and everyday commuters who are looking for inexpensive offers. Some of the most popular models in this category are the Suzuki SV650 and the Honda Nighthawk.
These bikes are built for longer commutes and typically come with saddlebags and fairings to block the wind. They have large fuel tanks and a comfy seat for a relaxing riding position. These are a great option if you’re into continent-cross touring. However, if you just want something to get around town, a touring bike isn’t the way to go.
If you’re buying a motorcycle for the first time and looking for something from this category, chances are, you’ll come across BMW R 1200 GS and Honda Gold Wing models, as they are among the most popular and trustworthy tour bikes.
The first brand that comes to mind when we’re talking about cruisers and classic American aesthetics is Harley-Davidson. The soft and comfortable suspension, laid-back riding position, and the soul-satisfying rumble of its V-twin engines are hard to beat. These bikes are usually on the heavier side and often weigh more than 500lbs, making them somewhat intimidating for new bikers. If you plan to buy your first motorcycle from this category, just remember that some of the models are more suitable for taller and bulkier individuals.
Some of the more prominent names in the cruiser category include Yamaha V Star 1300 and the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide.
These are high-performance street machines that are great for those who are constantly chasing their next adrenaline rush. The bikes have fairings that reduce the aerodynamic drag, powerful engines, and a forward-leaning riding position.
Buying a street bike from this category makes sense for experienced riders who are comfortable managing acceleration and high speeds. But this isn’t a great investment for those who are just starting out and/or want to save on insurance.
Sports bikes with outstanding performance include the Suzuki GSX-R1000, the Kawasaki Ninja, the Honda CBR, and the Yamaha YZF-R1.
These are lightweight motorcycles with stiff suspension and sturdy tires that are ideal for both on and off-road use. Your height can be an important factor when choosing a dual-sport bike because you won’t always find a low seat height.
Most motorcycle buying guides echo our sentiment that these machines are ideal for taller riders who like off-roading. That said, dual-sport bikes have relatively small engines and are better suited for tight trail rides rather than long-distance touring.
If you’re looking for a good dual-sport ride, check out the Kawasaki KLR650 or the Suzuki DR-Z400.
Get the Legal Stuff Out of the Way
Before you can start developing your riding skills, you need to get legal permission to use and own a motorcycle. Individual states have their own licensing requirements, but most require you to have a license or endorsement to operate a motorcycle legally.
Regardless of where you live, getting a motorcycle license isn’t a complicated process. It typically involves a road test supervised by an official from your local DMV. If you already have a regular license, you can skip the written road rules exam. The fee for a motorcycle license is usually less than $20.
Before buying a motorcycle, you’ll want to get the necessary safety gear too. It goes without saying that you’ll need a helmet, but it’s also highly recommended that you get a thick leather or ballistic nylon motorcycle jacket with protective armor in crucial body parts like the spine, elbows, and shoulders. Armored gloves and high boots that protect your ankles are also a smart investment.
Important tips on buying a motorcycle typically extend to the significance of protective gear. Generally speaking, your best bet is to get a quality helmet that has all the necessary safety features. That should be your first concern. Once that’s out of the way, you can focus on different designs that complement everything from the type of bike you’re riding to your beard style.
New or Used?
Most motorcycle buying guides highlight the dilemma over new and used bikes. First things first, if you’re a greenhorn rider, it’s okay to be a bit scared of running into mechanical problems. If that’s the case, you should probably stick to new bikes because you’re less likely to face problems as long as you maintain them properly.
Additionally, new bikes enable you to choose between different colors, accessories, and of course, you’re getting a ride with no miles on it.
On the other hand, getting a new motorcycle from a dealership costs more money. Moreover, your expenses will increase further with insurance and regular maintenance costs.
Getting a used ride can definitely save you some cash, and you have a huge market to browse. You can look for sweet deals from online platforms like eBay Motors or Craigslist. Also, some dealerships sell great used bikes with a warranty.
When buying a used motorcycle, there are a few crucial factors you’ll have to consider. Beginners should definitely stay away from bikes with any kind of visible damage. Also, they should look for a low mileage ride from owners that have verifiable service histories.
Obviously, make sure that the bike starts and runs and have the bike inspected to ensure there aren’t serious mechanical problems. Lastly, if you’re taking the used bike route, bear in mind that you might have to invest more money into minor repairs as well as replacing worn-out tires.
Be Reasonable with Power
If you’re thinking about buying a motorcycle, you’ve definitely thought about power and performance. For seasoned riders, this isn’t that much of an issue since they more or less know their limits and capabilities and choose a ride accordingly.
For newbies, we recommend modesty. Oftentimes, 600cc bikes will have more power than you’ll be able to use. Getting small-to-medium displacement bikes (500cc and below) is a great way to start and work your way up from there.
Bike Weight and Seat Height
When you’re getting a motorcycle, be sure to choose a model that enables you to plant both feet on the ground. This gives newbies more confidence and helps them get over their fear of dropping their motorcycle at a parking lot or at a traffic light. Also, being able to comfortably put down both feet is far safer than one shaky foot, especially if you have a heavy motorbike.
When it comes to weight, the general rule is: the larger the displacement, the heavier the bike. But that’s not always the case. If you ask us what to look for in a motorcycle, we would definitely recommend buying a bike that isn’t heavy and is easy to use. As a beginner, you should never go overboard with the size and weight.
Getting a Used Bike
The following section delves deeper into some of the essential components you need to look at before pulling the trigger on a bike purchase.
In addition to the aforementioned lower price, there are two key reasons to buy a used bike:
- For starters, you don’t have to be too concerned about any potential damage when buying a motorbike that’s already been used because you aren’t investing a great deal of money. This is important for new riders who are bound to drop their ride at least once.
- When you decide to sell your ride, you’ll have a much easier time than someone who worked hard on getting a motorcycle loan for a new bike and has to worry about getting enough money to pay it off.
Bring Along a Friend
If you’re dealing with a tough seller, it’s always a good idea to bring a friend or a family member along, especially if they have experience with riding motorcycles. If you have a friend who happens to be a bike mechanic, he or she will be able to spot and point out any problems with the motorcycle right off the bat.
Inspecting the Bike
Among all the important tips for buying a motorcycle, this one is absolutely imperative. Inspect the bike, and don’t be afraid to take your time and get your hands dirty. Also, before you even start looking at ads, do your research on the brand, type, and model you are looking to buy, just like you’d do with a surfboard, camera, or any other product. Make a list of known problems, prepare a few questions, and don’t be afraid to ask your seller. Be thorough and get to know your future bike before you make the payment.
Make Sure the Legal Stuff Checks Out
First of all, we advise against buying a motorcycle without a title. You might get a cheaper deal, but getting it back on the road can be a real hassle.
If you’re getting one with a title, make sure that the VIN or vehicle identification number checks out both on the bike and on the title (they should be the same).
Next up, make sure that your potential future bike isn’t stolen. To do this the right way, run a swift check with the DMV or the local police to verify that the motorbike you’re seeking to buy is legally registered to the individual selling it. These motorcycle buying tips might make you a bit uncomfortable, but you don’t want to hit the streets with a stolen bike.
You also need to make sure that there aren’t any liens on the bike. If you see “released” signatures in front of the bike title, look elsewhere.
Having a lien on the bike basically means that the seller still owes money for it. While you can work around this, your best thing to do is to stay away from paying cash to the seller, as you’ll also be the one paying the lender.
How to Buy a Motorcycle — Sealing the Deal
If everything checks out, you should write up a bill of sale. This document should include the necessary info about the seller, buyer, and the bike. It should also have the price, model, VIN, and even the milage. Both the buyer and seller should sign the document, along with the seller signing the back of the title.
It’s also important to know that the seller is legally required to disclose any information about accidents or significant damage that was repaired. When discussing everything to know about buying motorcycles, these are areas you can’t afford to overlook. Once the deal is sealed, the seller can’t be held responsible if something breaks down as soon as you get on the bike. Everything becomes your financial responsibility.
When it comes to the sales tax, you’ll be paying it directly to the state when you register the bike. The dealer cannot charge you a sales tax.
How to Buy a Motorcycle — Other Considerations
Don’t be surprised if the seller doesn’t let you test drive the bike. In many cases, sellers don’t have insurance to cover the test ride damage. Also, you shouldn’t ride the bike before it’s properly insured and registered in your name. You’ll most probably have to attach it to a trailer to take it home after the purchase. Lastly, when buying a used bike, it’s always a good idea to take in for a tune-up.
Buying from a Dealership
This motorcycle buying guide wouldn’t be complete without talking about ways to get a brand new set of wheels. Of course, you can buy both a new bike and a used one from a dealership. They can also come in handy if you’re in the market for a specific model and you don’t have the time to browse ads for other deals.
Also, a dealership can offer attractive low-interest financing options. This gives you flexibility when paying off the bike, but it might not be available if your credit score is on the lower end.
If you’re trying to figure out what you need to know before buying a motorcycle, remember that you often get warranties with a dealership purchase (sometimes both with used and new bikes), which is a great option for new riders.
For the most part, these warranties cover mechanical repairs. On the other hand, things like brakes, tires, and filters aren’t normally covered by the warranty.
Motorcycle Buying Costs
Other things to know when buying a motorcycle include price estimates. The price depends on the type and the condition of the bike.
To get the best possible deal, you should take your time and do your homework on particular models you’re interested in. Make sure to read reviews, compare prices, and educate yourself on potential problems.
When looking at ballpark figures, we can say that used rides will typically start from a few hundred bucks, while a new bike can start at around $3,000.
The real costs of owning a motorcycle will be a bit higher since you’ll have to pay for insurance, license fees, riding gear, and maintenance.
Florida, New Hampshire, Washington, and Montana are the only states that don’t require motorcycle insurance. Everywhere else, the exact cost of the insurance depends on individual states, your age, gender, driving record, credit score, the bike you’re riding, and other factors.
One thing’s for sure: bike insurance is more affordable than car insurance. The national average coverage costs are around $519/year.
Riding Gear Costs
Purchasing a motorcycle is only half the process. Even though many states will allow you to ride without a helmet, it goes without saying that you should still wear one. Helmets approved by the Department of Transportation start at around $100, and wearing one can make the difference between life and death. Other protective gear is also highly recommended. All in all, you should roughly expect to pay around $400.
When discussing what you need to know when buying a motorcycle, we’ve already touched on licensing requirements. This also depends on your location, but in most cases, you’ll have to complete a state-approved safety course to become a legally licensed motorcyclist. These courses can cost you around $200 but will help you with grasping the basics. You’ll also have to pay additional fees to your state’s DMV to get the actual license.
By now, you should have a pretty good idea on how to buy a used motorcycle. Remember to look for bikes that suit your riding experience as well as your body type and build. If you’re a beginner, don’t worry too much about things like the engine size, acceleration, and top speeds. And if you’re buying a used motorcycle, don’t be shy about inspecting it thoroughly.