What to Check When Buying a Used Motorcycle

Buying a used motorcycle can be an exciting and cost-effective way to hit the open road on two wheels.

Whether you're a seasoned rider or a beginner to the biking world, a pre-owned bike offers a unique charm and significant savings.

However, it's crucial to do your homework before handing over your hard-earned cash. A thorough inspection ensures you're not just buying someone else's problems.

Let's dive in and get you ready for your next adventure on the perfect pre-owned ride!

Initial Inspection

Before you even think about taking a test ride, your first step should be a comprehensive initial inspection. This is your chance to catch any red flags and determine if the motorcycle is worth further consideration. A careful visual and mechanical examination can reveal a lot about the bike's overall condition and how well it has been maintained. By following these steps, you'll be able to spot potential issues early on and make an informed decision about whether to proceed with the purchase. Let’s break down the key aspects of this crucial first look.

Visual Examination

motorcycle parked on the road

Start with a thorough visual examination to get a clear picture of the motorcycle’s exterior condition. Begin by walking around the bike, taking note of any obvious signs of damage such as dents, scratches, or rust. Pay close attention to the frame and bodywork for any cracks or bends that might indicate previous accidents.

Inspect the tires for tread wear and check for any cracks or bulges that could compromise safety. Look closely at the wheels and spokes for any signs of damage or corrosion. Examine the brake discs for excessive wear or warping, and make sure the brake pads still have plenty of material left.

Check the condition of the chain and sprockets, ensuring they are well-lubricated and not excessively worn. Inspect the suspension components, including the forks and shocks, for any leaks or signs of damage. Finally, look at the overall cleanliness of the bike—while a clean bike doesn’t guarantee a perfect mechanical condition, a well-maintained appearance can be a good indicator of how well the previous owner cared for it.

Mechanical Condition

Once you’ve completed the visual examination, it’s time to dive into the mechanical condition of the motorcycle.

  • Start by ensuring all the lights, horn, and signals are functioning properly. These basic electrical components are essential for safe riding and can indicate the overall health of the bike’s electrical system.
  • Next, focus on the engine. Start the motorcycle and listen carefully for any unusual noises, such as knocking or ticking sounds, which could signal internal issues. Pay attention to how easily the engine starts and idles, and look for any visible leaks or excessive smoke from the exhaust, which can indicate oil or coolant problems.
  • Check the condition of the oil by looking at the dipstick or sight glass; the engine oil should be clean and at the correct level. Inspect the coolant level and condition, ensuring there are no leaks in the cooling system.
  • Evaluate the clutch and throttle response to ensure they operate smoothly and without excessive play. Test the brakes to make sure they feel firm and responsive, without any sponginess or grinding noises. Finally, check the condition of the drive chain or belt, ensuring it has the correct tension and shows no signs of excessive wear or damage. 
man riding motorcycle

Test Ride

After completing the initial inspection and ensuring the motorcycle appears to be in good condition, the next important step is the test ride. This is your opportunity to feel how the bike handles on the road and to check for any issues that might not be apparent during a stationary inspection. A test ride allows you to assess the motorcycle's performance, handling, and overall comfort, giving you a better sense of whether it’s the right fit for you.

Gear Shifting and Clutch

During your test ride, pay close attention to the gear shifting and clutch operation. Start by testing the clutch lever for smooth engagement and disengagement. It should feel consistent and require a reasonable amount of pressure—neither too loose nor too tight.

A slipping clutch or one that engages too abruptly can be a sign of wear or improper adjustment.

As you ride, shift through all the gears, both up and down. Each shift should be smooth and precise, without any grinding noises or resistance. Pay attention to any signs of difficulty in shifting, such as gears that don’t engage properly or a transmission that pops out of gear unexpectedly. These issues could indicate problems with the gearbox or the linkage.

Documentation and History

Before finalizing your purchase, it’s essential to review the motorcycle’s documentation and history. This step helps you verify the bike’s legal status and understand its maintenance background. Proper documentation ensures there are no hidden issues that could cause problems down the road. Let’s explore the key aspects of this crucial phase in the used motorbike buying process.

History Records

Delving into the used motorcycle’s history records is a crucial step to understand its past and ensure there are no hidden surprises. Start by examining any available documents that detail the bike’s ownership history. A bike with multiple short-term owners might be a red flag, suggesting recurring issues that led to frequent sales.

Perform a VIN check to gather crucial information about the motorcycle. This will provide a comprehensive report on the used bike’s background, including any recorded accidents, title status, and any instances of theft or salvage.

Understanding if the motorcycle has been involved in significant incidents can give you insight into potential long-term problems. Ensure that any major repairs were done professionally and that there are no lingering issues from past damage.

Review any records of modifications or upgrades made to the bike. While some modifications can enhance performance and value, others might not be up to standard or could even compromise the motorcycle’s reliability.

Finally, look for any recall notices and confirm that any recalls were addressed. This ensures the motorcycle meets safety standards and has been updated with any necessary manufacturer fixes.

Professional Inspection

black and grey motorcycle

While a thorough personal inspection and test ride are essential, enlisting the help of a professional mechanic can provide an added layer of assurance. A professional inspection can identify issues that might not be apparent to the untrained eye, ensuring that you are fully aware of the motorcycle’s condition before making your purchase.

Mechanics have specialized tools and expertise to perform a more in-depth evaluation, including checking the engine’s internal components, electrical systems, and overall structural integrity.

Investing in a professional inspection can save you from unexpected repairs and give you confidence in your decision, ensuring that your new ride is safe, reliable, and worth every penny.


Buying a used motorcycle can be a rewarding and cost-effective way to enjoy the thrill of the open road. However, it's crucial to approach the purchase with diligence and care. By conducting a thorough initial inspection, taking the bike for a test ride, and reviewing its documentation and history, you can make an informed decision and avoid potential pitfalls. Don’t forget the value of a professional inspection to catch any hidden issues that you might miss. With these steps, you’ll be well-equipped to find a reliable, well-maintained motorcycle that brings you joy and excitement for years to come. Happy riding!

Author - Fred Felton
Fred Felton          

Content Creator / Editor

Fred Felton is a copywriter, editor and social media specialist based in Durban, South Africa. He has over 20 years of experience in creating high end content. He has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world. Currently Fred specialises in the motorbiking adventure space, focussing on all types of biking both on and offroad. He is also a keynote speaker and has presented talks and workshops in South Africa.


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