How to check a motorcycle thoroughly before buying? A comprehensive guide

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When browsing numerous motorcycle offers on auction sites, we can come across many proposals presented as ideal – ready to ride, not requiring investment. But is it really so? Once we get there, dreams can be shattered. A motorcycle’s adventures can be hidden behind a pretty facade. Here are some tips to help you understand what to look out for so as not to be scammed.

Be skeptical – limited trust is the key to success

While not every motorcycle available online is a classic “dud”, it is important to remember that many used two-wheelers can have a history full of surprises. These surprises can affect further use and, above all, road safety. It’s not just about those that have been in accidents or neglected, but also those that have been intensively exploited or have not had regular service.

The basic rule that we should adopt when buying a used motorcycle is limited trust. If at first glance you’ve found a bike that seems to be perfect, remember to be rational and stay calm. Let’s avoid inappropriate excitement, which can bring unforeseen costs.

Image credit: Mototrips

Motorcycle documents – the basis for verification

Before proceeding with a more thorough inspection, and even before visiting the seller, it is worth asking about all documents, data and details about the motorcycle. It may be very helpful to obtain the VIN number, which will allow us to check the history of the motorcycle at least partially – the mileage, inspection history, possible damage and the number of previous owners.

If the motorcycle comes from abroad, let’s use the VIN number to check its history on one of the paid portals that provide all information, including vehicle service data, also from abroad. Using the CEPiK system, we will obtain not only information from the Polish vehicle database (from the moment of vehicle registration in Poland), but also partial data from foreign databases: Automoli, Autobaza, AutoDNA, Carvertical or Vin-info.

As in the case of cars, in the world of motorcycles, odometer manipulation or concealment of the actual operation of the machine also happens. This is especially important for motorcycles, because their drive units are often more heavily loaded than in cars, which means that high mileage can significantly affect the condition of components.

Image credit: Mototrips

What mileage is considered high on a motorcycle?

The way the motorcycle is used and its seasonality mean that the mileage of motorcycles is usually much lower than that of cars of a similar age. That’s why it’s not uncommon to meet teenage motorcycles with a mileage of less than 50,000 km.

In the case of sports machines, mileage above 50,000 km can be considered high, but it does not exclude the machine from the game if it has been regularly serviced. In the adventure and touring class, the mileage can even exceed 100 or 150,000 km and the machines are still in good condition. The average annual mileage covered by a Polish motorcyclist is about 6-8 thousand. km, in motorcycles imported from abroad it can be even twice as large. On the other hand, motorcycles covering only 2-3 thousand km. km per year is also not unusual. It all depends mainly on the condition of the motorcycle and the wear of its components.

The nameplate with the VIN number is just the beginning

To ensure the authenticity of the frame numbers, it is worth asking for a photo of not only the nameplate, but also the numbers stamped on the frame. Typically, the nameplates on used motorcycles are riveted to the frame, making them transferable between bikes. However, if the number stamped on the frame raises any doubts (e.g. the place is sanded down and the number has been re-stamped), it is better to give up such a motorcycle, as it may have a theft history.

Image credit: Mototrips

Colors and fairings – it’s worth checking out the vintage version

If the identification numbers match and everything looks reliable, it is also worth paying attention to the compatibility of the year of sale of the motorcycle with the color versions available in the same year. Manufacturers only introduce new color options for motorcycles or make minor changes to the appearance of fairings every few years.

It may happen that the motorcycle offered on the Internet does not match the version available in a particular model year. This situation may suggest changes or modifications to the motorcycle due to the damage or the occurrence of damage. Differences in colors, however, should not completely disqualify a given motorcycle – repairs can be carried out professionally and the motorcycle can still be in good condition. However, this is a signal that should alarm us and encourage us to take a closer look at the motorcycle.

 

Image credit: Mototrips

The general condition of the motorcycle – a large dose of information

After choosing the motorcycle we are interested in and making an appointment for inspection, what should we pay attention to? At first glance, we should look at the general condition of the machine: how fairings and plastics are fitted, how the paint looks, are there any visible corrosion spots, more serious oil leaks, traces of engine disassembly. Particular attention should be paid to the bolts connecting the elements of the engine and the frame – if they bear clear traces of frequent or incompetent unscrewing, it may suggest that the motorcycle has a higher mileage or has undergone more serious repairs.

Check the condition of the oil and the drive system – a pulled and rusted chain or old oil may suggest that the previous owner did not care for regular service, which means additional costs at the beginning of use.

The condition of the plastics and fairings can also tell a lot about the history of the bike. Scratched fairings are not the end of the world – a small capsize can happen to anyone, but if the plastics are broken and welded, the frames are bent, and the mirrors, brake and clutch handles, indicators or steering wheel are not original – it may suggest that the motorcycle has suffered a more serious collision.

Remember that the most important thing is to approach with vigilance and prudence. If you have any doubts about the condition of the motorcycle, it is worth consulting an experienced mechanic or abandoning the purchase. Safety and driving satisfaction are paramount.

Image credit: Mototrips

Does the motorcycle have a welded or painted frame? – here’s what you need to know

Regardless of the material from which they are made (steel or aluminum), motorcycle frames are factory-welded in many places. However, if the frame has been damaged and later repaired by welding and painting, you can see the difference between a factory weld and a repair weld. Any signs of repairs, straightening or additional welding may indicate that the motorcycle has been involved in a serious accident.

It is also crucial to pay attention to the area around the head tube. It is possible that the motorcycle has been overused (which is common in sports and racing machines) and micro-cracks may appear in this place, which indicate the need to replace the frame. Sometimes even the handlebar stops may be damaged or broken, suggesting that the bike has been through some rough times.

If the frame looks good at first glance, but the geometry of the machine is questionable (e.g. the front wheel is too close to the exhaust manifolds, the engine or the radiator show signs of damage), it may suggest that the motorcycle has had a frontal accident and the frame is no longer correct.

Pay attention to the engine. If the general condition of the motorcycle is not a concern, it is worth taking a look at the drive unit. You should listen carefully to the engine during a cold start, paying attention to any unusual sounds such as metallic bells, dull thuds, hard starting, rough warm-up, or exhaust smoke.

Also check the condition of consumables. If the overall technical condition of the motorcycle is satisfactory, take a look at components such as brake discs, pads, tires and drive chain. They can generate significant costs right after the purchase and are an excellent point for negotiating the price.

If you still have doubts, consider taking a test drive. Thanks to this, you will see how the motorcycle handles, whether the suspension absorbs bumps correctly, whether the brakes work properly, whether the engine develops power smoothly, whether the gearbox works properly.

Remember, you don’t have to rush your decision. Before you decide to buy a specific copy, it is worth looking at a few other models to have a reference point. Often the first motorcycle we see does not meet our expectations, especially if we do not have the opportunity to compare it with others. If you are not sure about your assessment of the condition of the motorcycle, it is worth seeking opinions on motorcycle forums and groups, or asking an expert or mechanic for help.

 

To sum up, what is worth checking in a motorcycle before buying:

  • Check the documents and compare with the model year.
  • Pay attention to the general condition of the motorcycle including fairings, paint, corrosion, mounts, engine bolts, oil condition, radiators and exhaust manifolds.
  • Check the condition of the frame – look for any damage, traces of tipping, repainting or welding.
  • Assess the condition of the engine – pay attention to cold starts, unusual sounds coming from the engine, operation of the clutch and gearbox, smoke from the exhaust system, possible leaks and other irregularities.
  • Check the steering head bearing, suspension seals and shocks.
  • Pay attention to the condition of the consumables: tires, drivetrain, brake pads and discs.
  • Take a road test – pay attention to handling, transmission and clutch operation, brake performance, suspension performance and overall driving experience.

 

Remember that the decision to buy a motorcycle is important and can have long-term consequences. Therefore, it is not worth taking it on the spur of the moment or under time pressure. Each purchase, and especially the purchase of a used motorcycle, should be carefully thought out and you should be well prepared for it.

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