How to Inspect a Used Motorcycle

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How to Inspect a Used Motorcycle - Check the Frame

Motorcycle detail
Alan W Cole/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

A test ride can convey valuable information about a used motorcycle, but before you go for a spin here are ways to find potential problem spots.

If you're shopping for a used motorcycle, the most important thing to look out for is the condition of the frame. The smallest crack or hairline fracture on a frame can not only qualify the bike for a salvage title, it can pose a potential safety hazard.

Don't even consider a bike with any sort of frame damage, including dents, weld tears, kinks or fractures. Remove the seat and/or any easily removed body parts that can obscure parts of the frame, and if necessary use a flashlight to illuminate any portions of the frame that might be too dark to see.

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Check the Chain and Sprockets

Photo © Basem Wasef

Well-maintained chains should last a long time, but when they're neglected they can cripple a bike-- and worse, endanger the rider's safety.

Performing a visual inspection of a chain might reveal corrosion, but you should also check its flexibility by pushing and pulling a section, moving the bike a few inches forward, and repeating until you've tested the entire length of the chain. It should move roughly between three quarters of an inch and one inch in either direction. Also take a look at the sprockets. The shape of their teeth should be even, and their tips shouldn't be excessively worn off.

Read this chain maintenance article for more detailed information on how to ensure the chain and sprockets are healthy.

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Check the Battery Leads

Photo © Basem Wasef
Clean battery leads indicate that a bike hasn't been sitting unattended. Though clean leads won't necessarily reveal the longevity of the battery, a lack of corrosion is a good sign you should look for. Most batteries are found under the seat, so don't be shy about lifting it to take a peek at the state of their leads.
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Check, Don't Kick, the Tires

Photo © Basem Wasef

Next, take a look at the tires and make sure that wear is evenly distributed, not focused on one side. Tread depth is key to wet traction, and if you put a quarter coin inside the tread it shouldn't go below George Washington's head. Proper inflation levels will also ensure that tread patterns are even; more more detailed tire inspection information, read our tire inspection and maintenance article.

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Compress the Suspension and Check the Steering Head

Photo © Basem Wasef
Once you've taken a look at the individual components, sit on the bike, grab the front brake, and try compressing the forks; they should react with firm resistance, and rebound all the way back to their starting point. Also, inspect the forks for oil leakage and/or surface irregularities.

If the bike has a center stand, prop it up and turn the handlebar from lock to lock. The bar should be free from irregularities or bends, and the head should move smoothly in either direction.
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Check for Completeness and Consider Maintenance Needs

Photo © Basem Wasef
After inspecting key mechanical components, you'll want to look for anything that's missing-- whether it's parts of the fairing, side covers, small nuts and bolts, or pieces of trim. Seemingly harmless parts can be surprisingly expensive to replace, so call a dealership to get an estimate of what it will take to get them replaced. Budgeting for necessary parts and taking into consideration when it's due for its next routine maintenance will help give you an overall idea of how much that used bike will cost.

And if all of these points seem cumbersome, just remember that doing your homework up front will make buying a used bike that much more rewarding down the line.