How to Test Ride Used Motorcycles

girl on motorcycle
PeopleImages / Getty Images

So you've learned how to ride a motorcycle and are thinking about buying a bike? Purchasing a used motorcycle is a great choice for the first-time bike owner, but it's important to choose wisely so you're not stuck with something you'll regret.

01
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Be Prepared

man checking out used motorcycles
Photo © Getty Images

First off, don't show up to a test ride unprepared: bringing the proper safety gear will not only show the seller you're a responsible rider, it will protect you in case something goes wrong.

Dealerships will likely have you fill out insurance paperwork before you take a bike off the lot, so don't be surprised if you're asked to fill out a form before you hit the road. If you're buying from a private party, make sure you're interested in the motorcycle before you take it out for a spin; there's no reason to needlessly risk damage to the bike (or yourself, for that matter.)

02
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Ease Into the Bike

view on yellow motorcycle
Photo © Basem Wasef

Every motorcycle is unique, and different bike types require different riding techniques.

Familiarize yourself and make sure you know where everything is. Are the mirrors adjusted? Is the brake lever within reach? Can your foot easily find the rear brake pedal? Do you know how much effort it takes to engage and disengage the clutch? Minimize uncertainty by getting yourself aware of the bike's setup before you hit the road.

Once you're riding, take it easy—especially at first. Ease into the accelerator and brakes, and don't make any sudden moves. Not only is it safer to ride with caution, it will make you more aware of the bike's dynamics, and whether or not you want to live with them.

03
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Accelerate, Brake, and Repeat

Motorcycle on road
Serdar S. Unal / Getty Images

Cruising at a constant speed may reveal certain things about a bike's mechanical state, but it won't tell you everything you need to know. Once you're comfortable with the way the bike responds to input, try accelerating and braking. Pay attention to the way the clutch engages; does it slip? How does the shifter feel? Is it smooth, and are the gears easy to find? Is the power delivery to your liking—that is, does the engine provide enough low end torque to pull easily from stoplights?

You should also try repeated stops and note how the brakes work. Do they feel spongy? Do they operate smoothly? Is there enough initial bite to make you feel secure during a panic stop? If the bike has anti-lock brakes, test them using the rear brake and make sure it doesn't lock up. Pulsing brakes on non ABS-equipped bikes might mean that the rotors are warped, so be aware if that irregularity pops up.

04
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Feel for Handling

motorcycle turning
Photo © Kevin Wing

Once you've tested the bike's brakes, try turning and see how the motorcycle handles. Does it wallow or feel underdamped? That could mean its shocks are wearing thin or it might just be a less than sporty bike; cruisers usually offer cushier rides than sport bikes, so be aware of the difference.

Taking into consideration the sort of bike you're test riding, pay attention to its handling characteristics. Does it pull to one side more than the other? If so, the frame could be bent. Does it scrape any parts when it's turning? Adjustable pegs might be set lower than necessary, or the bike may have been lowered. Is there a wobble? That could mean a rim is out of balance. Does it feel responsive or numb?

Paying attention to the motorcycle's handling will help determine if it's the right bike for you.

05
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Listen Closely

motorcycle details
Photo © Basem Wasef

Audible clues can make you aware of which parts might need attention, and save you from expensive repairs down the line:

Shock Absorbers

Intended to smoothen the ride over rough surfaces, shocks can make rattling or squeaking noises when they're worn out, which can compromise handling and create a safety issue.

Wheel Bearings

Packed inside the wheel hubs in order to reduce friction and bear load forces, bearings can make a droning sound when they're past their prime.

Brakes

Some brake squeak might be normal, but excessive noise—especially after brakes warm up—might signal the need for a pad change and/or worn rotors.

Exhaust

You'll also want to listen for unusual exhaust sounds, as a perforated muffler will be unusually loud, and corrosion from rust can affect the exhaust system's function.

06
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Think Ergonomically

two people zooming on motorcycle
Photo © Star Motorcycles

Used motorcycles offer much more opportunity for test rides, so take advantage of that and look for potential ergonomic issues. Try to spend more than just a couple of minutes on the motorcycle in order to see if the bike might be uncomfortable over the long haul. Are the handlebars too far away? If so, are they adjustable? Does the saddle feel funny? Are the footpegs too far back? Are the instruments easy to read? All of these variables fit into the bike's ergonomics, and they're crucial to your enjoyment of your potential purchase. Consider those factors and spend as much time in the saddle as possible before committing to a motorcycle.