10 Things to Look For When Buying a Motorcycle

01
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So You Want to Buy a Motorcycle?

A man looks through a window at a Honda motorcycle.
Matthew Lloyd / Getty Images

While there are tons of reasons to ride, the decision to buy your own bike is the second biggest commitment you can make towards becoming a dedicated motorcyclist, second only to learning how to ride. Assuming you've done your homework and decked yourself out in safety gear, you've now got the enviable but potentially overwhelming task of finding a motorcycle that will best fit your needs.

Where to Begin?

The first step you'll need to consider is picking a bike type, a process that involves a whole lot of choices since motorcycle manufacturers have created branches and sub-branches of bike genres. The biggest distinction lies between on-road, off-road, and dual purpose (ie, mixed use) motorcycles; once you go from there, you'll still have a dizzying variety of options and sub-specialties to choose from. If your passion gravitates towards one particular area (like cruisers or sportbikes), you may find yourself equivocating between power cruisers and touring cruisers, or all-out superbikes and milder variations.

Your quest should ultimately lead you to a genre that fits your needs and interests... but it might take some soul-searching to determine which is the best for you.

For definitions of bike types, check out this bike type glossary, and for a visual guide, see this photo gallery of bike types.

02
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Ergonomics

Motorcycle Ergonomics
The rider triangle-- that is, the relationship between the wrists, hips, and legs-- has the most powerful influence on long-term rider comfort. Diagram © Honda

Making sure a motorcycle is ergonomically agreeable with your body is trickier than it might initially sound. Sure, you can straddle a bike at a dealership or even take it on a test ride for a spin around the block. But sometimes what seems comfortable at first blush might turn out to be tiring, or even painful, on longer rides; the topic is so potentially complex there are even websites dedicated to the art of contrasting body types to bike geometries.

Seriously consider a bike's ergonomics before you take the plunge, and try to imagine yourself aboard the saddle for prolonged periods of time: does your weight rest excessively on your wrists (which will make them feel sore down the line)? Is your knee bent too far? Are the handlebars a long reach for your arms? Being honest with yourself and accurately estimating the long-term effects of bike comfort can involve guesswork (barring an extended test ride on a bike you're considering), but finding your optimum physical match goes a long way towards ensuring long-term happiness with your new machine.

Related: How to Test Ride a Motorcycle

03
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Take a Look (and a Swing a Leg Over) for Seat Height

2011 Ducati Diavel
Seat height is a crucial consideration in bike buying, but don't assume you have to be able to flat-foot at stoplights to be confident and in control of a motorcycle. Photo © Ducati

Closely related to the ergonomics issue is the question of seat height-- especially for those of shorter stature. In fact, women have become such a big issue in this area that some manufacturers are specifically marketing bikes with low saddle heights towards females... but whether you're a guy or a girl, you'll want to consider the finer points of saddle altitude, which are outlined in this Seat Height 101 article.

04
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Wind Protection: To Go Naked or Not

2010 Honda Interstate
Windshields aren't limited to touring bikes; for instance, the Honda Interstate seen here is a cruiser that comes with built-in wind protection. Photo © Honda

Also closely related to ergonomics is the issue of wind protection.

While naked bikes are alluring in their mechanical exposure and pure, see-through design aesthetic, their lack of a fairing or wind deflector often means they can be miserable on long rides, and allow the elements to beat down on you, which can ultimately be surprisingly fatiguing.

If you plan on riding for any prolonged period of time or through inclement weather, you'll want to seriously consider shopping for a bike with a fairing​ or picking one up in the aftermarket arena.

05
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Luggage

2007 bmw f 800 st motorcycle f800st bmw 2008
Saddlebags come in all shapes and sizes, and some even expand or collapse so they don't take up more space than they need to when empty. Photo © Basem Wasef

Sure, motorcycles are all about the beautiful simplicity of lightweight, stripped-down design. But they're also about escape and freedom, and one of the easiest ways to get outta Dodge is to bring along small personal items in a saddlebag and/or a top case. If long distance riding is a priority, consider finding a bike that's equipped with saddlebags, or is at least capable of getting fitted with a set.

Related: How to Plan a Motorcycle Trip

06
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Electronic Aids

Harley Davidson ABS
The Harley-Davidson seen here is demonstrating a panic braking situation without anti-lock brakes. Photo © Basem Wasef

Traction control and anti-lock brakes have become commonplace on motorcycles, and lightweight enjoy a safety net on a bike is to pick a bike with electronic aids, especially if you plan on riding in wet weather. And if you consider yourself a purist who takes pride in not relying on technology, consider this: most traction and ABS systems can be disabled at the touch of a button.

Related: How to Brake on a Motorcycle

07
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Style

Confederate Black Flag
If motorcycles aren't head-turningly sexy, what's the point?. Photo © Basem Wasef

Ah, style. It's a big reason many of us get into motorcycles in the first place, and a notable differentiator when it comes to your choice in bikes. Since style is subjective, the best advice I can offer is to pick a motorcycle that's so damn good looking, you can't help but look over your shoulder at it as you walk away in a parking lot.

08
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Sound

Harley Davidson Sportster Nightster motorcycle
Harley-Davidson takes such pride in their so-called Potato-Potato exhaust note that they once sued a Japanese manufacturer for plagiarizing the signature sound. Photo © Basem Wasef

Motorcycles often get the wrong sort of attention when they involve excessive noise pollution, but there's also a big difference between obnoxiously ​loud pipes and a mellow, pleasing exhaust tone. Bring your ears as well as your eyes when shopping for a bike; after all, there can be as much enjoyment in the burble of v-twin or the whine of an inline-4 as there is in the thrill of riding.

09
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Price

NCR M16
Italian builder NCR satisfies the upper end of the bike market; consider, for instance, this nearly quarter-million dollar M16 model. Photo © NCR

Why is this monetary issue so far down the list of things to consider when shopping for a motorcycle? Because bikes are usually passion purchases, you're less likely to make a sensible, cash conscious purchase that's two-wheeled, but rather spend a few extra bucks to buy a bike you really like. So sure, most of us mortals have our limits when it comes to budgeting for a motorcycle, but if you have the means to acquire something special, there's no reason you shouldn't go for broke and indulge.

Related: The 10 Most Expensive Motorcycles in the World

10
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Fuel Economy

How to Save Gas on a Motorcycle
Fill 'er up, but consider the costs. Photo © Getty Images

Let's face it: most riders couldn't care less about fuel economy. But new bike buyers would be wrong to assume that all motorcycles are gas sippers, especially when it comes to big bore engines. The fact that there's a big potential for fuel savings when the right bike purchase is made suggests that it's worth seriously considering MPG figures before committing to a ride.

10 Tips on How to Save Gas on a Motorcycle