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FIRST THINGS FIRST
- Resist the temptation to buy the first bike you see. Look at a few of them to get a better idea of the used bike market/options before you buy one.
- Bring a friend to help you stick to your guns, or to help you load your new bikes onto a truck, or as ballast in case the bike has a centerstand and you wish to inspect the front wheel. Bike-savvy friends may also notice things that you forgot to check. Make sure they also read this guide ahead of time.
- Bring a flashlight to aid inspection. Even in daylight.
- Request that the owner not have the bike warmed up when you get there, but tell him/her to make sure that the bike will start. If the owner asks why, tell them that you want to test the bike's ability to start when cold. (It's a lot easier for engines to start when pre-warmed.)
- You needn't follow these instructions in any particular order, or even follow them at all, but if you are going to read them, you should probably do so before you get to the seller's house. If you're new to motorcycling, you'll probably find a lot of the terminology complicated. Try studying some of the "related photos" and RECOMMENDED READING listed below. And as noted previously, try to bring a friend, particularly one who knows bikes.
- Bring riding gear in case the seller will let you test ride the bike. (If you're new to motorcycling and don't have any gear yet, perhaps the bike-savvy friend accompanying you will be kind enough to bring his/her gear, and do a test ride for you.)
- You'll have to go through and carefully inspect used bikes being sold by dealerships, too, since many dealerships take used bikes as trade-ins, make minimal (if any) repairs, and mark the bikes up way over "blue book" value. It's up to you to find defects (and to know what the used bike's real value is!!) to get these vultures back down to a reasonable price. Think of it as a treasure hunt -- you're looking for the hidden secrets that will save you money.
- As a general rule of thumb, when work needs to be done to repair a problem with the bike, most dealerships charge around $50/hour for labor, possibly more for European marques (Ducati, BMW, Triumph, etc.)
- In the text below, "left" and "right" refer to the rider's left and right sides when sitting on the bike.
- If you aren't really experienced with bikes, do some practice inspections! Find a couple of friends with bikes, and, pretending that you're at a seller's house inspecting a used bike, go over a couple of bikes in minute detail. You'll learn a lot about how bikes are put together, and you might even find some things that your friends missed. Take notes while you're doing the inspections, and go over your findings with your friends after each inspection.
- When you end up buying a bike, make sure you get everything related to the bike: the key and any spares that the seller has, any free/included spare parts, the owner's manual and service manual, etc. Having to go back to the seller to get stuff you should have remembered the first time is a pain. And you may find the seller far less accommodating after you've paid for the thing.
- Does the bike look nasty? Cracks and scratches all over the thing?  Appearance can be deceiving, but it should give you some indication of the general condition beyond what you can see.
- Do fasteners look stripped or gouged? Is everything kinda loose and ill-fitting? You don't need to be a mechanic to tell when the person has mangled something on the bike. The bike should also be cosmetically symmetrical. (Not "symmetrical" like "are there brake discs on both sides of the front wheel", but "symmetrical" as in, "are the mirrors, the plastic, the handlebars, etc. symmetrical, or do they seem to be askew?" ) Step back and sight down the centerline of the bike. If something looks obviously wrong (the mirrors stick out a different angles, the windscreen is tilted, the turn-signal stalks are ripped off the fairing, etc.), the bike has probably been crashed or fell over hard.
- Basically, try to answer the question: "How does the overall cosmetic appearance of this bike affect how much I want to pay for it?"