How to take a second-hand motorcycle out for a test ride

Helping you find a cracker for 2018

How to take a second-hand motorcycle out for a test ride

By Alan Dowds

IF you're buying a brand-new motorcycle, then test rides are easy as pie. You just want to see if you like the bike – there's no real need to worry about finding any problems with that particular machine. Plus, dealers are set up to offer rides, with demo bikes, insurance, licence checks and the like.

In comparison, getting a test ride on a second-hand motorcycle in a private sale is full of pitfalls. You need to convince the owner to let you have a wazz on their pride and joy, and if you do get a ride, you want an OCD level of attention to detail, to spot any technical faults before you drop the cash.

Here, then, are five tips to performing the perfect used bike test ride, with some pictures of bikes currently for sale in Visordown’s Marketplace section tempt you along the way.

Find the ad for the Ducati Scrambler Desert Sed pictured above here.

1: Before you go

This process can start as soon as you see the bike and chat to the seller. Once you have the reg number, you can do an HPI check to see if there's finance outstanding, or it's been written off by an insurance firm. If it's old enough you can research the MOT history, and also check if it's taxed or SORNed. Ask the owner what you need to get a test ride, and expect to need proof of third party insurance. Your own policy might cover you to ride bikes you don’t own – check with your broker. The seller may also require the purchase price, or a large chunk thereof, as a cash deposit (and a word of caution here: if you're selling a bike, do insist on payment before handing over the keys for a test ride). 

Before you have a spin, give it a good once-over to check no-one's wasting their time. Feel the engine to see if it's cold: a poor-starting engine might well be pre-warmed up by the owner so it fires up first time on the button. The fact they spent three hours jump-starting it off a Scania truck this morning may slip their mind…

Any obvious cosmetic damage will affect the price of course, but might not rule the bike out for you altogether.

  • Find the ad for the decent-looking Honda CBR600 pictured above here.

Do some safety checks before you go out: are the tyres legal (you could get the penalty points on your licence if they're bald), holding pressure and without serious damage? Make sure brake pads have some friction material, and the brake fluid's topped up. A quick check of oil and water can't hurt either (if it blows up when you're riding it, the owner might try to blame you and keep the deposit…)

Look at the state of the chain and sprockets and see if there are any fluid leaks either on the motor or on the suspension. Finally, check the dashboard for any brake or traction control warnings, and see if you can scroll your way through all the options you should have.

  • Find the ad for the 2011 Suzuki GSX-R1000 picture above here.

You're away, woo! Now, don't get lost in the reverie of the moment, especially if this is a bigger and fancier bike than you may be used to. My first big bike was a bit of a dog which blew up within a fortnight, but the test ride had knocked my socks off because it had 55hp more than I'd ever ridden before…

Check the basics first: can you select all the gears? Does it rev smoothly all the way to the red line? Does the clutch slip, judder or snatch? Are there any odd noises? Rattles, knockings or squeals, which vary according to the engine revs are seldom good news…

  • Find the ad for the Aprilia RSV4 RF Super Pole pictured above here.

Assuming the engine ticks all the boxes, turn to the chassis. Does the steering pull to one side? If you take your hands off the bars, does it start weaving? How are the brakes? Does the suspension feel plush and controlled, or is the bike bouncing about over bumps and ruts? Are there any thuds when you brake (loose steering head bearings can cause this)?

Flag up anything unusual in your mind – it might help to stop halfway and take some notes on your phone or a notebook. Then, when you get back, go through your list of queries with the owner to see if they have any explanations. Then you can take a view on whether you want to haggle a discount based on what you've found, whether you're going to walk away, or if you're happy with what you've seen and ready to buy.

  • Find the ad for the Kawasaki Z650 pictured above here.