Five tips for buying your first motorcycle

Just got your licence? Great! Read this guide before you buy a motorbike

SO you’re off to buy your first bike. In some ways it’s just as intimidating as the process of training and testing and it’s certainly even more exciting.

But it’s also fraught with potential problems. Sure, maybe you’re heading straight to the local new-bike showroom with your sights set on a fully warrantied, factory-fresh machine. But, let’s face it, you’re much more likely to be trawling the classifieds with the hope of becoming a decade-old bike’s seventh owner.

While buying new should be straightforward, used bikes are a potential minefield. Here are five tips to help navigate it.

1: Take a mate

IF you’re buying your first bike then – in the nicest possible way – you probably don’t have that much idea about what you’re looking for. But since most new riders have at least one long-standing motorcyclist in their group of friends, there’s always help to turn to.

If you’ve got a mate who really knows his stuff (ie not just a pub brag), rope him in to help. Beware that sometimes even knowledgeable friends can get carried away spending money – particularly when it’s not theirs – but he could save you a serious mistake just by being able to spot mechanical defects that you might miss.

Assuming he’s the level-headed type, he’ll also be able to rein in your enthusiasm and act to remind you – constantly, if necessary – that there are lots of used bikes out there. Any doubts and it’s usually best to skip on to the next one.

2: Use technology to help

IT’S mad that people will often rush into spending thousands of pounds without investing a few quid into one of the various available vehicle check services – HPI is the famous one – to make sure that the bike they’re looking at isn’t stolen, crashed or owing finance.

Yes, it’s not free – and there are plenty of arguments to say all that information should be available without charge – but if you find out the hard way that your new pride-and-joy has been stolen or badly bent in previous hands you’ll be wishing you’d swallowed the cost of a history check. Most can be done instantly, often online, on the phone or via mobile phone apps. So take advantage of them.

3: Do your homework

ONCE you’ve got an idea what make and model you’re looking for – and particularly if you’ve found a specific bike that you’re hoping to buy – take the time to do some research into it.

The internet is simply the greatest buyers’ tool ever created in this respect. The right Google searches on specific makes, models and years will come up with a treasure trove of pictures, specifications and owners’ forums, all of which will help you to know whether your potential purchase is the right bike.

Were there any recalls on that model and year? The VOSA website will tell you, including VIN ranges that the recall covered. If it was subject to one – and almost all bikes are at some stage – check with the owner that the work has been done. Are the colours right for the year? Manufacturers tend to make tiny annual changes, so you should be able to tell that a bike is exactly what it claims to be. Did that model have any particular problems? Forums will have the answers.

It might take a couple of hours, but once you’ve put the work in you’ll be able to go to look at a potential purchase with a list of checkpoints to make sure that you’re buying the best.

4: Make a list

BEFORE you go to see a bike, you’ll probably be sure that you already know all the questions to ask. But if you don’t write them down, in the excitement of seeing it you’re bound to forget a few.

So take a pad and write down everything you want to ask the owner and everything you want to carefully look at. And make sure you stick to it, ticking them off as you go. Yes, the seller might think you’re nuts. But who cares? You’ll get a better bike that way and you might avoid a mistake.

Even include the simple stuff on the list. Does it have service history (and have you seen it and – importantly – read it)?  Just because the seller waves a wad of paperwork under your nose doesn’t mean the history is any good. Is there outstanding finance? Is the mileage accurate? Has it been in an accident? How long is the MOT? Is the tax going to be included? Does it have the spare keys? Is there an alarm or tracker fitter? All this stuff matters.

Make sure you ask all the questions, too. If the seller has specifically said “no, it hasn’t been in an accident” and it turns out that it has, your legal position in terms of getting money back is better. This particularly applies when buying from dealers, and it’s another place where taking a friend is vital – he’s your witness as to what questions have been asked if the worst happens and you’re sold a dud.

5: Haggle

IT’S surprisingly hard to haggle, particularly if you’re not used to it and even more so if you really, really want the bike you’re looking at.

But remember, the seller is trying to sell it. He’s probably priced it up expecting to knock a bit off. And if you go in low, the worst he can do is say “no”. You might feel like you’re going to offend him. So what? He’s not a mate (well, he might be, but even so…)

If he doesn’t like your offer, you can always increase it.

Dealers will often give it the whole “we can’t take any money off, we’re not making any margin on it” spiel. So be tough. That’s their problem, not yours. And if it’s too expensive, walk away – there will be another one.