As discussed on the previous page, buying a brand new motorcycle has many advantages, but can be very costly for learners in both initial purchase and resale. If you plan on moving onto a larger bike when you pass your practical test, buying a used bike to learn on makes the most financial sense, provided you buy smartly. There are some amazing bargains out there, but there are just as many pitfalls that you can fall victim to if you are unaware.

Below are some practical tips to making a successful second hand purchase and help you avoid being taken for a ride by an unscrupulous seller.


Research The Used Market Thoroughly

If you have your mind set on a particular make or model, you should start by comparing prices from various sources like websites such as eBay, Auto Trader Bikes and Gumtree. Be sure to take into account the costs of insurance and maintenance of any bike you’re interested so you can avoid unforeseen expenses before you make your purchase.


Get an HPI check

Before viewing a bike it is advisable to get an HPI check. These checks normally cost around £30 and provide you with extensive information about a vehicles history, including finance, whether or not it has been written off, reported as stolen or had a colour change, along with a host of other useful information. The HPI check is definitely worth the £30 as it can save you a great deal of headache in the long run, and can at least save you a trip to view a bike that is not fit for purchase.


Make Sure The Seller Owns The Bike

When you go to view your chosen bike, make sure it’s at the seller’s address and always visit during the daytime. If the seller refuses any of these simple things, they could be hiding something sinister.

When you get to the seller’s house you’ll want to immediately check all the documentation to make sure the seller actually owns the bike they are selling. Motorcycles are easier to steal than cars, so stolen bikes being hawked for a quick profit are a more common occurrence than you might think!

Ask for as many of the following as possible and make sure they all match up:

  • Receipts for the bike and work done
  • Past MOT certificates
  • Service history
  • Past tax discs (if the bike is old enough to have them, pre-October 2014)
  • The V5C registration document matching the seller’s address

If a seller can’t give you at least the V5C for a bike, walk away immediately, it’s not worth the risk.


Check the bike thoroughly

Only once you’ve made sure all the papers check out you can move onto looking at the bike. Bring a torch and check the following places; if you are unsure as to what you are looking for, bring a bike savvy friend to help you.

  • Exhaust pipes – When the bike is running, make sure there is no blue smoke (unless the bike you are viewing is a two-stroke, in which case blue smoke is normal), this indicates burning oil and is a sign that the engine will need an expensive reconditioning. Also make sure there are no rust holes in the exhaust manifold (the pipes coming out of the engine).
  • Engine – Start the engine. It should start quickly and unhesitantly. Listen for knocking noises. Knocking or “pinging” may indicate serious damage caused by a worn internal bearing or mis-configured timing, both of which are tricky to fix.
  • Chain – The chain should be well lubricated and should only be able to be flexed about 1 inch at its slackest point. An overly slack chain could mean a worn tensioner or a stretched chain, both tricky repairs.
  • Lights – Be sure that all of the bulbs are intact.
  • Handlebars and levers – If the ends of the handlebars are scuffed or the clutch or brake levers are broken or bent, this is a sure sign that the bike has been dropped at some point. Check the exhaust can and fuel tank for further damage and examine the engine block for signs of leaking.
  • Tyres – 1mm of tread depth is the legal limit, any less and you would be riding on not only illegal, but dangerous tyres. Ideally, you want much more tread on the tyres than the legal limit.
  • Oil – Withdraw the oil sump plug on the bike’s engine and check the dip stick. Fresh oil is a light, golden colour, whereas used oil is pitch black. Any colour towards the lighter end of the spectrum is acceptable. If there is a significant amount of yellow-brown sludge on the sump plug, the engine may have a broken head gasket, an expensive repair.
  • Odometer – Unscrupulous sellers will sometimes wind the mile counter back to try and get a higher price for their bike. If the bike looks too ‘aged’ for its mileage, consider the possibility that it has been tampered with.

Checking the bike beforehand will not only save you potential headaches down the road, but if you spot minor flaws, these can be used as points when negotiating a price.

Take The Bike For A Ride

Private sellers often don’t like allowing potential buyers the chance to test ride the bike they are selling for the fear that they won’t see it again, but the only true way of knowing whether or not you will like the bike, and know if it’s in serviceable condition is to give it a spin around the block.

At the very least you should be able to start the bike and check that it revs smoothly and that there are no leaks. If you are insured to do so, take the motorcycle for a test ride on a range of different road types for around 10 to 15 miles, to give you an accurate representation of the bike’s characteristics.


If anything seems out of place or not quite right, walk away; there are plenty of other bikes for sale.

If on the other hand, you’ve found your ideal bike and it is in satisfactory condiion, it’s time to negotiate.

Don’t Be Afraid To Haggle

British people have a reputation for being poor hagglers. While this may not be true for everyone, those that don’t negotiate are letting a potentially great deal pass them by.

Unless you are buying from auction (in which case the final price is non-negotiable), almost all sellers should be willing to take a reasonable offer if it means selling their bike, but just in case, it’s important to confirm whether or not the seller is willing to take an offer before you go and see the bike. This will prevent disappointment and a potential wasted trip if you are unwilling to pay full price.

When you commence negotiation, your objective is to open with a lower price and let the seller work his way up to a price you are both comfortable with.

There are several things you should take into consideration when coming up with an opening offer:

  • Your budget – before you go and see the bike you should make up your mind how much you want to pay based on the seller’s asking price, the mileage and general condition of the bike.
  • Recurring costs – if the bike doesn’t include MOT, this is a point of negotiation that you can use to your advantage.
  • Condition – While inspecting the bike, you should take note of any minor defects. Rust spots, scratches and nicks make great negotiating points to try and get a discount.
  • History – The more paperwork the seller has, the better his bike will retain its value. If the seller is missing things like service history or previous MOTs, this can be used to strike a deal.

When coming up with a opening offer, be bold, but be reasonable. If you ‘lowball’ the seller they may not take you seriously, and at worst they could be offended.

Be flexible. Remember that the idea is to come up with a price that you are both happy with.

Take Your Time

There are many reasons why you may not be comfortable making a decision during the viewing: Perhaps the seller will not budge on price, or maybe you have other bikes to view, whatever the reason, it is important not to feel obliged to make a deal on the day if you need more time to decide.

Don’t be pressured into making a decision. “I have another guy coming tomorrow” or “I’ve just got off the phone with someone who’ll pay more” are common tactics used to tempt a buyer into making a hasty decision. These phrases are used quite often, but are more often than not untrue. Even if the seller is telling the truth, you shouldn’t be tempted; there are plenty more motorcycles out there.

It is perfectly acceptable to go away to mull over the decision on whether to purchase a particular bike, you are after all spending a considerable amount of money on a vehicle.


Once you have come to an agreement and purchased a bike, it’s time to make sure it and you are legally fit for the road! That means change of ownership,  tax and MOT among other things, and that’s what we will be discussing on the next page.


Is My Bike Roadworthy? >