It’s getting to be that time of the year again that many bikers are going to start looking for their next motorcycle. Many of you will be opting for pre-owned (better known as secondhand) motorcycles. It is a great way of getting a new-for-you motorcycle at reasonable costs. But as we all know, there are always hidden dangers. Has the bike been properly maintained? Are there any defects? What will the extra costs be during the riding season to repair all these problems that will arise while riding?
Even the most seasoned mechanic cannot determine if a motorcycle is in perfect condition, unless the bike is stripped down totally, but that costs a lot of money and time. But there are some basic steps you can do yourself, even if you’re not mechanically inclined, when looking at a new bike to see if there might be some problems with your new acquisition.
The engine is obviously the most important part, and the part that can cause the most problems. Before starting the engine open the throttle fully and let go. The throttle should click back instantly, if it doesn’t and goes back slowly, it could mean that the cable needs lubrication or that the gas handle is damaged, or worse, that the butterfly mechanism inside is damaged.
If you are able, drain some of the engine oil. Look to see if there are small metal shaving in the oil. If there are, walk away.
Start the engine. If it starts immediately, you’re fine. If it takes a while it could mean that the battery is dead or almost dead. Once the engine is running and has reached its normal temperature, the idle should decrease. If not, the timing on the engine could be off.
Open the throttle. If the increase is regular, without a gap in between the revs increasing, you’re fine. Same when you let go of the throttle, it should reach idle rapidly without the engine sputtering.
Listen to the engine, if you hear clicks & clacks, the engine could have problems. Engines are meant to be turning effortlessly, the more clicking noises you hear, the worse the engine is.
Unless you’ve got an automatic motorcycle, and there are not that many around, you’ll need to pay attention to the gearbox. When you put it into first gear, many bikes will clunk, so don’t worry about that. But when you are riding, all other gears should go in pretty smoothly, without any resistance. Some manufacturers have gearboxes that are more noisy than others, but you should always be able to select a gear without any resistance. If it does prove to be hard to get into gear, you’ll be needing to replace the gearbox.
When pressing the clutch, unless the bike is equipped with a dry clutch system, you shouldn’t hear any noise. If it’s a dry clutch, you might hear some spinning vibrations, which is normal. If you feel shocks or slippage, your clutch will need replacing.
If the motorcycle is equipped with a transmission chain, inspect it closely. Makes sure it’s properly mounted, not too tight, not to flexible. If the chain is on tight, it’ll mean the chain has been exposed to excessive tension and probably is ready to be changed. Go for a ride while selecting a gear higher than normal, i.e., if you should be in 2nd gear, select 3rd or 4th. That’s when you’ll hear the chain noises. The noise should be regular without clunking.
Push hard in one swoop the front and then next the rear of the bike. The suspension should contract fluidly, without sound. When you let go, it should go back to its original position fluidly and again without sound. If you hear a clicking sound, it could mean that the suspension is as good as gone. When test riding it, slowly go onto a sidewalk. Feel how the suspension compresses. Is it fluid both ways? If it jerks or bounces, you’re in trouble.
With the engine off, sit on the bike and press the brakes (front and back) one at a time. You should not hear any noise that resembles suction. If the levers soften, it could be that there’s air in the system, or worse, that there’s a leak.
When riding at a slow speed, brake independently (front and then back). You should hear a soft and regular whistling of the brakes. If not, your brakes will need to be replaced.
At higher speeds, you should not feel any vibrations. If you hear metal grinding, it means you’ll need to replace the brake-pads.
Best is if the bike has a center stand to put it on the stand, if not you’ll need help. With the front wheel off the ground, spin it. It should turn freely without any lateral movement. You should not hear any clicking sounds. Same with the rear wheel.
Juggle each wheel laterally. There should be no movement or clicking sounds.
If the wheel has spokes, hit each spoke with a metallic object. The sounds of each spoke should be almost identical to the previous one. If not, it’s replacement time.
If the bike has a center stand, sit on the bike so that the front wheel is in the air. Move yourself while pressing the front brakes forward and backward, so that the front wheel presses on the ground and then goes up again, same with the back wheel. You should not feel any “play” in the bike, no movements in the structure. If there is, the structure of the bike is not sound.
The best is if the seller has all the maintenance papers, i.e., invoices for each service performed. This way you can be sure it has been maintained to spec. See when the last time the spark plugs were changed, or the battery. Have you got a new chain?
Has the bike maintenance log been kept?
All of these, and many more, will ensure that you get a properly working bike. Remember that some people will sell their bike because it’s not working properly anymore, and they don’t want to be bothered with maintenance bills. Some will just get rid of their bike because they want a new model.
Spending time upfront when buying a new-for-you motorcycle will mean that you’ll be spending more time riding it instead of having it in the shop for repairs.