Most of us buy our bikes secondhand (or third-hand,
fourth-hand or worse) and it's always a bit of a gamble. Unless
you're buying a road registered road-trail, the chances of being
able to take it for a decent test ride are slim. To make things a
bit easier for you, we've put together a guide to some of the
do's and don'ts of buying a seondhand bike.
So you've decided on the important things like what type of
bike you're after, MX, road-trail, enduro, etc, and
the really important things like 2 or 4 stroke, and you're scouring the local classifieds for the best thing you
can get for your budget. At this stage it pays to do a bit of research on bike values. You need to know the
market value of the bike you're after, so you can tell a cheap price vs an expensive one. If someone's
offering a bargain, ask yourself why, and make sure you check the bike out really well, there's normally a
reason and it often costs money.
At this stage, it may be worth looking at a slightly older bike than you can actually afford. For instance, if
the model you've selected sells for $3000 - $4000 depending on condition, and you've only got $3200 to
spend, going a year or two older will probably mean you can select a pristine condition bike for your
$3200, rather than one of the lesser condition newer ones you were thinking of. In general, bikes don't
change all that much over a couple of years, and the later model, but worse condition, bike will probably
require more $$ to bring it up to scratch before you can even ride it.
Two common things that often come up in bike ads is "Just rebuilt" and "Never raced". Both these things
need considering. If it's advertised as recently rebuilt, ask what was done to it. Was it just a top-end or a
full rebuild? The more that was done to it the better really, as you won't have to do it again for a while, but
never trust the seller - make him produce the receipts. If he hasn't got them, then assume that no work has
recently been done at all.
As for the "Never been raced", sounds like a good thing doesn't it? Possibly not. MX bikes are designed,
built and purchased to be raced competetively. If a bike is a recent ex-racer, chances are it's been
looked after, serviced and repaired as necessary and suffered no ill effects from it's racing career. On the
other hand, a never raced but often thrashed cold to within an inch of it's life, bush basher, owned by
someone who rode it hard and put it away wet, may have some underlying issues that may crop up.
Ex-racer or not, examine your potential purchase well.
OK, so you're out the back of some guy's house and looking at an awesome dirt bike. You've determined
that it's an acceptable price based on it's age, and assuming it's in good condition. Now you've got to
work out what condition it's actually in. Of course you can check the tyres, chain and sprockets with a
quick glance, but what else should you look for? Bright, shiny brand-new plastics can sometimes indicate
that the bike has had a cosmetic makeover to sell it, not always a bad thing unless it's hiding previous
abuse under a shiny exterior. Check the brake pads for meat and the brake discs for wear. The discs
should be nice and smooth with no lip on the outside edge. The more lip there is, the more worn the disc
is. If the owner claims it hasn't done much from new, yet the discs are badly worn, walk away - he's lying
through his teeth.
How does the exhaust look? Especially on a 2 stroke, the exhaust often shows the scars of crashes, big
and small, a badly scratched and dented exhaust can indicate lots of riding time or maybe just a bad
rider. Lots of rust on it can indicate beach or salt-flat work so if it does have rust, check the rest of the
bike carefully for signs of corrosion.
To get an idea of how well the bike was looked after, take the seat off and examine the air-filter and
airbox. Is it nice and clean, at least to acceptable standards, or does it look like you'd grow a decent crop
of potatoes in there? Filthy airboxes often point to a lack of maintenance overall.
Check the radiators, are they nice and straight, cooling fins fairly intact? Radiators can cop a fair amount
of abuse and they often testify to how hard a bike's life has been. As they're expensive items to replace,
it's nice to have good ones when you buy a bike too. Take the cap off and check in them as well, is the
coolant green and clean or just cruddy water which corrodes everything?
If it's equipped with a transmission oil level check (most newer bikes are but some older ones aren't)
check the level and also the appearance of the oil. The level should be full and the oil nice and clean. To
check if the owner changes it regularly, ask him what specific transmission oil he uses. If he can't answer
straight off the top of his head then he probably doesn't change it often. If he has no idea at all then he's
probably never done it. If it is low, there's a problem somewhere. Either it's leaking (probably behind the
front sprocket) or it's going into the combustion chamber and burning up. Neither problem is fatal, unless
you run the transmission out of oil, but both cost money to fix.
Check the rims for dings and dents, and run a spanner or something over each spoke in turn to make
sure they all sound the same. If you hear some making a 'duller' sound than the others, they're the loose
ones. It's not a major issue, but again it will show if the owner has been looking after the bike. Check the
wheel bearings by trying to wobble the wheel side to side as well, it shouldn't move. If it does it's probably
a bearing, but it can be caused by a worn hub as well, and that is another expensive fix.
If everything's checked out as acceptable so far, it's time to start it up, but first, check the compression by
slowly pushing on the kickstart. To properly check this, you need to have done this to a few bikes of
around the same model to get a feel for how hard the kickstart is to depress. If it's acceptable, start it up.
Most later model bikes will start with just a few kicks in good condition (one to three, if you are familiar
with starting them), if it takes more than that to get it going it can indicate a problem, either compression,
ignition, fuel mixture, carby, etc. Then just see how it runs, once it warms up of course. Is it nice and crisp
on the throttle, not smoking overly (if a 2 stroke) or at all (if a 4 stroke)?
If at all possible, you really want to take it for a ride at this point. You don't need to go flat out or hit any
jumps, but it is nice to know that it selects all the gears in the gearbox and doesn't jump out of any gear
under load. Gearbox issues always mean splitting the cases and that's always a big job.
If it passes all these checks, chances are it's a decent bike. One final thing to check before you buy, and
it's vitally important, is to find out for sure that it's not stolen. Unless it's road registered, chances are you'll
need to contact your local police with the VIN number of the bike to check this. Please don't buy a stolen
dirt bike. They're mostly uninsured and the legal owner has lost a big chunk of money by having it stolen. If
no-one bought these stolen bikes then no-one would bother stealing them in the first place, and you'd hate
to have your new bike stolen wouldn't you? Also, if you knowingly buy a stolen bike and get caught with it,
you're going to be in some legal trouble yourself. If you just don't check and it turns out it is stolen, you're
going to lose the bike and all the money you paid for it. Whatever way you look at it, stolen bikes are bad
news for everyone.
So it's all checked out and you paid your money? Great! Now go buy all your safety gear and hit the trails!
See you out there!