How to Buy a Motorcycle: A Guide to New and Used Bikes

How to Buy a Motorcycle: A Guide to New and Used Bikes

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Whether you're buying your first motorcycle or you're an experienced rider looking for an upgrade, there are many factors to consider. You'll need to find a motorcycle that fits your riding style, figure out your budget, and choose between new and used options.

Choosing a motorcycle

With so many motorcycle styles and configurations, you're bound to find a bike that fits your style. To figure out what's right for you, consider how you plan to use your motorcycle, your experience level and where you plan to use the bike.

Buying guide to different motorcycle styles

First consider the bike style that best fits you. Generally, most bikes fit into one of the categories detailed below.

Who should buy it
Popular models
Standard motorcycles are great general-purpose bikes. They're characterized by their upright riding posture and lack of accessories like fairings and saddlebags.Good for: Beginners, commuters and money savers
Bad for: Long-distance and off-road riders
Honda Nighthawk and Suzuki SV650

Cruisers, which are epitomized by Harley-Davidson, typically have a relaxed riding position, soft comfortable suspension and a V-twin engine. These bikes have a high average weight, usually exceeding 500 pounds, making them difficult to handle for small or new riders.Good for: Tall riders looking for comfort and style
Bad for: Small riders who ride off-road or prefer fuel efficiency
Harley-Davidson Sportster and Yamaha V Star
Touring motorcycles are built for long rides and typically come fully loaded with fairings to block the wind, saddle bags to accommodate lots of luggage and large fuel tanks.Good for: Riders who take long road trips
Bad for: City riders looking to save money
Honda The Gold Wing and BMW R1200GS
Sport or street bikes are built for speed and performance, and as such, they're ideal for thrill seekers. These motorcycles typically have large plastic fairings to improve aerodynamics and an extreme forward-leaning riding position.Good for: Performance
Bad for: Novice riders and insurance savings
Kawasaki Ninja and Honda CBR
Dual-sport bikes are typically lightweight with high-travel suspension and aggressive tires for off-road riding. Because of their tall seat height, shorter riders may have difficulty finding a dual-sport bike that fits them.Good for: Off-road riding
Bad for: Long-distance rides on pavement and shorter riders
Suzuki DRZ and Kawasaki KLR

Engine size

Once you've decided on a motorcycle style and model, you should consider which engine size fits your preferred riding style or experience level. Many bike models come in a variety of sizes. For example, the Kawasaki Ninja has been available over the years in a variety of forms, with engine sizes ranging from 250cc up to 1,400cc.

Motorcycles with smaller engines — in the 250cc to 500cc range — are great options for those looking for a good low-cost, entry-level bike. These motorcycles are typically less expensive to insure than more powerful bikes, and therefore you'll save money in the long term. Furthermore, those learning to ride will find it easier to handle these bikes because of their light weight and manageable power.

Beginner's guide to motorcycles

The best motorcycle to start with depends on the factors we've outlined above — namely the style of the bike and engine size. However, it's also important to know how the bike feels to ride. We recommend you test several motorcycles when shopping for bikes to get a feel for which is best for you. Below, we've provided our recommendations for good motorcycles to consider for your first ride.

Best new motorcycles for beginners

MSRP (2018 model)
StandardSuzuki SV650$7,049
CruiserYamaha V Star 250$4,349
TouringYamaha FJR1300A$16,399
SportKawasaki Ninja 300$4,999
Dual-sportSuzuki DR-Z400S$6,699

Best used motorcycles for beginners

Blue Book value
Standard2009 Suzuki GS500F$2,830
Cruiser2009 Honda CMX250C Rebel$2,140
Touring2008 Kawasaki Concours$5,775
Sport2010 Kawasaki Ninja 250R$2,695
Dual-sport2008 Suzuki DR-Z400S$3,710

Buying a used motorcycle

Used motorcycles typically represent the best value, as they cost less and don't depreciate as rapidly as new bikes. However, finding a good used bike that's both reliable and safe can be difficult, especially if you don't know anything about motorcycles. Typically, you'll want to avoid motorcycles with any of the following features.

  • Salvage titles
  • Excessive wear
  • Difficulties starting, running or stopping
  • High mileage

The biggest risk in buying a used bike is that something could go wrong mechanically. This can be extremely frustrating, especially if you rely on your bike every day. However, there are levels of risk. Older motorcycles will probably need repairs, and new bikes might not need any. One way to mitigate risk is to buy mechanical breakdown insurance, which operates like an extended warranty for your motorcycle and covers the cost of certain repairs.

In particular, check out the bike's mileage, as it's very different from a car's mileage.

For example, although 40,000 miles on a car is relatively low — especially for a used vehicle — it is a lot for a motorcycle. As a general rule, we recommend you look for motorcycles with fewer than 20,000 miles.

Buying a used motorcycle from a private seller

If you are buying a bike from a private seller — such as from someone who posted their motorcycle on Craigslist or eBay — you can take steps to ensure you ride away with a bike that's a good value.

Know what the motorcycle is worth. Look up the bike's blue book value to get a sense of whether the bike is priced well, even if you know nothing about motorcycles.

Get a VIN check. If you're seriously considering purchasing a motorcycle, use its VIN (usually located on the motorcycle's steering neck) to get a vehicle history report. This report offers important information about the vehicle, including its ownership history, whether it has a clean or salvage title, and if it has been in any serious accidents.

This service usually costs around $25, so it is prudent to only order VIN checks for motorcycles that you are seriously considering purchasing.

Thoroughly inspect the motorcycle. Check for leaks, rust (bring a flashlight so you can check in the gas tank) or any abnormal wear on the bike, especially to the running gear (frame, wheels, brakes and chain). Even if you know nothing about motorcycles, a strong visual inspection can usually tell you a lot about whether a bike has been properly maintained. If anything looks amiss, ask the owner about it.

If you really feel out of your element inspecting motorcycles or if you want to be very sure about a bike's condition and safety, call a local motorcycle mechanic to set up a prepurchase inspection. This typically costs around $100 to $200, and it could help you uncover problems or at least provide peace of mind.

Ask questions. When shopping for a used vehicle, it's important to gather as much information as possible. Here are some examples of good questions to ask the owner:

  • Why are you selling the motorcycle?
  • How long have you had the bike?
  • Have you ever had any issues with the motorcycle?
  • Do you have the title?
  • Is the title in your name?
  • Does it have a clean or salvage title?

Buying a motorcycle from a dealership

Motorcycle dealerships can be a good option for those either looking to buy a new motorcycle or a certified preowned bike. Dealerships are especially useful if you're interested in a specific make and model and don't have time to search classified ads for a privately sold bike.

Dealerships can often provide you with low-interest financing, which gives you some flexibility in paying off your purchase. However, this option may not be available if you have bad credit.

Motorcycle warranties, which are often included with the purchase of a new bike from a dealership, are great for those who aren't mechanically inclined.

These warranties cover the cost of repairs your bike may need due to defective parts or other breakdowns. However, parts that should be replaced at regular intervals — such as tires, brakes, filters and lubricants — are typically not covered under motorcycle warranties.

How much does it cost to buy a motorcycle?

The cost of your motorcycle depends greatly on the type of motorcycle you choose and whether you buy used or new. Used bikes typically start as low as a few hundred dollars, and new bikes start at around $3,000. However, in addition to the cost of the motorcycle itself, there are many extra costs associated with buying a motorcycle. These include the cost of insurance, riding gear and licensing fees.

Motorcycle insurance

Motorcycle insurance is required in all states except Florida and Washington state. In general, insuring a motorcycle is cheaper than insuring a car, especially if you buy a cheaper used motorcycle and opt for basic liability coverage. On average, coverage costs $519 per year. However, motorcycle insurance costs vary by state. Enter your ZIP code below to start comparing motorcycle insurance quotes.

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Helmet and riding gear

Although most states allow motorcycle owners to ride without a helmet if they are over 21, we recommend you wear one. Prices for new Department of Transportation-approved helmets start around $100, and wearing one can protect you against possible injury or death. In addition to a helmet, we recommend wearing a high-visibility motorcycle jacket, protective gloves and boots. All in, expect to pay around $400 for riding gear.

Cost of getting motorcycle license or endorsement

Depending on the motorcycle license requirements in your state, you may be required to take a state-approved motorcycle safety course before you can officially become a licensed rider. These classes can cost around $200, and they teach the basics of how to ride. Not included in this price, however, are the additional fees from your state's DMV to actually receive your new license. This can cost anywhere from $16 in Texas to $35 California.

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