Always look for signs of accident damage. Often small items get overlooked following a repair and are a good indicator of a bike’s history.
Check handlebar ends, levers, mirrors, along with footrest hangers – particularly rear footrest brackets as these are the widest point and often don’t get replaced after a spill. Scuffs on any or all of these don’t always mean a crash but are a warning sign to investigate further.
Standard paintwork is important. You may like that special day-glow pink finish, but straying away from original colours limits the sell-on value. Chips and marks on the fairing often can’t be avoided, but indicate how a bike has been looked after.
Tank pads are a common fitment these days, a scruffy one can be replaced but may hide a mark. Damage to the fuel tank is probably a bigger issue than to fairing lowers for instance.
At the same time have a look behind the fairing – or under the seat if it has a lifting seat. Corrosion and damage can often be seen here and worth noting.
Wheels and Tyres
Check tyres condition – not only for wear. Replacing a pair of Superbike tyres could cost in excess of £300 a major consideration compared to a bike with new unworn tyres. But also remember to check the actual tyres. A bike used under normal road conditions will not have been worn to the edges. A tyre which has thehero blobs or edge mouldings worn has probably seen some track use.
Have a good look at the wheel rims, check rusty and flaking paint. With alloy wheels, always check the rim edge for flat spots.
Replacement exhausts may be desirable but always ask if the standard system is supplied with the bike. Many owners replace standard systems both for aesthetic and performance reasons. Without the standard system, having a non-road legal silencer could mean additional expense at MOT time.
A non-standard exhaust may also indicate crash damage.
Engine and Frame numbers
Check engine and frame numbers. It has been known for stolen bikes to have engine and frame numbers removed and re-stamped or for numbers to be ground off. This is not any easy thing to verify for the less knowledgeable but if they have been tampered with, then quite often something doesn’t quite look right. Also check that paperwork and bike details match.
Have a good look at the suspension both front and rear. Pitted or marked fork stanchions will have damaged the fork seals, whereas rusty and unclean rear shocks could mean worn and seized linkages.
Chain and Sprockets
A quick visual check of the chain will indicate how well a bike has been looked after. A dry rusty chain means that other things may have been overlooked. A lot of sports bikes don’t have a centre stand so adjustment is more difficult. Check the side adjustment bars – next to the rear wheel spindle. A fully adjusted or worn chain will have been moved back to full extension.
Ask to hear the bike running. Sellers are quite rightly reluctant to offer test rides, but ask to hear the bike running and engage gear. If the engine is still warm when you arrive it may just mean that the seller has been for a ride. However a cold engine can give you a better idea of starting etc.
Listening to the engine for someone who is non-mechanical won’t necessarily highlight any problems, but anything really untoward would stand out. Don’t forget the seller doesn’t know how knowledgeable you are.
Ask when the oil was last changed. This should be at least yearly even if the bike has stood for most of it.
Reason for Sale
Ask the owner why they are selling. A genuine seller will probably have a plausible reason. Often a direct question will throw a seller if they are trying to cover something.
If everything looks okay and you want to proceed further, ask to see the bike’s paperwork. Loads of different owners and higher than average miles doesn’t always mean bad news. The service history is a better indicator.
The ideal would be a full service history with stamped book from an approved franchise dealer. This is the exception rather than rule in most cases. Gaps in service history mean more, so try and follow the timeline between whatever history is there.
Old MOT certificates will show a mileage history and old receipts from service and repair work can build up a good picture. A bike should really have a yearly check as a minimum, if only to change the oil and filter.
Certain marques such as Ducati and Harley Davidson will de-value by not having a full franchised dealer history and whilst this may not be of concern to you it may have a bearing upon re-sale.
A final reminder is to ask if all keys are available. A bike supplied with only one key or more importantly without the red master key if relevant, can mean additional future expense.
A good point to remember is that if it looks too good to be true, then it probably is!