Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 19th August 2019

Top tips to avoid buying a dud motorcycle

We all do it. We’re into peak biking season, we love our bike (and in many cases we might even have a multibike collection), but we’re still contemplating a change. In the middle of summer, with so many bikes around, everywhere is like a motorcycle showroom. You admire new models on the road you haven’t seen before. Or you spot a bike you’ve not seen for a while – how many times have you said, ‘I’ve always fancied one of them’ while pointing at a bike you missed out on a few years back. Next thing you know, you’re on eBay! If you own a sports bike you’ll appreciate the comfort a touring or adventure bikes. And vice versa, while touring you often think, ‘it might be time for a sports bike again, one last outing before I get too old to fit into race leathers!’ No matter how much we love our bikes, we’re never happy and always thinking the grass is always greener.

But, unless you’re a buying brand new bike from a registered dealer there are pitfalls and easy mistakes to make when buying a second hand bike. We’ve put a simple guide together, which should prevent you from purchasing a dodgy second-hand bike – fingers crossed.

Main Dealers

If you can, stick with a recognised franchised dealer. Prices may be slightly higher, but it can be worth it, especially you’re spending some serious money. Main dealers have a reputation to uphold, and you’ll typically have the protection of a warranty and Consumer Rights Act if things go wrong.


Usually no matter how small the dealership/seller is, you’ll be able to find a review on-line. This may be Facebook, Twitter, even Instagram. Also, check and other similar sites. Scroll down all the messages, are customers happy with the service and experience. Also, check the dealer’s record and see how long they have been in business. If you’re buying from eBay check their history and other items for sale.


On any used bike, one of the first things you must check is the engine and frame numbers. Ask for the logbook from the seller, then check they match the frame and engine numbers. On older bikes, the engine may have been changed, which isn’t a problem if they match the logbook. Also, look at the numbers in detail, have they been played around with, does the frame number look like it’s been tampered with? It can be hard to see the numbers, so take a picture on your phone and increase the image. Numbers that don’t match or have been altered is an indication of a bike that’s possibly been stolen.


While you have the logbook and documentation, check if it matches the mileage. On older bikes, check the analogue clocks in detail, have they been played around with? Be suspicious if they can’t provide you with any documentation to prove the mileage and secondly if the clocks look tampered with. Older bikes with analogue clocks are relatively easy to interfere with, but easy to spot. The odometer numbers should be perfect and lined up, there shouldn’t be any condensation behind the clocks either. Modern digital clocks are hard to tamper with, and it’s hard to spot if they have been played around with. But, if the bike has only done a claimed 8,000 miles, but the rubber grips and pegs are worn out and there are clear marks where luggage has been fitted – think again.

Race bike to road bike

It does happen. Someone will buy a road bike, remove all the road bodywork and replace it with race bodywork, race it or track day it for a year or so, then put all the road kit back on and sell it as a low mileage road bike. If the bodywork is immaculate, but the exhaust and down-pipes aren’t why? Check for lock-wiring on the oil cap and sump plug. If it has race pads fitted why? Have the pegs been scrapped – usually an indication of race or track use. This applies to sportsbikes, like the Yamaha R6s and Kawasaki ZX-10Rs, that you’ll see racing in British superbikes. Even when restored to standard, these bikes might have tuned engine internals, which can have implications for your insurance policy too.

Crash damage

Sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If the bike is modified and sporting non standard colours, ask why? Because it’s been dropped? Have they fitted aftermarket items like a performance exhaust, or mini indicators for cosmetic reasons, or to hide crash damage? If you’re buying from an eBay account, check their recent purchases. If they’ve just bought bodywork or fairing repair kit – alarm bells are ringing.

Check the servicing

Not only check that the service intervals have been completed but on time and by a registered dealer. Also, check which service intervals are coming up, you could be a few hundred miles away from a costly major service, especially on older Ducatis, which need their cambelts changed every two years. Factor that in when negotiating the price.

HPI check

Usually done by a dealer for a small charge or free. You can also do this on a private sale. This checks if the bike has any outstanding finance or if the bike has been stolen or crashed.

Bodge job

More applicable to older bikes but still worth noting on new bikes. If they’ve fitted aftermarket luggage or accessories, like heated grips, has it been done by an authorised dealer or bodged at home? Do the tyres match? If they’ve fitted an aftermarket tail tidy or screen have they used the correct bolts and fasteners? A bike with mismatched tyres, bodged wiring or poorly fitted hard luggage is asking for a disaster.

Ask questions

If you’re buying privately the owner should know about the bike. Where have they been, touring or track days? What is it like to ride? If they don’t know the tank range, or don’t know how to start it (think motocross or enduro ), or don’t know how to get under the seat – ask yourself if this really is the actual owner of the bike? If they have serviced the bike, then what type of oil did they use? If they don’t know, then they probably haven’t serviced the bike.

Look for clues

If you’re viewing a bike in an immaculate garage, with a dust cover, security, and spotless tools and leathers neatly hung up you’re on to a winner. If not, where do they keep the bike? Outside all night? Again, if you can’t see any bike kit, is the person selling the bike really a biker? Is it their’s to sell? If you’re buying a motocross bike or enduro bike their garage should be brimming with kit, spare goggles, boots and so on. If not, why? From a dealer’s perspective, you can never really judge a book by its cover but if the workshop is a mess, then how much care have they taken over the bike you’re about to buy?

Words: Adam Child