New vs. Used Motorcycles

New vs. Used Motorcycles

There are a ton of things to consider when buying a motorcycle. The list is long and you have to ask yourself all kinds of questions.

What sort of riding do you want to do?  What size engine do you need? What seat height is too tall? What’s your budget?

For most of us, riding is a luxury and thus requires a certain amount of disposable income to buy into the hobby. This brings up another important question—should you buy a used motorcycle or a new one?

Like with everything in life, there are pros and cons to both.

Consider the Warranty

To start, I’ll touch on a few of the pros and cons of purchasing a brand-new motorcycle. One obvious benefit of most new motorcycles is that they come with a sometimes very useful featurea warranty.

If anything goes wrong with your new machine, the dealership will repair it and you’ll be back on the road lickety-split. Right?

Well, yes, so long as the warranty claim goes your way and the dealer has the time to squeeze you into their often extremely busy schedule. Keep in mind the potential restrictions on maintaining service intervals. Manufacturers tend to be particular about these things to get out of warranty claims.

Shiny and New

If you want the latest and greatest technology the motorcycle industry has to offer, brand-new is the only way to go. Sure, plenty of used bikes are equipped with systems like traction control, ABS, and so on, but they could be Stone Age compared to the latest and greatest systems on new machines.

Either way, if you’re the type who has the means and desire to have the latest iPhone, you’ve probably already made your mind up. With all the technology on bikes today, though, you just might want that warranty…

There’s also something to be said about being able to put every single mile on a bike. It somehow makes it more your own.

Additionally, if you’re somewhat anal-retentive about maintenance, it's very nice to know exactly what’s been done and when. There’s no denying it—a new bike offers peace of mind.

All this comes at a premium, though. You’ll pay more for a shiny new Gold Wing than one from 2010, so balancing the price, reliability, and performance with your needs and wants is often not exactly cut and dry.

You must decide if you want to absorb the instantaneous and more aggressive depreciation curve associated with buying any new vehicle. If that’s something you can deal with—or if you’re purchasing your dream bike and never plan to sell it anyway—new is a great option.

Still Shiny But Used

What about the pros and cons of dipping into the used market, then? First off, if you’re on a budget and looking to get riding for the lowest investment possible, the used market is your source of bargains.

Of course, you can certainly inherit other people's problems and get burnt on a used purchase—especially if you’re not so mechanically inclined.

Next, if you’re not keen on taking the instant drive-off-the-lot depreciation hit, used is the way to go. In rare cases, some motorcycles have limited production runs or they develop a cult following after they go out of production and can even appreciate in value. However, purchasing vehicles as an investment is an entirely different discussion.

In this same vein, if you’re lusting after a bike that’s no longer produced, you’re going to be relegated to scouring the used market. Take the Honda RC51, for example—it is a rowdy, 1000cc V-twin sport bike to which Honda doesn’t currently produce an equivalent.

From a Dealer or Individual

You should have a minimal level of mechanical knowledge to avoid getting completely burnt by someone trying to unload a lemon. If you don’t, it’s best you pick up a book before you start shopping.

In my experience, many used motorcycles get put on the market due to a lack of use, with many ads saying things like, “I just don’t ride it enough,” or, “I’ve got too many and I’m downsizing.” You can usually get a sense of the seller fairly quickly.

If you see a red flag, just find another seller—it’s not likely that you’re purchasing the last remaining unit of a motorcycle.

I tend to be optimistic about these things. It’s not impossible, but it is pretty difficult to ruin a somewhat modern bike in a few thousand miles.

All this is to say, if you know how to pick a reliable seller, you can save a ton of money that can be allocated to travel, tires, fuel, or renewing your RoadRUNNER subscription. If you’re still nervous about purchasing from an individual, most dealerships sell used bikes too, but the statements above still stand.

Finally, suppose you don’t do your own work. In that case, it’s worth considering that many shops won’t work on bikes older than 15 or even 10 years, potentially leaving you with problems you can’t get fixed. The key here is knowing how to choose the right motorcycle or being willing to buy your mechanic buddy a case to go with you and check out a used bike.

So What Should You Buy?

I am by no means looking to influence your bike purchasing decision, only to analyze and discuss the situation. There are pros and cons to both new and used machines and you’ll have to do the math for yourself on which option suits you the best.

However, one thing is for sure—motorcycles are highly specialized machines. That’s why the equation for the number of bikes you should own rings true:

N+1 = the perfect number of motorcycles. (Where N is the current number of motorcycles you own.)

Most important things to consider when buying a new motorcycle:

  • What is covered under warranty?
  • Are you allowed to do your own basic maintenance?
  • What kind of accessories will you need/be allowed to install?
  • How much more will you spend compared to a similar used bike?
  • How much will insurance cost (especially if you finance)?
  • What are the financing options?

Most important things to consider when buying a used motorcycle:

  • Is the bike mechanically sound?
  • Are there any liens on the title?
  • Does the owner even HAVE the title?
  • Has the owner installed any upgrades or accessories?
  • Is it priced fairly?
  • Will it pass state inspection if required?