Tips On Buying (or Selling) A Used Bike

Is "high mileage" the deal-breaker?

Is high mileage a deal-breaker for you? Before you say yes, take into consideration the bike's condition and model-year. Do the math!©Motorcyclist

When shopping for a used bike, most buyers look at condition, price, and mileage. Conventional wisdom says the average rider logs 3,000 to 5,000 miles a year. If that’s the case, why do so many bikes seem to have above-average mileage? That’s not just an idle observation; I’m seeing more high-mileage bikes for trade-in than ever.

A Ninja 250 with only 214 miles on the clock? Sold!©Motorcyclist

The why. Simple, it's the recession. Those who felt the effects of the recession decided that the bike they were riding would suffice and purchasing a new or newer bike wasn't a necessity. This decision added a few years to the length of ownership, which added more miles. And while the annual mileage might not have been much more, these owners are now starting to trade up older, higher-mileage bikes. Where you could count on a bike three to four years old with, say, 15,000 miles, now we're seeing five- to seven-year-old bikes with nearly double that. There is also some truth to the theory that these owners are keeping bikes longer and riding them more rather than buying new, adding the trinkets, and admiring their work with an elbow on the workbench. That also raised the average miles per year.

Once you zero in on your choice, condition, price, and mileage are the top three things you'll most likely look at first.©Motorcyclist

Toys versus transportation. Many of the owners who kept riding their bikes during the downturn—as opposed to parking them or selling them at fire-sale prices—really used them. They're at the top end of the average. And those are the bikes we're starting to see show up as trade-ins and at auctions.

Do the math. Probably the hardest part of selling a bike with perceived high mileage is getting the buyers to do the math. A 2010 model, ridden at the high end of the average, will have 25,000 miles showing. I've seen plenty of touring rigs with much more per year than that. We just had a 2006 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic roll through with 323,632 miles—36,000 miles a year, average!

It's not impossible. I have had luck selling several motorcycles with more than 100,000 miles, and the retail price reflected it. Mechanically they were sound, and ultimately we had to stand behind the bikes for a reasonable amount of time after the sale. So if you're the seller of a high-mileage bike, don't panic. Just understand that it has diminished value and could take longer to sell. If you're buying, look closely at the maintenance history and condition before you write off a bike just for what's in the odometer window.

Jeff Maddox is the sales manager for a multi-line dealership in the Midwest. Questions for him? Email us at with "Retail Confidential" in the subject line.