Buying a used motorcycle is a great way to add another bike to the garage, find a donor bike for a project, or maybe a perfect way to get into riding. Whatever your motivation is for finding a used bike, Motorcyclist has all of the information you need to make a smart purchase. We break down every style of motorcycle, from every manufacturer, giving you pointers of what to look for. Our reviews go even deeper, supplying you with insight into what makes that model unique, allowing you to compare bikes, helping narrow down your search.
Whether you’re just browsing or sitting in a dealership talking to a salesperson, Motorcyclist is here to guide you through your next used motorcycle purchase.
Sportbikes are the supercars of the motorcycle world. These fully-faired machines are powered by high-revving, compact engines that are perfect for racing duty. A used sportbike is ideal if you’re looking for a track-only bike or want something more sporty to ride around on. They are not known for being comfortable for touring, but rather their speed and handling.
Some things to look out for when shopping for a used sportbike is to see if it has been to the track, or has seen numerous track days. Check for safety-wired oil filters or catch cans attached to the ends of hoses. Check the status of the fairings, if they have been replaced or if the bike has been dropped or crashed. As with every used motorcycle you buy, check with the seller if they have a comprehensive service record because this will give you the most information on the condition of the bike.
Do you want a comfortable motorcycle that exudes classic style? Well then, a standard motorcycle is more your speed. If you want an updated take on a standard, there are a bevy of used naked motorcycle options from Japanese, European, and American manufacturers. A standard motorcycle features a more neutral seating position, with comfortable hand and foot reach. Naked motorcycles are styled more aggressively, and most of the time so are the controls.
When looking at a used standard or naked motorcycle look for signs of wear that are indicative of abuse. One advantage of a standard is that there are no fairings to hide any damage. One disadvantage of a standard is that there are no fairings to protect the motorcycle from the elements. Check the bike for rust spots in the hard-to-reach areas. As always, a comprehensive service record is the best indication of how the previous owner treated the motorcycle.
Cruisers are as American as apple pie, fried chicken, and baseball, finding its origins in the American Midwest. Cruiser motorcycles are known for their relaxed seating position and foot-forward controls. You can also equip a cruiser with a fairing, windshield, or luggage to make it more touring-friendly.
If you’re going to check out a used cruiser motorcycle, don’t be blinded by the chrome or other aftermarket accessories the previous owner has installed. In the age of knock-off parts, ensure that each part installed is quality and in perfect condition. Talk to the seller and ask why the parts were replaced, sometimes owners will justify the replacement of their parts because of a lowside or drop. Other owners just want their bike to shine a little brighter.
Dual sport and adventure motorcycles are known for their ability to handle on- and off-road duty deftly. With a larger front tire and longer travel suspension, a dual-sport can soak up the potholes of an urban center as well as single track. Adventure motorcycles are the long-distance touring focused dual-sports, normally equipped with a larger fuel tank, wind protection, and luggage.
Checking out a used dual sport or adventure motorcycle? After giving the exterior a good once over, get down on the ground and inspect the skid plate, and if there is not one check the bottom of the engine. Check to see if the skid plate is damaged and has to be replaced, ensuring that the busted skid plate has not damaged the engine. As always, a complete service record will give you the clearest picture of the state of the used bike.
Dirt bikes are a great way to learn how to operate a motorcycle without worrying about other motorists and traffic. Also, second-hand dirt bikes are aplenty, which you can ride on the trails, at a motocross track, or turn into a supermoto. Just make sure that wherever you ride them, that you are riding them legally and responsibly.
Instead of being measured in miles, a dirt bike’s engine is measured in hours. There are some models that come with a built-in hour meter, but more often than not it will be an added aftermarket accessory or not installed at all. While not necessary, it does help give you an idea of how much the bike has been ridden, and how much maintenance should have been performed. As a result, you have to put your faith completely in the seller. You should check that a used 4 stroke dirt bike doesn’t smoke and understand that a 2 stroke bike might when started cold.
Touring motorcycles, whether the sporty variety or not, are made for highway comfort. A touring motorcycle might feature a relaxed or more neutral seating position, with a comfortable reach to all of the controls. Luggage is an often included option, with creature comforts for long-distance and two-up riding. Adventure-touring motorcycles also fit into this category and are better-suited for on- and off-road motorcycle touring.
If you go through a dealer or a private party for your used touring motorcycle, don’t be afraid of an odometer that reads 50,000-plus miles. These machines were made to rack up mileage and a well-cared-for touring bike will gladly take you on more adventures than the previous owner. If the service records are up-to-date, then take a look at the options included with the bike. Does it come with luggage? Heated grips? Adjustable windscreen? Has the seat or controls been modified and is it comfortable for me? Check the wear of the tires, and if not already installed, ask the service manager to include some multi-compound touring tires.
Electric motorcycles are known for their instant torque and ease of maintenance when compared to their internal combustion counterparts. While not every OEM produces an electric model, one of the largest brands launched its electric model in 2020. Other electric motorcycle manufacturers include Zero and Energica.
When buying a used electric motorcycle check the condition of the wear-and-tear items: brake pads, rotors, brake fluid, bearings, final-drive chain or belt, and tires. Manufacturers have also included software that connects the bike to a smartphone, displaying relevant information such as battery state of charge and lifetime statistics. Before purchasing, it would be worthwhile to verify this information with the seller.
Scooters are one of the greatest vehicles when it comes to moving around an urban environment. Their compact size makes them easy to park, they handle city streets and congestion well, some have storage and optional luggage, and their peppy motor is fun to blast around on. A common feature on scooters is an automatic transmission, which is helpful to a beginner or useful in stop-and-go traffic.
Checking out a used scooter is no different than checking out any of the motorcycles on this list. First, you want a comprehensive service record, which will tell you the best backstory on the condition of the scooter. A visual check of the exterior, including remaining tire life and fluid levels, along with a start-up and test ride, should give you the impression of whether this used scooter is worthy of being yours.
A cared-for used motorcycle is a great option for riders of any skill level, especially if they don’t need the latest paint scheme or technology package. Two or three-year-old bikes will be thousands of dollars less than its newer iteration and can sometimes include useful accessories or aftermarket parts. Looking for the best used motorcycles? Here at Motorcyclist, we’ve developed lists for some of the best used motorcycles for beginners, whether you like riding Italian bikes or American ones, sportbikes or adventure motorcycles, and much more.