If you're uncomfortable or a little unsure about buying a used dirt bike, know that you're not alone. It can be intimidating and scary, especially if you're not super mechanical (like us). To help you make the most educated decision, we've provided a list of questions, along with some additional tips, that we recommend asking when buying a used bike. You can also get more insights and listen to us talk through these questions in our YouTube video.
If you're buying a bike off the floor from a power sports store, you probably don't have too much to worry about. Chances are, they've already done a lot of work to ensure their bikes are sellable and in mint condition (if you find a rusted and crusted bike that doesn't start on a showroom floor, we recommend going to a different store). Just make sure you research prices, understand what you want, and don't let them up-sell you on things that aren't up-sell-worthy.
On that note, you can usually find cheaper deals from sources like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, or a friend of friend, but the bike will also come with more of a mysterious past. Here are the questions we recommend asking to get some important, additional details:
- How long have you owned this bike? This gives you a good idea as to their knowledge of the history of the bike. If they're the only owner, they'll have a much better idea of what the bike has been through/how much work has been done than if they are the fourth or fifth owner.
- Where/how has the bike been stored? Inside vs. outside. Covered vs. non-covered. If the bike has been sitting outside, uncovered, and exposed to the elements, it's at a much higher risk for erosion and deterioration which may cause some expensive problems for you down the line.
- How many hours are on the bike? This information will help give you an idea of how much the bike has been ridden and what condition it's currently in. In general, the lower the amount of hours the better, but what is "acceptable" will also depend on the year of the bike and the skill level of the owner.
- What work has been done to the bike? It's important to know what has been done to the bike so you have the full picture of what you're getting yourself into. Multiple rebuilds may be a sign that the bike is going to be extremely troublesome for you as well.
- Did you do the work yourself or take it to a shop? It's important to know whether a professional or garage mechanic did the work. This isn't to say that one is better than the other (we definitely know some superb garage mechanics!), but if they did the work themselves and their explanations seem vague, that raises some flags. If they got the work done by a professional, ask them for the name of the shop and look it up! If all the reviews are shitty, that also raises some flags.
- Can I start the bike? You should always start the bike (unless they disclose beforehand that the bike won't start). Obviously it may take a few kicks to turn her over if the engine is cold, but it should start fairly easily. Listen to the sounds it's making as it starts, and then as it idles. Does it sound "normal" or does it sound like something may be wrong?
- Can I test ride the bike? If you can, take the bike for a quick spin! Some people may be hesitant to let you do this for fear that you'll just ride away with it, but it's the best way to get a feel for how the bike runs... literally.
There's no way to guarantee that the bike you're buying won't have any issues, or that the person selling it to you isn't lying about the condition of the bike and/or the work that has been done (hate to say it, but it's true). I bought my bike from a Craigslist ad and even though everything looked and sounded great before the purchase, the top end needed to be rebuilt after just one ride. Huge bummer.
The best things you can do:
- Ask questions. Ask as many as you need to feel comfortable.
- Trust your gut. If something feels fishy or doesn't seem right, move on! There are plenty more bikes for sale.
- Do your research. Compare prices for similar bikes (year/make/model) so you know if the asking price is reasonable; but keep in mind the number of hours, work done and any upgrades/added parts to the bike.
- Take someone with you. If you're not super familiar with the mechanics of a bike then take someone with you who is. Let them ask questions and/or gauge the responses of the person you're buying it from and the sounds the bike is making.
Let us know what other questions you like to ask, or any other tips you recommend in the comments below.