Buy a used bike

Buy a dodgy used car and you probably end up with a lemon. Buy a dodgy used bike and you quite likely end up with a deathtrap. So it’s essential to keep your eyes open and inspect carefully.

Purchasing a nice used machine for a fraction of the price of a new one is possible, if you know what to look out for.


Don’t get ripped off

You’ll want to protect yourself, in more ways than one. Buying from a dealer offers at least some chance of recourse, but you should still check everything over carefully. Buying privately offers far less protection. Know your rights, and how to check for things like finance owing, at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs website.

Do your homework

Check the classifieds and online auctions to get a feel for prices, age, kilometres travelled and condition. At this stage, even if you see an absolute minter, don’t be hasty. There are more bikes than buyers in New Zealand, so be patient: the bike you want will come along.

Call on others

Get some expertise on your side. Rope in a mechanically minded mate, a mechanic or the AA. The earlier you enlist their help the better, and ensure they come with you to see the bike.

Use your instinct

What are your first impressions of the bike and the seller? If you’re buying online read feedback carefully and ask questions. Does everything work? Has it been crashed? Raced? What’s the service history? How the seller answers can be as revealing as the answers themselves. If you’re still interested, it’s time to check the bike over carefully. 

Evaluating to buy

Examination time

Body damage is usually obvious but check for crash scrapes on the mirrors, indicators, bar ends, lever ends, exhaust, seat unit and the bottom of the forks.

A bike that’s been crashed, but properly repaired, is not the end of the world. But you should be alert to problems. Check fork, swingarm and frame alignment. This is best done on a jig, but running a plank down both sides of the rear tyre and seeing how it aligns with the front gives a fair idea.

Wheels that aren’t parallel could just be uneven chain adjustment, so check. Pump the forks down and up with the front brake on. Is the action straight or twisted?


If the bike has been ‘warmed up’ before you arrive, that may be suspicious. Consider re-scheduling so you can hear it start from cold.

Ask the seller to start the bike for you. If he seems unsure how, is it his bike?

Let the engine tick over and listen for knocking low down in the engine. It could be a big end or main bearing about to let loose and destroy the motor. A prominent tapping sound at the top end could be worn tappets, incorrect valve adjustment or even a worn-out camshaft. Replacing cams and tappets is expensive; lack of adjustment shows a careless owner.

Give the throttle a small blip. Black, oily smoke probably means piston rings or valve guides are shot. And leaking oil is always bad.


Apply the front brake and push the forks up and down. Oil rings on the stanchions mean the fork seals are on their way out and the damping will be dangerously poor. If the front is really springy, the damping oil has all gone. Replacement seals are cheap but labour isn’t.

Rust or stone pits on the stanchions will just shred any new seals, so a front end rebuild is required.

Do a ‘bounce test’ with the rear end too, then check the shock(s).


Do the handlebars turn right and left smoothly with no noises? Sticking or grinding means the bearings are shot. Bounce the forks up and down again, looking (and feeling) to ensure there’s no movement at the headstock.


Apply just a touch of front brake and roll the bike forwards, if the resistance goes on and off, the discs are likely warped. With a paddock or centre stand, it’s easy to do the same with the rear brake. Check pad thickness and look for scoring on the discs.


Lean across the seat, hold the chain half way along the lower length and check for correct slack: about 30 mm. Rotate the chain and check for any tight spots. Check the sprocket for worn, pointed teeth.


Minimum tread depth is 1.5 mm but anything less than 3 mm has had it and needs replacing. Check both tyres for perishing, cracks, splits or nails. Insist on a matched pair of tyres from a quality brand.

Ride it

Does it stay in gear under load? Check front and back brakes separately. Does it run straight and brake straight? Any strange noises? Stop, then restart. Happy? Could be time to make an offer...

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