Your Motorcycle
Buying Guide

Ready to take the leap from admiring motorcycles from afar to owning your own? Making the decision to purchase a motorcycle can require a lot of research, but if you aren’t sure where to even start, our guide on how to buy a motorcycle has you covered.

Standard motorcycles are just “regular” motorcycles – general purpose, and ideal for beginners. These motorcycles are characterized by an upright seating position and handlebars and pedals within easy reach. Classic motorcycles with looks popularized in the 1960s and 1970s best represent this style, and they’re still made today. Different types of standard motorcycles include scramblers, streetfighters, café racers, and “naked” bikes.

Cruisers are probably what you picture first when you hear the word “motorcycle,” and are considered the quintessential American design (hint: Harley-Davidsons are cruisers). These bikes are characterized by big engines, low seats, and high handlebars. They’re built to look good and sound better, but can be difficult for smaller riders to control.

Touring motorcycles are, like cruisers, big bikes. However, touring bikes are built with less of a focus on style and more on comfort. This is the type of bike you want if you’ll be riding long distances for hours at a time. They typically come with plenty of storage as well as room for a passenger.

Sport bikes are built for speed and performance and make no bones about it. But because of the high speeds they can reach, sport bikes are better suited to experienced riders, because they are harder to control. These bikes are designed to be highly aerodynamic and feature a forward-leaning seat position with higher foot pegs to bring the legs closer to the body.

Dual-sport bikes are the street legal answer to off-road motorcycles. Also called “adventure” bikes, this type of motorcycle features large tires and suspensions ideal for long trips (to get to that perfect riding spot), but because they are light-weight, good on gas, and feature a taller seat, they can also serve as good commuter bikes.

How Do I Pick the Right Size Motorcycle?

After you determine what style of motorcycle you are interested in, you should also make sure the particular bike you are looking at is the right size for you. Like bicycles, motorcycles are not one-size-fits-all, and the wrong size bike will be uncomfortable and harder to control.

When sitting on or test riding a bike, ask yourself these questions to determine if it’s the right fit and type for you:

Can you put both feet flat on the ground while seated when the bike is upright?

  • If you have to lean to either side to touch the ground, the bike is too tall.
  • Can you comfortably reach the handlebars when seated?

  • If grasping the handlebars requires you to stretch out too far, or bend in your elbows too much, this bike isn’t right for you.
  • Can you comfortably rest your feet on the pegs?

  • Tall riders in particular may find their knees up near the handlebars on a bike too small for them.
  • Can you comfortably reach the shift and brake levers with your feet?

  • If they seem either too far or too close, it could slow your reaction time.

    The Case for Buying New: When you are purchasing a used motorcycle, especially in a private sale, you usually have no idea how the bike has been treated by its previous owner(s). It may have been gently used and well maintained, or it may have been crashed and rebuilt, modified, or left to sit. By purchasing a new bike, you are ensuring you know exactly what you are getting. A new bike purchased from a dealership will also be protected by a warranty, meaning you won’t have to wrench on it yourself if something goes wrong in the first year or two.

    New motorcycles are also generally far safer than older models because of their more advanced safety equipment and technology, which typically include antilock brakes, traction control, and fuel-injected engines rather than carbureted engines.

    The Case for Buying Used: The biggest reason to consider a used bike over a new bike is the most obvious one: you can buy a used motorcycle for far cheaper than a new one. And if you are interested in upgrading or accessorizing your bike, the extra money left over in your pocket from purchasing one used can be applied toward any add-ons you want to get.

    Another reason to consider buying a used motorcycle is the simple fact that, at some point or another, you are going to drop it. It’s not a matter of skill, it’s something that happens to every rider starting out. And it tends to hurt a lot less to ding up or scrape a bike that’s already been around the block a time or two than to damage a shiny new one.

    You may also discover motorcycles just aren’t for you, or that you prefer to trade up to a nicer or different type of bike after riding your first purchase for a while. If you suspect this might be the case, it’s much easier to do so if you aren’t tied up in a loan.


    If you decide to purchase your motorcycle used, there are several steps you should take to make sure you aren’t being ripped off or sold an unsafe bike. Follow these tips for buying your first motorcycle from a private seller.

      1. Look up the motorcycle’s Kelley Blue Book value to determine if it’s being offered at a fair price.
      2. Look up the vehicle history report to learn if the motorcycle has previously been in any accidents. To get this, you’ll need the motorcycle’s VIN, which can be found either on the steering neck or on the motor near the bottom of the cylinders.
      3. Ask for vehicle service records. If the owner isn’t comfortable providing copies of the actual documents, they should be able to provide the name of the shop where the motorcycle was taken for routine maintenance for you to call and confirm.
      4. Make sure the bike isn’t stolen. You can do this by contacting the DMV and providing the VIN (a small fee may be charged).
      5. Arrange to inspect the motorcycle in person. It’s best to bring along a friend who is experienced with motorcycles, and who will be able to spot any red flags right away.
      6. Ask to take a test ride. However, don’t be too suspicious if the owner refuses or sets conditions before allowing you to do so. This is typically for liability reasons, as the bike is not insured in your name if you get into an accident on your test ride.
      7. Finally, inspect the title – make sure the VIN on the title matches the VIN printed on the bike, and that there are no liens on the title. You’ll also want to avoid motorcycles with salvage or rebuilt titles – that means the motorcycle was previously totaled in an accident.

    Things to look out for when buying a used motorcycle include:

    Is the bike dirty?

  • This may indicate the owner hasn’t been properly maintaining it.
  • How does the bike start cold?

  • Ask the owner not to start the bike before you arrive, and feel the pipes to make sure they followed through. If the motorcycle has difficulties starting, or if you hear knocking or rattling sounds on starting, there may be a problem. Additionally, while a little smoke on starting is fine, a lot of smoke or blue smoke could indicate a serious problem.
  • Is the engine leaking oil or coolant?

    Is the frame cracked, or missing paint in areas that may develop into rust?

  • Additionally, are the sprockets still sharp, or are they dull and rounded?
  • Are the foot pegs scuffed?

  • This could indicate the bike was dropped.
  • Does the brake lever operate smoothly, or is it stiff and the brakes noisy?

  • Make sure to check the brake pad thickness as well.
  • Are the tires unevenly worn?

  • This could indicate the owner was riding it hard or recklessly.
  • Do the lights and signals work?

    Are any parts clearly replaced?

  • Aftermarket parts usually indicate the bike was crashed at some point.
  • What Comes Next

    Hopefully, our motorcycle buying guide will help you determine your next steps to getting the motorcycle you’ve always wanted. But once you’re a rider, there are still a few concerns you’ll need to keep top of mind.

    Motorcycle riders are disproportionately injured or killed in traffic accidents compared to drivers and passengers in other vehicles, often because drivers fail to see or look for motorcyclists. Motorcyclists are also more vulnerable in accidents because motorcycles lack many of the safety features passenger vehicles have.

    Unfortunately, motorcycle riders are also disproportionately blamed for their own accidents, which can make getting sorely needed compensation after a wreck difficult. Know who to call before you get in a crash caused by a negligent driver – click here to find a local motorcycle accident lawyer who can protect your rights and fight to get you the money you’re owed in an accident caused by someone else.