How To Buy a Motorcycle

Who hasn't daydreamed about cruising the open road, wind whipping through your hair, on top of a powerful, purring motorcycle? It's an American fantasy as classic as James Dean himself.

But the reality of the situation isn't quite as carefree. Buying the right motorcycle for you is an important process, with several major aspects to take into consideration.

Getting the Right Bike

Before you purchase a motorcycle, you should take a minute to think about why and when you'll use it.

There are several different types of motorcycles, all of which come with their own benefits and setbacks, depending on your priorities. The general designs include:

  • Sport bikes.
  • Street bikes.
  • Standard/traditional motorcycles.
  • Dual-purpose bikes.
  • Off-road bikes.

Check out our guide to choosing a motorcycle to learn more about which bike type will best fit your needs.

Other factors to keep in mind include:

Make sure you do your research before proceeding to a dealership or private sale. The more you understand about the bike you buy, the more likely it is that you will be happy with your purchase.

Budgeting for a Bike

For most people, a motorcycle is a discretionary purchase. That being said, you can choose to spend small or splurge on your new bike. Prices vary hugely—anywhere from under $5,000 to $25,000.

Once you've determined the type of bike you want, do your research to figure out its typical going rate. With that information in mind, decide the highest amount you feel comfortable paying before you begin shopping.

NOTE: If you're able to pay for your entire purchase in cash or cashier's check, you may be able to get a discount from the dealership. This opportunity is not always available, so make sure to check with the dealer before making this decision.

“Hidden" Motorcycle Costs

Aside from the base price, there are a variety of other cost factors to keep in mind, including:

  • Various fees.
    • Setup/dealer-prep fees and delivery-transportation fees are commonly applied at dealerships.
  • Maintenance expenses (especially when buying a used motorcycle).
  • Sales tax.
  • Titling and registration costs.

If this is your first motorcycle, you will also have to budget for all the proper safety and riding equipment, such as:

You may also want to consider enrolling in a motorcycle safety or training course, whether you're a new rider or an experienced cyclist looking to refresh your knowledge.

Motorcycle Insurance

Insurance can be another major cost factor of a motorcycle. Insurance rates vary, depending on:

  • Bike type.
  • Engine size.

Different insurance companies may also classify motorcycles differently. For example, one insurance provider may consider a Ducati Monster a standard bike, while another may classify it as a sport bike. The difference can make a big impact on your insurance bill.

Make sure to read up on motorcycle insurance when determining your budget.

You may also want to investigate different theft prevention measures to ensure your investment is as safe as possible.

Financing Your Bike

When you think about your budget, you will also have to decide how you will pay for the motorcycle. There's a good chance you will need to finance your bike.

Typically, unlike a house or a car, you can purchase a motorcycle for little to no money down.

In general, though, the more cash you can bring to the table, the better the deal you will be able to negotiate. However, this is not always the case, and there are many factors that go into negotiating.

If you decide to go the financing route, it's generally a good idea to walk into the dealership with a pre-approved loan. This will not only help in the negotiating process, but also give you a solid number to keep in mind when determining how much you will pay for the bike.

Interest rates on your loan will vary, depending on:

  • Your credit history.
  • Your down payment.
  • The length of the loan.

Buying a New Motorcycle

Much like cars, houses, and other major purchases, there are some prominent differences between buying new or buying used when it comes to motorcycles.

Which direction you go in depends largely on your personal preferences, but, in general, buying a new bike may be a good idea if you:

  • Are a new motorcycle rider.
  • Are not particularly mechanically inclined.
  • Are interested in a specific type of bike.
  • Want the newest technology/model available.

Buying a Used Motorcycle

Purchasing a used bike may be a good idea if you:

  • Are an experienced rider.
  • Have at least some understanding of motorcycle mechanics.
  • Are looking for a good deal.

Arguably the biggest advantage of buying a used bike is the price difference. Most of the time, used motorcycles will be cheaper, due to natural depreciation rates. You will also not have to pay the setup, delivery and dealer fees.

Potential Problems

Still, you will have to be vigilant about the condition of the motorcycle before pulling the purchasing trigger. Some major issues to look out for include:

  • Rust or scratches on the body, tank, and fenders.
  • Wear/cracks on the foot pegs and seat.
  • Oxidized paint.
  • Seepage, weeping, or leaks in the engine or transmission.
  • Blue brake discs.
    • They should be smooth and clean.
  • Too much/billowing smoke when the bike is started.
  • A rusty or gunky chain.
    • It should be clean and tight, with about 1 inch of slack.

Dealerships vs. Private Sales

You will also need to decide which type of seller you would like to buy your motorcycle from. Again, depending on your personal preferences, there will be benefits and disadvantages to both.


In general, a dealer may be able to offer you more options when making your decision. A dealership will likely have:

  • A wide variety of bikes.
  • A service department.
  • Financing options.
    • NOTE: You may be able to trade in your old bike as part of the negotiation process.
  • At some locations, certified pre-owned motorcycles, which should come with:
    • A full service and vehicle history.
    • A guarantee or warranty.

Many dealers will also allow you to take a test drive, which is a great opportunity to get to know the bike—and ensure it's the right one for you—before you buy it.

Private Sellers

As with buying a used motorcycle, the big advantage with buying from a private seller is the chance to pay much less for your purchase.

However, aside from having the bike inspected for any potential problems, you should ask for a vehicle history report from the seller. This will likely reveal any issues the seller may not disclose or even know of themselves, such as:

  • Accident history.
  • The number of owners a bike has had.
  • Odometer readings.
  • Service history.

No matter which path you choose, it's a great idea to be as informed as possible before buying your bike.

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