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What to Look for During a Test Drive

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Just like buying a car, buying a motorcycle is a major undertaking. It's a purchase you'll have for the next several years, so you don't want to make any rash decisions.

First Impressions

If this is your first time buying a motorcycle, you may be tempted to pick a bike based on the "cool" factor. While color and appearance are important characteristics, they're not the only criteria you should pay attention to. When you test drive a motorcycle, remember the following key points:

  • Make sure your feet can reach the ground when you're sitting on the motorcycle seat. Buying a bike that's too big for you will only create problems down the road.
  • Is the motorcycle seat comfortable to sit on? Does it seem too big or too small? Having a comfortable seat is essential to enjoying your riding experience.
  • It's a good idea to make sure the motorcycle you want to buy will fit in your pickup truck or RV.
  • If you plan to travel with a friend or loved one, make sure the motorcycle meets your state's regulations for carrying passengers.
  • Does this motorcycle have a shaft drive or a belt drive? A shaft drive is cheaper to repair and can't be cut.
  • How high are the front and rear fenders? Will you have to lift the bike high to change the tires?
  • Are there reflectors along the sides of the motorcycle?
  • Many motorcycle experts recommend you look for a throttle with a friction device. This feature will help you maintain throttle position at highway speeds.
  • According to many experienced motorcycle riders, self-canceling turn signals are handy to have.

Condition

After you've determined that the motorcycle in question is the right size for you, it's time to evaluate the bike's condition. Before purchasing, make sure the following items are in working order:

  • Headlights
  • Tail lights
  • Front and rear brakes
  • Turn signals
  • Rearview mirrors

It's also a good idea to inspect the tires of any used motorcycle that you're planning to purchase. Tires with cracking, dry rot, or bald spots will need to be replaced immediately.

Handling

Honestly, a motorcycle's handling is mostly a matter of personal preference. If you're even somewhat experienced, you'll know if the bike "feels right" for you. However, it's still a good idea to look for the following:

  • Make sure the motorcycle starts easily. Excessive smoke when starting a used motorcycle may be an indication of internal damage.
  • How does the motorcycle handle around corners?
  • Can you stop, speed up, and slow down easily?

Miscellaneous

Once you've covered the basics on your test drive, consider any additional criteria that may be important to your motorcycle purchase. For example:

  • If you plan to go on long trips, look for a motorcycle that has foot rests instead of foot pegs. Foot rests let you move your feet for added comfort.
  • Will you be able to install all the options and accessories that you want? On some motorcycles, certain features cause conflicts. If you had your heart set on a windshield-mounted storage accessory or air deflector wings, it's best to know in advance if these options will be available.
  • Will you be able to change the oil, filters, and brakes on this motorcycle? If not, can the dealer's mechanic or the previous owner of the bike show you how to do so?
  • When you buy a new motorcycle, it should meet all the vehicle code requirements for state in which it was sold. However, if you're buying a used bike, it's your responsibility to ensure that the motorcycle is up to code. For additional information on this topic, contact your nearest DMV office or pick up a copy of your state's motorcycle operator manual.

Can't Make Up Your Mind?

If you're indecisive, buying a motorcycle can be a difficult decision. If you've taken several bikes for a test drive, but still can't choose between two or three models, consider renting an identical bike for a few days. Taking a short trip with the rental should help you choose. And, if you rent the bike from a dealer, he may even credit your rental fee toward your final purchase.

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