Novice Tip: How to Buy a Used (Dual Sport) Motorcycle
July 13, 2013
Satirist PJ O’Rouke once contemplated which kind of car offered the best handling characteristics for driving drunk. Front engine car, rear engine car – he eventually surmised that the best choice was a rental car; the reason being that it’s essentially an all terrain vehicle. Mud, snow, water, woods – it can go anywhere. He admitted you couldn’t always get it back, but that was only problematic for the rental car company.
With relatively few exceptions, every motorcycle manufacturer offers some kind of Dual Sport in their line up. Some bikes are fully equipped for off road racing, some are better suited for asphalt, others strive for a perfect balance between the two. No matter what displacement you decide on or brand you pick, I say the best kind of Dual Sport to buy is a used one.
Since Dual Sport motorcycles are made to go off road, it’s inevitable that they end up in the dirt – as in on the ground. A brand new off road bike depreciates the moment it rolls out of the dealership and eventually the pretty graphics that adorn it will become horribly disfigured the first time it cart wheels down a trail or gets ground into the gravel. I say save yourself the heartache of dumping your virgin ride in the dirt and save some money while you’re at it. Plus searching for a used bike offers a delicious sense of anticipation; you might find a bike that has some great upgrades like a Methanol Injection System or cup holder.
There’s something about trawling through the motorcycle ads on Craigslist that’s reminiscent of hunting for treasure at a thrift store – just without the funky odor or annoyingly friendly handicapped people who work there. Sift through enough size 44 underwear, old crutches, and motel art and eventually you’re bound to turn up a good deal, all it takes is patience and a lot of hand sanitizer.
Ads might tell you a little something about the bike, but they can also reveal a lot about the seller. During my (brief, half-assed) research for this post I spent some time browsing on Craigslist and found some blatant examples of this. If I manipulated them into a ‘greatest hits’ compilation, the ad would read like this :
Badas bike for sale!!!!!! Street leagle duel sport for sale relly fast will blow away a CR500!!!! New power band and 1 set of street tires 1 set of paddel tires!!! NOT a bike for beginers!!!!! If your loeking for a cool bike this is it!!!! 1000 dollers firm or make offer will concider trade for guns or septic tank.Several conclusions can be drawn from an in depth critical analysis of this example. The first and foremost being that there’s a distinct possibility the seller’s parents were already related before they got married. The second is that he’s an imbecile. And third – I don’t want to buy anything from him.
Hyperbole aside, I do tend to assume that if someone has trouble spelling two syllable words they’re probably a little dense. This doesn’t mean you have to be well versed in the King’s English to perform routine maintenance on a motorcycle. But there’s no mention of maintenance at all, or upgrades, or Title. There’s also the new powerband, set of paddle tires, and boisterous claim it will blow away a CR500. Taking all of these things into consideration along with the overzealous use of exclamation points paints a mental image of someone who’s soft between the ears and hard on a bike.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Looking past the bike in the ad’s picture can help determine what kind of person the seller is. If the bike is sitting symmetrically on a service stand in the middle of a meticulously manicured lawn or a clean well organized garage it stands to reason they’ve cared for the bike in the same fashion. The next step is to verify it with a phone call.
NEVER BEEN RACED!
The phone call is an important part of the process because it can be a time saver. Asking the right questions during your conversation with the seller can quickly determine whether or not the bike is worth pursuing any further. A great staring point is asking why the seller wants to get rid of the bike in the first place. If they say they’re tired of the suspension bottoming out lap after lap on the local motocross track, you might consider hanging up right then and there.
Other vital bits of history to inquire about is if they are the original owner – or how many previous owners there have been, what past damage has been done, if there are maintenance records, if there are aftermarket parts on the bike, if they kept the stock parts that were replaced (you can sell them on Ebay!), and do they have the title.
I also like to ask if the bike been washed since its last ride. If it hasn’t ask them not to before you see it – a good degreaser and bucket o’ suds can easily wash away any evidence of oil leaks. If you still feel good about the bike after this conversation, go check it out!
THE JOY OF PROFILING
DON’T EVEN BOTHER
Any Criminal Minds or Law & Order fan will tell you how the art of profiling can be used to catch a crook. A similar, more rudimentary technique can also help reveal a bike that’s been held captive in an abusive home. When I go look at a bike, I’m also checking out the seller – his car, his house, and his garage.
Someone who has yet to comprehend basic dental hygiene and lives in a dilapidated house with a yard full of rusted nautilus equipment and a car that has one window made of duct tape parked in front of a garage door which can’t be closed because there’s a pile of dead appliances spilling out of it tends to raise a red flag for me.
On the other hand, if the seller makes you take your shoes off before entering his checker-board-linoleum-floored garage and the bike for sale is sitting on a Persian rug under a spot light with a folder full of service records filed in chronological order on the seat, it’s a pretty good indication the bike has been well maintained.
Profiling isn’t an exact science and there are exceptions to everything, but disorganized disheveled clutter can be indicative of a scatter brained ADD afflicted owner that can’t remember when he changed the oil last or if the bike was gone through since it got dumped in a creek.
THE FUZZY EYEBALL
HEADACHE IN THE MAKING
There’s a lot of territory to cover when inspecting a used bike. Starting with the overall esthetic of the bike, look for the obvious first. Dings and dents probably mean the bike’s fallen over a few times; long deep scratches indicate it went down hard. Check visible portions of the frame and subframe for cracked welds. Glance at the hardware for signs of removal – nuts and bolts with flats that appear to have been chewed on by ravenous squirrels means someone with the aptitude and dexterity of an Orangutan used vice grips or channel locks to work on the bike. Brake rotor bolts and the drain plug are common crime scenes.
If you have access to a service stand, bring it. Getting the bike up off the ground is a great way to check for bearing play in the wheels, rear swing arm and steering stem. Bad wheel bearings are a relatively cheap and easy fix, swing arm and steering bearings are not. While it’s on the stand don’t forget to check for wonky wheels, loose spokes, and dented rims.
Since twisting the throttle on a motorcycle is way more fun than slowing down, brakes are frequently neglected by people with a casual attitude towards servicing a bike. Check pad and rotor wear (older drum brakes usually have arrow marks on the outside that indicate replacement is due when they align) and overall operation. Changing the brake fluid is also an often overlooked maintenance task; if the fluid looks clean and new and has the fresh, sweet poisonous taste of Ethylene Glycol it means the seller was probably diligent with servicing the entire bike.
Brake pads – as well as tubes, tires, chains, and sprockets – are wear parts and are replaced on a regular basis. You’ll have to swap them out at some point anyway. However, these should not be confused with worn parts. Frayed cables and wallowed out levers aren’t necessarily a deal breaker as long as they’re reflected in the price. Wiring harnesses mummified from end to end in old gooey duct tape is another story.
SEVERELY STRIPPED SHIFT SHAFT
Don’t forget the basics: check oil, coolant, and the air filter – note whether or not mice have made a time share in the air box. Pop the fuel cap off and huff some gas to see if it’s stale, huff some more to see imaginary bugs crawling on your legs, keep huffing to totally fry your brain and end up working in a thrift store. When you’re done hallucinating try to peer into the bottom of the tank for sediment (or signs of rust if it’s a metal tank), then check the petcock and throttle operation. Pulling the spark plug and reading it can provide an invaluable indication of the current state of the engine; be leery of a brand new plug. Check for excessive play on the shift shaft.
After making sure everything functions properly, fire it up! Many four strokes with a kick start only have a ritual when it comes to starting – find Top Dead Center, decompression lever in, push down slowly until something clicks, poke your tongue out of the corner of your mouth, crack the throttle, cross your eyes, and recite the Serenity Prayer in your head as you kick down firmly. Odds are each seller has their particular starting routine down to a science and can easily demonstrate the procedure. Once the bike is running check lighting and indicator operation.
After the test ride (assuming you and the bike haven’t burst into flames) take the time to do another close visual inspection – checking for evidence of bulimic oil seals and loose or dangling parts. Make sure you also check your gut for any sign of malaise before making an offer.
DON’T BUY IT, IT’S TOO SMALL FOR US – I MEAN YOU!
One of the best tools you can bring to check out a used bike is a friend – and yes, I just called your friend a tool. Friends offer an extra set of eyes while scanning for potential problems. If you can find one (assuming you have more than one, or any for that matter) who owns the same kind of bike you’re looking at, even better! He can easily compare it with his bike and assure you that the starter always sounds like an empty beer can with two marbles in it. Close friends are also apt to give honest opinions and tell you if the bike is under powered, over priced, or makes you look like the proverbial monkey and football while riding it.
The condition of any used bike for sale is subjective to the asking price, and vice versa. A perfect example of this is my ’02 DRZ400 which I bought used in 2004. After a long detailed phone conversation with the seller (who assured me the bike was perfect) I drove two hours to check it out. The bike looked brand new and was laden with aftermarket parts – including an expensive full exhaust system from White Brothers. All this was reflected in the price.
The problem was the bike didn’t run right. It started easily and sounded great but would sputter, burp, and bog when I began to twist the throttle. Twisting harder, the bike found its way through the hole and roared to life. The seller tried to convince me (and himself) this was normal but eventually admitted he had always ridden two stroke dirt bikes and didn’t know what was wrong with it. But I did. I also knew someone who could help me fix it.
I ended up buying the bike for 700 dollars off the asking price, which made it a screaming deal. It cost me 30 bucks and a Saturday afternoon (with the generous help of a motorcycle mechanic friend) to tune the carburetor properly for the aftermarket exhaust and the bike ran great.
So when you’re shopping for a used bike make sure the condition and asking price are proportional and remember – used bikes aren’t necessarily broken down bikes, some are just broken in!