Buy New or Used?

//EDIT TO ADD: I wrote this in 2016 but I never actually published it. So…here it is, 6 years and Covid later. Haha! //END EDIT

It’s 2016. All these new motorcycles are being released with lean angle sensors, multi level traction control, variable intakes, wheelie control, lean angle ABS, lap timers, active suspension that adjusts hundreds of times per second, auto blip, multiple fuel maps….

And then there’s your bike. Your 2002 Honda VFR800 that you’ve had since 2005… That you’ve put 87,510 glorious miles on as the 3rd owner of the bike. Your trusty steed that’s taken you all over the best roads in California and beyond. It’s never let you down, you’ve only had to replace one clutch pack in it so far. You do all your oil changes yourself, and you’ve named it “Bob” even though it’s a girl. You did it because it was ironic. You love your bike. You have a relationship with your bike.

But perhaps it’s time to start thinking about getting a new bike. Maybe something with less miles. Maybe a brand spankin’ new bike?

You did that once before back in 1991 when you bought a showroom clean, zero mile GSXR750 that you saw Vanilla Ice riding in Cool as Ice because, frankly, it was pretty damn cool.

cool as ice

After a few months of ownership and payments, you regretted it, as your friends started making fun of you for riding a Vanilla Ice bike, the bike was uncomfortable as hell for the longer rides you wanted to do, the insurance on it was almost the same as your mortgage on your home, and you didn’t realize it was going to instantly be worth $1500 less the second you rode away from the dealership.

Don’t you remember vowing to never buy a new motorcycle again? That you were only going to shop in the used market from there on out?

I do. I remember feeling similarly after my first new bike buy (no, not a VFR. Plus, I was only 10 years old in 1991). I remember thinking those kinds of thoughts. In fact, I had to learn my lesson TWICE, as I once bought a brand new car from a dealership as well.

There are precisely 7609 reasons to buy a used bike rather than go to a dealership and buy a new one. I’m not going to list ALL of them, but I will say a few things about it.

Let the schmuck that bought your dream bike take care of depreciation for you! Let that other guy take that $1500-3000 hit as he rolls it off the show room floor and onto the street for the first time. There’s no reason for you to take that kinda hit when your bike is currently sitting in someone else’s garage with a smartly written for-sale ad on Craigslist about it just waiting for you to take the pink and give her a new name for 40% off MSRP.

If you’re new to the motorcycling scene, you should definitely buy a second-hand bike. This is a very long debated topic that could be made into a book or twelve, but for the sanctity of this article, I’ll simply say that the likelihood of your new-to-you motorcycle remaining in it’s upright position with a new rider at the helm is slim. It’s probably going to fall over at some point. The emotional gash that’s going to cut right through you from having dropped your baby at a stop light in front of no less than 13 other jealous beady-eyed motorists just waiting for you to fail is going to be much, much….less deep.

There are probably somewhere in the vicinity of a trillion gently abused motorcycles for sale in your near or immediate area (unless you live somewhere in desolation, like anywhere outside of California, then your numbers may vary some), and you’ll most likely come across a great deal on a bike that you’ve pined after at some point in your life. It’s likely that you’ll even find it with only a couple thousand miles on it too. The guy that bought his wife a Ninja 300 a year ago, hoping that she’d learn how to ride and could join him on the weekends for some shenanigans…it just sits in the garage, unridden, because the wife is actually a bad ass and got herself a 600 instead. That bike is YOURS. I mean, if you want it, of course. To top it off, it’s only got 1600 miles on it! It’s still practically new!

Speaking of wives, are you married or have a significant other? That’s pretty much criteria #1 be it new or used; Are you “allowed” to even buy a bike? You should probably check on that first before you even bother reading anymore. ;)

me or the motorcycle

Another great thing about the used market is that you’ll find bikes with all the aftermarket bits and farkles that you were going to spend more money on anyhow. Carbon fiber slip-ons, rear sets, different clip-ons, touring tanks, luggage racks, windscreens, etc… they might not be the exact ones you would have bought yourself, but it’s a start.

In my experiences, most riders think that 10,000-12,000 miles on a shiny sportbike is a lot. It sounds pretty scary! I mean, 10 THOUSAND miles? Whoa! But it’s not. I have more racetrack miles than that, WFO, on my ’06 GSXR 600. It still runs like a champ.

As long as it’s taken care of, that is…which brings me to the caveat of buying used…

Is the used bike you were looking at well taken care of? Does it have records of service? Was is ever crashed? Garage kept? Ridden through hurricanes? Was it my old bike? Even so, that could be a good thing!


I sometimes do things that most people think I shouldn’t.

I like to do the “tire pressure test” any time I look at a used bike that I’m thinking about getting: I always pretend that I’m a n00b when it comes to used bike shopping. I don’t want to come across as being a know-it-all. I also want the owner to guide me naturally, so I can get a sense of how the bike was ridden and treated through their ownership. I’ll simply ask the owner one very telling question: “What tire pressures do you run?”

An alarming number of people neglect their bikes. They straddle their 400 pound two-wheeled rocket-sled every Saturday and proceed to ride to their highest potential with their friends through the canyons, yet will have no idea what their tire pressure is, or why that’s even important. Or they won’t clean and lube their chains regularly. Or…..yeah, that’s likely a subject for a completely different article. ;)

new chain and sprockets
”New chain and sprockets! Just serviced by dealer!”

By asking that one question, I feel like I can make an educated decision on whether I even want to buy their bike or not or how hard I’m about to low-ball this guy for something that might actually be an easy fix, like the above photo.

“Hey man, it looks like this bike is a giant piece of shit. Look at that chain! It handles like garbage. I think your transmission is going out. The tires are showing cords. You’re completely out of blinker fluid! This bike is a mess, man. Will you take $12.75 for it?”

Most bikes are simply “toys” to most people. Something people like to do on the weekends alone or with friends. It’s not their main means of transportation. Often, people will commute to and from work on nice days, but there are few people that I know that don’t have a cage to drive whenever they need. Therefore, often they respect it less than the guy who DOES ride their bike rain, snow, or shine.

In my experiences, I’ve found that the guys who regularly ride at the racetrack, or especially the guys who RACE their bikes will often have their rides in the best condition when selling them. They’re usually squeaky clean, bolts have been meticulously safety wired and gone over many, many times. They change their oil and other fluids far more than is ever necessary. They maintain their motorcycles to tip-top shape. Often times even pulling their motors apart pretty frequently to “refresh” them, so they still run strong. Not only that, but they’ve also removed every piece of streetable plastic from the bike the day they bought it, so the chances of you getting a set of fairings with ZERO miles on them is pretty good.

The point is, even if you only used Craigslist to find your next ride, you’re going to save yourself a lot of time and money. You’ll also have the pink slip in hand and won’t be sending some giant bank conglomerate your money every month, paying interest on something you might not even own a year from purchase date.

All that being said, last year, I went to a dealership and purchased a brand new, just released, zero mile Yamaha FJ-09. :)

Why? I guess the pains from my last new purchase back in 2003 had faded away to a distant, almost imperceivable scar. That, and there was this really cool new bike that was just released and it had ABS, TC, multiple fuel maps, and all sorts of other goodies I really wanted that I couldn’t find in an older, used bike. Haha!

tracer mt-09 fj-09
My new Yamaha FJ-09

In the end, whatever you decide to do, your reputation at the local Starbucks is all that matters. ;)

starbucks posing

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