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How-to Buy a Motorcycle

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
When it came time to test the four bikes for our  4000 Newbie Shootout  we drafted some of our own aspiring riding talent from around the office..
All your friends have motorcycles and now is the time to ride but are you ready for one?
You’ve just gotten bitten by the two-wheeled bug and are ready to leap into the world of motorcycle ownership. But before making a blind leap of faith, here’s a few helpful tips that will help in the decision making process when you do decide to spring for a bike.

1. What is my experience level? Be truthful to yourself. If you are brand-new to the sport, the best thing to do is to take a class, like the RiderCourse offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Do this before you buy a motorcycle to make sure that that riding a bike is for you. Spending money on the class is much cheaper than throwing down cash outright for a motorcycle, then discovering motorcycling is not for you. If you’re returning to biking after taking a long break, take a refresher course or borrow a friend’s bike for some parking lot stop-and-goes.

2. Decide what motorcycle is best for the style of riding you want to do. If you’re a newbie, don’t go out and buy a superbike just because Valentino Rossi is your idol. Will you be commuting to work or do you want something that is street legal and still capable of doing some light trails? Are track days the ultimate goal or are a few short trips around town what you have in mind? Will you be riding solo or are long road trips with a passenger the way you plan on rolling? Be sure to add your riding ability into the equation.

Out on the open road  the Fly 150 doesnt run anything down  but you can ring it out to 55 mph after counting up to 13-Mississippis.The Suzuki is powered by an air-cooled single-cylinder engine.Aside from the much-complained-about foot controls  there isnt any great weakness on the Virago.
What type of motorcycle do you need? What kind of riding will you be doing? These questions will help you find the right type of motorcycle.

Do your research. You wouldn’t run out and buy the first car you saw, would you? So why should buying a motorcycle be any different? Invest some time in researching the model of motorcycle you want online. Manufacturers list features, specifications, and MSRP on their websites, and there are free motorcycle websites that feature first ride and review articles on almost every style of bike, so do your research first. Here’s a link to most of the major manufacturers to get you started: 

Aprilia     BMW    Ducati    Harley-Davidson    Honda     Kawasaki    KTM    Suzuki     Triumph     Victory     Yamaha

The little Ninjas riding position is comfortable and upright.
The Kawasaki Ninja 250 is a good choice for a first motorcycle for its low cost, easy to ride and you can it sell when you are ready to move up.
4. Figure out how much you want to spend. Just like cars, some motorcycles have higher resale values than others. Different styles of bikes ring in at different price levels as well. A Kawasaki Ninja 250 is a great starter bike that lists new for only $3,999, while a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster has a MSRP of $6,999. And don’t be afraid to haggle the price. Know the MSRP beforehand and use that as a negotiating point when dealing with the motorcycle salesman. Take into consideration that you will have to pay taxes, set up fees, and documentation fees. If possible, pay cash, which gives you more bargaining power and dealers will often take a percentage off the top for cash. For riders who plan on trading in their bikes, make sure to know the value of your trade-in and demand to get an honest price in trade. Check what the motorcycle lists for on Kelley Blue Book.

5. If at all possible, test ride your motorcycle. Many dealerships offer demo rides. Motorcycle rallies are a great place to test new bikes as well. First off, you’re going to want to see how tall the seat is and whether you can place both feet comfortably on the ground when stopped. Make sure the seat is comfortable as well. Roll on the throttle and run through the gears, then find a clear area and get on the brakes a few times. Take it to a parking lot and see how it handles at low speeds, then find a freeway and open it up. Make sure to find some twisty roads to find out whether you’re comfortable with its handling. Try it before you buy it!

Early on the first morning of Biketoberfest  a long line has already formed to sign-up for a demo ride on the new VMAX. Biketoberfest marked the first event where the new model was available for a demo.
Riders crowd around demo bikes like a pack of wolves ready to test out this Yamaha Vmax. Testing a bike before you buy it can tell you if the bike is going to match your riding style.
6. Legalize it as soon as possible. Take it to the DMV and get it registered in your name. If you buy direct from the dealer, they will run you through the process. If you buy a used motorcycle, make sure the seller provides you with a copy of the title and registration that is in their name. Also, buy insurance. Not only is it required by law, but it’s just plain smart to protect yourself in case of an accident.

7. Buy the proper motorcycle riding gear. Not only does the proper gear look cool, but it can save your hide and possibly your life in case of a crash. Get a helmet that meets Snell/DOT standards, buy a durable motorcycle jacket, gloves, some reinforced riding pants and boots. If you ride long enough, you’re going to get rained on, so spring for rain gear while you’re at it.

Buying your first motorcycle should be fun. Just be realistic and don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can always get the bike of your dreams after you’ve developed your riding skills.
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Ron -Demo Rides  November 4, 2009 07:13 AM
WOW...I can't believe that some of you have trouble getting demo rides. I can honestly say that I haven’t bought a bike without riding it first. I took all of the Ninja's I've owned for a demo ride before purchasing. I've even put money down on a new bike that I was interested in, before they even shipped. With the stipulation that I get to drive the bike when it comes in and if I don't like it I’ll get my deposit back.
Symon -Buying a new/2nd hander  November 3, 2009 02:34 PM
Cash may now work where you are works here? Most bike stores have armed security guards here anyway. They have some lady in accounts take it straight over to the bank. If you have cash you can usually ride away in 24hrs with a huge deal. Insurance, well you must have 3rd party & rego, wear a helmet & wear a jacket you don't that you run the risk of big fines or your toy taken away, these guys don't mess around. Demo fleets usually travel around the various dealerships (same bikes)They usually do a 2 week end back to back thing. You sign up to test said bike, when its your turn, a rep takes you to said bike, sign a waver, hand over your car keys & follow the group (8-12 demo bikes different models) A cop bike is usually following behind.
Symon -Buying a new/2nd hander  November 3, 2009 02:20 PM
At the moment bike sales in Australia are booming due to the eco down turn. Second hand cars & bike haven't been all that good here for ages as the asking price difference between new & 2nd Hand is small, so most haggle with dealers for package deals & most of the time you can walk away happy. New LAMS laws here mean that you aren't restricted to a 250 as log as the power/weight ratio has the learner legal tick.
bryan harley -mythbuster  November 3, 2009 02:17 PM
Chris, you're right, I've never worked in a dealership (thank goodness).

As far as myths, you're going to tell me in a suffering economy that cash doesn't talk? Dealers may make more in the long run, but if they don't sell bikes today, there ain't going to be any long run. Cash still gives you room to haggle.

#2 Thanks for suggesting NADA, but if you're just looking for a ballpark figure, Kelley Blue Book does have a section for motorcycles.

#3 Get insurance. Motorcycling is inherently dangerous enough, so CYA and get insurance. Even if it's not the law, it's the smart thing to do.

These are suggestions to help the first time motorcycle buyer who might be clueless but curious. It wasn't intended to be gospel.

Sound advice, the article for buying a used bike is next in the series.

Rusty - The best place for demos is motorcycle rallies. There's usually lots of manufacturers so you can ride a few different bikes all in the same day. And like Sanjay said, it varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and city to city.
Sanjay -Demo rides...  November 3, 2009 01:31 PM
Interesting to see the comments on the lack of demo rides. In and around seattle, there are several dealers who provide demo bikes. I have tried out pretty much all the 1000 cc sportbikes...in fact every year as the new models come in, I take it out for a spin.

Don't know whether the dealers here are liberal wrt demos or whether they give me the bike since I currently own one & have been riding for many years.
Chris -Myth #4  November 3, 2009 01:21 PM
Dealer demo rides? Maybe Harleys, I dont see any dealers letting someone test drive a GSXR1000 or R1. In fact, they usually dont even let you ride these when the manufacturers have demo rides at bike rallys.
Chris -Horrible advice  November 3, 2009 01:19 PM
I wasnt going to trash you that bad, but the more I read, the worse the article got. Im guessing that you do not and have never worked in a dealership beacuse of the advice you have given.

Myth # 1

"Ive got CASH!!!"

Good for you, nobody cares, you just sound dumb - no offense. In fact the dealer would prefer you financed and he makes more that way. Counting cash and having a safe place to keep it is a pain. Dealers would prefer a verifiable check over cash. $5000 is $5000, the days of cash to avoid taxes and all are long gone, dealers dont want your cash.

Myth #2

Kelly Blue Book is the worst excuse for a value of anything. Nobody uses it. Car deales, boat dealers, motorcycle dealers, NOBODY uses it. Dealers use NADA (which is available online to end consumers) and BLACK BOOK, which is not available to consumers.

Myth #3

Insurance is not required in all states. YES, even if you have a loan, there are banks that DO NOT require insurance! Helmet laws may vary state to state along with insurance requirements. FYI, no insurance requirement in Florida.

The heart behind your article is good, but being in the industry for over 5 years, I couldnt overlook these errors.
John Ellis -used bikes  November 3, 2009 12:25 PM
I agree with the Nov. 3 comment. How do you shop for used bikes. What should I look for
What about used? -Sound advice but . . .  November 3, 2009 11:42 AM
The only problem I see with this article is that it assumes the new rider will be looking for a new bike when in fact most new riders will get used bikes. The reasons are many and sound (don't spend too much money if you are unsure of your future commitment to the sport, new riders often have less money to spend because they are younger, buy a bike that's already been dropped because you are going to drop it, etc.) Some links to sites that discuss how a new rider should shop for a used bike would be more helpful than links to manufacturers. Used gear can also be a good buy for new riders, although be wary of used helmets.
Rusty -Buying a bike  November 3, 2009 11:07 AM
Nice write up just one comment.... Demo rides? Where? I think I have seen them for very limited bike like large BMW's and the new Honda utility vehicle.