Motorbike Buyer's Checklist

This is a list of things to check when buying a motorbike. Some of the details may be differ between bikes, so do your research about the particular one you'll be looking at.

Things to find out

  • The length of time the seller has owned the bike. It's probably a reliable bike if they've owned it for years (and looked after it).
  • The seller should have the V5 logbook in their name. Do not buy if they don't.
  • Why they are selling.
  • The previous owner history. If the bike has passed through lots of owners in a short time there's probably something wrong with it.
  • The mileage. Pay less the higher it is. ~4000 miles per year is average.
  • Whether it's a UK bike or parallel import. Parallel import bikes were cheaper when new and should fetch less second hand.
  • If there are any outstanding hire purchase payments outstanding. Check by calling HPI on 07071717777 or 08707406282.
  • Whether any extras come with the bike.
  • Whether it's got a race can? If so, make sure they have the original factory can too otherwise you'll not pass an MoT.
  • When the road tax expires.
  • If the bike's over 3 years old, when the MoT expires.
  • Whether the seller has replaced anything recently, such as tyres.
  • Check any modifications to the bike. Chances are your insurance premiums will increase. Certain items, such as aftermarket race cans, you may not be able to insure at all. Custom paint jobs could hide crash damage.
  • The service dates. Check these with the manufacturer's recommended service intervals.
  • The seller should have the spare key.



  • Ask the seller to show you round the bike and explain the controls - this will tell you how familiar they are with the bike.
  • Check that the frame and engine numbers have not been tampered with (you'll also need to check they match the v5 document. More on that later).
  • Check for non cosmetic damage like cracks and damage to mechanical or structural parts.


  • Check for rust that's just surface and can be cleaned off or more serious structural rust. If it can be rubbed off with a wet finger then a good cleaner should remove most of it. If it crumbles when you poke it - walk away.
  • Check bottom (steering) yoke. Mainly cosmetic (5000 miles all weather miles in 7 months and the yolk is starting to flake paint).

Levers and pedals

  • Check all the levers and pedals to ensure that they are all firmly attached.
  • Look for excessive wear which may indicate high mileage (compare with recorded mileage).

Frame and Alignment

  • For bikes fitted with front and rear disc brakes a simple right angled spirit level is all you need. Position the bike so that the rear disc is level, then position the front disc to be the same. Now check handle bars, if they are not aligned, there can be several reasons: the front and rear wheels are miss aligned, the frame or forks are damaged, the front or rear discs are warped, the swing arm is damaged.
  • Look for signs of damage inside the fairing where it fixes to the frame. Shabby paintwork and damaged plastics can cost thousands to replace.

Handlebars, forks and headrace

  • Are both bars even and straight? Easy to bend and can be costly to replace.
  • Look down the length of the forks a check for any bends which may have been caused by a collision.
  • Hold the front wheel between your knees and twist the bars - is there any play?
  • Rust and pitting on the chrome stanchions will tear oil seals and cause leeks - look for oily smears.
  • Hold the front brake on and push down hard on the handlebars to compress the forks. They should return smoothly to the normal position as soon as you take your weight off the bars, but more slowly than on the compression stroke.
  • Fork seals go at ~60,000 miles. ~£100 to fix.
  • To check the headrace, lift the front wheel by getting someone to push down on the seat (on centre stand) gently turn the bars from the left to right and back. If it feels notchy then the headrace needs replacing. If it's stiff it may just need adjusting.

Swingarm and rear shock

  • Get the rear wheel off the ground. Hold the frame with one hand and the wheel rim with the other. Push and pull the wheel sideways. If it moves it could either be a problem with the swingarm or wheel bearings.
  • Look for signs of oil leakage around the piston rod of the shock and make sure that it isn't bent.
  • Push down the rear of the bike and it should compress easily but return to normal more slowly and with a smooth action.
  • Shocks can wear out after 15,000 miles. Aftermarket monoshocks cost ~£250.

Wheels and tyres

  • Lift the front wheel and make sure it spins freely.
  • Push and pull the wheel rim. There should be no more than 1mm play, but taper roll bearings need a little more.
  • Lay a straight edge along the sides of the front and rear wheel and check that they are aligned.
  • Check that the rims are not buckled or dented. Dents in the rim may have been caused from curbing at speed. Wheel dents can be corrected, but a new wheel may cost over £300.
  • Legal read limit is a minimum of 1 mm tread across 3/4 of the width of the tyre. You should make sure there's at least 3mm though. For a performance bike tyres cost £100+.


  • Examine the discs for distortion, bad scoring or hairline cracks. Look for a ridge on the discs outer edge.
  • Standard thickenesses are front 4.5mm , rear 5.0mm. Front service limit is 3.5mm, the rear limit is 4.0mm. £360+ to replace. Will take ~70,000 miles to wear out the 1.0 mm.
  • Apply the front brake, release and re-check the brakes (a few times). Do the same to the rear. Do the wheels bind? If so you could be looking at replacement pads, bearing or callipers.

Chains and sprockets

  • Last from a few thousand miles to tens of thousands of miles if lubed properly.
  • Check the chain for tight spots by pushing the chain upwards under the swing arm - there should be at least 1 cm movement.
  • To see whether the chain is stretched pull it horizontally away from the sprocket. If there is any movement then the chain and possibly also the sprocket is knackered. £100+ to fix.

Exhaust and Mountings

  • Is the exhaust or frame bent?
  • In a crash the exhaust can sometime get pushed into the frame.
  • Also check the joins by placing your hand near them while the engine is running. Is gas escaping? A new exhaust could easily cost £500.
  • Check the exhaust for an e-mark indicating that it's road legal. If not, make sure you get the original factory can for your next MoT.


  • Engine should start easily and tick over smoothly at 800-1000 rpm.
  • Listen for excessive rattles, especially under load.
  • Start it at least 3 times.
  • Look for signs of accident damage on casings.
  • Check service history for regular oil changes.


  • With the engine running, make sure all gears engage cleanly and clutch takes up drive smoothly.
  • Check for oil leeks.

Raced and abused

  • Check the wheel rims, shocks and forks for excessive wear.
  • If the wear on the tyres and suspension looks out of place with the immaculate paint work, then the bike may have had a hard life.


  • Check that the headlamp dips to the right or you might be looking at a parallel import.
  • Check parking light, tail light and the the brake lights works from hand and foot brake.
  • Indicators should flash at the correct rate.


  • Throttle, clutch and brake levers should operate smoothly.
  • Bent clutch and brake levers indicate a fall.


  • Check speedo is in mph and that it works.
  • Mileage reading should be ~4000 miles per year for big bikes, ~3000 for lightweights.
  • Rev meter needle should move smoothly around the dial.
  • Check warning lights go off when the engine starts.


  • Check all the lights and switches work properly. Give them a tap with your hand to check there are no lose wires.
  • An electric fan should cut in if the temperature rises too high. You can check this by unplugging the wire on the heat sensor and touching it to the base of sensor. The fan should come on.
  • As a minimum check the reason behind any unusual switches or wiring. Extra switches or fans can sometime point to electrical or cooling problems.

Test ride


  • The owner may be reluctant to let you ride the bike in case you nick it, but show your insurance, proof of identity such as your password and your driving licence and you should get a ride.
  • If you're already insured on a bike your policy should cover 3rd party only on a bike you don't own. Check with your insurers.
  • Don't ride without insurance. You'll risk up to 6 points on your licence and 6 on the lenders if you get caught, not to mention the possibility of crashing, hurting yourself and/or someone else and not being able to foot the bill.

The ride

  • This should take about 20 minutes.
  • Check that the engine starts easily hot and cold.
  • Do all the gears change smoothly, and is it easy to find neutral at a standstill?
  • Listen for excessive rattles from the engine.
  • Check that the clutch doesn't slip. Accelerate hard at 40mph in fourth gear to see.
  • When you accelerate hard check behind for a smokey exhaust.
  • Do the brakes work properly? If you can feel pulsing though the lever or pedal when you apply the brake it indicates a warped disc (don't confude this with ABS action).
  • If you take your hands off the bars, does the bike keep going straight ahead? If not, the tyres could be knackered or something isn't straight.
  • If you take your hands off, do the bars shake? Suspect worn or over-tight head bearings.
  • Does the suspension feel good, or does the bike wallow in bends?
  • Did you enjoy riding the bike? If it doesn't feel right it probably isn't.

Completing the sale


  • V5, the vehicle identification document.
  • MOT certificate if bike over 3 years old.
  • Check that the documents match the machine on sale. Check Engine/frame number, Make, model, Year and colour and obviously the registration.
  • Owner's manual.
  • Service book. Do the service stamp dates and mileage match the required interval? Can the owner back up the service with receipts? Phone the dealer who serviced the bike last and verify the information is correct.
  • Documentation for any extras that come with the bike, such as an alarm.

HPI check

  • Get a check done that will identify if the bike's stolen, a write off or has outstanding finance on. Cost £12.50 - £20.
  • Visit for more info.


  • Ensure the vendor completes the V5 with your details.
  • The V5 explains on the back which sections you need to fill out. It is now the responsibility of the seller (vendor) to transfer the bike.
  • You will need the transfer slip as proof until your new V5 is posted to you. You must ensure that the details are correct, as obtaining a new document is inconvenient and suspicious when you come to sell the bike.
  • You should also obtain a receipt sometimes refered to as a bill of sale for the purchase (a simple signed note detailing what, when and how much and by who to who will do) in case the owner attempts to report it stolen after you've paid for it.
  • The bill of sale should include: Vendor name and address, buyers name and address, make, model, registration number, VIN plate number and the mileage.


Last modified: 26/04/2006 (most likely earlier as a site migration in 2006 reset some dates) Tags: (none)

This website is a personal resource. Nothing here is guaranteed correct or complete, so use at your own risk and try not to delete the Internet. -Stephan

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