Can someone tell me how to evaluate a used motorcycle?

I am looking into buying a used motorcycle, and I want to make sure that the bike is a good one. I can read about bikes all day long, but whatever I read will not tell me about the particular bike in question. So what should I do now?

Same as a used car. If you find a bike that you like and think is in pretty good shape, based on whatever you know, then pony up a few bucks to have a bike mechanic check it over. There’s stuff a mechanic will find that you will never find in a million years, or until you are stranded with a mechanical failure, whichever comes first. Also kind of depends on how much you want to spend. I don’t know what a bike shop would charge do a once-over, but it’s probably worth it if you use it as the final screening step.

Here’s some more stuff off the top of my head for you to check yourself. I assume you already have a motorcycle license. Then you need to ride the bike in as much different road conditions as possible. Before you even move the bike, turn the handlebars back and forth. If you feel a sticking point in the middle position you’ve got worn bearing races that should be replaced. You should tell the owner that you want the engine cold when you get there. The bike should start easily. When riding, make sure the clutch and brake levers don’t bottom out. The bike should hold the road when you hit bumps and not bounce or sway. It should feel rock steady at all speeds from neighborhood up to highway speeds (whatever highway speed is for you). Check tires for sufficient tread and even wear. Check brakes independently (normally you should always use both together). You might be able to do a visual check on brake pad wear for disk brakes. Shifting should be clean and smooth. Remember to check all lights, including turn signals front and back.

Look for how well the bike has been cared for. Sometimes people can keep a bike shined up nice without taking care of it mechanically, but chances are if it has it’s not taken care of on the outside it’s not taken care of on the inside. Are you buying chain drive or shaft drive? See how close the chain is to its replacement point.

Try to gauge all these signs of wear against the mileage on the bike to figure out how hard it’s been ridden. Low mileage but little tread left on the tires?

See if the owner has service records, and read them.

This is a good site with some great information. And you can print it out and use it as a checklist.

Thanks guys, I am taking notes in Word even as I type this responce. Its puzzling though, these things seem so obvious now that you mentioned them, but before I read the post I was as clueless as a wooden fence post on this subject.

When you check the oil, beware that it is not a heavier grade than usual, putting thicker oil in is usually a way of masking engine rattles.

Rectifiers and regulators fail all too often on bikes and cost a princely sum new.
Check the battery voltage before starting up and ride the bike around with fullights on and turn the engine off and check again, if it has fallen by more than .5 volt be wary, the rectifier or alternator may be stuffed.
With the engine warmed up and the bike stationary, turn on all the lights and rev, the lights will go a little brighter as the revs rise at first, but as you steadily wind on the revs, they should remian at the same brilliance, they should not continue to get brighter, if they do then the regulator may be stuffed.

The suspension components can be very expensive depending upon machine.
Get someone to hold the bike upright, go to the rear and press your weight down on the tailpiece and release suddenly, the bkie should rise fairly quickly and definately smoothly, it shoud not be possible for it to come back up as quick as you release it, if it does then the shocker damping is duff.
If it rises slightly sluggish, the shocker may be badly adjusted, but more likely is that the suspension linkage is seized for lack of grease.
The front end is easier to check, just roll it very slightly forward and lock the front brake whilst pressing down on the handlebars, the front end should sink steadily, smoothly and at a decreasing speed, the decrease should be even, without sudden changes to the rate. Do this a good few times to put pressure on the fork seals, get a tissue and wipe around the point where the seals are, there should be minimal amounts of oil there.

Coolant and oil levels are nearly alwyas correct on sellers machines, but if either appear to be very fresh you have to ask yourself why, have they been refilled just for this sale ?
Look around the sump for any leaks, around the head gasket and the gear actuator shaft.

Above all, be prepared to walk away, there are loads of machines out there, you might walk from a dubious looking machine that is actually in good condition, but let an expert discover that for themselves.

If the person lets you ride the bike(would you let someone you don’t know ride your bike???), check the 1st to 2nd gear shift, especially if it’s got some miles on it. If it’s very difficult to get into 2nd gear, the shift dogs are probably worn. Only way to fix…split cases, replace the gear.If the bikes got a centerstand, put it up and check steering head, swingarm, and wheels for any play. Check the brake calipers for any leaking brake fluid, the reservoirs,too. Look at the diskes, any really deep grooves??. Check the wiring harness, are the wires in good shape?? Check the chain & sprockets, but these are pretty standard maintenace items on a bike, I just put new ones on both of my bikes.
I don’t know what kind your looking at, but I would stay away from a sportbike owned by a younger rider…people buy those bikes because of the power(and showing off)…wheelies can oil starve parts of the engine, and are not real great for steering head bearings.
Bikes aren’t like cars…they vibrate, things can come loose, they have smaller capacity batteries, and are more exposed to the elements…they are also easier to work on. If you want to own a bike, become mechanically proficient…you should be able to do any maintenance (change brake pads,bleeding,sprockets, basic electrical) yourself…eventually.