Buying a New Vs. Used Motorcycle

John L. Stein
by John L. Stein
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Freshly minted or tried and true, that is the question. To decide, start with this guide

Photo by Kekyalyaynen/
Photo by Kekyalyaynen/

Several decades ago, we went to lunch with an executive VP of a big advertising agency. Forgoing a restaurant, he suggested going to the local motorcycle dealership and having a look around. There he spotted a lineup of new 250cc motocross bikes, freshly assembled from their shipping crates. Dressed in a crisp business suit and tie, he hardly looked like the potential buyer of a new dirt bike – more like a touring rider, if anything. But he approached the nearest salesman, pointed at one of the new race bikes, and simply said, “I’ll take that one” while handing over a credit card. “I’ll pick it up Saturday.” The young salesman was visibly stunned, and to this day that was the easiest sale we ever witnessed.

It all proved a point: Buying is simple and easy if you have the money. Put another way: Money buys not only the product, but the terms too. Although, what if you’re not a high-paid executive with a corner office and, instead, need to make every dollar count? That’s when you have a mountain of strategy and logistics to climb, beginning with deciding whether to buy new or used, and then navigating plenty of other challenges along the way. As you’ll learn in this brief but essential primer, it’s worth doing right. thanks Yamaha for sponsoring this new rider series.

Nice and New

Photo by sylv1rob1/
Photo by sylv1rob1/

“Will that be cash or credit?” It sounds comical, but how you choose to pay for your new motorcycle is just one of many factors to consider. Of even greater importance is higher in the purchase funnel though – whether the technical features, reliability, and warranty protection of a new bike will best support your riding style. With new bikes (and some selected used ones, depending on manufacturer), you can even extend the factory warranty or add something called GAP coverage that will protect you if the machine, for example, blows up or gets totaled before being paid off. Long story short: Buy new if you must have the latest model and features, if you want a new-bike factory warranty, and want the peace of mind of riding a reliable new machine. Viable reasons for buying new are going racing, cross-country touring, or other reasons that favor maximum reliability and performance.

Downsides to buying new? Some actually exist. One is that the motorcycle will likely start a value depreciation slide the instant you sign the purchase contract. A second is that if you finance the machine, you’ll be married to a payment book for months or years. This might or might not become a burden, but if you work it right, paying off a unit “as agreed” can improve your FICO score (aka credit rating). On this note, buyers with great FICO scores often get better APR rates on their loans.

Photo illustration by GUNDAM_Ai/, DC
Photo illustration by GUNDAM_Ai/, DC

Friendly tip: Before entering a purchase scenario at a dealership, check your credit score with one of the easy-to-use apps such as Experian or Credit Karma, or have your bank run a “soft check.” Such knowledge is power, because guaranteed, Job 1 of a good salesman is to run your credit to see if you’re a viable buyer or just a wannabee.

Used, and Hopefully not Abused

This topic has more barbs than a pack of porcupines. On the best day, buying used can get you a fantastic bike, presented virtually as new by a fastidious owner who hardly used it, for a super-lowdown price. It can and does happen. But the opposite scenario is always lurking out there too: The ridden-hard-and-put-away-wet machine, four owners past new, freshly washed and pimped out to look great, but sporting a zillion miles with mechanical calamity just waiting to happen – to you as its next owner – with no warranty or recourse, except to suck it up.

The best way to navigate a used-bike purchase is to get real expertise on your side. Find a trusted friend – or make a new one – to help you case Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, your local dealerships, or wherever you may shop. No, scratch that: Make it a trusted friend who is also a genuine expert in the subject! Then take them with you when you go look at motorcycles. They’ll look closely for telltale signs of use or abuse, factor in total miles, validate service records, and consider the overall ownership history to determine if it’s the right bike for you.

Photo by SFROLOV/
Photo by SFROLOV/

Don’t get frustrated by looking at lots of used bikes. Instead, pretend you’re taking an extension course and embrace the learning. Because surely, you’ll find more bikes that aren’t right en route to discovering the one that is. This one has too many miles; that one lives outside under a cover; or this other one wears signs of poor maintenance, e.g., a worn chain and sprocket, old tires, dirty oil and brake fluid, or even expired tags.

As with house shopping, the more units you look at, the more you’ll recognize the right one when you see it. That’s your “Eureka!” moment. Then let the negotiations begin. You can always consult NADA, Kelley Blue Book, J.D. Power, Hagerty or other online databases, but in the moment, what you are willing to pay and what the seller is willing to accept drives the deal. And by the way, cash is most often king. Speaking of which, before agreeing on a price, insist on a clear title in the seller’s name! Anything else is a kettle of fish you don’t want to own. Trust us on this.

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John L. Stein
John L. Stein

More by John L. Stein

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2 of 5 comments
  • Sed77822332 Sed77822332 on Oct 06, 2023

    the closest i ever came to buying a new bike happened twice - in 1981, when i bought a leftover demo 1980 yamaha sx850 special, and in mid 1983 when i bought a 1983 honda vf750f used because the new ones were sold out.

    i was young and dumb then. i financed both those bikes. it wasn't until 1998 that i was interested in buying another bike, and by then i'd learned i'd never buy any vehicle new, and i'd never buy any vehicle i couldn't pay cash for. i think it's the only reason i'm solvent today, and have a bit of money in the bank.

    (i've never bought a new car either; the closest i came was a leftover demo 1989 suzuki swift gti purchased in 1990; also the last car i ever financed.)


    doug s.

  • Joel Taylor Joel Taylor on Oct 07, 2023

    All fair comments however, there a lot to be said about a brand new, fresh, never riden, 0 miles, single owner bike along with the day you go to the dealership and she's all plated and ready to ride. When they hand you the keys and ownership papers is cool if you've never had the experience. Sure, you can save a bundle of money buying used but I've loved buying 2 bikes brand new over the years. My current bike I bought used and don't regret it. It's a low milage gem! Spotless. Like brand new but saved about $3k.