Buying Your First Motorcycle : What’s It Worth ?

You’ve found the bike of your dreams, it’s mechanically and cosmetically perfect, and you already have visions of yourself roaming the highways on the beast. Now you have to figure out how much the bike is worth.

Yamaha YZF R1 Used

There’s not much to negotiating the price of a new bike. Your best bet is to call every dealer within reasonable driving distance (remember, you will probably have to return to that dealer for warranty work) and find out what each one is charging for the model you’re interested in. Once you have the best price, you might want to go to the nearest dealer you trust and give them an opportunity to match it. Even if they can’t match it exactly, if they can even come close, it might be worth a few extra dollars to buy from someone you trust, someone who is located nearby.

When shopping for a new motorcycle, you can save a lot of money by remaining flexible about which make and model to buy. Say you’ve decided to purchase a midsized cruiser, like Kawasaki’s Vulcan 800 Classic. While searching for such a bike, you find a decade-old Honda 800 Shadow in mint condition at one-third the price of the Kawasaki.

While the Kawasaki is a fine motorcycle, the Shadow is capable of providing every bit as much enjoyment, and with its shaft drive and hydraulically-adjusted valves, the Honda will save you hundreds of dollars per year in maintenance costs over the Kawasaki. You can pocket the money saved and use it to finance a cross-country motorcycle trip.

You can also save a lot of money by watching for carryover models. While shopping for the best deal on a Honda 750 Shadow, you might run across a brand-new last year’s model Kawasaki 800 Vulcan for $1,500 less. In this case, maintenance costs will be roughly equal, since both bikes have manually adjusted valves and chain drives, so if you keep an open mind, that will be an extra $1,500 in your pocket.

Buying a used bike is where the process most diverges from buying a car. Because motorcycle prices can fluctuate widely from region to region, depending on how large a market an area has, accurate price guides are difficult to compile.

Further complicating the creation of useful price guides is the wide variation in the condition of each motorcycle. One seller’s Yamaha 1100 Special can be in mint condition at 60,000 miles, while the next guy’s can be a hunk of junk at 10,000 miles. When deciding how much a bike is worth, a guidebook’s value assessment is only part of the equation. In addition to things such as condition and completeness, you have to look at routine wear and tear. Keeping a motorcycle in tip-top running condition is an expensive proposition. A bike with a fresh tune-up is definitely worth more than a bike needing a tune-up.

Another item that increases a bike’s value is fresh tires. You should be able to tell by looking whether the tires have low miles: Check the depth of the tread at the edges of the tire compared to the depth of the tread at the center. A good pair of quality tires can run you well over $300, with mounting and balancing, so factor that into your price determination.

On the other hand, new tires of low quality actually detract from the value of a bike, at least in my personal equation. If a bike has a pair of bargain-brand tires, I have to either make the decision to drive on tires I consider unsafe, or toss out a nearly new set of tires and spend $300 on another pair. If a bike is wearing a pair of budget-brand tires, I automatically deduct $250 from my offer.

It’s a good idea to speak with as many other owners of a certain model as you can before making a purchase (here again, belonging to a club can be beneficial). Also, check any service bulletins that may have been issued to your dealer on a certain model before buying that model.

These rough guidelines may help, but in the end, it’s just going to be you and the seller. The entire process may boil down to how badly you want to buy the bike or how much the owner wants to sell it. One thing I can guarantee: If you buy the motorcycle that’s right for you, one or two years from now, as you’re riding down the road enjoying your machine, you will not be thinking, “Damn, I paid too much for this thing.