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Used Bike Checklist

If you're new to motorcycling or you're not into greasy clothes and skinned knuckles, this list probably 
seems intimidating and excessive. If you are only spending a few hundred bucks on the bike in the first 
place and you'll never be very far from home, you probably should just check the stuff that doesn't require 
special tools or facilities. On the other hand, if you're paying more than 1K for the bike and you expect to 
do some touring, it might be cheaper to pay a dealer 50 to 100 bucks to run these checks for you than to 
find out about problems the hard way on the road. In other times, you might have lost a good deal by 
delaying long enough to get all these questions answered. Right now, though, it's a buyer's market (at least 
where I live) and you have quite a bit more leeway (and leverage).

I recommend the following as good bulletproof bikes for newbies: Honda CBxxx, Kawasaki GPZxxx, 
Kawasaki KZxxx, Yamaha Seca xxx, Yamaha Maxim xxx, Suzuki GSxxx. (The xxx means this bike came 
in several engine sizes; for example, Suzuki GS500, GS550, GS650, GS750, etc.)

1. Find out the riding habits of the current owner. If the bike is used only for a short commute on a 
regular basis, it may not get warmed up enough to evaporate moisture in the engine and exhaust system 
and rust and lubrication contaminants will result. If the rider spends a lot of time in hot stop-and-go 
traffic, the engine may frequently be subject to excessively high temperatures.
2. Look for low odometer mileage. Bikes seem to have about half the odometer mileage of cars in the 
same model and year class.
3. If the seller claims the bike has never been down, check the lower engine parts, brake and clutch lever 
ends, handgrips, footpegs, pipes, and case guards for telltale abrasions.  Make sure the handlebars are 
aligned exactly perpendicular to the bike longitudinal axis.
4. Don't buy anything older than 10 years unless you're willing to spend lots of time and energy finding 
5. Look for rust in the gas tank.
6. Look for missing hardware, e.g., nuts, bolts, brackets, cotter pins.
7. Check for pitting, gouges, or fluid seepage on the front forks. The upper tubes should be pristine.
8. Check cables for binding and wear or improper routing.
9. Block up the engine so the front wheel is off of the ground and check for play in the front forks (grab 
them and try to move them front to back or side to side. There shouldn't be any play if the steering 
head bearings are any good. Rotate the forks and check for smooth movement, if you feel bumps or 
catching, the steering head bearing races may be worn or notched. Be sure the front tire rotates 
smoothly, doesn't squeak, and is not bent.
10. If the bike has air shocks, check the pressure with a gauge. Make sure you can pump them up to their 
maximum and that they will hold that pressure.
11. Ask to see the owner's manual (if the owner doesn't have the manual, maintenance may not have been 
done when it should have been).
12. Check chain play and adequacy of lubrication of the chain. Look for sprocket wear (clean off a few 
teeth and check quality of metal finish and symmetry of features). Check for chain wear or have 
someone check it (good shops have wear gauges or can eyeball it fairly accurately.)
13. Check the brakes for sponginess & loose feel. If the bike is more than five years old, the original hoses 
may be due for replacement. Look for brake fluid leaks at cylinders, calipers, and hose connections. 
Check fibre pad thickness (most pads have maximum wear indicators that tell you when pads should 
be replaced). Operate brake levers and hold them operated for a while to check for weakening of 
resistance to the applied pressure.
14. Ask owner if brake cylinder kits have ever been replaced. Yamaha recommends installation of new cup 
seals every two years.
15. Find out if brake fluid has ever been replaced. Dot 3 fluid absorbs about 5% water per year and should 
be replaced at least every two years (Yamaha says every year.)
16. Check for smooth finish of brake discs.
17. Find out if fork oil has every been replaced.
18. Find out if owner(s) has done self-maintenance. If so, does current owner have a torque wrench? Does 
he/she know what a torque wrench is? Over- torqued fasteners and stripped threads are no fun.
19. Does the bike have a tool kit and does the tool kit appear to be all there?
20. Pull spark plugs and check for consistency of appearance, dryness, light gray appearance. Make sure 
spark plugs have never been cross-threaded (look for heli-coil inserts in cylinder head.)
21. Look for deteriorated insulation on wiring. On bikes that don't protect wiring with conduits or tape, 
look for insulation cracks. Check connectors for signs of corrosion and water build-up.
22. Check steering headlock to see that it works and that the locking shaft hasn't been snapped off.
23. If you have a compression tester, check compression on all cylinders. I don't know about other brands, 
but Yamaha parts fiches have the minimum and maximum compression listed, or any dealer can tell 
you this information.
24. Pull the timing cover and check to see that parts haven't been abused or subjected to kludgy 
25. If you can find a shop with a leak-down tester, have them perform a leak-down test of all cylinders to 
verify valve and ring sealing.
26. Look at the oil. If it's dirty, forget the bike. There are too many good ones for sale that have had regular 
oil changes and routine maintenance.
27. Check the battery box (i.e., the metal platform on which the battery sits) and terminals for corrosion.
28. Check the screws that secure light lenses (turn, tail) for corrosion. You can usually see this as darkened 
area in the plastic around the screws.
29. Check the clutch and brake levers for smooth operation and proper adjustment.
30. Make sure you get to see the bike started cold (so you can verify that it WILL start cold.) After it has 
warmed up, kill the engine and crank it several times with the kill switch on to see if the battery can 
handle the repeat loads. Check battery fluid level. If the battery is constructed so that the plates are 
visible, check for fuzzy looking growth on plates (sulfation).
31. Make sure the lights, horns, gauges, etc. all work. Check for proper voltage regulator operation by 
watching headlight brightness while you rev the engine.
32. Listen to the warmed-up engine for excessive tappet noise, clutch noise, or transmission noise. Make 
sure the bike will idle at the RPM specified for idle. If the bike has multiple exhaust pipes, check that 
the pressure pulses emitted from each pipe are similar and regular by holding your palms a few inches 
from the opening to feel the pulses.
33. On shaft-drive bikes, check for excessive drive-train play. Some 'clunk' is normal on the bigger ones, 
but lots of it means u-joint replacement time (or worse, ring/pinion/drive gear or bearing replacement 
time). Check for oil leaks on the rear wheel drive unit. Oil in the drive unit should be absolutely clean. 
Wipe the wheel rim dry on the drive unit side before you ride the bike. Check it with a clean tissue 
afterward to see if any lubricant has been flung off of the drive unit onto the wheel.
34. Check for the air filter. Avoid a bike that's been run without one. If the filter is present, check integrity 
of the airbox. A popular technique for decreasing intake restriction is to drill holes in the airbox. If the 
holes are between the carbs and the filter, the filter is essentially useless. If aftermarket low-restriction 
filters have been put on the bike, make sure they're oiled.
35. Ride the bike very slowly and do a few tight turns. Look for wobbling in the front end. Check 
cornering stability at low and high speeds.
36. If the bike has adjustable shocks, adjust them to their various settings and make sure you can feel some 
difference. Replacing the rear shock in later model mono-shock designs can be VERY expensive.
37. Make sure the bike doesn't pop out of gear under heavy loading in all the gears (especially second 
38. Make sure that crankcase breather hose is still hooked up.
39. Check tires for wear & proper inflation. If it's an older bike, make sure that you can still get tires for it. 
Find out if the owner has recently used Armorall on the sidewalls. This may compromise traction and 
deteriorate the sidewalls.
40. Have the swing-arm bearings checked. This usually requires dismounting the rear wheel and 
suspension. My manual recommends periodic lubrication of the bearings at ~10K intervals.
41. Write down frame and engine numbers. They should agree. Check with local Police Department to 
make sure bike isn't stolen. Call manufacturer's office in USA and ask for first owner's name and place 
of sale (Yamaha keeps track of this stuff, others may also). You may be able to check maintenance 
records with original dealer.
42. Ask if any netlanders have the model and find out about potential problems. A lot of friendly and 
helpful people read this newsgroup, and I've learned things here that just don't seem to get published 
anywhere else.
43. Make sure you fit on the bike and that the bike fits the riding you plan to do. Make sure you are strong 
enough to stand it back up if it falls over. Make sure you can push it a few blocks in case you have to 
do this on the road.
44. On Japanese bikes, check both sides of the bike for deterioration of the clear acrylic overcoat they put 
on brushed aluminum and chrome engine and body parts. Flaking or splotchiness of finish is a sign that 
the bike has been exposed to a lot of UV and, if primo finish is important to you, you'll end up doing 
some restoration of these parts.
45. On bikes with alloy rims and engine parts, look for stains in the metal. If these were caused by 
exposure to cleaning chemicals like alkaline cleansers, you may not be able to get the stains out.
46. Make sure there is a reputable dealer in your area. The best way to do this is to ask other bikers. Also, 
in locations that have several dealers for the same brand, check out what each dealer charges for 
replacement parts. I've found everything from standard 15% discounts to 30% above retail 
47. Check back issues of motorcycle magazines at your library to see when the bike was produced and for 
how long. If you are going to be adding accessories, check the catalogs at any dealership to see if the 
aftermarket suppliers were ever interested in that model.
48. Ask the dealer to check for factory recall and repair alert bulletins which may apply to the bike. 
Yamaha includes these on current parts microfiche. Make sure any mandatory safety upgrades have 
been installed on the bike. 

Bruce Clarke  Victoria, B.C. Canada