Motorcycle Buying Guide - New or Used?

Article Last Updated: Feb 6, 2024

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So many motorcycle choices (KTM RC390)

Should you buy a new or used motorcycle? Some would say new, and some would say used. What's your budget? How are your mechanical skills? How much risk are you willing to take? What is the potential savings? How much time and effort are you willing to spend to find a suitable bike? How particular are you? Do you want a popular model that is readily available on the used market, or are you after something that is less common and more difficult to find? These are all questions that you need to consider.

I have bought used bikes before. Some were trouble free and some had problems. I’ve also bought new motorcycles that had problems, although nothing major. Some problems or deficiencies are obvious when you check out a bike; some problems may not show up until later. Most new non-competition motorcycles will have a warranty. A used bike may or may not have some of the original warranty left. Even if there is warranty on a bike, note that not all items are covered by a warranty. To avoid invalidating a warranty, you may be required to have your bike serviced by an authorized dealer, though you’re usually permitted to perform some of the routine maintenance yourself.

Although the initial purchase price of a used bike may be low enough to make it seem like a great deal, understand though, that motorcycle parts and shop labor are often expensive. Here are few examples of OEM part prices in Canadian dollars, before taxes, for a 2019 Honda CB500X (Feb 6, 2024):
Front sprocket: $42.70
Rear sprocket: $70.54
Chain: $162.90
Battery: $132.16
Front brake pads (1 set): $82.92
This doesn't include labour for replacing the parts. After-market parts may be cheaper than OEM parts.

If you need to have a motorcycle serviced at a dealer, the shop rates can be high (over $100 per hour). A set of tires for a street bike, including mounting, balancing and taxes, can cost several hundred dollars (tires and parts are generally more expensive in Canada than in the US). I bought a set of tires for a CBR250RA in 2022, and the cost was about $443 with taxes; that price didn't include mounting and balancing (I mounted and balanced them myself). You need to factor these items into the true cost of the bike.

To get an idea of the potential savings on the purchase price by buying used, just search online. You could save thousands of dollars by buying a used motorcycle rather than a new one. If you buy a used motorcycle in good condition and then choose to sell it later for whatever reason, then you’re not going to lose as much money due to depreciation. During the last few years, though, used motorcycle prices have been quite high, but that should change.

You need to carefully inspect a used motorcycle. If you’re not sure about assessing the condition of a motorcycle, then when you go check one out, take someone with you who is knowledgeable. You can also have a motorcycle inspected by a reputable motorcycle shop if in doubt or if you want some extra peace of mind, provided that the seller is agreeable to this. There will be a cost for this, of course. Also check that there are no liens (money owing) on the bike and that it is not stolen. You may also want to check if the bike has been in a significant accident. There are government agencies and private companies that can provide these services. It can be a lot of work and hassle shopping for a used motorcycle. You may have to check out a lot of bikes, and you may have to wait a while for that right bike to become available for sale. There can be rewards for your effort and patience, though. There are some really good used motorcycles out there, and you really can save some money, but you have to be careful. It’s certainly easier to buy a new motorcycle, especially if you know what you want and you are not driven to get the absolute best deal possible.

You can potentially save some money on a new motorcycle if you buy in the off-season or you buy a non-current bike (a leftover model). There are often some good deals offered by dealers at motorcycle shows. Dealers have to pay interest on the bikes they have in stock (the distributors may give the dealers an interest free grace period, but after that they usually have to pay interest). Distributors may offer rebates on some new motorcycles, especially non-current models. Check the distributors’ websites and check with your local dealers. You can also try to negotiate on the price of a new motorcycle or possibly get some riding gear or accessories included in the price or get them at a discount. You are less likely to get a large discount (or any discount) on new or very popular (in demand) models. Check with dealers that are farther away just to comparison shop (check their websites or contact them directly). You can always ask your local dealer if they can, or are willing to, match the advertised price. High volume dealers may qualify for discounts from the distributors that smaller volume dealers may not be eligible for. This may or may not result in a lower price for the customer. When comparison shopping, factor in any dealer fees. It might be worth paying a bit more to buy a bike from your local dealer. If you’re a loyal customer, your local dealer may be more willing to go out of their way to help you out if you have problems with your bike later on.

Buying new does not guarantee the motorcycle will be trouble free. I’ve heard of cases where a bike that was still on warranty has spent a considerable amount of time sitting in a shop waiting for warranty approval, waiting for parts or waiting for a shop to get around to fixing the bike (for whatever reason). I’ve also had personal experience where an obvious (to me) defect was not repaired or replaced on warranty because of poor dealer service or an incompetent mechanic. I ended up fixing some issues myself. Also, if you buy a used bike that’s been well taken care of, it may be good for several years of trouble-free use. Some used bikes are as good as new, or just about.

With the current situation (post-pandemic, supply chain issues, high shipping costs, high inflation), you are more likely to pay more for a new or used motorcycle right now (2024) than pre-pandemic. There do not seem to be as many incentives (rebates, additional included warranty, free accessories) from the distributors, but that seems to be changing as there have been some recent rebates. Some models or types of motorcycles have been in shorter supply. Many dealers have greatly increased their fees over the last few years and/or are not willing to negotiate on the price of their bikes. Some dealers are charging much higher fees (additional dealer markup), especially on in-demand models. Used bike prices in some cases have gotten outrageously high. Personally, I won't pay additional dealer markup, nor will I pay an inflated price for a used motorcycle. I won't pay more than what I think is reasonable given the current situation. That may mean that I have to do more ground work, travel further or simply put off buying until the prices are more reasonable. I won't be ripped off by a dealer or reseller. Supply and demand will even out eventually, and prices will return to more normal levels, I believe. If you don't know what are reasonable fees for PDI and freight for the times, look at the pricing information on the Honda website; I wouldn't pay more in dealer fees in total than that. Another thing to note these days is the rather high inflation rate; the MSRP for some new motorcycles jumped up quite a bit for 2023 (for example, a $500 price increase from 2022 to 2023 for a Yamaha XT250 and $700 for a Tenere 700). Prices are going up for 2024 models as well, but maybe not quite as much percentage-wise as the previous year.

Next: Buying a New Motorcycle