Since the season is upon us, I decided to write up a quick piece on the best time of year to buy used motorcycles and a few things to consider before and during making this decision. As you might have guessed from the title, this time of year happens to be the best to buy new. Check out the tips for some popular websites below and you'll have a better chance at finding a "motivated" seller when it comes time to negotiate a price.
When buying new, anytime around November or December is best. The new models will start coming out and dealers are anxious to clear space for incoming inventory. This is when you’ll find the best deals on last year’s model and the holiday season will likely have some added extras (like helmets, gear, accessories discounts, etc).
When buying used, wait until the colder months, depending on your local climate. In areas like California, Florida, Arizona, and Texas, there are some regions where we never dip into temperatures that discourage most from riding. The trick to getting a good deal on used motorcycles is planning ahead and applying a strategy (I’ll discuss this below). Set a budget, decide on colors, and don’t compromise. Patience will pay off.
The largest websites for finding these deals in your area are Craigslist (I know, but there ARE some good deals here if you know how to weed out the nonsense) and Cycletrader. Ebay will have several listings, but it’s going to be a bit more commercialized in the sense that the sellers are usually guys that fix used motorcycles up and then resell them at a profit from sources like auctions. Taking that into consideration, we’re going to focus on Craigslist and Cycletrader.
When using Craigslist, take advantage of targeted search. When you select “motorcycles” from the “for sale” section, select “by-owner only.” Above the listing photos. You’ll see a search input field and you can use keywords to better help find motivated sellers (pictured below). Type in things like “moving”, “baby”, “new job”, “deployment”, or any other factor that might influence a decision to sale. By doing this, you can get to the good stuff without spending lots of time browsing pages. This will only return those results that have the specified keywords in the search box and fall within the other criteria you chose (such as by-owner only), so be sure to try several searches with different keywords.
The same search focus tips apply to Cycletrader as well, but you’ll need to select the “advanced search” link and fill in the various fields. It’s a little more complicated than the craigslist interface, but it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you remember to select the “+ update” after you fill out each field (pictured below). Not clicking the “+ update” after entering the options for each field will not apply them and you’ll get the same results you would without having the targeted approach.
Just remember that because these listings are the ones most motivated to turn their bikes into cash doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be the ones priced appropriately or that they’ll accept an insultingly low offer. You’re not looking for a “mark” to rip-off; you’re just looking for a new bike at the best time of year when sellers are motivated.
It’s important to be aware of the service intervals for various drive systems and makes of motorcycles. This really applies to buying used vehicles of any kind, but we’ll go over a few that are specific to used motorcycles and talk about some things to look for if you’re handy with a wrench (and wanting to save a few bucks) or if you’re wishing to avoid a trip to a dealership for an interval maintenance right after tossing down the cash on your new purchase.
Outside of the obvious and impossible to accurately prove (receipts only show a purchase date… The items purchased, such as oil, could have gone into anything), brake rotors, brake pads, tires, and cables should be the very first things you use to judge the life of a used motorcycle. Rust on the cable connectors and dry rotted tires can hint that the bike has spent its life outside, so be wary if it’s advertised as being “garage kept” when you see these things.
The big intervals for used Harley Davidsons (and most metrics) are:
Manufacturer recommended service intervals can be found at any of their websites, accessed for free, and will be the most accurate and up-to-date information available.
So I mentioned being handy with a wrench earlier when talking about things to look for. Being mechanically inclined has led to some really good deals over the years when I’ve bought motorcycles and ATV’s.
Most motorcycles that you will find for sale will be at or near a major service interval. These owners do not wish to pay the high prices at the dealer to replace a belt or switch out an in-tank fuel filter, so they opt to sell rather than get completely shafted on a trade-in price. This is good for those that have a friend or themselves possess the tools and knowledge to perform this maintenance safely (that last bit is important). If this is the case, you can target motorcycles that need regular maintenance or a little TLC to get them into top form.
It’s a great place to begin negotiations by mentioning these things to the seller if the price is a little high or if it needs adjustment to justify the necessary work to make it safe for riding. These will be your best deals if you have the resources to take on the project.
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