How to inspect a used motorcycle

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If you’re in the market for a used motorcycle, you’ll need to know what to look for when you inspect the bike or you could end up with a lemon.

Here is our guide on how to inspect a used bike:


  • Does the general condition look OK and is there a safety or roadworthy certificate?
  • Does the bike look straight? Look from rear/front and side on.
  • Are the wheels in line? Is the rear wheel square in the swing arm? Check the markings at the chain adjusters on the swingarm.
  • Does the bike have all its operating parts such as brake and clutch levers, throttle grip, two intact mirrors, lights, four indicators, two switch blocks, horn, kill switch, etc.
  • Are the tyres flat, squared off, have cuts or holes and legal tread?
  • Are the wheels complete? No broken spokes, scrapes or cracks.
  • Is the bike complete with a pillion seat and pegs, and two mudguards?
  • Does the fairing look and feel secure with no empty bolt or screw holes?
  • Check for rust and damage, especially the fuel tank and bar ends.

    Honda CX500 rust paint job used motorcycles
    That’s intentional rust on our project bike!
  • Has it had a hard life – check the hero blobs on the footpegs!
  • Is the engine clean or covered in oil and grease? Check for oil and fuel leaks and drips.
  • Is there oil or fluid on the forks?
  • Check the markers for correct levels of coolant, brake fluid and engine oil.
  • Look at the brake discs for scouring and check the pads for thickness.
  • Is the chain clean and well lubed, and do the sprockets still have sharp teeth?
  • Are electrical harnesses retained or are there loose wires?
  • Remove the seat and check for tools. Read the owner’s manual and check the service schedule.
  • Is the battery clean and not covered in white powder?
  • Check the bike’s side and centre stand?
  • How much registration remains on the bike?
Honda CX500
If the exhaust is old and rusty, you can replace it


  • Grab the exhaust when its cold and give it a shake. Does it rattle or squeak?
  • Do the switch blocks and mirrors feel secure?
  • Put the bike on its centre stand and get the front wheel off the ground to check for worn steering bearings: Is the front wheel loose and do the handlebars move smoothly from side to side?
  • Now check the back wheel for looseness fore and aft and side to side.
  • Grab the gearshift lever, brake pedal and pillion pegs, and make sure they move up and down, not sideways.
  • Check the brake and clutch levers for stiffness.
  • Is the chain adjusted correctly with 25-30mm sag in the middle of the chain run?
  • Check that all lights, indicators and horn work.Honda CX500 used motorcycles


  • Sit on the bike and compress the forks while holding the front brake. Does it make any noise?
  • Bounce up and down on the seat and listen for noise from the rear suspension or any other telltales rattles.
  • Do you feel comfortable on this bike? Can you reach the bars, footpegs and ground easily?
  • Push and pull the bars or clip-ons and see if they are loose.
  • Is the seat loose and is the foam soft and saggy?

Honda CX500 used motorcycles4 GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING

  • Is the engine easy to start or does it require a special starting routine?
  • Are there any rattles at start up, and does it blow any smoke?
  • Push in the choke and see if the bike will idle.
  • Does the exhaust sound too loud? Check for telltale black marks from leaky pipe joins.
  • Put the bike in gear and listen for loud clunks, grinding or lurching?
  • If it’s still on the centre stand, does the back wheel spin even with the clutch in?ABS alcohol lock road safety


  • Do a safety check before riding.
  • Test the brakes for effect and noise.
  • Listen for any drivetrain noises.
  • Is the throttle smooth or jerky?
  • Are all controls easy to use?
  • Look for some bumps to hit and see if the suspension copes.

If there are some tests the bike doesn’t pass, check whether they are expensive or cheap items to fix. Failing one or two of the above tests doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it, but it may make a good bargaining tool for a better price.

* Tips supplied by Marty Thompson, 48, who has been riding since he was a kid, got his first road bike in 1983, raced road bikes from 1993-1997 and has owned more than 30 bikes. He was a B support rider for Cosway Motorcycles/TKA in 1996 with Kevin Curtain as his team mate. He bought Troy Bayliss’s 1995 SS bike from Gavin Cosway and raced that in 1996/7.

2015 Suzuki GSR1000 - used motorcycles tips
Author Marty Thompson shows his track style aboard a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

One thought on “How to inspect a used motorcycle

  1. You should also look for signs of age inconsistent with the paint work and don’t believe the odometer reading, some older clocks go back to zero after a hundred thousand km
    You should check the swingarm bushes for issues manufacturers often under lube the bushes so an older bike could have serious issues. Remove the oil cap and check it for build up look inside the filler for signs of sludge, check all the bolts etc for stripping or rounding basically look for signs of poor maintenance and abuse.

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