If you’re out looking at buying a second-hand motorcycle this weekend, no doubt you will check the odometer reading to see if the bike has high mileage.
Often two similar bikes will be advertised for sale at substantially different prices, the cheaper bike usually has the higher mileage.
But is the odometer reading really an indication of the bike’s worth and should you avoid buying a bike because of high mileage?
Yes, high mileage means the bike may need substantial work on the engine and moving parts such as bearings.
However, a bike with high mileage might also have recently had an engine rebuild and those other issues addressed, so it may almost be as good as new.
On the other hand, low mileage on an older bike might be an indication of “clocking” or winding back the odometer, which is illegal.
As you can see, it’s not a simple question.
Now check out our tips on buying a high-mileage motorcycle.
Type of bike and use
Whether high mileage is an issue could depend on the type of bike.
High mileage over a short period is not an indication of misuse. Touring bikes do this and they often have a long life.
Some engines, for example, are under-stressed and last a long time. Flat-cylinder engines, large-capacity V-twins, multi-cylinder engines, most cruisers and liquid-cooled engines will provide many more miles/kays of life than high-stressed, high-revving, single-cylinder, air-cooled engines.
If they claim to have had an engine rebuild, check the receipts for accuracy and date/odo.
Dirt and adventure bikes usually have had a much harder life than most other bikes. In particular, check the steering head bearings and fork seals which can be damaged from rough terrain and frequent wheelies.
Adventure bikes also get very dirty and may not have been cleaned as often. This can lead to problems with rust.
You also need to check how the bike’s kays were accumulated.
Many riders rack up big numbers on their odo without encountering a lot of problems.
Touring has less stress on a bike than commuting or racing.
Don’t believe the seller if they tell you they only rode it to church on Sundays. “Church” to them could be their local racetrack!
A good indication of use is to look at the accessories on the bike and the condition of the tyres.
If it has Oggy knobs and the tyres are worn to the edge, it’s probably been thrashed and maybe trashed at a racetrack.
However, if it has plenty of luggage and big chicken strips, it’s probably been gently toured.
A one-owner bike, even with high mileage, will be easier to determine its use and abuse, while a multi-owner bike may have been passed on when problems arise.
You can also get a good gauge on the use of the bike by looking at the rider. Older riders are usually easier on bikes as they have grown up with kick starters and carbies.
These riders have usually developed a sense of mechanical sympathy as they don’t want to be stranded by the side of the road fixing their bike.
They’ve probably also read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Go to the owner’s home and check out where they store the bike. Is it sitting in the back yard with no cover, or is it in a hermetically sealed cabinet in their living room?
An old bike with low kilometres might seem attractive, but it could have been left in the shed for years where rust can get into the tank, seals can dry up and crack, and fuel can go off, clogging carbie jets.
A bike that has been regularly used is better than one that has been unused for a long time.
Check the log/service book to see how regularly service intervals were reached and make sure every service has been done and stamped.
I hope you score a well-cared-for gem that gives you many more years of fun.
However, be aware that almost all high-mileage bikes will need some sort of repair work shortly after you buy them.
Don’t be surprised; be prepared!
Make sure you keep some of your budget aside for repairs and maintenance.