New Motorcycle Buying Tips

Buying a new Motorcycle

Car buyers have a host of information about how to buy a new car. Consumer Reports and Edmunds offer detailed information on new models, dealer costs, test-drives, and negotiating tips.

However motorcycle buyers are limited to test ride information gathered in magazines like Motor Cyclist. These reviews tend to focus on high-performance bikes, and offer little in the way of buying tips.

What type of Motorcycle is Right for You?

First, you will want to decide what style of bike you want.

Bike manufacturers do offer some low-budget street motorcycles, typically with 250 cc (cubic centimeter) engines and typically at a cost around $3,000. These bikes are marketed towards beginners. I advise you to avoid these bikes. If you're on a limited budget, you may want to consider buying a used bike.

Most riders will get bored with the lack of power and the low and uncomfortable seating. These bikes can barely go 70 mph, and even then, they are buzzy and unsatisfying. Also, they are difficult to resell without taking a great loss.

Most people group bikes into three categories: Street, Dual-Purpose, and Off-Road. But, it's not that simple. Motorcycles fall into further sub-categories, and often bikes will cross two or more categories.

Touring Bikes

These are street only bikes and will typically cost anywhere from $10,000-$20,000. A touring bike, like the Honda Goldwing, is built for comfortable highway cruising and going on long-trips. Touring Bikes usually include a large front fairing and a host of storage compartments.

Touring bikes are like the Cadillac of motorcycles. They usually include large engines... anywhere from 1,000 cc to 1,500 cc. Usually, they weigh 700 lbs to 1,000 lbs. That's a lot of weight and unless you're travelling on a paved highway at high speeds, these bikes are difficult to control and maneuver. These bikes are ideal for experienced riders who plan to use them for long-distance travel. City riders should avoid Touring Bikes.


The term, Cruiser, refers to classic looking street bikes, like the Honda Shadow line, or most Harley Davidson offerings. These are one of the most popular styles of motorcycle, so bike-makers tend to offer a wide array of bikes to fit many budgets and many levels of experience. These bikes can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They typically weigh 450 lbs to 1,000 lbs.

The thing that distinguishes a Cruiser is the liberal use of chrome, the loud exhaust note, the large comfortable seat, and the relatively low-to-the-ground seating position. Style and comfort is the key to a Cruiser.

Depending on the model you choose, these bikes are great for city riding as well as highway riding. To further complicate matters, many offerings, such as the Honda Valkyrie, combine Cruiser styling with Touring Bike features, like multiple storage compartments.

Sport Bikes

This is another sub-category of Street Bike. Sport Bikes are the Sports Car of Motorcycles. These are immensely popular among younger riders.

Sport Bikes are built for performance; comfort and convenience take a back-seat. These bikes are distinguished by the multitude of body panels, which offer better aerodynamics. The seating position also forfeits comfort for aerodynamics. You are seated to the rear of the bike, yet your body must lean forward over the gas-tank in order to reach the handlebars.

The engine size usually ranges from 600 cc to 1,200 cc. They can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. These bikes weigh anywhere from 350 lbs to 500 lbs. Because of their light-weight, even a 600 cc sport bike will offer impressive acceleration, braking, and turning. These bikes are not good for long trips. Also worth noting... insurance companies see these bikes as particularly risky and are likely to charge higher than average insurance rates.

Standard Bikes

Back in the 60's, with the introduction of Japanese made bikes in the U.S., came the advent of Standard Bikes. These were meant to be cheap, reliable transportation. Due to the popularity of Sport Bikes and Cruisers, makers do not offer many Standard Bikes. A Standard Bike, like the Honda Nighthawk, usually includes a 600 to 700 cc engine and typically costs $4,000 to $6,000.

These bikes are excellent for beginners. They are well balanced, well powered, light-weight, reliable and offer the most bang-for-the-buck. They are as comfortable for city use as they are for highway use. With an upright seating position, your back is unlikely to become cramped. The seat is not as comfortable as a Cruiser or a Touring Bike. Also, these bikes typically do not include a front-fairing to block wind at high speeds.

Some manufacturers offer crossover bikes, like the Honda Superhawk. This bike is based on the Standard Nighthawk, but it includes some of the aerodynamic and performance features of a Sport Bike. This may be a good choice for someone who likes the style of a Sport Bike, but who would like a little more comfort.

Motocross and Enduro Bikes

These bikes are meant for off-road only use. They are very light. They usually weigh 150 lbs to 300 lbs. They have small engines... 50 cc to 500 cc. And they cost much less than street bikes... $1,300 to $6,000.

Motocross bikes are usually for recreational trail riding, whereas Enduro bikes are built for off-road competition riding. They offer knobby tires, for good off-road traction. They also have a high center of gravity so that you can ride over obstacles without fear of scraping the bottom of your bike.

Dual-Purpose Bikes

My BMW F650 is considered a dual-purpose bike. Dual-Purpose bikes have knobby tires and a high center of gravity. In addition, they include features, like a headlight, turn-signals, and emissions control to make them street-legal.

Because these bikes weigh upwards of 350 lbs, they are not meant to ride on rough terrain. But, they are great for dirt roads and trails. They also offer the convenience of being able to ride on the street. Most of these bikes have 400 cc to 600 cc engines and typically cost $3,000 to $10,000. My BMW, is a cross between an off-road bike and a Touring Bike.

Narrowing your choices

As you can see, there are many bikes for many riders. You will also want to consider your own size and experience. If you are a beginner, you will want to avoid motorcycles that are particularly heavy or particularly fast. You may want to consider a Standard Bike or a Dual-Purpose Bike. These are light enough for a new rider to manage, they offer many uses, and they aren't particularly fast.

As far as your size is concerned, you will want to consider a bike that can handle your weight. For new riders who weigh over 200 lbs, you will want a bike with 600-900 cc's.

If you're more experienced, then you may consider a bike with 1,000 cc's. If you're a new rider, and you weigh under 150 lbs, you probably shouldn't get a bike with over 650 cc's. But, you should still be careful, because Sport Bikes with as little as 600 cc's may be overwhelmingly fast for a new rider.

You'll also want to be sure that you are tall enough to straddle the bike and place both of your feet on the ground. A shorter rider may be limited to a Cruiser style of bike.

By now, hopefully you've narrowed your choices down to two or three styles, you know how much you're willing to spend, and you know approximately how large of an engine you want. Check the yellow pages in your area to find out what bike makers have dealers in your area. You may find that some of the European manufacturers do not sell bikes in your area.

Next, you will want to do some research. You should check many manufacturers for bikes that may suit your needs. This includes, Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, as well as some European makes like Ducati and BMW. I've found that Suzuki seems to offer the widest array of Street Bikes. So, that may be a good start.

Visiting a Motorcycle Dealer

Before you visit the motorcycle dealer, you should have done enough research to know how much the bike retails, and what features are included. Going into this, you should be aware that prices are often non-negotiable... particularly on popular models.

Once you get to the dealership, you are likely to be approached by a salesman. Motorcycle dealerships are usually more laid-back then car dealerships. You probably won't be bothered by an overly persistent salesman.

Anyway, let him know what you are there to see, and be prepared to ask any questions that you have. But, don't be surprised if they don't have the answers. Just persist and ask them to find out for you.

Many dealerships will not let you ride their bikes. But, you should make every effort to at least take a test ride in the parking lot. If that fails, you should sit on the bike and start the engine. If they won't even let you do this, tell them "thanks, but no-thanks," and leave. This is inconsiderate and you don't want to buy from a dealer like this.

You will want to notice if the seat is comfortable, if the handlebars are comfortable and if your knees rest neatly on either side of the gas tank. If the seating position is uncomfortable, you're not going to have much fun riding this bike. I have found that Suzuki's offer particularly comfortable seating positions.

You'll also want to pay attention to the engine. Rev it! Does it have a nice smooth feel at high RPM's? Or does it feel annoyingly buzzy?

Also, while you're straddling the bike and holding the handlebars, try to determine if the weight is good. Is it easy to control? Could you pick it up if it were to fall over?

Take note of any bikes that are marked down. These are probably slow-selling models and you may have even more room to negotiate.

Buying the Bike

Do yourself a favor... Never Buy a Bike on your first visit! This goes for an automobile too. You should always look at multiple bikes from multiple manufacturers before making a decision. You may really like the first bike that you look at, but what if the second bike is better. Give yourself some choices.

Also, the excitement and anticipation of buying a new motorcycle can cause you to temporarily lose your ability to think clearly. You should look at many bikes, consider the features that you like about each, then sit down and compare the bikes.

Once you've settled on a bike, then you can return to the dealership. Tell the salesperson which model you'd like to purchase. You won't be able to special order your bike like you would with a car. So, you'll have to settle on a motorcycle in their existing inventory.

Unless the bike is a slow-seller, you will probably have to pay full retail. Bike dealers do not have the large margins and large volumes that auto dealers do; so they are less willing to negotiate.

Of course, it won't hurt to make an offer. If your offer is more than $500 below retail, then they probably won't take you seriously. Usually, your best hope is to ask for some accessories, like a helmet, heated handle-grips, and a set of saddlebags.

At the very least, the dealer should offer you a discount on any accessories. Be sure that you get a good helmet, a good set of leather gloves, a pair of riding boots, and some rain-gear. You can usually add any extra costs into the financing.

Motorcycle dealers have access to financial services. So, they can usually offer competitive financing. Still, it won't hurt to get pre-approved for a loan from your own bank. Then you can decide which is the better rate for you. Leasing is not typically an option.

Good Luck with your new purchase and Ride Safely!


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