Don’t Think I Didn’t Do It – Buying a Used Bike Online

Don't Think I Didn't Do it - Online Used Bike Buying Guide

For those of us who like to fix old iron, nothing has been so important as the internet.  Whether it’s finding parts for old broken stuff with strange drivetrains (Need a transmission for a 1970 Cushman Truckster?  You ain’t gonna find it in your hometown, most likely) or simply tracking down the next cool project, buying online is the way to go.

It’s funny, though, that we’re fine buying old parts for a few hundred bucks, but as that price tag goes up, our comfort level goes down.

Not a lot of us feel good about buying a car or bike without the ability to drive it, hear it, and check it out ourselves.

The real challenge isn’t the purchase.  If you have the cheese, right now, you can find any bike you ever wanted for sale online.  All you have to do is buy it and wait for it to show up.

Honestly, the process has gotten surprisingly comfortable.

Unless you’re like me, and don’t trust people much…

I’m telling you all this because Bikers’ Den has now got a straight link to eBay Motors up there on the right hand side of the page, and as much as it gets me nervous, buying a scoot online doesn’t have to suck or stress you out.

Besides, most of us are old enough to know how the old-school used car guys used to screw the new buyer, and the truth is, a lot of that’s gone away.

…And yeah, I’ve bought a LOT of crappy vehicles on the interweb, but in most cases, I was personally present for the purchase.

Here’s a few “do’s and don’ts” if you’re going to shop for your next ride online…

First things first:  communication is critical.  Before you bid on an auction, contact the seller and ask them what they do know about the ride and ask them if they’re open to shoot a few videos – walk arounds, cold starts, and so on.  Most of the videos that are already documenting a bike for sale are just window dressing.  They shoot the bike after it’s been detailed, on a beautiful day, bright sunshine, maybe even throw in a hot chick sitting on it.  Fuhgetaboutit!  Ask the seller to get dirty for you!

Dive into the nooks and crannies of the block – I want to see valve cover gaskets, tire tread, brake rotors, battery date stamps, the back side of the chrome.  Get a cold start video, but have them either shoot an infrared thermometer of the exhaust system before they fire it up or have them grab the pipes for a couple seconds.  Once they’ve hit the go button, have them pop the oil filler off.  If it’s puffing smoke, it better be a Detroit Diesel, because a gas engine with that much blowby is cooked.

Of course, any seller worth their salt is going to make a big deal about “all” the maintenance they’ve done, so you ought not get to bent about how good or bad the oil looks, but have them show you, anyhow.  Even better?  Ask them to show you some closeups of the inside of the oil filler cap and the dipstick.  Very few detailers I’ve ever met go quite that “deep” in a detail job.  A 4,000 mile garage queen’s oil filler cap looks a lot different than an old GoldWing with 50,000 miles on the clock.

How’s the chain (or the belt) look?  Again, that can be shot in a video with no challenges – have them grab it with those booger hooks and pull on it – you know how much slop that model should have, right?  If you don’t, that info is only a Google search away.  By the way, for Harley’s, that’s usually tested with 10 pounds of force on the belt and should only be about 3/8th of an inch depending on the model.

Ask them to pop open the gas cap and shine a flashlight inside – obviously, there shouldn’t be rust, but also, have them show you the filters on the bike.  “Old” is fine, “dirty” might be fine, if we’re talking about a barn find that “ran when parked.”

Another technique that I’ve used (successfully) to make sure a “great” deal that’s far away is a legit deal is to have the seller send me a picture or a copy of the title to allow me to see it’s a legit sale.  Depending on where the sale is, you might also be able to research what that state will or will not do to protect you as a buyer.  Don’t be afraid to call the local law enforcement guys to have them run the title, either.  I remember once, years ago, a guy selling hot cars out of Atlanta into deep south Mississippi that would cash the checks, ship the cars, and when the buyers went to title them, the titles were forgeries and the “real” car was stolen.  It’s a LOT harder to do that now, and I’ve been out of law enforcement a long time, but I’m sure somebody, somewhere, is still running a scam like that.

In many cases, though, eBay will help cover your ass, but there’s no excuse to allow yourself to be a victim of a scam.  Do the research, do the due diligence, and you’ll be making a safe, legal transaction.  Simple as that.

You likely just have to be creative and to be strong enough to know when a deal isn’t a deal.

Personally, if a seller won’t answer even a basic question, or consider shooting another video or two, I walk away from it.  It’s also kind of the same thing with any auction – if I’m going to bid, I arrive at my top price, bid that as my purchase price, and if I win, great, if I don’t, that’s fine, too.

If every fiber of your soul says the bike is worth $3,000, don’t get caught up in the end-of-the-auction nonsense of bidding $3,122.  Just.  Walk.  Away.  Let the other guy pay too much and look for the next deal.  I see this happen all the time, where two guys get into a “who’s is bigger” battle, letting their egos get the best of them and spending $20,000 on a $14,000 bike just to say they “won.”

Really?  All you did was lose – money.

Unless that bitch was owned by Elvis, it has a specific, measurable value based on age and mileage, and your job, as the buyer, is to figure that out.  Don’t assume the seller knows what it’s worth, and no matter what, buy the bike, not the story.  Unless they can prove the story, it’s just that:  a story.  That’s true of engine mods, rebuilds, actual miles, and anything else you can think of.  It might be a cool paint job, but a lot of guys can paint really trick custom jobs.  Don’t pay Jesse James money for Johnny James’ paint.  Ask the seller to produce all those receipts for that “custom” work, and take that with a grain of salt, too.

The biggest challenge – and cost – is shipping.  Here’s the rule of thumb to work off of:  Anything under 500 miles ought to be about $400-500.  Coast-to-coast stuff might push as high as $1,000, but usually is closer to $700.  There’s a lot of ways to get the bike to you, and you need to find out what the seller is prepared to do for you.  Some expect you to do it all, while some might even offer delivery in certain circumstances.  You also need to take into account where the carrier will deliver.  For me, it’s cheaper to pick up a bike at the loading docks than it is to have it shipped all the way out to where I live in the country.  No matter what, you need to get that all figured out before you buy, so that no one gets amnesia after the sale.

Personally, I’ve shipped cars from New Jersey to Florida for well under a grand, and had a four wheel drive Suburban delivered from Colorado to Atlanta, Ga. for under $1,500.  Both transactions were easy, and never gave me the slightest problem.   When you consider the smoking deal I got on both vehicles, the extra costs of shipping still left me well under Blue Book in terms of my actual costs of purchasing.

All in all, buying a bike online – especially through a reputable system like eBay – isn’t as scary as it might seem.  Am I ready to buy one?  Well, let’s just say this:  There’s a reeaaaaaally nice Road King in Arkansas right now and I can have it delivered for less than $400.

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