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Thinking of buying secondhand? Here’s some useful tips…

Straight up, keep that budget flexible and don’t rush into anything

By Stuart Woodbury


My recent experience of buying a motorcycle with a low budget was quite a frustrating one. I’m quite fussy when it comes to cleanliness of a motorcycle – something my father drilled into me many moons ago so when I was scouring the shops, classifieds and side streets to try and find a motorcycle that both fitted my budget, and was good enough for what I wanted.

New and old - the original CBR900RR Fireblade from 1993 alongside the new for 2017 CBR1000RR Fireblade
New and old – the original CBR900RR Fireblade from 1993 alongside the new for 2017 CBR1000RR Fireblade – With Stuart looking for an older machine on a budget, the early CBR900RRs came to mind

This was an extremely hard task. Was I too ambitious with my expectations – no. I knew that the right motorcycle was there for the taking, I just had to find it! This is the state of mind to go into this process with, as it can at times be frustrating and slow.

Gone are the days of grabbing the Trading Post on a Thursday morning so you could be quick to call the owner of an advertised bike. I always used to hate those who had the means to get it on a Wednesday night!

I only had to scour the internet sites for a bike for sale – Bikesales was the main one, then Gumtree, eBay and Just Auto. One thing became apparent from the outset – a lot of people claim that their bikes are ‘immaculate’ when in fact they are anything but. Most bikes had crash damage or were so rough that the asking price was too high.

There's a variety of online listing sites you can now browse for possible bargains
There’s a variety of online listing sites you can now browse for possible bargains

Sure, for the age of bike I was looking at, I was expecting there to be a few stone chips and maybe a small scratch or two, but not so-called immaculate bikes that turned out to be rubbish for the asking price. I could easily have gone and picked a rougher looking bike for a lot less than my $4000 budget

The initial types of bike I looked for included Honda’s CBR900RR or CBR929RR, Kawasaki’s ZXR750, ZX-7R or ZX-12R, Suzuki’s GSX-R1100 or a Yamaha XJR1300, so my choice was wide.  Ultimately however, I wanted a late ‘90s Fireblade, one with a wacky colour scheme. As a result I stuck to looking mainly at these bikes, and really pushed the sellers of about six interstate bikes for loads of detail photos for potential buys.

"One owner, never dropped, immaculate!" - If you're looking for a second hand bike you'll have heard it all before, and quite often the evidence strongly suggests otherwise
“One owner, never dropped, immaculate!” – If you’re looking for a second hand bike you’ll have heard it all before, and quite often the evidence strongly suggests otherwise

I went and looked at a few bikes in Sydney, but the asking price compared to the condition of the bikes was inappropriate, to say the least. After a couple of weeks I was getting frustrated with what I thought would be an easy process, and was beginning to turn into a mini nightmare. I was losing sleep and I wasn’t happy trying to find a bike in what should have been a fun process.

I should have been excited that I was getting a new motorcycle, but I got fed up with the amount of bullshit sellers were trying to pass off. If the bike has some scratches – say it. If the bike has crash damage on it – say it, and if your bike does have crash damage – sure ask what you want, but be prepared to negotiate. Don’t just stick to your guns with a bike that’s been slid down the road, because you think that low kilometres should mean a high price.

Some damage is kind of obvious, even from the often poor pictures on listing sites. Others is much harder to spot and may require requesting images of specific areas, or a good background knowledge of what to look for.
“It’ll buff out.” – Some damage is kind of obvious, even from the often poor pictures on listing sites. Others is much harder to spot and may require requesting images of specific areas, or a good background knowledge of what to look for.

Am I aging and becoming an old whinger here? I don’t think so, if the bikes that were a bit rougher were a thousand or so cheaper, I’d have no problem and might have even ended up buying one, having factored in the amount to replace the damaged parts.

One thing I did find is that on the whole, the blokes in the bike shops that I spoke to, both in NSW and in Queensland, were pretty genuine. Sure they try to put their spin on you, because at the end of the day they are salesmen and trying to keep the boss happy by moving stock out the door. But when it came to asking the true condition of an advertised bike I was happy that they were honest and texted me photos of anything I wanted to see up closer, if I wasn’t able to go and see the bike.

I got used to being able to identify any potential faults in photos with online ads too, which might be hard for a lot of people to recognise. I know the insides and outs of the ‘90s model Fireblades intimately and could spot any things I thought were a bit sus.

A Kawasaki ZXR750 was also on the cards, but a strong working knowledge of the models you are looking at really helps. Unless you're a guru you may find it harder to keep track of the ins and outs of a larger variety.
A Kawasaki ZXR750 was also on the cards, but a strong working knowledge of the models you are looking at really helps. Unless you’re a guru you may find it harder to keep track of the ins and outs of a larger variety.

When it came to look at a Kawasaki ZXR750 which looked really nice, I took my time to study the photos both online and the close-up detail shots the seller sent me. And when I mean took my time, I’m talking a fair few hours of looking, walking away, coming back, studying more.

The bike I ended up buying was a fair bit over my budget. We’re only talking a thousand bucks here, but it’s a lot when you don’t have a lot to spend! The bike is a 1997 CBR900RR with only 16,500 original kilometres and it really is in immaculate condition apart from a scratched outer clutch cover – $89 fixed that up.

It is the black/silver coloured version and not the wacky coloured Fireblade I would have loved to get, but I am more than happy with the black. Because it is such a good bike, I couldn’t pass it up, whereas most of the wacky coloured bikes, as much as I waited, were all way overpriced for their condition.

The bike still has the factory paint markings on the caliper bolts!
The bike still has the factory paint markings on the caliper bolts!

The bonus with this bike is that it already has the 17-inch front wheel conversion, a full Akrapovic exhaust system valued at $1500, and jetting to match the extra performance. It also came with all the original bits. When the CBR900RR becomes a highly desired machine, a collector can convert it back if they wish.

But, you know what, I’m really enjoying this new bike and don’t see myself selling it, unless someone comes along with crazy dollars to tempt it out of my grip.

Probably the best thing with the bike I bought is that the seller was helpful with any requests I had for photos and even videos of the bike running. He was in Victoria and I was in Sydney, and I certainly didn’t have the budget to fly all over the place to look at potential buys. The wonders of modern technology have made that much easier, whereas I don’t think I would have touched an interstate bike a number of years ago.

I also used the great people at Allwest Motorcycle Carriers to bring my new purchase to my door at good value.

I sympathise with anyone trying to thread their way through the jungle of used bikes out there, but from my experience I have a few standout ways to make the job easier for you.

Happy buyer Stuart with his 'new' 1997 Honda CBR900RR
Happy buyer Stuart with his ‘new’ 1997 Honda CBR900RR

Buying a second hand motorcycle tips

  1. Narrow the search of your preferred bike down to maybe one or two models. This will make life so much easier. I found having seven different models and all the different variants of those models in my mind when looking made the pool too deep to swim.
  2. Be confident in asking for really detailed photos and asking the tough questions about any scratches, dents, crash damage and so on. You can never ask a silly question, the seller can only say, “No, it hasn’t”.
  3. Consider using a motorcycle inspection service for an interstate machine. I was happy I’d picked the right bike but there were a few I’d considered that I would have needed to use these blokes. There is usually one in each major city. I used the internet to search for them and checked out any feedback on the quality of their service.
  4. Be prepared to wait for the right bike, don’t just give up and buy something you’re 90 per cent happy with, unless you’re prepared (and have the cash) to repair things to make it 100 per cent.
  5. Set your budget, but also be prepared to have that little bit in reserve for that special bike.
  6. Ultimately, be happy with your new bike and enjoy it!

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