Purchasing a Used Harley-Davidson Motorcycle

The Harley-Davidson® reputation is built not just on performance, but on the fact that the brand is an American icon. Those with nothing more than a passing interest in motorcycles assume that almost every chopper or cruiser they see is a Harley, while the emblem is worn on T-shirts and belt buckles by people who have never even ridden a motorbike. While having such a strong global brand is positive for the motorcycling community, demand for Harleys does make them expensive to buy new.

So if you’re new to the scene and are eager to get your hands on your first Harley, buying used is probably the way to go. Not only do you pay less, but you’re likely to learn more about the machine as well. If you do buy used however, there are a few things to consider…

Work out the added costs

It’s not only the cost of the bike that you have to consider – you need to know how much it will cost you to keep the gas tank topped up and to insure the bike. More powerful machines typically use more fuel, and prices for motorcycle insurance can vary significantly depending on the type of bike you go for. Once you’ve identified a suitable model, work out the extra costs – if they’re too high, there’s no point going to see it.

Dealer or private?

Whether you choose to use a dealership or a private seller may well depend on your budget, but bear in mind that some dealers will offer an aftercare service that you wouldn’t get with a private seller. You may pay slightly more but aftercare can be hugely valuable if you’re not exactly skilled with a wrench. However, a private seller may be more flexible about price – especially if they’re looking for a quick sale.

Know what to look for

It goes without saying that before you part with any cash, you should do a full inspection of the bike. But what do you need to look for? With an unmodified bike, you should check that the serial numbers on the transmission, engine and steering head match. If any of these items have been replaced, ask to see the maintenance records. When you’re buying from a private seller who has a bit of expertise with bikes and has done the work themself, this might not be possible – but you should expect a discount if this is the case.

When inspecting the bike, check the foot rests and the ends of the handlebars. These may not seem important but they usually carry the tell-tale scars from falls and slides, which are something you should ask the previous owner about. Check all the controls – levers and foot operated – to make sure they move comfortably and quietly, and check the oil and transmission levels for signs of debris. You should do all this before you head out on the all-important test ride. Also be wary of bent rims – these can be fixed in some cases but are costly to replace.

Perfect your poker face

Lastly – and most importantly – try not to get too attached to the bike before you have a suitable deal in place, it’ll make it harder to walk away. But if you do have your heart set on a particular machine don’t show it – you’ll seriously damage your bargaining power!

 This post was written by Clayton Davis

6 Responses to “Purchasing a Used Harley-Davidson Motorcycle”

  1. Surprisingly when I bought my most recent bike last year I was looking at getting another used bike as I always do. But the bike I ended up getting was a 2010 Street Bob that the dealer had had on his floor for over a year. The asking price was in line with the cost of used Dyna’s of about 2 to 3 years in age. I was pretty shocked and jumped right on this when I saw it.

    So take a look at dealerships of bikes that have been sitting on their floor for too long. Sometimes the thing preventing it from selling is an unpopular color or the such.

  2. That’s about right. I’ve talked to a lot of guys over the years who wanted to know about buying a bike and I always tell them to leave enough for gear. I emphasize wearing good gear – to me it’s important. If they’re of the same mindset they can be surprised at how that adds up. Particularly if it’s got a logo on it.

    Behind Bars

  3. Pretty good advice for any brand of motorcycle I think. And since lots of private sellers (and many dealers) won’t allow test rides it’s important to pay LOTS of attention to the overall condition of the bike. You can tell a lot just based on how well it’s been maintained and a very close visual inspection – don’t scrimp on time for those.

  4. I’m glad this blog post inspired some quality commentary! I completely agree with Brady about making sure you leave enough money in your bank account to buy high quality gear to keep you safe and comfortable. I like to buy new motorcycles, last years models when the new ones come out. End of July works for us.

  5. Good points. I might like to add that a first time rider should not be going for anything big inch. A Buell Blast would be a good beginning to a Harley. Putting a new rider on a Big Twin is liken to putting a new first time driver in an Eighteen wheeler in my opinion.

  6. my first harley is a road king police. i had more trouble riding a buell blast in riders edge than riding an FLH. my opinion is that the buell is seriously under powered and handling suffers. my police bike has all the scars of police riders-ground down floorboards and supports. i find it easier to manuever a large harley because they can be balaced well with proper weight distribution and can stand still upright with just a small amount of practice. small bikes make everything happen so much faster i find them harder to control. buy the biggest bike with which you feel comfortable, get a riders course and PRACTICE. the riders course only means you can ride in a blocked off parking lot safely. my .02. less than a canadian .01.

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment