It finally happened. A new bike caught your eye, and suddenly that once-wonderful motorcycle that occupied your attention for years has turned into a source of funds for the next one. Or maybe that new bike means the garage space allotted to motorcycles has been exceeded and one of the less-loved machines has to go. Whatever the reason, you have suddenly become a used-bike salesperson. So how do you proceed from here?
Setting a Price
Much of what you do to sell your bike will depend on what you can reasonably sell it for. If you have a Suzuki Madura, you probably aren’t going to get $3000 for it, even if it is still in the crate and you throw in free insurance for a year. On the other hand, if you have a late-model machine in pristine condition, you can conceivably get what you paid for it, though that would be rare. To set a realistic price, you need to do some research. You can look at the price guide “blue books,” but they have a variety of shortcomings, including a lack of regional bias. It’s better to do more specific research. If you know you will be selling a bike in the future, do the research in advance. Using local classifieds, internet sites, national motorcycle classifieds such as Motorcycle Shopper and others, find listings for bikes of your model and vintage that are for sale, primarily in your area. Note the asking prices, relevant details, and the phone numbers or other contact information for each one. You should see also what local dealers have in their used inventories. When the time comes to price your bike, contact these sellers, especially those in your area, since the popularity of some models varies by region. Ask them if the bike is still for sale. If so, ask for basic details and the current asking price. If it has been sold, ask what condition the bike was in and what it sold for. The bikes that have been sold will give you an idea of what they are selling for. You’ll want to price yours near the top (assuming it has no major flaws), but below the most expensive machines currently listed in your area.
Now take a critical look at your bike. Sure, it’s been great for you—never let you down and still draws compliments—but are there dents or scratches that will be off-putting to a buyer? Is it a bit scuffed and looks well used? Are there parts that show their ages, even simple things such as footpegs and taillight lenses? Is there rust in the tank? Fuel stains on the carbs? Crud collected under the mufflers? A little rust in the fasteners? If so, how much of this can be fixed before you put the bike on the block, and how much must be factored into the asking price? Any cosmetic flaw you can’t fix will drive the price down.
Have you customized your bike? Assuming the pieces fit well and still have a clean finish, most quality billet trinkets and other minor changes will probably be slightly positive. But major changes can go either way. Those aftermarket pipes may be too loud for a potential buyer. That custom seat may look too uncomfortable or too fat to a buyer’s eye. The same is true for most changes that affect function. Some buyers will love them, but they are just as likely to put off more potential buyers. Ideally, the original parts are neatly stored away.
Custom paint—assuming it’s in good condition, professionally done and not composed of something like Civil War battle murals or naked women with lots of piercings—can be a slight asset if it has broad appeal. If the custom paint is too unique, however, you should lower the price. Also, if you have a helmet painted to match, you should be prepared to include it.
Try to view your bike through the eyes of someone who has no emotional attachment to it and look for aspects that could be flaws in his eyes; then, set a target price that reflects its true value. This should be below your asking price (what you plan to sell for after some haggling), but still slightly lower than that of the priciest comparable bikes advertised in your area. Make sure your target price justifies selling it—you may not make enough to get that next bike.
Clean It Up
Appearance isn’t everything that a buyer thinks about when looking at a used bike, but it is usually one of the top three things. Appearance tells about the condition and maintenance of the machine, and an exceptionally clean motorcycle inspires the kind of lust, especially in a potential cruiser owner, that brings top price with minimum haggling.
So a weekend spent detailing your bike can pay for itself. That little scuff on the case may mean nothing more than normal use to you, but to a buyer it makes the bike look like it has been used hard. Buff that little scuff out or repaint your bike.
Take the bike apart and get into every nook and cranny to clean and polish. Use something such as WD-40 to get the tar spots off the bottom of the pipes and crankcase. Remove the bodywork and retouch any places on the frame that have been rubbed. Touch up that chipped paint. Clean everything—spokes, cables, wiring, the inside of turn signal lenses, all the crevices, etc.—to make it look like new again. Follow up with wax or other appropriate finish that will make the part look shiny and new.
If the bike is running well, a fresh set of spark plugs is still good insurance. If the oil or other fluids are even slightly dirty, you should change them. The air filter should be clean, and all the controls should be properly adjusted per the manual.
Unless you want to cut your price to compensate, visibly worn parts should be replaced. Replacing some simple items—shift rubbers, handgrips, etc.—can take off some miles. The chain should be adjusted, unless it has a tight spot or the sprocket is badly worn. In that case, replace them and keep the receipt. The same goes for brake pads. The best way to go with worn tires on a premium motorcycle is to replace them with an inexpensive set. Remember: Appearance is the primary consideration.
If the engine is a bit rough, give it a tune-up. If the problem is more significant—low compression, for example—you’ll have to decide whether you want to repair it or knock a big chunk off the price. If the rest of the bike is pristine and it’s a desirable model, you could recoup your repair costs.
The Dealer Option
Many dealers buy and sell used bikes, and some will take your bike on consignment. If you sell to a dealer, you may not get top dollar, but you will avoid the expense of advertising, the time spent waiting for and negotiating with buyers, and the hassles of conducting the final transaction. If you sell to a dealer, you get your money immediately without a lot of details. If you sell it through a dealer on consignment, you may get a better price, but you have to wait for it to sell before you get payment. However, you still avoid many hassles.
Unless you have something unique or rare to sell, your customers will be local. Your advertising venues should reflect this. Here in Southern California, the Recycler, which runs ads for free and charges buyers for the paper, is a great place to list your bike. Most areas have some sort of paper which list only ads for vehicles or motorcycles. Local newspapers, dealers’ bulletin boards, supermarket and other bulletin boards are good also. If the owners’ club for your bike has a classified section in its newsletter or Web site, that’s also a good place to list it because people looking for what you’re offering will search there. National motorcycle venues such as the Motorcycle Shopper, which is both a paper and a Web site (www.motorcycleshopper.com) are also worth considering. Some motorcycle Web sites offer free classified ads, too.
If you are advertising locally, your lead-in line should include the make and exact model (that is, Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic, not just Kawasaki Vulcan) and a descriptive phrase such as “Born to Travel” or “Traffic-Stopping Beauty.” If you are advertising nationally, you should indicate the state or city, since that will draw in your most likely customers. Describe the bike honestly, but be sure to emphasize its strong points. Give the year, total mileage and any major modifications and avoid trite ad phases. For example, “pristine” is more interesting than “like new.” It’s better to say “Worth seeing even if you can’t afford” than “Must see.” Phrases such as “professionally maintained” and “all records available” suggest a mechanically sound motorcycle.
Include a price, but qualify it with “obo” (meaning “or best offer”) never “firm.” You should also have a phone number that will answered, at least by a machine, at all times. Your answering machine should say you have a bike for sale; ask for a return number or give a time to call. These days, an e-mail address is also useful, assuming you check it frequently.
It seems the first calls I get when I sell a bike are from professional buyers. The first question is always “Will you take less money?” I once had a bike I wanted to sell on a specific weekend and listed it for a price that was half of what others were asking. People still called and asked, “Will you take a lower price?” (In the end, I had all interested parties meet me at the same time on Saturday and turned it into an auction. The ad did say “obo.” I sold the bike in 20 minutes for substantially more than I had advertised.)
The answer to this lower-price question is something like, “There is no point in discussing price when you haven’t even seen the bike.” In a dense area like LA (you can take that any way you like), the first several calls you get may be from people who immediately peruse new ads and call to try to lowball sellers. This can quickly have you doubting your pricing. By the time the fifth such person calls, you might be ready to say, “I guess so.” Wait a while before you decide to cut your price. The real buyers will turn up eventually.
In general, the best course is to provide honest, brief answers about the bike. If you have done your homework, your objective should be to get potential buyers to look at this thing of beauty you’re selling. Tell them about its condition and equipment, but don’t discuss price. You want them to see it. Work toward that goal in your conversations.
Meeting the Buyer
If enough people come to look at your bike, sooner or later one will be a thief who wants to ride away without paying (Check out Avoid Test-Ride Theft or Damage). If you show it to potential buyers at your house, you are playing into this person’s hands.
We suggest a local dealership as the ideal meeting site. It’s not only safe, but also both of you can get information and any inspection the buyer might want done. The dealer can also provide other services and advice. And if you are selling your bike to buy a new one from him, the dealer will have incentive to help you. Other public places will work, but a dealership is the ideal meeting ground.
Here in Southern California, we casually advise that you meet at a safe place away from home. Of course, if you live in North Dakota, that advice can’t be taken so lightly in February. In that situation, you might be better off putting your bike on consignment to a dealer. The dealer may reduce the consignment fee if you bring in the customer because of your advertising or other efforts. List your phone number, ask for the buyer’s name, and if he says he’s interested, call the dealer and tell him to watch for this customer. That way you both know that you brought him into the dealership. You might want to go a step further and meet the buyer at the dealership so you can discuss the specifics of your bike with him.
If the time you have to devote to selling the bike is limited, you might want to get more than one potential buyer to show up at a time. If the bike is very desirable and free of major flaws, then the buyers may become competitive, so they won’t try to drive the price down. Of course, you risk having them point out problems to each other and killing the deal.
If a buyer looks at the bike but won’t or can’t pay your price, or has some other reservation, get his number and call him back to renegotiate if the bike hasn’t been sold in several weeks.
Be honest about any problems you are aware of and be prepared to produce receipts for any work and any accessories you have purchased.
Again, it may be tempting to jump at the first offer. If you have done your price research and have a clear picture of the bike’s merits and flaws, you should have an accurate idea of what it’s worth. You may also have a minimum you need to get for your old bike to buy your next one. A lowball price may simply leave you with nothing to ride. If the offer is lower than you think it should be, discuss your research and the bike’s merits. Maybe you can take some accessories off to sell separately in order to meet his offer.
The Test Drive Hustle
The buyer will, of course, want to know how well the bike works, and he will probably suggest a test ride. Unless it is an experienced rider who you know well, there is no way you should permit this.
Over the years, we have received many letters from sellers who were persuaded to permit a test ride. Often, these were people who ordinarily would not let anyone test ride a bike, but the situation seemed particularly safe. For example, there was the guy who permitted a test ride because the buyer seemed so serious and left a truck and his “girlfriend” as collateral. Well, the truck had been stolen and the girl had just met the guy at a party. The seller lost the bike, wasted his afternoon dealing with the police, and had to give the poor girl a ride home. Another variation of this has the accomplice driving off in the collateral while the seller is distracted. The other danger is that the test rider will crash, leaving you facing damages for his injuries, your bike and whatever he impacts.
Therefore, don’t permit test rides. The best way to inspect the bike mechanically is in a dealership’s service department. A mechanic (presumably insured and bonded by the dealer) can give it an expert look-over, test ride it and perform any inspection, such as a compression or leak-down test, that the buyer wants. You might agree in writing to pay for half of the inspection if your customer buys the bike.
What if something turns up that the buyer wants repaired? If it isn’t already factored into the asking price, you might take all or part of the repair cost off the price and let the buyer take care of it rather than get into a situation where you are a middleman.
Even after all this, the buyer will probably want to ride the bike before he commits. The answer to this is a buy-back clause in the bill of sale. This specifies that you will buy the bike back for a short period (usually 10 to 30 minutes after the sale is complete) if the buyer doesn’t like the bike and hasn’t damaged it. If you finalize the sale at a dealer, he can hold the money and title while the guy goes for a ride.
Note: If you get a dealer involved in all this, you should expect to pay him something for his trouble, unless he is getting something out of it, such as a new bike sale.
Closing the Deal
The best place to close the deal is the buyer’s bank, unless you have a loan on the bike. In that case, the bank or business that carries the loan is the preferred meeting point, because they will have to sign the papers. If you meet at his bank, he doesn’t need to show up with his pockets bulging with cash and you don’t need to leave with the same problem. You can get a check made out to you from the bank. And if the title transfer requires a notary, most banks can provide that, too.
You should have a bill of sale form prepared with the agreed-upon buy-back period specified and a place for the date and time of the sale. You might want the bank to witness it, and both you and the buyer should sign it. A really suspicious buyer might ask the bank to wait through the buy-back period before handing you the check, but the bank probably won’t want to do this. The title should be signed over with the date and time included (so any crashes are his problem) and any other transfer paperwork should be completed. Copy and mail the notification of transfer of ownership immediately, perhaps by registered mail.
The bike should have been locked up while you were transacting the sale. Unlock it now and hand the new owner the keys. You should have brought any extras that are part of the deal and give them to the buyer before he rides away on what used to be your bike. You’re allowed a few pangs of seller’s remorse now. But we have a sure remedy. Check out our Buyer's Guide.