Selling Your Motorcycle

How to make sure you get the most for your bike.

It finally happened. A new bike has 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?

Red Kawasaki LTD 305 with a for sale sign on it with price and contact information.
You've found the new bike you've been waiting for, so now the for-sale sign goes up on your used bike. How would you get the most for it? Check out these tips below.Cruiser

The First Step In Selling Your Bike

Much of what you do to sell your bike will depend on what you can reasonably sell it for. To set a realistic price for your motorcycle, 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. 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 also see 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.

What Condition Is Your Motorcycle In?

After doing your pricing research, 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 prospective buyer? Is it a bit scuffed and looks well used? Are there parts that show their ages? Is there rust in the tank? Fuel stains on the carbs? Did crud collect under the mufflers? Rust on 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 flaws you can’t or don’t feel like fixing will drive the price down.

Have you customized your bike? Your best bet is returning the bike to as stock as possible. A potential buyer will have their modifications in mind, and the ones you have done will add little to no value to your bike.

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 their 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 Your Bike Before You Sell It

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 motorcycle owner, that brings top price with minimal 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, if that is a cost-effective option.

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 the 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.

How Well Does The Bike Run?

If the bike is running well, a fresh set of spark plugs is still good insurance. If 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.

Does Your Bike Have Worn Items That Need Replacing?

Unless you want to cut your price to compensate, visibly worn parts should be replaced. Replacing some simple items—shift rubbers, hand grips, sprockets, chain, belt, 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 motorcycle you're selling is to either replace them or take some cash off the asking price.

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.

Can You Sell A Motorcycle To A Dealer?

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 paid. However, you still avoid many hassles.

Dealing With Buyers When Selling Your Bike

It seems the first replies I get when I sell a motorcycle 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 stated "or best offer." 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, the first several responses you get 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 reaches out, 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

When you meet with your buyer, 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 to do. 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 the incentive to help you. Other public places will work, but a dealership is the ideal meeting ground.

If enough people come to look at your bike, sooner or later one will be a thief who wants to ride away without paying. If you show it to potential buyers at your house, you are playing into this person's hands.

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 be selling the motorcycle for. 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 to meet his offer.

Letting The Buyer Test Ride Your Bike

The buyer will, of course, want to know how well the bike works, and they will probably suggest a test ride. Unless the buyer hands over the entire amount of your asking price there is no way you should permit this. We also discourage allowing any test ride where the buyer doesn’t have a valid motorcycle license or endorsement and, at the bare minimum, a helmet.

Let the buyer know that once they hand over the money and begin their test ride, that they are the owner of the bike. If they drop, crash, or blow up the engine by revving it to the heavens on the test ride, the money is yours and the bike is theirs.

A bag of money with a dollar sign on it.
Now all that's left to do is close the deal and get the extra cash in your money bag for your next ride.Cruiser

Closing The Deal

The best place to close the deal is the buyer's bank unless you have a loan on the bike or they have cash. If you still owe money on the bike, 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. 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 they ride 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.