Buying A New Motorcycle

A guide to what to look for when purchasing a new motorcycle

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Buying a new motorcycle has its major advantages over purchasing used, but it can also be full of surprises if you don't know what to look out for.Photography courtesy of TK

Eventually the time comes in one's life when you say to yourself, "I think it's time to get a new motorcycle." Whether it's because that cool-looking new model just passed you on the highway, or because that particular ad caught your fancy and sparked your imagination, congrats on deciding to make that all-important first step to call a new bike your own. The obvious first question now becomes, "Where do I start?" Unfortunately, this is often the one thing many new (and sometimes seasoned) buyers overlook with when shopping around: forgetting (or neglecting) to take into consideration the complete gamut of motorcycle ownership.

In this guide we'll try and bring to light five different things to consider when making a new-bike purchase: Choosing a bike, possible demo or test rides, shopping around at dealerships and what to look for at each, understanding the financing game and lastly, making sense of what insurance coverage you need.

Choosing Your Steed

Obviously, if you've done your homework, then this step won't be of much use to you. But for those who only have a general idea of what they're looking for, here are some points to consider when narrowing down your choices. First, be honest with yourself about what kind of riding you're going to be doing the most, because purchasing a sportier bike with its more committed riding position when you really should have sprung for a bike with more upright ergos will hurt more than just your back and your wrists, but possibly also your bank account. Also, remember that what type of bike of bike you buy will influence your insurance payments. Most, if not all, riders will say that they chose their particular machine because they felt a connection with that bike—a case of form taking precedence over function. Not to say that performance isn't important, but in this age of two-wheeled techno-wizardry, nearly every motorcycle out there will be able to get your heart racing the moment you decide to really twist the throttle.

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Financing the purchase of a new motorcycle makes it a lot easier to get that new bike you've got your eye on, but there's multiple ways to make that happen...not just with the dealership's bank.Photo courtesy of TK
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If you can, head down to your local dealership to actually sit on the bike(s) you're interested in so that you can really see if you feel comfortable on it.Photo courtesy of TK
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Remember that a salesman's job is to make money for the dealership, but a good dealership/salesmen won't push you towards a bike that's out of your skill set, needs, or financial range.Photo courtesy of TK
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It can be overwhelming to see the selection of bikes available in a dealership, but if you've done your homework, you already have a good idea of which bike you're really interested in.Photo courtesy of TK

Getting On The Horse
Once you've figured out what type of riding you do and what models look appealing, there's still more filtering to be done. Do your homework on each specific model to see if there are any documented problems or recalls. The internet will obviously be your biggest resource when it comes to digging up information. Check message boards-especially model-specific ones-to see what owners are reporting regarding reliability, maintenance, or other idiosyncrasies specific to that model.

Next, see if a bike "fits." Looking at pictures and memorizing spec sheets doesn't mean a thing if it's uncomfortable when you're in the saddle. Go to a local dealer and sit on as many models as you can. Do this for a good length of time. You're trying to see if any aspect of the bike's ergonomics isn't to your liking. If there's an area that makes you uncomfortable, don't rule that model out just yet-remember that the aftermarket may have a solution to your woes.

Above all, try getting seat time and a test ride if possible. Very rarely do dealerships allow test rides (especially with sportbikes) and if they do it's under strict conditions. Your best bet is to look for demonstration rides being offered in your area. Sometimes manufacturers will bring a fleet of motorcycles to try during a race weekend. The Daytona AMA round and AHRMA's Vintage Motorcycle Days at Mid-Ohio are just two examples of such occurrences. Additionally, the women-only Femmoto event (, held annually at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway classic track, is a perfect opportunity for you ladies to get a feel for a plethora of different motorcycles both on the street and on the racetrack. By this time you should have a good idea which bike will have a permanent spot in your garage. To be on the safe side, check websites like Cycle Trader (, the Recycler ( and the NADA Guides ( to see if your budget will allow you to make this purchase. Don't forget to leave room for your insurance payments, which we'll cover later.

Let The Bargaining Begin
OK, so you've decided on a bike that you can afford. Now what? Now you find the right deal. Shop around with dealerships in your area and have them bid on your business. It's important to remember that whoever has the best price may not necessarily be the one that gets your money. Personally visit each dealership and get a feel for the environment. Buying a motorcycle is much more than just signing on the dotted line; it's an experience. A good dealership won't try and pressure you into buying a specific motorcycle. Instead, the salesperson should be listening to your wants and needs. If you've done your homework correctly and were honest with yourself throughout the process, then the two of you should end up on the same machine.

Beyond the buying process, having a rapport with the dealership you buy from will come in handy when it comes time to get service-scheduled or otherwise. You generally get priority over customers who bought elsewhere and the technicians know your bike's history since they were the ones who assembled it out of the crate. Dealerships that slash prices, while initially attractive, will have to cut resources from other places; be it a reduced staff or the lack of a service department (or worse yet, an untrained service department). Either way, paying a little extra for the piece of mind that comes from knowing your dealership will be there for you when you need it is worth the investment.

Playing With Numbers
Here it is, the dreaded numbers game. You know what bike you want and you've found the dealership you want to buy it from. What happens now is agreeing on a price and sussing out the financing. Before we go any further, remember one thing: the dealership is out to make money. It's a business. And like all other businesses it needs to bring in a profit. So as nice as the salesman was to you, the dealer won't undercut itself to gain your friendship. Fortunately you're in luck; with today's struggling economy more and more dealerships are willing to negotiate for a smaller profit to get a bike out the door.

Once a price has been decided there are many options to consider for finance. Four years ago Marc Cook explained it rather simply ("Financing: The Numbers Game", July 05). He said, "A basic loan says that you want to borrow a certain amount of money for a certain amount of time. The interest rate is how much you'll pay for the privilege. A shorter-term loan makes the monthly payment higher but exposes you to less overall expense because the interest is based on time, expressed as the annual percentage rate."

The traditional methods of going through your bank or credit union for the best rates will always apply, but usually dealerships like to promote factory-supported financing plans which offer a low (or no) down payment and very affordable monthly payments with low APRs during the promotion period (usually 24 months). Also don't forget that age, credit history and sometimes your driving record will also have an impact as to the amount of money an institution will let you borrow. As with any loan, the longer the term of the loan the more overall expense you'll end up paying. Obviously you want to pay as little as possible, so put as large a down payment as you can and be sure to read the fine print. The trap that comes with these special promotions is that by the end of the second year, assuming only minimum monthly payments have been met, you've basically paid the interest on your loan-leaving the principal virtually untouched. Also be aware that if you miss a payment, substantial penalties will incur and cause your monthly payments to jump. After the promotion period the APR could skyrocket. One manufacturer's promotional fine print lists its APR reaching as high as 22.99%. On the other hand, if you take advantage of factory promotions and pay significantly more than the minimum payments, you can pay off the loan and benefit from the lower interest rate.

We could go on and on about the details of financing but Cook nailed it on the head. The key points to remember are:

*Get the best rate you can on your loan.
*Put as large a down payment as possible.
*Pay more than the minimum monthly payment.
*Never miss a payment.
*Pay off the loan as soon as possible.
*Read the fine print.

Cover Your Assets
By this point in the new bike buying process you've already signed all the paperwork and now you have the keys to your new ride. But there's one more thing that needs to be done; insuring it. This isn't optional; nearly every state requires that a vehicle be insured. Here then is a simple breakdown of the different types of coverages:

Liability coverage: this is the minimum amount of coverage required in most states. It covers bodily injury and property damage stemming from an accident that you caused. It doesn't cover any injuries to yourself or damage to your motorcycle.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Believe it or not, many of the folks on the road today are not insured at all, and some that are carry very limited coverage. In the event that you receive any bodily harm or property damages from one of these people, this policy will reimburse you either the balance left over after the other person's policy is maxed out or the entire amount of damages and hospital bills assuming the other person was completely uninsured. While not mandatory, this coverage is foolish not to have.

Comprehensive coverage: simply stated; you're covered in the event your motorcycle is stolen or is damaged by some natural disaster (e.g. flood or fire).

Collision coverage: basically this covers any damage or loss to your motorcycle, regardless of who's at fault, including accidents caused by gravel or oil on the road.

Insurance limits are broken down into three categories: Per person, all persons per incident and property damage. Additionally, a deductible may be required, which is the most out-of-pocket you'll have to pay per incident. In the insurance game there are a number of factors that will affect your yearly rate, not the least of which are age, driving record and location. Generally speaking, the younger you are the higher your rates since insurance companies will deem you more of a risk, based on previous claims and their severity by people in your age group. One way you can help get lower rates is by completing a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course. A lot of companies will give discounts upon completion, not to mention it's a good idea to take the course anyway. Note also that many times you'll be required to get full comprehensive coverage if in fact you are financing the vehicle.

For you track junkies, find out if your policy covers damage or loss while at the track. Some insurance policies won't cover damage to your bike in the event of a race-which is defined as a timed event held at a racetrack (which would require the use of transponders). By that definition a traditional trackday would be under the umbrella of coverage, but it's vital to confirm with your insurance company beforehand.

And there it is-your guide to buying new. If there are three things to remember about this process it's that doing your homework is vital, reading the fine print is imperative and being prepared is a must. Now enough with the reading, enjoy your new motorcycle.