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7 tips for buying your first motorcycle


It took me a month to find the right bike, but I did it!  I finally bought a Harley-Davidson SuperLow®!

Ever since I completed the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy New Rider course, I’ve been looking for a bike.  I’ve negotiated online and in-person with dealers.  I’ve looked at lots of ads on craigslist.  I’ve posted my own ad on craigslist (“Looking for…”).  I’ve sent and responded to countless emails.

It took a while, but I finally settled on a private sale, pre-owned bike.  Based on my experiences,  I thought I’d share a few tips.

1. Take your time.

If you’re a new rider or unfamiliar with the Harley-Davidson families of bikes, it may take some time to settle on a bike that suits you.  I think the more you embrace the process, the more fun the exploration will be, and the less likely you’ll end up with buyer’s remorse.  (In my own haste to find a bike, I almost bought one that would have been the wrong fit, and I’d be kicking myself now.)

2. Sit on lots of bikes. 

In my class, we all rode new 2015 Harley-Davidson Streets™.  By the end of the weekend, my right calf was bruised from hitting the exhaust pipe all weekend long; the bike was just a wee-bit too wide for my short height.  Later, in the showroom, a Sales Manager suggested I sit on a Sportster.  Hallelujah!  It had a slimmer profile, and my calf was much happier. This was the bike for me!

On craigslist, I found a gorgeous pre-owned red Sportster with forward controls (foot pedals that let your legs stretch out in front of you instead of under you) that included several custom features and saddle bags.  Oh, how I wanted that bike!  My 6′ 4″ friend test-rode it for me and said it was great!  But when I sat on the bike and reached for the handlebars with my feet resting on the forward controls, my body curved into the letter “C.” It wasn’t very comfortable.

At a Harley-Davidson dealership, I sat on lots of Sportsters.  I learned that standard controls are much more comfortable for me than forward controls.  I discovered that there are a lot of different handlebar options, and with some, I didn’t have to reach quite so far.  I learned how diverse a single Harley model can look and feel for height, reach, comfort, leg position, etc. through customization.

I sat on every single Sportster in two dealerships, and they were all close to what I needed, but none of them were just right.  Then a salesman said, “Are you sure that you want a Sportster?  Because I think a SuperLow would be the best fit for you.”  A SuperLow?  What’s that? 

The SuperLow is in the Sportster family, but it has a lower suspension system and smaller front wheel. My feet hit the ground very comfortably when I stood; they rested comfortably on the standard controls.  My body formed right angles at my hips and knees.  On this bike, I felt the most comfortable I’d ever felt.

He had 2014 and 2012 models in the showroom; the 2014 was only $1,500 more than the 2012.  I applied for Harley-Davidson financing.  I considered buying the new bike.

3. Compare financing options.

The new bike option felt incredibly attractive, especially with Harley-Davidson’s 1.9% interest rate.  And only a 10% down payment!  Earlier, I had applied for financing through my local credit union for a pre-owned bike for $5,000. I had two financing options:

1) Purchase a 2014 SuperLow for $8,500 at 1.9% for six years.
2) Keep looking and purchase a pre-owned bike for $5,000 at 5.74% for four years.

It came down a single question and simple math.  I decided to create a spreadsheet to compare how much cash I would come out of my pocket for each choice.  This mattered more to me than the actual monthly payments.

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 2.11.48 PM

Once I saw the numbers laid out in this way, I knew that I had no choice.  I HAD to buy a pre-owned bike if wanted to ride at all.

(Another way to consider a purchase is how much interest you will accrue over the life of the loan.  If you’re not worried about the payment, but you care more about the better deal, then you might create a spreadsheet that looks more like this:

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I used the Bankrate Auto Loan Calculator to calculate the amount of interest for each payment over the life of the loan–on the Amortization Schedule–then added them up to the the Total Interest Paid.)

4. Research book values.

Throughout my entire search, I explored book values on two websites: NADA Guides and Kelly Blue Book.

For me, this was not a precise science.  Sometimes I struggled to understand or find the exact models I was looking for (there are several variations of the Sportster models, for example), but both sites gave me commendable ballpark values that gave me a sense of what I could expect to pay.

5. Negotiate.

On craigslist, I found a SuperLow with standard controls and upright handlebars–exactly what I was looking for–advertised for $5,899.  I sent the seller an email explaining that my credit union had already pre-approved me for a $5,000 loan; would she take that amount?  To my surprise she said Yes!  She was a motivated seller with five kids, no time to ride, and a goal of paying off another bike with the  proceeds from this bike.

I had actually expected more of a back-and-forth haggling process or an outright no, but I learned that you just never know people’s personal motivations, and it never hurts to ask for what you want.

6. Figure out how you’re going to transport your bike
(if you’re not yet ready to ride it home).

The bike I bought was 165 miles away from my home.  I was a new rider!  I was NOT ready to take that kind of ride.  Again, I had two options:

1) Ask someone to ride it home.
2) Rent a pickup truck and haul it home.

7 tips for buying a motorcycle

The first option felt like too much to ask.  The second option seemed like the right choice, but offered its own challenges.

To help determine how to transport the bike, I watched a YouTube video on how to load and tether a bike in a pickup truck.  But I was not confident that I could do it myself, and I was mystified how the heck to get it OUT.  I turned to a friend for help.

7. Find an advocate.

I had a friend who looked at bikes with me, test drove them for me, and helped me figure out how to load and transport the bike.  He suggested I call U-Haul, and when I did, I learned that you can rent a pickup and a motorcycle trailer, and that made the most sense to me.  He offered to go with me to pick up the bike, and I gladly accepted his help.

Without his help all along the way, I doubt I would have a bike right now, at least not this bike.  I would feel too overwhelmed to do this alone (and I’m a very independent girl).  I’ve learned that being a bike owner comes with complexities that I didn’t expect, and it’s really great to have someone to share this adventure with.  But if I was doing this alone, I would buy directly from my local dealer.  They are experienced and knowledgeable on helping new bike owners get their rides off the lot.

7 tips for buying a motorcycle

The first test drive of my new wheels, a 2012 Harley-Davidson SuperLow.



3 Responses to 7 tips for buying your first motorcycle

  1. Jerry May 20, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

    Great article Jennifer! Good advice and information for anyone considering the purchase of a bike.

  2. Jennifer Hooper May 20, 2015 at 8:00 pm #

    Thanks Jerry – glad you liked it!

  3. Marcia July 22, 2015 at 3:00 am #

    This article was wonderful I want to ride and I am fighting the new versus used and I would much prefer used just because it seems much more cost effective. I really can’t justify buying something more expensive than my car.

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