How not to buy a used motorcycle

It sounds too good to be true — and it is.
The description of the nifty sport-touring bike hits all the right notes: One-owner, garage-kept, low miles and dirt cheap.

One man's garage queen ...

My heart leaps as I guide my cursor to the tiny pictures on Craigslist and scan the posting for a phone number.
It’s perfect. Just what I am looking for. And it’s only an hour’s drive away.
So I call. Get the dude’s voicemail. Leave a message. Is it too early on a Sunday morning? Nah.
I settle in to wait for his return call. But after staring at my cell phone for five minutes, I jump in the car and head in his direction. He’ll call me while I’m on the road and I’ll get first dibs on the fine machine.
Sure enough, my phone rings a half-hour later and it’s the dude. He’s willing to show the bike right away. Sweet!
I ask a few quick questions, scrawl an address on a piece of paper and hang up the phone.
I’m feeling very good about this. And before you know it I’m at the exit.
That’s when the fun starts. The neighborhood is dicey and dude’s house is no different. A couple of slammed Civics and a ridiculous monster truck are out front. There’s an empty bottle of malt liquor in the gutter. I knock on the door and dogs bark.
Could a decent bike come from this?
The dude appears. He’s about 20. He says, “Hello sir. The bike’s over here.”
He lifts a tarp and there it is. It’s hard to recognize as the same bike in the pictures. But it is the correct make and model.
Close inspection reveals the bike’s got several major oil leaks, bald tires and lots of little scratches and dents – the kind that don’t show up in pictures. The exhaust looks modified and the rear fender looks like it was cut off with a hack saw. The license plate is mounted vertically, under the fender well.
Within 60 seconds I’m ready to leave. I don’t even want to hear it run, much less test ride it.
The dude is talking, though, and I don’t want to be rude. He’s explaining a special modification that increased the horsepower. Something about a dyno test.
“This thing is faassst,” he says with a knowing smile.
I act impressed, nod approvingly when he fires it up and then … say good-bye.
“I’ll call you.”
Of course, I’m lying and I feel a twinge of guilt as I put him in my rearview mirror.
But more than anything I’m kicking myself for my impulsiveness. I didn’t ask enough questions up front and violated my own used-bike buying rules. Insist on pictures. Ask about maintenance records. Never, never buy from young, wannabe-racers. And try to stick to bikes in fancy-schmancy neighborhoods.
As I drive home I think of these things. I’m going to get this right.

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