A used motorcycle parked in a parking lot.

Tips For Buying Your First Motorcycle

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

So you’ve got your heart set on buying your first motorcycle —but before you rush out and buy a bike, do your research and take these tips into consideration.

Ask any motorcycle owner and they’ll tell you it’s hard to beat the feeling of riding your new bike on the open road. Gliding through the fresh air as you cruise by other drivers, you’ve got the coolest ride on the road and everyone knows it. But before you snag a deal on a used bike or grab a new one straight off a dealer’s lot, you’ve got some research and riding practice to do. Ask yourself these questions before buying your first motorcycle.

Am I an experienced motorcycle rider?

Before buying a motorcycle, make sure you feel comfortable and safe operating one. The best way to gain experience is by taking a local motorcycle safety course. In some states, you’re required to pass a safety class before getting your motorcycle license. Even if your state doesn’t have this requirement, it’s absolutely necessary to master the basic safe riding skills before you take one on the road. And above all else, you must get your license before owning a motorcycle.

What do I want to use my motorcycle for?

Once you’ve passed your safety courses, earned your motorcycle license and are comfortable riding, you still shouldn’t run out and buy the most luxurious, powerful bike on the market. The types of activities you’ll use your bike for will inform a lot of other decisions you’ll make early on, so make your very first decision a solid one. Is your new motorcycle going to be your main means of transportation to and from work? Will it be your weekend joyriding vehicle? While there are motorcycles that could fit a variety of uses, narrowing down your reason for riding will simplify your search.

Should I buy a used or new motorcycle?

The answer to this question can go in a lot of directions, but to keep it simple, base your decision on your comfort level and experience driving a motorcycle. Since it will be your first bike, we recommend you get comfortable with a quality used version since a less-experienced rider is much more likely to ding, dent and drop (tip over) it early on.

When looking for a used motorcycle, exercise the same caution you would if you were buying a full-size vehicle:

Ask for and check the motorcycle’s VIN. When you check a motorcycle’s VIN, you’ll be able to see if it’s been in any accidents, if it’s been damaged, if its title has ever changed hands or if that make of bike has ever been recalled.

Give it the eye test. Do the tires look worn? Is the paint chipped, or does the frame have any dents? A simple once-over of the bike can give you a good idea if its owner has taken care of it. While a dinged up bike doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering, it should give you more reason to look into its functional condition and ask the owner about the bike’s history.

Have a mechanic look at it. There’s no better way to judge a motorcycle’s condition than to have a professional examine its inner workings. Ask the seller if they’d be comfortable letting a mechanic take a look at the bike. Make sure to hire a mechanic who specializes in motorcycles, and for a small fee, you can get an idea of the quality of your potential purchase.

Ask for receipts or documentation of maintenance. A bike’s entire history can’t be uncovered by a VIN check and a mechanic, so ask the seller if they’ve kept record of the all the work done on the bike. An experienced seller will be able to give you the ins and outs of what they’ve done to the bike, so it’s a good sign if their answer is “yes.”

How much power do I need?

You can generally gauge a motorcycle’s power by checking the engine’s cubic centimeters (CC), which tells you the size of the engine. This is usually included in the name of the motorcycle (Kawasaki Ninja 250, Harley-Davidson Street 750, etc). If you’re an inexperienced rider, a motorcycle with a ton of power might be appealing, but ask yourself if you’ll really need it. It’ll likely cost you more and will have a steeper learning curve than a bike with a lesser CC, so you’ll be better off sticking to a motorcycle with a smaller engine for your first go-round. There’s no magic number of CC in a beginner’s bike, but just remember that bigger isn’t always better.

How heavy should my bike be?

As a beginner, you’re probably going to drop it a couple times. Whether you bump it while its parked, or simply lose your balance while waiting at a red light, you’re going to need to pick it up — and few things are more nerve-racking than holding up traffic while you struggle to get your bike back in riding position.

Heavier bikes often have more power, so picking a lighter motorcycle is almost always in the best interest of a beginner.

What kind of motorcycle should I get?

The answer depends heavily on the kind of riding you plan on doing. There’s a variety of different styles of motorcycles out there, but let’s break it down into four basic categories:

Standard motorcycles. These bikes are just what their name implies — they’re basic. They can be adequately used for commuting, cruising or road-tripping, are good for first-timers, and generally don’t have features that intimidate or get beginners in trouble. Their seating position isn’t as relaxed as other options, but can still be described as comfortable.

Cruisers. These bikes generally have a laid-back style seat that make, you guessed it, cruising comfortable. These bikes tend to sit a bit lower than others and tend to be a bit heavier, but if you’re well-practiced in keeping a motorcycle upright at stops and love a relaxed drive around town, this might be the style for you.

Sportbikes. Of all the bikes mentioned, these might be the most identifiable on the road. These motorcycles feature a leaned-forward sitting position, engines capable of high speeds and are generally not suitable for beginners. Standard motorcycles are much closer to sportbikes than cruisers, so if you’ve got your heart set on a one in the future, we highly recommend you get more than comfortable with a standard motorcycle first.

Touring motorcycles. If you’re looking to use your motorcycle for long road trips or commuting to work, you might want to keep a touring bike in mind. Oftentimes these bikes feature adequate storage and features similar to that of a full-size vehicle, such as a stereo, comfortable seating and a large fuel tank. However, those features push these kinds of bikes into a higher price range. If you’ve got the budget for it, go for it — but consider whether your first bike should be new or used.

How much should I spend on a motorcycle?

Ready to start your motorcycle-buying journey? Start off smart by setting a budget before looking online or visiting a dealer. As with any new hobby, it’s easy to go overboard and throw around too much money in the name of excitement. But later, if your passion fizzles, you might end up with a hole in your wallet. Establish a maximum amount you can afford to spend on a motorcycle and don’t get caught up in the excitement of a brand new toy.

Make sure to include the cost of gear, routine maintenance, and motorcycle insurance into your budget. Your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) can help you get the right kind of coverage for your new bike to protect it, and you, from damage or an accident.

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    Smarter ebike tech

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    Check the brake fluid. Motorcycle manufacturers’ recommendations will vary, but the general rule of thumb is that you should change your brake fluid at least once every two years. Refer to your owner’s manual and manufacturer tutorials if you want to do it yourself, or hand the job off to a pro.

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    Peek at the brake pads. When brake pads wear down and aren’t replaced on time, your bike could suffer some seriously damaging and expensive consequences. Most brake pads will have an indicator visible without having to take your bike apart, so make sure you understand how it works and how it indicates that a change is necessary. And if you’re not comfortable handling the job yourself, it’s not all that expensive to outsource it to a mechanic.

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    Test your battery. When your motorcycle sits still for months at a time, especially in less-than-ideal weather, your bike’s battery’s life can be shortened. It’s smart to charge it occasionally throughout the winter months, but if you forgot to do so, it may need replacing. If you’re having trouble getting your battery to work, remove it and take it to a local hardware store that offers battery testing.

    Look at the fuel filter. Your motorcycle’s fuel filter is crucial to the health of your engine. Give your bike a clean start by replacing the fuel filter and filling it up with a fresh tank of gas before you take it out for a long ride.

    Check the bike’s spark plugs. Most manufacturers will recommend that you check your spark plugs every 4,000 to 5,000 miles, but even if you didn’t ride your bike that much last year, you should still inspect them. Take a look at each one individually and keep an eye out for oil leakage, ash deposits or overall wear and tear. If you notice wear and tear or are concerned about their condition, replace them — they’re a small price to pay for a clean-running ride.

    Inspect other often-ignored moving parts. The chain, kickstand, throttle shifter — all these parts can get dried out and even rusty while in storage. And while they’re considered minor when compared to your tires, brakes and engine, they’re still important! Lubricate where you need to and avoid having to make a frustrating fix early in the season.

    Once you’ve inspected and tested your motorcycle, clean and shine it up make sure you're ready to ride with proper etiquette before you take it out on the road — then, make sure you’re protected from the unexpected with the right motorcycle insurance. Your American Family Insurance agent is dedicated to making sure your coverage is customized to fit your specific needs. Get in touch today and get the peace of mind you deserve.