How to Buy the Right Motorcycle for You

Motorcycles can be fun to ride, get you where you want to go and be an economical alternative to a car. But unlike a car, a motorcycle should fit your lifestyle, riding skills and body type. Before you decide to buy a motorcycle, it's important to take a good look at your needs and abilities, research the different available models and take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic safety course.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety course

If you haven't done so already, take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation basic safety course. Department of Defense regulations state that you must complete a motorcycle safety course before being allowed to register or even operate your motorcycle on or off your installation. Find out if it's offered on your installation by checking with your safety office, visiting the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, or calling 800-446-9227. You may also receive an insurance discount for having successfully completed the course.

If you haven't ridden for a while, the Experienced Rider Course is a good investment and provided free at some installations. You will take the ERC course on your own motorcycle, so if you are switching to a bigger or new type of motorcycle, the ERC will help you get familiar with your new bike.

Types of motorcycles

Before you decide what to buy, make sure you know the basic kinds of bikes:

  • Touring. This is the best choice for long-distance riding because it's comfortable and can generally carry more weight than other kinds of motorcycles. Touring bikes often come with a windshield, dashboard, and saddlebags or trunks on either side of the back fender.
  • Cruiser. The cruiser has swept-back handlebars, a low seat and forward footpegs.
  • Sport. A sport bike has short handlebars. It also has footpegs below the seat, so the rider has to lean over the tank to operate the motorcycle. This posture is good for executing turns, but tends to strain the lower back on long trips.
  • Traditional. The most versatile and best for daily transportation, the traditional motorcycle is also comfortable enough for long-distance riding.
  • Off-road. If you want a motorcycle for trail rides or off-road racing, you can choose from motocross or off-road styles. Motocross bikes are built for closed-course racing only. Off-road motorcycles let you ride on wooded trails, desert or hilly terrain.
  • Dual-purpose. These street-legal dirt bikes are equipped with specialized tires that are good for riding both on and off the pavement. They come with legally required street equipment, including mirrors, turn signals, speedometers and lights.

Finding the right fit

The motorcycle you buy should not only fit your budget, it should fit your body. When you sit on the bike, pay attention to the placement of your hands, arms, feet and head. Keep in mind that your motorcycle levers, footpegs and handlebars can be adjusted. The bike is a good fit if:

  • Your right hand can comfortably reach the throttle and the front brake lever. Your hand should be in the horizontal or down position. To accelerate, roll the throttle towards you; to slow down, roll it away from you.
  • Your left hand comfortably reaches the clutch lever. Squeeze the clutch lever to disengage power; ease out for power. This is known as the friction zone.
  • Your feet are flat on the ground when you're sitting on the seat. You should be able to maneuver the motorcycle using your feet. Test this by turning the handlebars sharply while pushing the bike backward with your feet.
  • Your legs grip the tank firmly. If you are very tall, make sure the footpegs are positioned so you can grip the gas tank with your legs. This gives you more control over the bike.
  • You can fully activate the rear brake and easily reach lower and higher gears with your feet.

Buying a bike

Once you've narrowed down your choices based on fit and purpose, your next decision will be whether to buy a new bike or a used one. What you can afford will be a factor. When figuring out your price range, be sure to add in the cost of insurance, license and registration fees, maintenance and protective gear, such as a helmet, boots, jacket and gloves. Also consider your ability as a rider. A smaller, less powerful bike that you can control more easily is often a better choice for a beginner than a larger, more powerful bike.

If buying new:

  • Find out the dealer invoice price. This is the amount the dealer paid and will help you negotiate a fair price. Internet sites can help you find an invoice price report.
  • Shop around. Find out the asking price for comparable bikes and use this information to negotiate with the dealer.
  • Look up the motorcycle's resale value. You can get this information from Internet sites that track resale value for vehicles. A motorcycle that commands a high resale price is a better deal than one that doesn't hold its value.

If buying used:

  • Shop around and compare prices. Read listings in the newspaper classified ads, search online classifieds and auction sites, and visit dealers. Manufacturers' dealers often have a wide selection of used motorcycles from trade-ins. However, their prices are usually higher than you'll find in a private-party sale.
  • Get the book value of the motorcycles you're considering. You can look up values of used bikes online at one of several consumer sites.
  • Ask these questions when you answer an ad:
    • What is the condition of the motorcycle and how has it been used?
    • Where has it been stored?
    • What is the bike's history? Are you the original owner?
    • How many miles are on it and what repairs have been made?
    • Why are you selling the bike?
  • Check for documentation. Good documentation is a sign that the owner has been conscientious about taking care of the motorcycle.
  • Check the Vehicle Identification Number. Verify that the bike wasn't stolen by matching the VIN on the title to the one on the motorcycle itself.
  • Look for signs of normal wear and tear. These should match the number of miles on the odometer. If the bike shows a lot of wear in the seat, handles, grips, tires and footpegs, but it has low miles, this may be a sign that the odometer has been tampered with.
  • Have a trusted motorcycle mechanic check out the bike.

Most sellers won't let potential customers take their motorcycles on test drives because they're afraid they'll get into an accident or steal the bike. You may be able to get around this by offering the seller something of value to hold onto, such as your car, while you take the bike for a ride. Or you may want to work out a written agreement from the seller that he or she will give you a full refund if, within fifteen minutes of the sale, you are unhappy with the motorcycle.

Even if you feel really comfortable on your new motorcycle, drive with extra caution, especially during the first months after buying it. Research shows that the majority of motorcycle accidents happen within five months after the motorcycle was purchased.

When buying a motorcycle, new or used, you may rely on having a good credit rating to secure a good loan. Unfortunately, if you have had credit issues in the past, it may take you a while to rebuild your credit. Learn all about how by listening to Rebuilding Your Credit, a podcast that explains how you can improve your credit without falling prey to disreputable "quick fix" credit repair companies. For more information about protection from credit discrimination as a service member, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


Find programs and services at your local installation.

View a directory of installations

Service members, family members, surviving family members, service providers and leaders rely on Military OneSource for policy, procedures, timely articles, cutting-edge social media tools and support. All in one place, empowering our military community.