8 ways to spot a bike’s hidden history

1 of 9

Buyer beware is the rule with used bike deal, so here’s how to avoid blowing your hard-earned on a lemon

1. Numbers

One of the first things you should look at on a used bike is the frame and engine numbers. Get the logbook from the seller, and compare. The frame and engine numbers should definitely match – a differing engine number suggests it has been changed. That’s not always a problem, but you’ll want to find out more about why it has been swapped, and get the paperwork amended too. Any attempt to cover numbers with paint, grease and dirt that wouldn’t naturally be there should be viewed with great suspicion: check the integrity of the numbers very carefully.


2. Signs of disturbance

It’s common for people to sell bikes in order to avoid fixing pricey problems. Look for smears of engine sealant on joins – the messier it is, the more suspicious you should be. Caring owners don’t scrimp on a few quid’s worth of gasket. Greasy fingerprints or evidence of leaked/spilt fluid in the near past should be investigated and queried, especially if there’s no corresponding recent service history to explain an opened casing. Do your research on impending major services which could land you with a big bill soon after purchasing a new bike.


3. Chewed fasteners

The odd worn fastener on an aging bike is to be expected. But a full complement of butchered fasteners says one of three things. One: Morons with ill-fitting tools have been responsible for maintenance. Two: So much has gone wrong, every fitting has been worn out. Three: Maintenance has been so neglected, everything has seized and chewed when finally someone has attempted to show it some love. Four: A bodge job has turned into a complete disaster and resulted in collateral damage such as the snapped fins in our picture.


4. Clocks

A bike’s dials should never need to be separated until the machine reaches restoration age. Any signs the casing has been open is bad news – repairs to clocks are a specialist-only matter, so it’s likely any amateur opening is a sign of clocking and the bike has actually done more miles than the vendor is letting on. The odometer numbers should be tight and line up well – wobbly, crooked numbers on anything made in the last 30 years is almost always a sign the mileage has been tampered with. Check that mileage tallies up with previous MoT certificates and service history – a conscientious owner will have a collection of MoTs in the paperwork.


5. Crash damage

Crash repairs are rarely perfect. Even a stationary drop is often enough for insurers to deem repair uneconomical, and many bikes are often sold on or left to owners to repair, not always thoroughly. Two minutes examining the bike up close will reveal tell tale signs – as well as obvious bodywork and controls damage, examine the fork bottoms, front mudguards, instrument casings and exhausts for grazes. Cheap aftermarket indicators at one end only are a sign of a quick patch-up. Examine panels carefully – aftermarket paint jobs will chip more easily than OE, and often flake where panels join and rub. Overspray and masking marks are easy to see without removing panels, and missing sound/heat insulation is a dead giveaway.


6. Clued-up owner

Watch the seller carefully. You want someone who knows their bike well. They should be able to start it easily, even if it takes a bit of technique – too much throttle/choke-juggling and head-scratching shows an owner who doesn’t know their bike well enough, or just hasn’t kept it in proper running condition. Not everyone will know every bit of their bike, but they should have a basic idea of what work might be due and what has already been done. The nerdier and more conscientious the seller, the better – a disinterested, clueless owner suggests any number of undesirable potential problems.


7. Cyber stalking

Looking at a bike on eBay? Check the seller’s recent purchases. Those who sell on the auction site generally buy on it too – if they’ve had to repair anything, odds are you can turn up some evidence in their feedback file. If they’ve only bought it recently, question why the bike is being moved on so rapidly. If you know their name, a quick social media search doesn’t hurt either. Plenty leave their profiles open for general viewing, and post often. Pictures of motorcycles upside-down in ditches or rants about being stranded at the roadside speak for themselves...


8. The fine print

A thick wad of receipts is good, right? Well, mostly. Take five minutes to examine a wad of paper apparently backing a bike up – 10 years of MoTs and receipts for tyres is not FSH. MoTs help verify mileage, and the nature of the receipts can tell you a lot about what a bike has gone through – whether big servicing tasks have been completed on time, and if any sort of repair has ever been carried out. An owner who has consistently paid for quality spares rather than the cheapest option is a good sign. Look at the logbook too – check the registered keeper matches the vendor, and the colour matches the bike.

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in News…



The voice of motorcycling since 1955