Don’t rely on others – check over your new-to-you bike before hitting the road
1. Fluid levels
Quick and easy – consult the owners’ manual for the procedure for oil level checks, especially in the case of dry sump bikes, which are slightly more involved. Do the same for the coolant level (if applicable), and eyeball the brake fluid levels and condition. Easy to do, but the consequences of missing a low level can be grave.
2. Are your papers in order?
You should have checked when buying, but just double check the MoT is current, and tax the vehicle in your name. Both can be done online through www.vehicleenquiry.service.gov.uk – remember that any vehicle is now automatically un-taxed on date of sale, the seller gets a refund and it’s up to the new owner to tax it again. When you sign the V5 reg document, keep the New Keeper green slip – the number on here will allow you to tax it, and the DVLA will identify you as a new keeper.
3. Inspect every inch of rubber
Tyres are arguably the most important part of any bike. Check the pressures and tread depth as you should anyway, but also rotate the wheels and examine the whole tyre for any damage, foreign objects or dodgy repairs you may have missed in the excitement of buying the bike. Unexciting consumables they may be, but dodgy rubber has left many a new owner standing at the side of the road surveying the wreckage and wondering what went wrong.
4. Check it’s not a chain fail
Cleaned, lubed and adjusted are a given – start as you mean to go on. But examine the chain up close – search out the soft or split link. Ensure it is correctly assembled, rivets are securely peened over or the clip is correctly fitted. Make sure it’s suitable for the bike too because low-quality chains are starting to crop up on the used market to make bikes appear more attractive purchases. Split links shouldn’t be fitted on anything with more than 20bhp.
5. Suits you
Spend a minute or two adjusting lever span/height and the levels of the foot controls. The last owner might have been a foot taller or shorter – just hopping on and expecting someone else’s set-up to be OK can result in discomfort, or not being able to safely control the bike. It’s also possible that the last owner tweaked the position of the hand controls, so check they suit you and adjust if necessary. While you are at it, ensure that nothing is fouling the controls – swing the bars from lock-to-lock – and the cables aren’t sticking. Does the throttle snap back when you let go of the twist grip? Get it right to start with.
6. Screwed together?
Conscientious sellers sometimes take the panels off for a deep clean, or the bike might have had a fresh service ready for sale. All good news, but a quick-nut and bolt check on critical fasteners (sump plugs, oil fillers, brake bolts and any bodywork fittings removed for servicing) is 10 minutes well spent and will also help you familiarise yourself with your new acquisition. If you want to go one better, use a torque wrench and the owners’ manual to check that the wheel nuts etc are tightened correctly (too tight can be as bad as too loose). Mistakes happen, but you don’t want to find out on the road.
7. Gassed up to go
Well, duh, right? It’s worth having a splash in a fuel can to put in it, or fill up within the first mile – some dealers drain tanks for showroom health and safety, and if you’ve driven a hard bargain they’re unlikely to throw much gas in to the deal. Similarly, some private sellers begrudge new owners a fiver’s worth of unleaded, and leave their old ride running on fumes.
8. Good and legal
Blue lights in the mirror aren’t the ideal way to end your first ride. Make sure the numberplate is legal, and all the lights are functioning as they should be. If it has aftermarket exhaust/s, check they’re approved for road use. If they’re not, you’ll need to swap, or be prepared to run the traffic police gauntlet. It’s up to you – but you should at least know the score.
9. Slow ride, take it easy…
Spend the first 10 miles warming everything up and taking it steady. It’s a chance to feel your way in to the handling, performance and brakes, but also to determine if there are any issues to resolve before exploiting the abilities of your bike. It doesn’t hurt to stop after these familiarisation miles, and give everything a check-over at the roadside.