What is High Mileage for a Motorcycle

January 1, 2024
By Michael Padway

You’re ready to make that leap and buy a motorcycle, but you’re unsure if you should buy a new motorcycle from a dealership or take the chance on a used motorcycle. Buying a new motorcycle may be out of your price range, so what do you look for if you go with a used motorcycle? Buying used may be the best option to save some money upfront, and still get the motorcycle you’ve been dreaming of. Here’s what you should look for to buy the best used motorcycle possible:

Odometer Mileage

You may start searching for your used motorcycle on the usual internet sites like Craigslist, eBay, or apps like LetGo and Facebook Marketplace. Searching through ad after ad, you’re pouring over the details and one that continuously catches your attention is the listed odometer mileage for each motorcycle. What if we told you mileage isn’t always a good indicator of the value for the used motorcycle?

Some motorcycles are designed for long-distance touring, while others are just used frequently in day-to-day commuting. Thousands and thousands of miles may show on the odometer, and yet these motorcycles are still valued higher than average. How can that be? Sites like Kelly Blue Book and the NADA guide may lead you to believe that 40,000 or 50,000 miles on a motorcycle should depreciate the used motorcycle value considerably. The truth is, mileage on the odometer is only one of the factors you should consider for evaluating a used motorcycle.

Year, Make, and Model

The age of the motorcycle, based on the year it was made, may or may not tell the best story of what you should look for in a used motorcycle. Lower priced motorcycles from the factory are designed with limited features, and may not last as long as a higher priced motorcycle from the manufacturer. In an effort to reduce the price, lower grade materials may be used in the metal and plastics, or lower cost manufacturing options may be used. While the initial cost may be reduced, the motorcycle may not last as long. Beyond materials and manufacturing operations used in the creation of the motorcycle, what model it is may also contribute to how well it has been maintained and used over its life. A cheaper motorcycle designed as a starter motorcycle may show more signs of wear from multiple owners or limited maintenance, while a higher priced motorcycle may have perfect maintenance records and have been well taken care of.

The Previous Owners

Every owner of a motorcycle has the opportunity to keep it well maintained, whether they do it themselves or pay a qualified person to do it. Those maintenance visits and detailed records will add to the value of the motorcycle at the time of sale. When you start look through ads and contacting owners about their motorcycles for sale, one question should be about maintenance. An older motorcycle with detailed maintenance records may be a better value than a newer motorcycle with limited or no maintenance. You can also do a title search to know how many previous owners the motorcycle has. If it has had a limited number, and it’s an older motorcycle, you may have found a gem that has been well maintained. Conversely, a motorcycle that has been sold frequently may have no records on maintenance that should make you slightly nervous that maintenance has never been kept up well.

Check the Maintenance Records in Detail

When you start looking at motorcycles to buy, you should be asking about maintenance done and records kept. Every motorcycle when it was bought new came with a booklet outlining maintenance suggested on the motorcycle. The details for each maintenance item may be limited, and a larger owner’s or service manual may be purchased to detail what each service item is. The point with the records is to know what was done and when. A well maintained motorcycle, serviced regularly at the manufacturer suggested intervals, will hold value and be a great purchase. If the owner doesn’t have any records, even for what they have done and when if they bought the motorcycle used, may be a gamble to buy. The term ‘buyer beware’ may in fact signal you should keep looking unless you’re confident you can get the maintenance caught up.

Frequent Motorcycle Use

Motorcycles, just like cars, are machines made to be used. Oils breakdown over time, tires dry out then crack, and batteries lose their charge. If you’re looking for a used motorcycle, ask the owner how often they ride or start the motorcycle. If they ride it frequently, it’s fair to assume the maintenance is somewhat current and it will be a worthy buy. Some motorcyclists have weather that doesn’t make it easy to ride in all year round. In that case, the owner may keep the motorcycle in storage for a period of time. If that’s the case, they may keep the motorcycle in storage and start it occasionally to cycle the oils and charge the battery.

Motorcycles in Storage

Motorcycles may not be given daily use, and for some motorcyclists that could be monthly use. How they are stored can make a difference on their maintenance and overall condition. The surrounding environment where the motorcycle is stored may encourage rust formation, tire degradation, and deterioration of the motorcycle overall. If you are looking for a used motorcycle, ask how the motorcycle is has been stored, where it has been stored, what preparations were made before storage, and what was done after the motorcycle was taken out of storage for the first ride. Each of these steps has many things to cover, and skipping preparation or maintenance in storage may allow the motorcycle to deteriorate over time.

Returning a Used Motorcycle to its Former Glory

Buying a used motorcycle may be your best option, even if it hasn’t been maintained perfectly. There are steps you can take to get your new to you motorcycle back into shape and get the maintenance caught up. Here’s what you can do to get it ready to ride:

  • Break it in – If the motorcycle hasn’t been started and run for a period of time, it’s best to break it in by allowing it to run at idle. Just simply start the motorcycle and allow it to run. This will give you a chance to allow it to get up to operating temperature. When it’s at operating temperature, you can inspect for any leaks from the engine, coolant system, or elsewhere that you may have missed on initial inspection or a test ride. The battery should also charge back up to full if it is in good condition
  • Catch up on maintenance – If your new motorcycle hasn’t been maintained perfectly, before you start riding is the best time to catch up on missed maintenance. If you’re handy with a set of tolls, you may just need to buy some oil, a couple filters, and some grease to have your motorcycle in perfect working order. If you need to take it to a trained service staff at a local dealership or repair shop, do it before you venture out on your first ride. The repairs may include changing oil in the engine and transmission, replacing oil, fuel, and air filters, rotating or replacing the tires, inspecting and replacing coolant, adding new fuel, and inspecting the final drive (whether that is a shaft, chain, or belt). Always used a mixed coolant rather than 100% water, even if it’s distilled water.
  • Conduct a Pre-ride Inspection – Beyond maintenance, there are additional simple checks that you should do every time you head out for a ride.  The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has an acronym called T-CLOCS: Tires/wheels, Controls, Lights/electrics, Oils/fluids, Chassis, and Stands. Here are the things to check for:
    • Tires & Wheels – check for tread depth, nothing is embedded in the tires that may cause a flat, and check/adjust the air pressure while the tires are cold. For each wheel, check the condition of the spokes (if applicable style) or the wheel for cracks. Each bearing should spin freely without binding, and each seal should not be oozing grease out. Also check that the brakes work and don’t drag (meaning they are trying to stop the motorcycle when riding). Check that the pads or shoes are in good condition and have material left on them. If they are very thin, replace them before you ride.
    • Controls – check the handlebars are straight and secured to the motorcycle. Ensure all levers are straight and move correctly without binding. Make sure they are adjust so you can easily access them while riding and their position is comfortable for your hands and feet to use frequently. Check the cables and hoses for cracks, leaks, and that they function correctly when the handlebars are turned fully in each direction. Check the throttle for fully opening and snapping shut when the hand grip is let go. It should not open or rev the engine when the handlebars are turned.
    • Lights & Electrics – check that the battery is charged, the connections to the battery cables are secure, and nothing is covering the terminals that could cause a short circuit. Check that each light and reflector on the motorcycle works correctly, and that the wiring to each is secure and not frayed.  Check each mirror to be adjusted to your riding postures and that each are tightly secured to the motorcycle.
    • Oils & Fluids – check that each fluid, whether that’s engine or transmission oil, brake fluid, engine coolant, or fuel, is full and clean for a ride.  If anything is low, it needs to be filled to the manufacturer recommendation.  If it’s ready to be serviced, that should be done prior to the ride.
    • Chassis – look over the motorcycle frame for cracks, loose parts, or paint cracking or falling off. Check the steering head bearings move freely and the rear swing arm bushings also move freely. Look over the suspension for leaks from the front forks or rear shock(s). Each should move freely. Check that the drive chain is clean, lubricated, and tightened to the manufacturer suggestion. If your motorcycle is equipped with a drive belt (instead of a chain), check that it is clean and correctly tightened. They do not require lubrication. The sprockets for the belt or chain should be in good condition without cracks, missing or rounded off teeth. If they are showing signs of wear, have them replaced.
    • Stands – If your motorcycle has a center stand, ensure it does not have any cracks or it is not bent. It should have springs that hold it in the up position. Make sure it is held up away from the ground. If your motorcycle has a side stand, look for cracking and bends as you would the center stand. It should also have springs that hold it to the motorcycle frame when in the up position. It may have an electric switch that will turn off the ignition if the stand is down. Ensure that works correctly, and it only prevents the motorcycle from running when the stand is down.

Buying a used motorcycle may be the best cost-effective decision to get into motorcycling. When you’re searching through the ads, keep an eye out for the mileage listed, ask about maintenance and motorcycle use, and give it a thorough inspection when you decide it is the one. Thrifty buyers will find a great deal and have it on the road in no time. Be safe out there!


Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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