Lessons I Learned From Buying My First Bike
My finger tips touched the drips, the snags, and the nicks in the imperfectly redone paint job. My head cocked slightly to the left in order to read the odometer that had been reattached by two hastily made metal brackets. A little tug was all it took to remove a piece of a terribly done rear fender delete that was partially held together by Velcro. I damn near should have been running away from this motorcycle. But I didn’t run. I stayed. I talked. I test drove. And I handed over $2,000 for a 2001 Suzuki SV650, my first bike.
Learning To Be Patient
I’m not afraid to admit it: The first motorcycle I purchased was a mistake. A concoction of lack of experience, little knowledge about the exact model, and excitement spawned a poor decision. Though I’d technically been casually poking around for months, the real hunt was only about two weeks deep when I found the one I purchased, and it was only the second one I’d looked at in person. The sound, the instant torque, and the general obsession with finally being able to buy my own got the best of me when it was there in front of me.
The ride home from the exchange provided a dark bit of foreshadowing. As I started to acclimate myself with the bike, I gripped the brake lever and pressed down on my right foot. I wasn’t going spectacularly fast, but the rear tire skidded and the back end flashed a slight booty wiggle. When I got it back to my place, I researched motorcycle tire wear a bit more and realized the rear tire wasn’t in safe condition, despite the owner telling me it had plenty of miles on it.
Still, this was my motorcycle now. Part of the reason I stupidly overlooked the faults was this sense that I would brighten the bike back up to its devilishly handsome days. I thoroughly enjoy wrenching, and I loved the idea of driving the result of my hard work that made it whole again. I wanted to redo the paint. I wanted to clean all the tar. I wanted to find original pieces and replace that hack job of a rear.
All of that would have been fine, minus the fact that I largely overpaid for what I was getting in return. There’s nothing wrong with buying a POS. There is something wrong with unnecessarily spending more money on the bike and on extra parts due to not exactly knowing what you’re getting into. I’ve already detailed the issues I ran across in the first two weeks of bike ownership here.
Curbing Excitement And Doing the Research
Though it can be fun to impulse-buy, vehicle purchases should be a process, especially if you’re inexperienced or if you’re buying a different type of vehicle for the first time. Within that process, the keys are patience and research. Always make sure to:
Determine your budget and stick to it.
Choose one or two vehicles that fit what you’re looking for and that have a market within your budget, and zone your research in on those. Learn what common problems the vehicle has.
Learn what to look for on used examples.
Learn how to spot inconsistencies and aftermarket tinkering. If you really want to back yourself up, find a trusted or reliable mechanic and take the vehicles you’re considering buying there for a professional opinion.
This is the process I used when I first moved to Los Angeles and was searching for a car, something I was much more familiar with. I narrowed down my search to Japanese coupes and hatches for about $10-11,000. I could have easily bailed on my high standards and picked something up to make things easier (LA absolutely demands owning a car), but I used a mix of walking, bicycling, testing press cars, and my girlfriend to get around. I was determined to find what I’d pictured in my head.
After two months, the process bore fruit: I found a near-spotless one-owner 2003 Acura RSX that had less than 50,000 miles and was the 5-speed base stock model. It's the process I should have used when looking for a motorcycle, and it's the process I'm currently using as I look for my next bike.