How to test ride a motorcycle before purchasing (8 step checklist)

Test riding a motorcycle is essential before making a purchase, whether you’re just testing a particular model to see if you like it, or are making sure the bike you like is a worthy purchase. Before you set to out to shop and potentially test ride a motorcycle, it’s important to do some research about the motorcycle(s) your interested in. If you have no idea what that is, then your quest for information will start online or at a motorcycle dealer. How you go about organising a test ride will differ depending on if it’s dealer owned or privately owned, but the general steps to take are the same regardless.

There are 8 important steps you can use as a guide to make sure you learn everything you can about the motorcycle you would like to test ride. Before you start this test ride, ask the seller if the bike has a recorded service history.  

A solid recorded service history is a huge green tick for the motorcycle. Without this your test ride becomes even more important. If your planning on purchasing a motorcycle eventually, information is power in any negotiation so learn everything you can. If your serious about a bike your looking at, do an online check to see if the bike has finance owed or has been written off before you look at it.  

Motorcycle Dealer vs private sale


Its much easier to test ride a motorcycle at a motorcycle dealer versus a private seller. Dealers will usually take down your details, get a copy of your licence and let you take a bike for a spin (you may need to prove that your a serious buyer or at least appear so).  The reason for this is they have a general insurance that covers all their bikes for people like you, and they know its easier to make a sale once a test ride has occurred. Obviously every dealer will have their own process for this, but the steps you take to test the bike are basically the same.

Test riding a bike for private sale will usually be more difficult because of the fact you’re dealing with an individual instead of a business. They will most likely not have insurance coverage for you, and if they do it will have a large excess. Because of this, an individual will most likely want a deposit (potentially full payment price) before letting the motorcycle out of their sight. This protects them from a crash or theft. A motorcycle dealer is usually a bit more expensive, but they have a business to run and a reputation to uphold so they can’t afford to sell dodgy bikes. They also make it much easier to test ride a bike. They are more inclined to help if you discover issues with the bike soon after purchase to protect their reputation, especially in the age of the google review!

Is this particular motorcycle a good fit for you?


When searching for your future motorcycle, you need to make sure the usability, riding position and style suits you. There are many different styles of road bike out there from super-sports to adventure bikes to cruisers. Work out what kind of riding you will be doing the most, then pick a bike type suitable to your needs eg: an adventure bike because you want to cover large distances with attached luggage. Then make sure the size of the bike fits your needs and comfort eg: being able to flat foot the ground or sitting more upright because of a sore back. Remember that the best bike for you is the one you love the most, so follow your heart as much as your logical thinking. If your heart is leading you towards a more powerful bike, give this article a read.

Steps to take in order to test a motorcycle (8 step guide)


  1. Damage and general wear

Have a look around the bike for damage and general wear, look at the tires and check fluids. It may be more comfortable to pull over and do this by yourself once out on your test ride. You want to make sure the bike hasn’t been dropped or crashed. Most damaged parts will usually be replaced so check the end of levers, bottom of the pegs, the swing-arm, the front forks, the exhaust, the engine itself if it doesn’t have covers, basically any part of the bike where crash damage could be. Make sure the frame has no cracks. Check the oil level and how old it is. Check the brake fluid and coolant level and color. 

  1. Cold start

Make sure the bike is cold when you first start it. Listen carefully to the engine, check the exhaust for any burning oil (blue smoke and oil smell). You want the bike to start up without issue. A warm bike will be easy to start and can mask engine problems, if the engine has problems you should be able to pick up on it with a cold start. If the bikes been warmed up before you look at it, that can be a sign in itself that somethings wrong. 

  1. Rev the bike

Give the bike a little rev once warm, check the throttle response and engine noise. Don’t be afraid the check the full rev range, this might be a good idea to do once out on your own during the test ride as the owner won’t like this.  Keep in mind that hard revving a motorcycle engine that hasn’t warmed up is very bad for the motorcycle.

  1. Basic usability and legal check

Check the headlights, brake lights and blinkers. This is just for general maintenance, these are easy things for you to replace yourself, but if the previous owner hasn’t done it maybe they have neglected other issues. You also want working lights when out riding the bike for safety and legal reasons.

  1. Check and adjust levers

Check the clutch and brake lever, make sure they are nice and smooth. Adjust for your hands. Make sure the brake lever isn’t soft and crushing your fingers. This is a sign there’s air in the brake lines. It is important to adjust the levers, everyone’s hand sizes are different and you don’t want to be searching for the brake in an emergency. Make sure the first knuckle just under your fingernails is almost dangling over the lever.

  1. Hop on and start riding

Hop on and go for a ride. Make sure to test the brakes before you enter the road (in the driveway or equivalent). You can’t ride a bike safely with dodgy brakes. Enjoy riding the bike for a bit, pay attention to the sound and feel. Pay attention to your first impression of the bike, try to enjoy how it feels without overthinking. There’s lots to think about when test riding, but you need to just chill and see how the ride feels without analysing everything for the first few minutes. When actually riding its a good idea to do it in stages. 1 – first impressions and chill riding. 2 – Pay attention to noises, check throttle, brake, gear changes etc. 3 – Find a quiet place to test limits, full rev range, hard braking etc. 

  1. Check the brakes

Hit the brakes nice and hard in a safe area, also test the brakes with soft braking to a complete stop. You want to make sure the brakes work, do this before entering the road (in the driveway), there’s plenty of reasons for brakes to fail or not work at their full potential. The common reasons are old brake fluid, air in the lines (they need to be bled), worn brake pads or warped or thinned disks. You will also need to know if the motorcycle has abs (anti lock brake system) or not.

Make sure to hit some turns so you can lean the bike over, make sure its easy to lean and pay attention to the front forks. A suspension tuning for your weight is more than likely needed, but the bike should still handle leaning into corners without problems assuming the tires are in good condition. 

  1. Check the gears

Make sure to go through all the gears, check how the engine performs at low and high revs. Down one up five is the usual for gears, make sure its not too difficult to find neutral. If the gears are up one down five up this is a sign the bike has been used for the track. Track bikes are pushed hard so parts wear out quicker, buying a tracked bike is risky business. 

How I purchased my own motorcycle (Real world experience)


For example when I wanted to upgrade my motorcycle to a 1000cc super sport, I figured out my price range and researched each brand of motorcycle between a 2006-2012 model. The reason for this time period was my budget and style of motorcycle. I narrowed down my search to a 2005-2007 Suzuki GSXR 1000 and a 2008-2010 Honda CBR1000rr. I was super happy with all the bikes in this year and brand range so I hunted around for those bikes. I educated myself on everything there was to know about these bikes so when one came up in my price range and looked in good enough condition I was ready to organise a test ride. All this preparation meant that each test ride I took was on a bike I was willing to purchase, so I wasn’t wasting time riding a bunch of different bikes and owners could tell I was serious. Once I decided to test ride a bike, I just followed the 8 step guide written above, and once I found the bike I wanted, I used certain small fixable issues with the bike for price negotiation. I ended up purchasing the motorcycle I wanted for a very fair price. 

When test riding a motorcycle from either a dealer or a private seller, following the 8 step guide listed above will help ensure you know exactly what kind of bike your testing. At the end of the day you want to avoid purchasing or even riding a bike with serious issues that will be expensive to fix, or cant be fixed. If your a beginner and want to purchase a 1000cc motorcycle, give this article a read. Make sure you pay attention to the sellers attitude while looking at their motorcycle and don’t forget to enjoy the process, your close to purchasing a motorcycle!