Motorcycle travel – Part 2: Buying your bike

This post is the second part of our guide about motorcycle travel. You will find Part one here;

Part 1: What to Buy.

Part 2: Buying your bike.

I say buying because, assuming that your trip is anything more than a couple of weeks, buying rather than renting will always be more economical. Renting a bike usually runs to about $10 per day, there’s just no way that a $400 bike is going to depreciate at that rate. I once had a bike for the best part of a year’s travel around India and Nepal, covering over 20,000km on it, then sold it back to the same shop I bought it from in Delhi for $30 less than I’d paid.

Shopping for your bike can be a tremendously daunting experience the first time, especially as you’ve just landed in an unfamiliar country, you probably don’t know a word of the local language, and the chances are, the man in the bike shop won’t know a word of yours either. Fear not; pointing is universal. Point at the bike you’re interested in. Point at the things that are wrong with it. He’ll understand. The man works in a motorcycle shop and sells motorcycles, the fact that you’ve walked through his door tells him that you would like to buy a motorcycle, you don’t need to explain this.

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If you’re concerned about the language barrier, you can always take an English-speaking local with you. I’ve found taxi drivers to be a good bet for this, most have a grasp of English from their interactions with tourists and essentially, their time is for hire. Tell a cabbie that you need to buy a bike and he’ll take you on a tour of the local shops happily, it’s a sustained fare for him, and it (usually) means you’ll be given the proper prices at the shops. Taxi rates vary from country to country but expect to pay around $10 for an hour of his time, whether driving or browsing.

Don’t be surprised if salesmen quote you ridiculous prices. The majority of traders will ask a fair rate, and a bit of good natured haggling is expected out here, but from time to time they’ll try to take advantage. To many people in Asia, a western tourist means two things; they’ll assume you are a) a millionaire, and b) an idiot. I’ve encountered shops trying to sell me an 8 year old bike for a price that I knew to be over twice what that bike would have cost new. At times like this it’s best to just walk away, chances are the next bike shop along the street will be more honest.

Once you’ve tracked down a suitable bike it’s time to check it over. This is no different to the things you’d be looking for when buying a bike from the small ads back home; Does it start ok from cold? Do all the lights, indicators and gauges work? Check that the sprockets aren’t worn down and that there’s plenty of adjustment left in the chain. Does the key fit the ignition AND the fuel filler cap?Check for evidence of oil leaks on the engine casings. Tyres, brakes, fork seals. Rev the engine through the entire range and listen for tappet noise. All of the usual stuff plus one other very important thing – Paperwork!

So often you’ll see a bike on sale for a bargain price, and the reason is that it doesn’t come with the registration papers. Walk away. Maybe it’s stolen, maybe the papers have just been lost, but either way, it’s no good to you. You can’t get a bike across borders or loaded on to a train without the ownership documents. And if you’re stopped by the police and can’t produce them, the bike could be impounded, or at the very least you’ll have to pay a hefty fine (bribe). Getting replacement documents is a bureaucratic nightmare even for someone with time to spare and who speaks the local language. For you, don’t even bother trying.

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When you’ve found the bike you want, haggle away to your hearts content (if the salesman doesn’t speak English, he’ll undoubtedly type the number into a calculator, then you play a game of each typing a number in and acting shocked by the other’s suggestion until you find a mutually beneficial price). Obviously prices vary from place to place, but for a used bike of the type I’ve described above, expect to pay something in the region of $300 – $600 USD, depending on condition and model.

If you enjoy this serie, stay tuned for “Part 3: Road conditions”! And if you have any question, please ask, we will be happy to help!

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